The New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors remain embroiled in a legal dispute, but that hasn’t prevented them from doing basketball business together. On Saturday, the two teams agreed to a blockbuster deal that will send RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley and a second-round pick to Toronto in exchange for OG Anunoby, Malachi Flynn and Precious Achiuwa.
In the latest court filing, the Raptors hinted at a countersuit for defamation, called the Knicks’ claim that NBA commissioner Adam Silver is too close to Maple Leaf Sports and entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum to serve as an arbitrator “baseless” and argued for the lawsuit, which alleges that Raptors video coordinator/player development coach Ike Azotam stole confidential and proprietary information from his former employer, to be dismissed.
In the reply, which was obtained by CBS Sports and filed on Dec. 11, after New York’s’ 136-130 victory against Toronto at Madison Square Garden, the Raptors:
Note that, after “the proper forum for this dispute” has been settled, the defendants “reserve the right to pursue counterclaims against the Knicks for the defamatory public statements they have made, including accusations of a ‘clear violation of criminal and civil law.'”
Claim the Knicks are “keen to stay in court as long as possible because this lawsuit attracts publicity and is directed at harming the Raptors, its head coach and members of his staff.” (Toronto coach Darko Rajakovic is one of several defendants named in the suit.)
Claim that Rajakovic “never needed, wanted, or saw a single piece of [the] Knicks’ proprietary information,” and that “not a single trade secret belonging to the Knicks was ever shared by Azotam with a single Raptors employee.”
Argue that Silver is “not biased and he is the best person to adjudicate this dispute because of his ability to identify what, if any, information is confidential and proprietary such that its misuse may harm a Member like the Knicks,” and that New York’s “aversion to his jurisdiction is simply because they know they will not like his determination.”
Liken the Knicks’ assertion that Silver is compromised to “a coach bemoaning an injury to his star player even before the game,” as “the Knicks seek to excuse their inevitable loss on the merits by attacking the integrity of the NBA Commissioner.” The Raptors describe the argument as both “outrageous” and “premature,” as the U.S. District Court should not, in Toronto’s view, “entertain an attack upon the qualifications or partiality of arbitrators until after the conclusion of the arbitration and the rendition of an award,” citing two previous cases.
In a written statement, an MSG spokesperson responded: “Hopefully the Court will make it clear that Toronto cannot escape the consequence of breaking the law by being a member of the NBA.”
New York filed its complaint in August. It alleged that Toronto “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.” Toronto filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in October, calling it “a public relations stunt” and arguing that the matter was subject to arbitration by the NBA commissioner and should not go to court. New York responded to that motion in November, stating that Silver shouldn’t be allowed to resolve the dispute, citing both his relationship with Tanenbaum and that it was seeking more than $10 million in damages, the largest penalty the commissioner is allowed to impose.
In both the Raptors’ motion to dismiss the case and this reply in support of that motion, they argue that the information allegedly stolen by Azotam, which includes video and data from Synergy Sports, was not, in fact, confidential and proprietary.
“If the Knicks were genuinely concerned that there had been misuse of confidential and proprietary information,” they wrote in Monday’s filing, “they would have accepted the Raptors’ invitation to cooperate with the Knicks in undertaking an immediate and thorough investigation of the Knicks’ allegations. And they would have sought immediate relief from the Commissioner – who could have ruled before the season even began – rather than mired themselves in lengthy judicial proceedings.”