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NBA investigating Lakers-Ben Simmons contact for possible rules violations

Ben Simmons is in his second season with the 76ers and is set to appear in his first NBA All-Star Game. (Matt Slocum/Associated Press)

Among the many interesting comments Magic Johnson made Sunday, when he said he did not think the Pelicans acted in good faith during trade talks over Anthony Davis, were some remarks about Ben Simmons. The 76ers point guard, Johnson said, had “reached out” to him “to find out if we can get together this summer” to help Simmons improve his game.

Johnson, the Lakers’ team president, claimed he told Simmons that such a meeting could only take place if both the 76ers and the NBA agreed to “sign off” on it. He added of the first overall pick in the 2016 draft (via ESPN), “I love his game. I love his vision. I love also, too, he’s very, in terms of basketball IQ, very high basketball IQ.”

Those remarks got the attention of the league, but not in the way for which Johnson might have hoped. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, an NBA spokesman said Monday that the league office is “looking into whether any contact took place” between Simmons and the Lakers “that violated NBA rules.”

Earlier on Monday, 76ers General Manager Elton Brand said to a Philadelphia radio station that his Los Angeles counterpart, Rob Pelinka, had told him that Simmons “wanted to talk to Hall of Famers after the season” and that “Magic was on the list.” Brand said that when Pelinka “asked for authorization” for such a meeting, Brand said, “No,” and that the exchange took place “over a month ago.”

Los Angeles officials, though, offered a slightly different account of the discussions with Philadelphia, saying in a statement that “last November the 76ers sent an email to the Lakers” asking if Simmons “would be able to speak with Magic Johnson about his Hall of Fame playing career.” Only after “receiving the email request from the 76ers,” the Lakers said, did Pelinka contact Brand and let him know that Johnson “could only do so if the 76ers gave him pre-written approval.”

“That was the end of the matter,” the Lakers added.

Los Angeles might certainly prefer for there to be no more developments in the matter, but the team has already gotten on the NBA’s radar for tampering with other teams’ players. In fact, under Johnson’s watch, the Lakers have been fined twice over the past two years, for a total of $550,000, for such violations.

Meanwhile, Davis was fined $50,000 by the NBA last month after his agent, Rich Paul, made it publicly known that the all-star forward wanted out of New Orleans. The Lakers quickly emerged in the NBA rumor mill as Davis’s preferred destination, and it wasn’t lost on anybody that Paul is not only also the agent for Lakers star LeBron James but that the two are close friends of long standing.

As it happens, Simmons is also a client of Paul’s, and during the NBA All-Star Game draft last week, James exclaimed, “You took my guy!” after the other team captain, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks, selected the 76ers player. Eventually, James engineered a trade in which he landed Simmons on his all-star roster, in exchange for the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook.

As with the Lakers, Brand downplayed the contact between his team and Los Angeles over a possible Simmons-Johnson meeting, saying (via ESPN), “We’re not sweating this — end of story.”

“I have a great relationship with Ben and Rich [Paul] and we expect him to be a Sixer for a long time,” Brand said. “He has taken interest in chatting with some of the game’s all-time greats and we’re supportive. I had brief dialogue with Rob Pelinka, who I’ve known for a long time, but nothing is planned. Our collective focus is on making a postseason push.”

Johnson might do well, at least for the time being, to make sure that his focus is on commenting on his own players, and not those of any other team. Everybody knows that tampering takes place in the NBA, and while Johnson could, indeed, offer some very valuable advice to Simmons on how to excel as an oversize point guard, he was also hired to recruit star players to the Lakers, and appearances matter.

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