Richaun Holmes & The Sacramento Kings: NBA Franchise Duties and Discipline for Disclosure of Off-Court Player Behavior

Richaun Holmes
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On March 18, the Sacramento Kings announced that Richaun Holmes would miss the remainder of the 2022 NBA season for “personal reasons”.1[1]Sacramento Kings PR, Kings Update Regarding Richaun Holmes, NBA (Mar. 18, 2022) https://www.nba.com/kings/news/kings-update-regarding-richaun-holmes The 7th-year forward had experienced an inconsistent season, appearing in only 45 games.2[2]Basketball Reference, Richaun Holmes 2022 Statistics, Basketball Reference (2022) https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/h/holmeri01.html Considering the team’s poor record, recent acquisition of two-time All-Star forward Domantas Sabonis, and Holmes’ nagging “back” injury, this announcement came as a surprise to few, and was generally ignored by the greater NBA public.3[3]National Basketball Association, Sacramento Kings Team Info, NBA.com (2022) https://www.nba.com/team/1610612758/kings It has become commonplace amongst rebuilding franchises to “shut down” players who are under contract for subsequent season(s) after the All-Star break.4[4]McMahon, Tim & Windhorst, Brian, How the NBA’s Bottom Dwellers Are Putting on a Tanking Clinic, ESPN (Feb. 26, 2018) This practice is usually implemented to minimize injury risk and provide younger prospects with consistent playing time.5[5]Id. Shutdowns have become an increasingly popular option, as they yield legitimate results for maintaining player health and safety and in-season evaluation structure, while often improving draft lottery stock.6[6]Id.

However, on March 24, The Sacramento Bee’s Robin Epley published a story alleging an alternative explanation for the Kings-Holmes shutdown: a domestic violence charge and child custody proceeding filed against Holmes by his ex-wife Allexis in Sacramento Superior Court.7[7]Epley, Robin, The ugly reason the Kings shut down Richaun Holmes early: Domestic violence accusations, The Sacramento Bee (Mar. 24, 2022) https://www.sacbee.com/opinion/article259668860.html According to available court records, Allexis alleges that Richaun battered their 6-year-old son, causing him to bleed from the head.8[8]Holmes v. Holmes, 19 STFL 15217 (Cal. Sup. Ct. 2019) In asking the Kings organization about the pending proceedings, Epley asserts that the team initially refused to acknowledge any private prior knowledge of the charges that now publicly confront Holmes.9[9]Epley, Robin, The ugly reason the Kings shut down Richaun Holmes early: Domestic violence accusations, 1 n.7 (2022)

As commenters quickly identified, Holmes sat out for multiple games over the course of February and March for this same “personal reasons” issue, prior to the March 18 announcement.10[10]CBS Sports, Richaun Holmes, Sacramento Kings, CBS News (2022) https://www.cbssports.com/nba/players/2018537/richaun-holmes/ For observers, this may raise any of the following questions: were the Kings aware of the charges facing Holmes? If yes, did they refuse to alert the NBA and general public? Would they even have an obligation to do so? With this in mind, beyond the discipline possibly facing Holmes, could the Kings organization also face potential discipline?

This article will wade through the current allegations and questions, clarifying what most likely lies ahead for Holmes and the Kings. First, it will provide relevant collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) provisions governing off-court player misconduct of this nature to determine if and when the NBA may discipline Holmes. Next, it will explore the league Constitution and Bylaws to ascertain the responsibilities of the NBA franchise to disclose player misconduct and potential discipline for failure to do so. This will shine a necessary light on current potential loopholes in rules requiring organization-to-league communication and related punishment. Finally, it will provide a brief history of player misconduct similar to that alleged against Holmes, in order to determine both the potential next steps for the Kings, as well as the nature and reasoning behind the NBA’s overall disciplinary structure.

Relevant Collective Bargaining Agreement Provisions

The NBA CBA’s provisions on domestic violence and child abuse are found in Appendix F11[11]National Basketball Association, 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement, Appendix F (2022). https://atlhawksfanatic.github.io/NBA-CBA/ , promulgated under §6.16.12[12]National Basketball Association, 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement, §6.16 (2022). https://atlhawksfanatic.github.io/NBA-CBA/ In short, the Commissioner holds the exclusive authority to fine, suspend, or dismiss and disqualify from any further association with the NBA and its teams any player who engages in prohibited conduct and is found to violate this policy.13[13]Id. Any conviction, plea of guilty, or plea of no contest or nolo contendere automatically establishes a violation of this policy (and discipline).14[14]Id. However, such admission, conviction, or plea is not required in order for a policy violation to have occurred if an NBA league office investigation establishes the violation.15[15]Id. Importantly, these provisions allow for such an investigation only following the conclusion of legal proceedings and place the responsibility for investigation solely on the league office. Appendix F investigations permit the introduction of third party resources such as “outside legal counsel, outside investigators, or other individuals with relevant experience or expertise” to collect, evaluate, and decide upon all relevant data with the league representatives.16[16]Id. This provision also requires the NBA to notify the Players Association (“NBPA”) when it has concluded an investigation and to report whether it believes a violation of the policy has occurred. Discipline is then decided in tandem by both the NBA and the NBPA.17[17]Id. It is noteworthy that the only responsibility placed upon franchises under these circumstances is to impose this decided discipline ex-post.18[18]National Basketball Association, 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement, Appendix F, 2 n.11 (2022)

