- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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The NBA unexpectedly issued a memorandum to its teams to remind them about the league's tampering regulations and specifically to warn them against illegal contact with Chris Paul, ESPN.com has learned.
The memo, circulated Tuesday by the league office, states that "no team should be having communications with Chris Paul or his agent or representative about a potential trade for Paul that have not been authorized in advance by the New Orleans Hornets."
The memo, sources said, also threatens to punish any such communications with penalties that range from "suspension of the offending person, prohibition of the offending team from hiring the person being tampered with, forfeiture of draft picks and individual and/or team fines of up to $5 million."
The NBA took the uncommon measure of actually naming a specific player in a tampering memo in the wake of various media reports in recent days that Paul's new agent Leon Rose -- who also represents Paul's close friend LeBron James -- has been urging a handful of teams to pursue trades for his client.
ESPN.com reported Monday that the Hornets have continued in recent days to reject all trade interest in Paul, greeting a flurry of calls from other teams prompted by increasing media speculation that Paul wants to be dealt with the same resistance they have maintained for months.
"They say they aren't moving him," one rival team executive said Monday of the Hornets.
That stance was also clarified to Paul and Rose directly Monday during a face-to-face meeting in New Orleans that was convened to address the mounting media coverage of Paul's reported desire to force a trade to a contending team.
After the sitdown with new general manager Dell Demps, new coach Monty Williams and team president Hugh Weber, Demps said his All-Star guard did not request a trade. Paul, meanwhile, issued a statement in which he said that he was intrigued "by the direction that they want to take the team" and insisted that he hopes "to represent the city of New Orleans and state of Louisiana for many years to come."
Such sentiments certainly won't stop teams interested in Paul from calling the Hornets and likewise won't quash the belief that the 25-year-old still wants out after seeing James land in Miami alongside Team USA colleagues Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh via free agency. But the league is hoping that its latest warnings will dissuade teams from plotting trade strategies with Paul's camp, which includes James' business manager Maverick Carter and longtime adviser William Wesley.
Discussion about tampering has been a constant in league circles since an ESPN.com report in late June that James, Wade and Bosh met face-to-face before free agency to discuss their plans, followed by all three committing to the Heat on July 7 and 8. But NBA commissioner David Stern said during a July 12 news conference in Las Vegas that players on different teams who discuss playing together, under current league rules, is generally "not tampering or collusion that is prohibited."
Stern, however, maintains that there is a considerable difference between player-to-player contact -- even before free agency officially began July 1 -- and contact between team officials with players under contract or their representatives. The league's anti-tampering rules were conceived largely with teams and their employees in mind as opposed to players.
Although the issuance of Tuesday's memo serves as further evidence that the subject of Paul's future in New Orleans has succeeded James' free agency as the new leaguewide obsession, one league official insisted that the two cases are different. The official told ESPN.com on Tuesday night that the NBA's warning is a response to the ongoing press reports of Paul's agent shopping him to other teams, which, if proven, would be a blatant violation of the league's tampering laws.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told reporters during the NBA's annual summer league in Vegas that he planned to raise the issue at the next Board of Governors meeting because "we really do have to re-evaluate the issue of player tampering." But Stern said after that meeting that no team has filed a tampering complaint about the Miami acquisitions, dismissing news reports suggesting that James, Wade and Bosh had been plotting the moves for months as a "variety of gossip, bound together with innuendo, infused by hearsay."
A memo similar to Tuesday's was dispatched by Stern's office in December 2008, when chatter about 2010 free agents such as James, Wade and Bosh had begun to be prevalent. But that memo, while warning teams about commenting publicly about players under contract on other teams, did not mention any specific players by name.
Sources with knowledge of the Hornets' thinking insist that the team remains highly opposed to trading Paul, who in addition to his status as one of the game's elite point guards is hugely popular in the region and widely credited with saving pro basketball in New Orleans after the ravages of Hurricane Katrina.
Sources say that the Hornets, knowing that Paul has two years left on his contract before he can become a free agent, want to let their new basketball decision-makers try to repair the club's relationship with Paul before even considering the prospect of moving him, despite the fact teams such as Orlando, New York, Dallas, Portland and New Jersey -- most of whom appear on Paul's well-chronicled wish list of potential new destinations -- are just waiting for the opportunity to make trade offers for him.
Speaking publicly at his basketball camp Tuesday, Paul told New Orleans-based reporters that he has "never been able to envision" playing for another team and insisted that "I stay committed to the city of New Orleans."
"But like Mr. Demps said [Monday]," Paul added, "we want to keep some of the stuff private."
He added that the meeting with Demps, Williams and Weber "went really well" and said he is "excited" about the coaching plans Williams has. It appears, though, that Paul is only prepared to publicly pledge his loyalty to the city he considers his adopted hometown as opposed to the Hornets' organization, which is still gripped by uncertainty thanks to the stalled sale from founding owner George Shinn to minority partner Gary Chouest.
Responding to media suggestions that Paul is "disgruntled," Williams said Tuesday: "That's not in his nature. Anybody who tries to label him that way, I won't stand for that. He's not a disgruntled star. He's not a disgruntled anything. ... I've played with guys who don't care about losing and they make me sick, sitting in a locker room with a guy who doesn't care about the outcome of a game. To me, if you have a guy like Chris in your locker room, who is that passionate about winning, what more can you ask for?"
"I believe he wants to be here," Williams continued. "He hasn't told me otherwise. He has never demanded a trade. He has always talked about how excited he is to play for me. We've gone over offensive schemes, things he thinks works well and what doesn't work well. Things change, obviously. But to this point, I haven't heard him say anything about leaving New Orleans. All I've heard is that he is excited about the team."
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.
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