Cream cake in Berlin: An agent’s story

The penultimate European trip of the season – No. 5 – got off to an inauspicious start. In Kaunas, Lithuania, he was unable to collect his three-years-in-arrears fee from Basketball Club Zalgiris. It was highly doubtful he ever would. (“Always get …

The penultimate European trip of the season – No. 5 – got off to an inauspicious start. In Kaunas, Lithuania, he was unable to collect his three-years-in-arrears fee from Basketball Club Zalgiris. It was highly doubtful he ever would.

(“Always get paid while the tooth hurts,” a dentist, father of a former client, advised once).

Now, at an Italian restaurant in Lodz, Poland, staring at a barely-touched Pasta e Fagioli bowl, he was sitting, stunned, in front of a 6-foot-6 18-year-old shooting guard.

“I don’t want to sign with you. Where were you when I was having problems with my club? How can you help me from America? I need an agent from Europe.”

The brewing tempest within was contained, barely, by external calmness and dinner ended amicably. He paid, of course, and escorted the player to his car.

They shook hands, but, unlike previous partings, did not embrace.

It was a quarter past midnight.

Back at the Novotel, he was restlessly composing a response email. Why didn’t he tell me this a week ago, when I informed him that I would be coming over from freaking San Francisco just to sign him?!

The kid was not an NBA prospect and, likely, not even a career Euroleague-level talent. Still, this stung. Four years and numerous overseas trips – all wasted. Recruiting a 14-year-old had been a first for him. It would be the last.

It felt increasingly absurd – idiotic, in fact – to be in this position, especially considering their 32-year age gap. Yet, intrinsic, competitive pride kept gnawing at him. This should have been in the bag. He shares a hometown with your best-ever and most famous client – the best Polish player of all time. You screwed up and took it for granted – no-no No.1 of being an agent.

He hit Send at 2.30 am. The 9 am to Berlin was taking off from Warsaw, 75 miles away. Even with a taxi, it would be an abbreviated night, again.

Very often, during these continent-hopping, country-crossing, mind-bending, body-abusing, reality-altering, 12-cities-in-15-days trips, the agonizing pain of leaving his young son and daughter back in the Bay could no longer be bottled up. Far too many of their precious, formative, moments took place while he was chasing athletic, very tall men a continent and an ocean away. Alone, in a silent, dimly lit hotel room, he would sit on his bed, sobbing. Perhaps, he felt closest to his family while navigating foreign cities in chilly foreign lands.

His industrious wife, a high-ranking scientist, unfairly and all-too-frequently burdened with being a single parent – up to five months, in a busy year – felt his agony and, somehow, always found time and energy to send news, photos and videos from the home front. Like food to a starving man, he craved every crumb.

“Hi, DaddyGuy,” their kids would quip, facing her phone. A powerful surge, fusing elation and heartache, would overwhelm him – the delicately beautiful faces on his screen now blurry.  In public places, even the mere sight of families with young kids would often moisten his eyes. Worse still, sleeping was becoming increasingly hard, even as fatigue levels rose.

For the majority of his years, he had considered himself very fortunate to be 6-foot-4. Basketball was his soulmate and driving force. He spent 12 years practicing, playing (and, later, coaching) it, as hard as he possibly could, on asphalt, cement, and, eventually, PVC – the only available surfaces in his Israeli hometown between the mid-70s and 80s. The local club teams he played for didn’t have trainers and no one had ever heard of post-game/practice icing.

At 24,  he finally stopped playing regularly. The ultimate game, however, was already lost – knee pain would become a detested, debilitating, and demoralizing life-long partner.

Two summers later, in June 1988, while fund-raising, door-to-door, on behalf of Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, a mid-afternoon phone call would forever change his life.

They were engaged in a Quixotic campaign against Boston Edison, attempting to shut down two old nuclear power plants. The 20 percent cut from his daily totals, was barely sufficient to pay rent and eat reasonably healthy food. By the time the heavy, push-button brown telephone set rang in the kitchen of the dilapidated Allston apartment he was sharing with two roommates, he was broke, staring at a minimum of two-and-a-half additional years of university studies. Boston was very expensive.

On the very next night, he closed his eyes, laying flat on a king-sized bed in a posh mid-Manhattan hotel room.

