Hawks await word on possible anti-tampering violation

The Hawks are awaiting word from the NBA on whether letters sent to perspective ticket buyers that mentioned Dwight Howard and Chris Paul violated the league’s anti-tampering policy.

The letters were sent by a season-ticket representative who was terminated after the team reported the likely violation to the league. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the incident Tuesday after obtaining a copy of one letter. The AJC has obtained two more letters sent by the same representative that contain similar mentions of Howard and Paul, who are set to become unrestricted free agents July 1.

An NBA spokesman said the league would not comment on the letters or a possible penalty. It is possible the league would like to avoid announcing a violation during the NBA Finals, which began Thursday.

The AJC confirmed that the sales representative was terminated Wednesday.

The first letter discovered, dated June 3, was sent via email on Hawks and Philips Arena letterhead. As Howard and Paul are currently under contract, with the Lakers and Clippers respectively, a team is not allowed to speak about them publicly. The letter was headlined “Hot New Player news: Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.” It began with the statement: “The buzz around our offseason is more than heating up. With massive cap space, 4 draft picks, and free agency rapidly approaching, we sit in the best position in the NBA. Player interest is skyrocketing as the possibilities of landing Chris Paul & Dwight Howard become more and more of a reality.”

The likely violations began as early as March 1, when the representative sent a letter via email with the subject line “Dwight Howard to Atlanta.” As part of the sales pitch the letter included the sentence: “How would the front line of Dwight Howard, Al Horford, and Josh Smith sound?”

Another letter, dated May 10, stated (sic): “Superstars, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, are just a few of the great players available in free agency this season and once we start make our moves with the potential of landing one or two elite players, you don’t want to be the one left out.”

As part of its Collective Bargaining Agreement the league defines tampering as when a player or team directly or indirectly entices, induces or persuades anybody under contract with another team in order to negotiate for their services. The NBA detailed its anti-tampering policy in a memo sent to all 30 teams in 2008.

“The (first) letter that has been referred to was written by one of our season-ticket reps of his own volition,” Hawks president Bob Williams said Tuesday. “While certainly he is a member of our business staff, his specific reference clearly does not represent how our basketball operations or our business staff have consistently communicated about free agency. It is unfortunate that this mistake, by a single ticket rep with no ill intent, occurred.”

The NBA has issued large fines for violations of the anti-tampering policy in the past. In May 2010, when LeBron James was about to become an unrestricted free agent, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban ($100,000), Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon ($25,000) and then-Suns president of basketball operations Steve Kerr ($10,000) all were fined in the same week for public comments mentioning James.