In considering this framework, it is certainly possible for the NBA to discipline Richaun Holmes following the conclusion of the pending proceedings against him. Should it be found that there is no automatic violation, the league office would most likely initiate and conduct an Appendix F-adherent investigation, then apply Appendix F discipline if/as it deems necessary.19[19]Id.

Relevant NBA Constitution and Bylaw Structure

As established above, the NBA CBA contains the framework necessary for disciplining players in situations like Holmes’, regardless of formal legal liability. However, the question remains regarding the Kings’ lack of disclosure to the league, considering their potential knowledge of Holmes’ situation.

Provisions guiding misconduct for all NBA Members and Owners are located within Article 35A of the NBA Constitution.20[20]National Basketball Association, 2021 Constitution and By-Laws, art. XXXV (2022). https://ak-static.cms.nba.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2018/10/NBA-Constitution-By-Laws-October-2018.pdf Specifically relevant sections include 35A(c), regarding statements having an effect prejudicial or detrimental to the best interests of basketball or of the association or of a member or its team, and 35A(d), adding discipline for conduct prejudicial or detrimental, in addition to statements.21[21]Id. Crucially, there are no constitutional provisions within 35A or elsewhere regarding required disclosures to the league concerning unforeseen/prohibited player behavior and conduct. This means that the Kings had no immediate responsibility to report Holmes. However, this does not mean they are free from discipline for the manner in which they handled this situation prior to March 18.

First, the Kings may have committed a 35A(c) violation. Those found to violate 35A(c) are liable to a fine not exceeding $5,000,000 and/or a suspension to be imposed by the Commissioner.22[22]Id. However, due to the requirement of a “statement” having an effect detrimental, it is unlikely that the Kings organization will face discipline here. The league will struggle to pinpoint a specific statement pertaining to Holmes which fits within this definition. The only material “statement” made by the Kings is the March 18 announcement, which certainly does not, by itself, prove detrimental to the best interests of the sport or league.23[23]Sacramento Kings PR, Kings Update Regarding Richaun Holmes, 1 n.1 (2022)

Should the Kings face discipline, it will most likely derive from 35A(d).24[24]National Basketball Association, 2021 Constitution and By-Laws, art. XXXV, 4 n.20 (2022). If proven that the Kings were aware of and failed to notify the league of Holmes’ status, the Commissioner may investigate and determine that this failure constitutes conduct detrimental.25[25]Id. He can then punish the Kings in the form of fines not exceeding $5,000,000 and/or a future draft pick forfeiture. 26[26]Id. The NBA’s argument here would most likely be that knowledge of Holmes’ circumstance at the earliest point possible would have enabled the preparing of a unified response, the detailed briefing of all relevant parties, and the general bracing for the story to break news. While this argument may seem relatively clear, this path towards discipline is not without issue.

Conduct detrimental27[27]Buhler, John, What does conduct detrimental to the team mean in the NBA?, FanSided (Oct. 2021) https://fansided.com/2021/10/19/ben-simmons-76ers-suspension-conduct-detrimental-definition/ is well defined in the CBA space regarding player behavior.28[28]National Basketball Association, 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement, §6 (2022). https://atlhawksfanatic.github.io/NBA-CBA/ However, the NBA Constitution and Bylaws provide no definition regarding conduct detrimental for Members and Owners. While it can be argued that this term needs no definition and is solely up to the Commissioner to define and utilize, this highlights a massive potential omission in construction. This can certainly result in arbitration-based challenges from the Kings organization.

So, while there exists no explicit requirement concerning team disclosure of off-court player behavior, should the Commissioner decide to investigate and discipline the Kings organization, he still may do so, likely under Article 35A(d) of the NBA Constitution.29[29]National Basketball Association, 2021 Constitution and By-Laws, art. XXXV, 3 n.20 (2022). Discipline of this nature is not fleshed out through definition or precedent, and will most likely be met with significant challenge on behalf of the Kings. For this reason, it may instead be in the best interest of the league to work in conjunction with the Kings organization to ensure that the Holmes matter is dealt with accurately and justly moving forward.