What began as an all-expenses-paid scouting assignment for his hometown’s Maccabi Rishon Le Tzion, would evolve into a career. By 1990, while still studying Sociology full-time, writing articles for a popular Tel Aviv weekly magazine, and working 20 weekly hours at Boston U’s medical school, he became a full-time agent.

The following quarter of a century would see him travel to 48 of the 50 U.S. states and 25 countries while representing 13 NBA clients, including six un-drafted, and over 150 players globally. In most years, even when managing 30-35  clients, he insisted on visiting every one of them, wherever they played.

He never aspired to be No. 1. The inexhaustible rapacity of those who did never appealed to him. Without ever paying or accepting bribes – a rarity in the industry – he had to be smarter and more dedicated than his competition since he had irrevocably committed to feeding off the skinny side of the bone. An empathetic, natural mentor and a basketball expert, he worked tirelessly – 100-hour work weeks were not unusual – over many time zones.

And it paid off. Or so it seemed.

The gradually increasing incomes were becoming substantial. The hilly East Bay house was the family’s dream home. He loved the wide range of wonderful and fascinating people work had brought into his life – some would become friends for life – as well as the incredible cultures and sites he got to experience.

Yet, despite all that good, the early years’ excitement about traveling had gradually morphed into sheer dread. Global aviation trends were particularly cruel to him. The unrelenting shrinkage in seats’ size and available space had turned almost every flight into an assault on his back and knees. In stadiums, the hard seats and endless stairs were equally unforgiving.

Nowadays, with most of his body aching on a regular basis, his perspective was radically altered: being tall was a curse.

In two days, it would be Brussels, then Milan, Ljubljana, Athens, and, finally, Istanbul – Death of a Salesman was how a friend had described his life once – but, for now, his goal was simple: turn off Hyper Brain and close your eyes. For a meager three hours. Please.

The 40-minute nap on the flight felt like 15. At Tegel, pulling the large blue suitcase and carry-on, early March freezing winds and a long line of Mercedes Benzes greeted him. The connective tissues around T10, T6, L5 and L4 were already tightening up in protest.

Such expensive cars and you can’t even sit comfortably in those fucking hardback seats. Who’s the moron who designed that dent in the middle?!

Tiredly searching for a non-Benz in the queue, he found none.

“Next!”, yelled the taxi coordinator, waiving his left arm.

A black car rolled slowly towards him. The driver, 60 or so, white-grey leftover hair on top of a rose-colored face, bi-focal glasses chained around a wrinkled, thick neck, yesterday’s shirt’s collar sticking out of a worn-down black leather jacket, got out and grabbed the suitcase.

– Hello Sir, where you go?

– Andel’s Hotel.

– OK.

Phone in hand, he started scrolling through emails, basketball websites, texts, names, and schedules.

Gotta get some work done before we get there. Eat some food, submerge the body in the hot tub and hit the hay.

50 felt like the new 70.

The Euroleague game, a must-win for Alba Berlin, was scheduled for 8:45. The biggest perk of attending games at O2 had nothing to do with the striking arena itself. A few hundred yards away,  the still-standing massive blocks of the Berlin Wall were facing the gigantic, glittering, circular structure. Each was painted by a different artist. Some were nothing short of spectacular. If he got the proper afternoon R & R, he could finally take some shots.

Photography had often saved him from going travel crazy. With no one to share his adventures and the emotional peaks and valleys, he had to record pieces of his road life for fear it would all quickly evaporate into nothingness.

He turned in his seat, again, seeking a pain-free position. It was futile. On the window’s colder side, the city’s melancholy winter gray mirrored his mood. I should have been repping tennis players. Their season peaks in the summer.

BAUHAUS Berlin-wedding declared a road sign.

His thoughts were abruptly invaded:

– Where are you coming from?

– Warsaw.

– Where do you live?

– In the United States.

– You’re from America?

Despite his fatigue (and knowing better), he was still tempted.

I should tell him that I’m from Canada, or Brazil, or Mexico and watch his reaction!

– I live in the United States.

– You’re my second American today.

– OK.

– I like Americans a lot.

– Aha.

Couldn’t he have come up with something less unoriginal? Such embarrassing tip-fishing, especially for his age.

– Sorry, my English is not so good.

– It’s much better than my German.

– You speak German?

– No, I don’t. I can only say a few words.

– Where do you live in America?

What’s the point?

– San Francisco, Bay Area, California.

