League making no gray areas here

George Karl and the Denver Nuggets were hit with the stiffest fine of its kind Friday: $200,000 on top of a three-game suspension for Karl to start next season after he attended multiple pre-draft workouts at Marquette University featuring highly rated Illinois point guard Deron Williams.

Yet the Nuggets, in response, called this an "innocent mistake" by their coach.

What really happened?

Sources close to Karl insist that Karl attended the workouts at Marquette, run by close friend Rick Majerus, because Karl's son, Coby, was partcipating. The same sources insist that Karl had no idea who Williams was, even though Williams is considered a lock to be selected in the top five of this month's draft.

Karl's problem is that NBA rules demand that any coach or team official who finds himself in a gym observing players who are draft-ineligible must leave in a timely fashion. Williams' name wasn't officially made draft-eligible until May 19; Karl attended the sessions May 16-18.

The inference, then, is that Karl lost his grounds for amnesty when he didn't check with Majerus after the first workout to make sure everyone in the gym was draftable. Of course, it should be noted that Karl technically wasn't even allowed to watch his son, who just finished his sophomore season at Boise State.

That's why the league office, ramping up the penalties as it often does when it wants to get a message across, assessed stiffer sanctions to Karl than it did in two similar cases in the summer of 2002.

John Lucas was fined $150,000 and suspended for the first two games of the 2002-03 season when Cleveland's then-coach allowed LeBron James to scrimmage with some Cavs vets at the team's practice facility between his junior and senior years of high school. Dallas' father/son tandem of Don and Donnie Nelson received the same sanctions (two-game suspensions and a $150,000 fine for the team) after being cited for watching workouts in Belgrade that featured an underage prospect named Darko Milicic.

Denver accepted Karl's punishment with a muted public protest, saying in a statement that the club takes "full responsibility for these actions," but the Nuggets privately say they believe that Karl's infractions aren't on the same scale as the others. They're probably right, too.

It's hard to believe Karl was trying to gain some sort of clandestine advantage with Williams by allowing himself to be seen on a stage as big as Marquette. It's also hard to believe given that Karl had to be told who Williams was ... and considering Williams will be drafted long before the Nuggets pick at No. 20 on June 28.

You'd like to believe the penalties would have been softer if Coby Karl had been the only underclassman in the gym. The NBA, though, sees little gray area in these matters, no matter how many teams around the league complain that the rules involved are ambigious.

The rules state that team representatives can only watch college seniors work out before the official list of early entry candidates is released. Given the penalties assessed Friday, it appears unlikely that those regulations are going to be relaxed any time soon.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.