By J.A. Adande
Deep down in the whispery regions of the NBA, there are concerns that the seeds for the 2010 free agency crop were planted in the summers of 2006, 2007 and 2008.
It’s a widespread assumption in the NBA that tampering happens all around the league; overtures are made to agents, conversations are had in passing with players. One Western Conference executive said the practice is so common that if the league policed it the way the NCAA handles recruiting violations, “There’d be teams getting the ‘death penalty.’” But formal tampering claims are very rarely brought to the NBA offices because they are too difficult to prove.
If LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh end up with the New York Knicks next summer expect some grumbling from their jilted former team that the Knicks had an unfair advantage because coach Mike D’Antoni had three summers to woo them while serving as an assistant on the USA Basketball staff at the World Championships, Tournament of the Americas and Olympics.
In the absence of proof there’s only imagination, and the thought of a coach with unmonitored access to players has allowed all kinds of scenarios to run through rival executives’ heads. They suggest that the only way to ease the fears would be to have the USA Basketball coaching staff consist entirely of college coaches and/or out-of-the-league coaches (current examples would be Doug Collins, Avery Johnson and Mike Fratello.)
“I find that kind of ironic,” USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said. “Not long ago there were people saying there shouldn’t be any college coaches. When you hear things like you hear, you have to really analyze the source. Everyone is so concerned about their own little world. It’s ludicrous, in my opinion, to have those concerns.”
Colangelo, who has a book about USA Basketball entitled “Return of The Gold” coming out, said, “We turned around a culture, we turned around a whole program. There’s some people taking shots at the staff … that’s very disappointing to me.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty [about the upcoming free agency summer]. There’s a lot of unrest. People will look for excuses. I personally don’t give that any credence.”
And it won’t have any influence on the next Olympic team. D’Antoni and the rest of the staff from 2008 Olympics – head coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and assistants Nate McMillan of the Portland Trail Blazers and Jim Boeheim of Syracuse University – will be back for the 2012 Games in London.
For anyone concerned about the presence of D’Antoni or McMillan on that team, Colangelo says, “My word to those guys is: get a life.”