On the sidewalk to his right, underneath a flailing, naked tree, a tall young woman, wearing a dark brown coat and a red wool hat, was holding her small daughter in her left hand and pushing, not without effort, a dark blue stroller with her right. The girl’s left hand was pressing her brown hat downwards.

He gave up on trying to work and put the phone in his coat pocket.

– Are you originally from Berlin?

– No, I’m from a willage, 150 km away.

– But you live here now?

– Yes.

– When did you first come to Berlin?

– I remember coming here when I was young. My grandfather was living here. I came to visit him. I wanted to see the Americans.

He loved Berlin’s vibrant mural and graffiti art scene and spent free days and nights searching for photo targets. The magical paths into lights and shadows came with a price, however. His feet would get very cold and the resulting night cramps that routinely awakened him were torturous.

I could never live here. 19 Boston winters were enough for me.

A sudden stop brought his attention back to the warm car:

– How old were you?

– Nine.

– What time of the year?” (The ex-journalist instincts kicked in,  temporarily replacing physical distress and mental weariness.)

– It was very hot… it was June. They were giving food to the local people.

– Who, the Americans?

– Yes. We only have basic foods at home. We were very poor after the war.

– Did you get any food from the Americans?

– Yes. They had cakes that I never seen before in my village.

A seed started germinating in his brain.

I was born on the other side

Of a town ripped in two

(Fingers tapping a 4/4 time, involuntarily, he could visualize John Cameron Mitchell’s blond-wigged Hedwig singing):

I made it over the great divide

And now I’m coming for you

(Miriam Shor’s voice):

On August 13th, 1961

A wall was erected down the middle of the city of Berlin

The world was divided by a Cold War

And the Berlin wall was the most hated symbol of that divide

Reviled, graffitied, spit upon

We thought the wall would stand forever

Mindfully alert now, in a cascading epiphany:

– What year was that?

– 1961.

– Your grandfather was from the East side?

– Yes.

– So, that was just before they started building the wall?

– Two months before.”

He hesitated now, dreading the answer:

– Did you ever get to see your grandfather after that visit?

– No.

A long silence.

– Andel’s Hotel!

– How much?

– 15 Euros.

He paid 25.

– Can you please give me a receipt?

– Thank you, of course!

Reaching back with his right arm, the driver handed him the square piece of paper, but he did not reach for the door handle just yet.

– Do you remember what kind of cake it was?

– Yes, a cream cake.

– Was it good?

– The best cake I eat in my life.

Folding and putting the receipt in his wallet, he was too slow to stop the driver from pulling his luggage out of the trunk and rolling it up to the sidewalk. It irritated him that the older man had to do it. He got out.

– Thank you and good luck with everything.

– Thank you, Sir.

They shook hands warmly and, to both their surprise, he found himself hugging the driver.

Laboriously, pulling the weighty luggage, he entered the spectacularly bright and artsy lobby, slow-pacing towards the front desk, encapsulated by a massive copper arc behind it.

Final stop.

Until tomorrow.

– Hello. Last name is Zucker, first name Guy. I have a reservation.

Guy Zucker is a longtime agent who represents Mavs forward Maxi Kleber among other clients

How NBA coaches are fired behind the scenes

The average lifespan of an NBA coach is seemingly as short as a 24-second shot clock these days. Stalwarts like Gregg Popovich, Erik Spoelstra and Steve Kerr are outliers in this volatile profession. After the regular season, the Lakers, Kings and …

The average lifespan of an NBA coach is seemingly as short as a 24-second shot clock these days. Stalwarts like Gregg Popovich, Erik Spoelstra and Steve Kerr are outliers in this volatile profession.

After the regular season, the Lakers, Kings and Hornets all made coaching changes with the hope of improving next season. And that’s even though Frank Vogel, despite a disappointing season, won a championship just two seasons ago, and James Borrego won 10 more games each of the past two seasons.

“Everyone’s gonna love you, and then everyone’s going to hate you,” as one former NBA coach told HoopsHype.

So how do those firings happen behind the scenes? HoopsHype spoke with five NBA executives, three coaching agents and a former NBA coach to learn the answers.

Behind the scenes of a hardship deal: ‘It’s like getting drafted again’

This NBA season has included constant updates about players entering COVID health and safety protocols and led to the return of some beloved veterans getting another shot to play in the league. While the daily COVID carousel has affected numerous …

This NBA season has included constant updates about players entering COVID health and safety protocols and led to the return of some beloved veterans getting another shot to play in the league.

