How serious is the Knicks’ lawsuit against the Raptors? Past and present NBA team personnel weigh in

On Monday afternoon, news leaked out that the Knicks had filed a lawsuit against various members of the Raptors, including former Knicks video coordinator Ikechukwu “Ike” Azotam and new head coach Darko Rajakovic among others.

The lawsuit alleges that Azotam broke a confidentiality clause that he signed while working with the Knicks, disclosed Knicks trade secrets, and gave the Raptors other competitive advantages after being hired by them in the summer of 2023. 

Sporting News spoke with a handful of past and current team employees, under the condition of anonymity, to get their opinion on how serious the allegations were. 

What are the allegations against the Raptors? 

Azotam worked for the Knicks for three years as a video coordinator. The suit alleges that after receiving an offer of employment from the Raptors, he “began secretly forwarding proprietary information from his Knicks email account to his personal Gmail account, which he then shared with the Raptors Defendants. These materials included scouting reports, play frequency reports, a prep book, and a link to third-party licensed software known as Synergy. 

The suit alleges that Azotam emailed his Knicks Synergy login to a member of the Raptors staff and transferred 3,358 files from the software, which was accessed over 2,000 times by the Raptors. 

Azotam is also alleged to have shared two emails containing scouting reports for the Pacers and Nuggets for the 2022-23 season, including team and player tendencies, play diagrams, and play calls. 

What are the allegations against Raptors coach Darko Rajakovic?

Rajakovic is alleged to have “conspired to use Azotam’s position as a current Knicks insider to funnel proprietary information to the Raptors to help them organize, plan, and structure the new coaching and video operations staff.”

The suit alleges that Rajakovic did not have his own organizational structure or coaching method, so he chose to exploit the Knicks’ methods, using Azotam “to serve as a mole within the Knicks organization to convey information” that would assist in managing the Raptors. 

How serious is the Knicks’ lawsuit against the Raptors?

The Knicks allege that the Raptors gained a competitive advantage at nine separate points in their complaint. 

All of the anonymous team employees who were surveyed found this to be a bit of a stretch. 

The videos that Azotam is alleged to have transferred via Synergy are available to every team in the league, along with thousands of other people who pay for access to the software. Synergy is a very commonly-used tool throughout the NBA, and so the prevailing thought among those who work/worked in the league is that Azotam’s actions weren’t a big deal. 

“In the most advantageous possible case, [Azotam’s alleged activity] could be used to speed up the employee’s personal work,” one team employee told Sporting News. “But unless the employee transitioned during the playoffs from one team to their opponent, there is no real benefit…[Sharing Synergy videos] is the equivalent to liking something on Twitter.” 

“Personally, if I brought these files to my org, it would be a) looked down upon and b) ignored,” the employee added. 

Former Director of Basketball Research for the Bucks Seth Partnow suggested that the actions of Azotam were nothing out of the ordinary, tweeting “Knicks file lawsuit alleging employee moving teams does what every employee moving teams does.”

Partnow added some context to his tweet with Sporting News, stating “I was being flippant in the tweet, and can’t say that it is a truly universal practice. However, from both my experience and conversations with others around the league suggests that showing up with plenty of examples of past work is extremely commonplace.”  

“For the most part, information contained in such samples gets stale pretty quickly, so it’s more about the form of the report, document or tool rather than the contents.” 

Steve Jones Jr. performed similar duties to Azotam during his five years between the Grizzlies and Nets. Jones called the suit “petty” in a tweet. But he suggested that Azotam still should have been more careful. Jones added that when a team employee leaves “you always get your stuff before you go, once you go it’s over, don’t touch a single old thing.” 

While Azotam’s actions may not be particularly unusual for an employee switching teams, the lawsuit is unprecedented territory for the league. It is still unclear what punishments will be doled out to the Raptors, if any.

But the rest of the league will be watching closely.

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