NBA History of Similar Circumstances and Overall League Disciplinary Structure

Most recently, on January 24, the New Orleans Pelicans reported that their third-year forward, Jaxon Hayes, had been arrested on misdemeanor domestic violence charges.30[30]Li, David K & Blankstein, Andrew, NBA player Jaxson Hayes charged with domestic violence in Los Angeles, NBC News (Jan. 25, 2022) https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/nba-player-jaxson-hayes-charged-domestic-violence-los-angeles-rcna13 Hayes pled no contest in February, and awaits sentencing this June.31[31]City News Service, NBA player Jaxson Hayes strikes plea deal over domestic violence arrest, Los Angeles Daily News (Feb. 24, 2022) https://www.dailynews.com/2022/02/24/nba-player-jaxson-hayes-strikes-plea-deal-over-domestic-violence-arrest/ The Commissioner separately awaits this sentencing, to foreseeably proceed under Appendix F.32[32]National Basketball Association, 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement, Appendix F, 2 n.11 (2022) Thus far, Hayes has received no league discipline, and has since played a significant role on a hopeful Pelicans team.

In 2014, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Dante Cunningham was charged with domestic assault.33[33]SI Staff, Felony assault charge against Cunningham dropped, Sports Illustrated NBA (Aug. 18, 2014) https://www.si.com/nba/2014/08/18/ap-bkn-timberwolves-cunningham After the presentation of evidence asserting that an element of the relevant accusations was fabricated, all formal charges were dropped.34[34]Id. While Cunningham publicly struggled to find a suitor in 2015 free agency, the Commissioner did not proceed under Appendix F, §6, or Article 35A. Cunningham went on to play in the NBA for four more seasons.35[35]TSN Staff, NBA free agent Cunningham struggles to clear name after domestic violence charge dropped, Toronto Sports Network (Oct. 23, 2014) https://www.tsn.ca/nba-free-agent-cunningham-struggles-to-clear-name-after-domestic-violence-charge-dropped-1.113744?tsn-amp

Also in 2014, Miami Heat center Greg Oden was arrested on domestic violence charges.36[36]Zucker, Joseph, Greg Oden Comments on NBA Career, Domestic Battery Charge and More, Bleacher Report (Oct. 27, 2016) https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2672445-greg-oden-comments-on-nba-career-domestic-battery-charge-and-mo Prior to any legal outcome, the Heat opted out of contracting Oden for the 2015 season, making him a free agent.37[37]Id. While eventually reaching a plea deal, Oden was unable to obtain another NBA contract. While it is foreseeable that an Appendix F procedure would have followed, due to his informal departure from the league, no such discipline occurred.

As made apparent by the cases above, the NBA is extremely hesitant to dole out any sort of player or league discipline prior to the firm conclusion of the related legal (and team) matter. In the case of Oden, his inconsistent role and small contract enabled a “safe and moral” business decision by the Heat prior to the opportunity for any league-based discipline. Even in circumstances as extreme as Hayes’, the league still abstains from discipline until the player fully proceeds through a court of law and public opinion.38[38]City News Service, NBA player Jaxson Hayes strikes plea deal over domestic violence arrest, 5 n. 31 (2022) This echoes the general CBA drafters’ intentions to create a league system based on “moral character” mimicking that of society at large.39[39]National Basketball Association, 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement, (2022). https://atlhawksfanatic.github.io/NBA-CBA/ All are innocent until proven guilty, with restraints placed on the league from inducing punishment at any point prior to individual’s completion through the justice system. This mirrors the “right to a fair trial” set forth in the 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.40[40]U.S. Const. amend. XI. (1791)

Furthermore, these examples also may indicate what precisely lies ahead for Richaun Holmes.

Conclusion

Based on the foregoing, we will not know the outcome of the Holmes/Kings circumstance until the conclusion of the domestic violence charge and child custody proceeding in California state court. While the Kings may act at any point, only then can the Commissioner proceed against Holmes under Appendix F/§6.16 of the CBA,41[41]National Basketball Association, 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement, 6 n. 39 (2022). and, potentially, against members of the Kings organization under Article 35A(d) of the NBA Constitution.42[42]National Basketball Association, 2021 Constitution and By-Laws, art. XXXV, 3 n.20 (2022).

Holmes will not play again for the Kings this season, as his future with the franchise now remains up in the air until at least this summer. It would be extremely difficult for the Kings to outrightly cut or trade Holmes, who signed a 4-year, $46.5 million dollar contract in 2019 that, as things stand, still has over $20 million dollars guaranteed for the 2023 and 2024 seasons, with a player option in 2025 (Oden).43[43]Basketball Reference, Sacramento Kings Team Payroll, Basketball Reference (2022) https://www.basketball-reference.com/contracts/SAC.html A reinstatement of Holmes anytime in the near future (Hayes) would not only be met with public opposition, but would perhaps even further implicate the Kings in the eyes of the league.

