TORONTO — The Clippers are paying a price, because Doc Rivers paid Toronto star Kawhi Leonard a compliment.
The NBA fined the Clippers $50,000 on Friday for violating the league’s anti-tampering rule. The league did not specifically say what comments were determined to be fine-worthy, other than saying it was in response to what Rivers — the Clippers’ coach — said about Leonard “in a recent television appearance.”
Rivers appeared on an NBA Finals preview show on ESPN earlier in the week and compared Leonard to Michael Jordan. The NBA has regularly warned teams about the perils of saying anything that could be construed as lobbying for a player who is under contract to one team to join another.
“I would just say Doc has been at this a long time,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Friday at an NBA Cares event in Toronto, not long after the fine was announced. “It’s not a fun part of my job ever fining anyone. And I understand the competing interest of the media in hearing a coach’s view about a current NBA player but it’s something where there’s a bright line in this league and you’re not allowed to do it.”
Leonard will be a free agent this summer, and the Clippers are expected to be one of the teams who will try to pursue him.
Rivers was part of a panel with Magic Johnson and others discussing Leonard’s game when he made the Jordan comparison.
“He is the most like Jordan that we’ve seen,” Rivers said on the telecast. “Like, there’s a lot of great players. LeBron [James] is phenomenal. KD [Kevin Durant] is phenomenal. But not that he is Jordan or anything like that, but he is the most like him. Big hands. Post game. Can finish. Great leaper. Great defender. In-between game. If you beat him to the spot, bumps you off. Then you add his three-point shooting.
“So, I never get in that ‘who’s the best player?' " Rivers continued. “Magic is the best player, Michael Jordan was the best player, LeBron. But it’s that same group.”
Silver said NBA coaches or executives, when put in those situations, should simply say something akin to “I’m not permitted by the league to respond to that question.”
“It’s a balance of interest. I understand that,” Silver said. “But he unfortunately crossed a bright line.”