Report: Hawks may have tampered

It goes without saying that the Atlanta Hawks would love to have free agents-to-be Dwight Howard and Chris Paul join them next season, the team’s first under new head coach Mike Budenholzer.

Unfortunately, the Hawks reportedly went ahead and said it — and now the team could be in trouble with the NBA for violating the league’s anti-tampering policy as a result.

According to a report by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Hawks mentioned Howard and Paul by name in a recent letter sent to prospective ticket buyers. The emailed letter reportedly went out on team letterhead with the headline: “Hot New Player news: Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.”

The note then opened with the following statement, according to the AJC report:

“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 letter also encouraged prospective buyers to "get on board before its (sic) too late. Once we solidify our signings there will be no seats left."

Hawks president Bob Williams told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the letter was an ”unfortunate” mistake. He confirmed the ticket representative who wrote the letter is a member of the team’s business staff. Williams said the staffer’s ”specific reference clearly does not represent how our basketball operations or our business staff have consistently communicated about free agency.”

Both Howard and Paul will become unrestricted free agents on July 1, but each is currently under contract — Howard with the Lakers and Paul with the Clippers. The league’s collective bargaining agreement prohibits teams from tampering, which occurs when a player or team "directly or indirectly entices, induces or persuades anybody who is under contract with another team in order to negotiate for their services."

In the past, violating the anti-tampering rules has brought a hefty fine. During the Summer of LeBron, in 2010, Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon ($25,000), Mavericks owner Mark Cuban ($100,000) and then-Suns president of basketball operations Steve Kerr ($10,000) all were fined for various comments regarding free agents.

In December 2011, the Orlando Magic reportedly looked into levying tampering charges against the Nets and owner Mikhail Prokhorov after Howard reportedly met with Prokhorov and Nets GM Billy King while still under contract with the Magic, though those charges were never filed.

Howard is originally from the Atlanta area, and there’s a thought that he could be enticed by his hometown team, especially if he could team up with an elite point guard such as Paul. And Paul certainly would not rule out running the pick and roll with a center like Howard.

But if the Hawks are going to make a serious pursuit of what could become the league’s best big man-point guard combo — or any big-name free agent, for that matter — it probably would behoove them to know the rules first.