Did the Clippers Illegally Recruit Kawhi Leonard? NBA Opens Investigation to Find Out

Illustration for article titled Did the Clippers Illegally Recruit Kawhi Leonard? NBA Opens Investigation to Find Out
Photo: Ezra Shaw (Getty Images)

Once upon a time, when NBA players were still allowed to play defense and the New York Knicks were still a professional basketball team, the Minnesota Timberwolves did a very stupid thing.

Advertisement

In fact, it was so stupid that then-NBA commissioner David Stern snatched the soul from that team’s chest and handed down one of the most vicious penalties in the history of the league while mumbling, “These niggas can’t be fucking serious” under his breath—because it was that goddamn stupid.

So what was it that the Minnesota Village Idiots did?

In 1995, Joe Smith might’ve been snatched up number one overall in the NBA Draft, but it took all of about five minutes on the court for the entire planet to realize that he wasn’t David Ruffin, he was Otis Williams—and ain’t nobody coming to see you, Otis. Yes, he lasted 16 years in the NBA—I’m sure Nelly still sells out concerts too—but he was never an All-Star (at least Cornell had “Hot In Herre”) and he played for 13 different teams. He was a journeyman at best, an embarrassment to niggas named Joe at worst, and certainly not the type of player worth jeopardizing the future of your organization for.

Enter the Timberwolves.

In the aftermath of the NBA lockout in 1999, teams still believed that Smith—now a free agent—could evolve into a solid contributor. Yet after turning down a myriad of offers that include an $80 million extension from the Warriors, he signed on the dotted line with the T-Wolves for the low, low price of $1.75 million for one year of indentured servitude.

Needless to say, eyebrows were raised. Why in the hell would he pass up on all that paper for pennies on the dollar? The hell is going on here?

I’ll tell you exactly what was going on.

From USA Today:

As it turns out, Smith and the Timberwolves had an under-the-table agreement in place, where Smith would sign three one-year deals for very little money, allowing the Timberwolves to acquire his Bird rights, which would allow them to go over the salary cap to re-sign him. He would have then been rewarded with a lucrative contract that would have paid him up to $86 million. This arrangement, of course, was highly illegal, and sanctions came down hard on the Timberwolves when the league found out.

Advertisement

Yes, the Timberwolves are that goddamn stupid to think that nobody would’ve ever caught on to their Nigerian payroll scam. David Stern presumably cocked his head to the side in disbelief, then sent them outside to pick a switch. And when they came back inside mentally prepared to get their ass tore apart, Stern hit them with this instead:

The Timberwolves were fined $3.5 million, and forfeited their first-round draft picks for the next five years (the team’s 2003 pick was eventually restored). Not only was Smith’s newly-signed contract voided, his previous two were as well, meaning he would no longer retain his Bird rights with the Timberwolves. Additionally, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor was suspended through August 31, 2001, and VP of basketball operations Kevin McHale took a leave of absence through July 31.

Advertisement

For Joe Smith?!?!!?!?!?!

Suffice to say, this botched deal has been the butt of countless jokes for decades, and in the years since, both agents and players have been a bit more mindful in how they maneuver during free agency. But what happens in the dark always comes to the light, and after luring Kawhi Leonard to the City of Angels last offseason, the Clippers might be the next team to face the firing squad.

Advertisement

From CBS Sports:

The NBA is investigating claims that Los Angeles Clippers executive Jerry West offered to pay Johnny Wilkes, a friend of Kawhi Leonard, $2.5 million to help deliver the two-time Finals MVP to the team in 2019 free agency, according to The New York Times’ Marc Stein. On Monday, TMZ reported that Wilkes is suing West over an alleged failure to make that promise $2.5 million payment in exchange for his help in securing Kawhi.

Advertisement

Oh boy.

If this ends up being true, this could end up being uglier than losing in the Western Conference Semifinals after being up 3-1 in the series. But who in the hell would ever do that?

Advertisement

For their part, the Clippers are pissing their pants denying any wrongdoing and issued the following statement, per Marc Stein of the New York Times:

“The lawsuit filed by Johnny Wilkes is replete with inaccuracies and the allegations are baseless. The Clippers are fully cooperating with the NBA in its investigation, which is standard when these types of allegations are made.”

Advertisement

If this ends up being true, Laker Nation is about to clown the Clippers until the end of time, but we’ll definitely keep you updated on this story.

Menace to supremacy. Founder of Extraordinary Ideas and co-host and producer of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. Impatiently waiting for y'all to stop putting sugar in grits.

DISCUSSION

whypeepoegottastop
I'mSofaKingSickofWonderBread

Not that any of this is verified, but why TF wouldn’t you just throw what is peanuts to nearly everyone in this story to the person who helped you be shady???

Same as tax evasion! Why, if you’re making multiple millions of dollars each year, why the hell would you neglect to pay tax on that??? Like, I know that wealthy people misuse the hell out of tax loopholes, but...if you’re making $20-50 MILLION dollars a year, can you really not let 1-50% of that go to the government so they don’t arrest your ass?!?

Is it just greed? Why...???