While the daily COVID carousel has affected numerous stars and decimated teams, it’s been a silver lining for players who thought their NBA journeys were over.

“I didn’t think this was possible, to be honest with you,” Celtics guard Joe Johnson told HoopsHype. “As you get older, you’re like a dinosaur. Nobody thinks you can play in your 40s.”

Yet, here we are. Johnson’s second stint with the Celtics comes 20 years after his first one, the longest gap for an NBA player in history.

Along with Johnson, HoopsHype spoke with Mavericks guard Brandon Knight and Hawks guard Lance Stephenson about how their 10-day hardship exception deals and NBA returns happened behind the scenes.

How do NBA executives approach out of shape players?

The NBA has seen superstars like James Harden and Zion Williamson begin the season out of shape, and it’s hurt their team performances. Whether it’s a superstar, starter, or role player off the bench, addressing a player who’s out of shape can be an …

The NBA has seen superstars like James Harden and Zion Williamson begin the season out of shape, and it’s hurt their team performances.

Whether it’s a superstar, starter, or role player off the bench, addressing a player who’s out of shape can be an awkward conversation for an executive, coach, or training staff member.

So how do teams handle a player who is out of shape?

HoopsHype spoke with four NBA executives and one NBA agent to learn how front office members handle that situation.

The NBA newsletter business behind the scenes: ‘It’s exciting, but it’s also more work’

The trending way for many media members to pursue their journalistic aspirations, either by choice or following layoffs, is through subscription newsletters, and NBA journalists are no exception. So how’s the subscription newsletter path going for …

The trending way for many media members to pursue their journalistic aspirations, either by choice or following layoffs, is through subscription newsletters, and NBA journalists are no exception.

So how’s the subscription newsletter path going for them? It varies, as with the rest of the media world, during these times. A few writers left established organizations and took a gamble on Substack, others parlayed newsletters into new jobs, some are managing, and remaining writers have multiple jobs outside of journalism.

HoopsHype spoke with Marc Stein, Ethan Strauss from House of Strauss, TrueHoops’s Henry Abbott, Scott Agness of FieldHouse Files, Jonathan Macri from Knicks Film School, Quinton Mayo of May-Oh’s Wizards newsletter, media analyst Simon Owens and other writers to explain how the subscription NBA newsletter business is working behind the scenes.

Restricted free agency behind the scenes: ‘It’s not really free agency’

A look behind the scenes at restricted free agency from NBA agents and executives who spoke with HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto.

Following lucrative deals for Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Michael Porter Jr. and Robert Williams, other players also on rookie-scale salaries hope to sign extensions before the Oct. 18 deadline to avoid an undesirable situation: restricted free agency.

Among those are Suns center Deandre Ayton, Cavs guard Collin Sexton and Grizzlies center Jaren Jackson Jr.

When the sides fail to agree to an extension, negotiations between executives and agents often become heated during restricted free agency.

“I was threatened by the GM,” one NBA agent told HoopsHype. “He was going to tell my client that I was f—— up the deal. I told him, ‘My client is in the other room. Do you think he doesn’t know what our conversation is? We’re going back and forth right now. There’s no way that he’s going to think I’m f—— this up.'”

To get a sense of how restricted free agency works behind the scenes and more anecdotes like the one above, HoopsHype spoke with five total agents and executives.

How players make money off NBA Top Shot

NBA Top Shot is the newest trending topic. Tyrese Haliburton, Josh Hart, Terry Rozier and Terrence Ross explain how it’s changed basketball.

NBA Top Shot started as a curiosity for players and fans that has rapidly become a trending topic across the country over the past month.

Why pay and try to collect players’ highlights? That’s a question players and fans initially asked when they could go on YouTube and just watch them. Over the past couple of weeks, however, several NBA players have taken up Top Shot as a hobby and learned it can be an investment opportunity while increasing their engagement with fans in the process. Since then, players have tweeted about Top Shot more often, and it’s become a conversation starter on and off the court.

“For some reason, a lot of f*cking moments are against the Pelicans,” New Orleans guard Josh Hart told HoopsHype while laughing. “Either someone scoring against the Pelicans, Rudy Gobert blocking my damn layup, or some bullsh*t like that. We played the Jazz. I think Gobert’s getting into it (Top Shot). He had a dunk. It wasn’t on me, but I was in the general vicinity, and he knows I do Top Shot. He looked at me while we were running back and he said like, ‘There’s a Top Shot moment right there.’ I was like, ‘Ah, f*ck you.’”

