It's one of the dumbest moves in NBA history. The only way you actually get busted for tampering is if you put the plan to cheat in writing. Guess what the Minnesota Timberwolves did.
Back in 1995, the Golden State Warriors had the no.1 pick in the Draft. They didn't take the risk and select Kevin Garnett out of high school, or another power forward by the name of Rasheed Wallace - the Warriors went with Joe Smith. After a decent two and a half years, Smith didn't live up to the no.1 pick so the Warriors traded him to the 76ers. He expressed a desire to go back to the East Coast and the Warriors respected his wishes.
So everyone was surprised when he signed with the Timberwolves at the end of that season. Not only did he sign with the Wolves, but it was a $1.75 million one-year contract. Smith may have underwhelmed for a no.1 pick, but that contract?? The Warriors had offered him an 80 million extension, and he walked away from it. Something was up.
Smith and Garnett shared an agent, Andrew Miller. When Miller decided to part way from his partner Eric Fleisher, Garnett and Smith stayed with him, which prompted a lawsuit that led to the unearthing of many documents, including a document detailing the illegal deal the Wolves had made with Smith.
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. That way the Wolves would have time to bring in other players and make it up to Smith after the three one-year deals. He would have then been rewarded with a lucrative contract that would have paid him up to $86 million.
Before the 2000 season, the NBA's investigation was done and David Stern wasn't happy. The league went through three lockouts in 95, 96 and the lastest one in 98/99 - that one lasted six months and forced the league to play a shortened 50 game schedule. Commissioner David Stern was in a prolonged bad mood and the punishment he levied on the Wolves reflected that.
- Wolves owner Glen Taylor was suspended through August 31, 2001
- VP of basketball operations Kevin McHale took a leave of absence through July 31
- a $3.5 million fine
- the Wolves lost their first-round draft picks in '01/'02/'03/'04/'05
The '03 pick was ultimately returned, but it was still the harshest fine any team suffered. So when you wonder how come the Wolves couldn't put a decent team around one of the greatest power forwards of all time, losing 4 first-round draft picks might have had something to do with it.
That was the biggest punishment of all - they had to watch Kevin Garnett win a championship for the Boston Celtics.