The outcome of this matter in the coming months will have a massive impact on Holmes’ eligibility and playing career, the Kings organization and cap sheet, and, most importantly, the character of the NBA community at large.

Written by: Skyler Sands
Skyler is a 2023 J.D. Candidate at Brooklyn Law School


1 Sacramento Kings PR, Kings Update Regarding Richaun Holmes, NBA (Mar. 18, 2022) https://www.nba.com/kings/news/kings-update-regarding-richaun-holmes
2 Basketball Reference, Richaun Holmes 2022 Statistics, Basketball Reference (2022) https://www.basketball-reference.com/players/h/holmeri01.html
3 National Basketball Association, Sacramento Kings Team Info, NBA.com (2022) https://www.nba.com/team/1610612758/kings
4 McMahon, Tim & Windhorst, Brian, How the NBA’s Bottom Dwellers Are Putting on a Tanking Clinic, ESPN (Feb. 26, 2018)
5 Id.
6 Id.
7 Epley, Robin, The ugly reason the Kings shut down Richaun Holmes early: Domestic violence accusations, The Sacramento Bee (Mar. 24, 2022) https://www.sacbee.com/opinion/article259668860.html
8 Holmes v. Holmes, 19 STFL 15217 (Cal. Sup. Ct. 2019)
9 Epley, Robin, The ugly reason the Kings shut down Richaun Holmes early: Domestic violence accusations, 1 n.7 (2022)
10 CBS Sports, Richaun Holmes, Sacramento Kings, CBS News (2022) https://www.cbssports.com/nba/players/2018537/richaun-holmes/
11 National Basketball Association, 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement, Appendix F (2022). https://atlhawksfanatic.github.io/NBA-CBA/ 
12 National Basketball Association, 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement, §6.16 (2022). https://atlhawksfanatic.github.io/NBA-CBA/
13 Id.
14 Id.
15 Id.
16 Id.
17 Id
18 National Basketball Association, 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement, Appendix F, 2 n.11 (2022)
19 Id.
20 National Basketball Association, 2021 Constitution and By-Laws, art. XXXV (2022). https://ak-static.cms.nba.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2018/10/NBA-Constitution-By-Laws-October-2018.pdf
21 Id.
22 Id.
23 Sacramento Kings PR, Kings Update Regarding Richaun Holmes, 1 n.1 (2022)
24 National Basketball Association, 2021 Constitution and By-Laws, art. XXXV, 4 n.20 (2022).
25 Id.
26 Id.
27 Buhler, John, What does conduct detrimental to the team mean in the NBA?, FanSided (Oct. 2021)
28 National Basketball Association, 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement, §6 (2022). https://atlhawksfanatic.github.io/NBA-CBA/
29 National Basketball Association, 2021 Constitution and By-Laws, art. XXXV, 3 n.20 (2022).
30 Li, David K & Blankstein, Andrew, NBA player Jaxson Hayes charged with domestic violence in Los Angeles, NBC News (Jan. 25, 2022)
31 City News Service, NBA player Jaxson Hayes strikes plea deal over domestic violence arrest, Los Angeles Daily News (Feb. 24, 2022) https://www.dailynews.com/2022/02/24/nba-player-jaxson-hayes-strikes-plea-deal-over-domestic-violence-arrest/
32 National Basketball Association, 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement, Appendix F, 2 n.11 (2022)
33 SI Staff, Felony assault charge against Cunningham dropped, Sports Illustrated NBA (Aug. 18, 2014)
34 Id.
35 TSN Staff, NBA free agent Cunningham struggles to clear name after domestic violence charge dropped, Toronto Sports Network (Oct. 23, 2014)
36 Zucker, Joseph, Greg Oden Comments on NBA Career, Domestic Battery Charge and More, Bleacher Report (Oct. 27, 2016)
37 Id.
38 City News Service, NBA player Jaxson Hayes strikes plea deal over domestic violence arrest, 5 n. 31 (2022)
39 National Basketball Association, 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement, (2022). https://atlhawksfanatic.github.io/NBA-CBA/ 
40 U.S. Const. amend. XI. (1791)
41 National Basketball Association, 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement, 6 n. 39 (2022). 
42 National Basketball Association, 2021 Constitution and By-Laws, art. XXXV, 3 n.20 (2022).
43 Basketball Reference, Sacramento Kings Team Payroll, Basketball Reference (2022) https://www.basketball-reference.com/contracts/SAC.html

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