A few days later, Hart had a conversation with teammate Zion Williamson that provided a glimpse into the financial impact Top Shot can have.

“We were going through a walkthrough in San Antonio, and somebody was trying to sell me one of Zion’s moments,” Hart explained. “I think he wanted like $7,500 or something like that. I showed Zion the price of how much people are selling his moments and a lot of them were putting astronomical numbers there. The amount of money people spend on his moments is crazy. I showed him that the other day and he was like, ‘What the f*ck?’ Maybe we can get him on there at one point.”

In addition to Hart, HoopsHype spoke with Kings two-time Rookie of the Month Tyrese Haliburton, Hornets guard Terry Rozier, Magic guard Terrence Ross, G League player Malcolm Miller, and others to learn more about Top Shot’s financial impact on the players and how it’s changing the game.

How David Nurse combined NBA skills development, mental health

Former Nets shooting coach David Nurse has trained over 150 NBA players for an unshakeable mindset with mental health and skills development

David Nurse, the nephew of Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse, is combining NBA skills development and mental health to form an unshakeable mindset to optimize a player’s performance on and off the court.

“The NBA is weird and ever-changing,” as Miami Heat center Kelly Olynyk told HoopsHype. “Sometimes, you feel on top of the world feeling great. Other times, you feel like you don’t know if you’re going to play again. I think in four years in Boston, I don’t think I had one DNP (did not play). When I get to Miami, and you’re healthy and you’re dressed for the game and you get a DNP, that’s tough.”

Nurse, who previously worked for the Brooklyn Nets as a shooting coach, has trained over 150 NBA players, including Olynyk, All-Star Domantas Sabonis, Jeremy Lin, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Rui Hachimura, and others.

During his time working with players on the court and speaking with them outside the lines, Nurse realized there’s more to development than just mechanics and repetition.

“I felt like I was shooting the ball really well in drills and practice, but in the game, it just wasn’t connecting,” Powell told HoopsHype. “I wasn’t finding my flow and my rhythm in the games. Since then, me and David have been working on breaking down my game, sending me clips, and asking me different questions that aren’t usually asked when you’re working with your coach and watching film and what I saw from my perspective. He asked me a bunch of questions about what I thought about the game, my confidence level, and gave me a different perspective on how I approach the game and how I viewed myself.”

The key for Nurse was transferring a player’s successful mindset in practice or a private workout into games with fans in the stands and increased pressure to perform.

“He’ll go further into detail and what was my confidence level heading into the game?” Powell added. “How did I feel during my shooting time? Was there anything in the game that I wasn’t so confident about or I didn’t feel right about? Where was my mind at in terms of letting things go? Was I able to stay in the present moment if I had a turnover late in the game? Did I hang my head on that and let it bother me the rest of the game where I couldn’t focus on helping the team get a win?”

Powell, 27, has taken his game to new heights working with Nurse shooting a career-best 49.5 percent from the field last season and 43.8 percent from beyond the arc so far this season. He’s become a consistent 16-point per game scorer the past two seasons and is setting himself up for a potential pay raise if he declines his $11.6 million player option this offseason.

Other players see their names in trade rumors constantly with mobile alerts and fans chastising them with occasional threats after a bad game, turnover, or missed shot during the social media era. To perform at a high level, an athlete needs mental fortitude to block out any distractions. Amid a global pandemic, it’s even more critical than ever with daily changes for all of society.

“So much of the game now is just having confidence,” Olynyk explained. “Whether you’re a star player, you need that confidence out there every night to do stuff, or you’re a role player, someone who might only get three or four opportunities, and you’ve got to make sure you’re making the right decisions. If you only have two shots, you’ve got to step up and shoot those with confidence. If you waver at all, you might not get those opportunities again.”

According to Nurse, there will always be different circumstances on the outside, but in your head, you can control that environment.

“His deal is all about, can you get to that mindset, and that zone as many times as possible?” Olynyk said. “And when you get there, you feel like you can’t be stopped.”

To maintain that belief in a player as often as possible, Nurse outlined seven steps to achieve unshakeable confidence.

Confidence through comparison

In this step, a player compares himself to a player who he believes he can become. Kobe Bryant compared himself to Michael Jordan, studied everything he did on the court and mirrored many of his moves. In Powell’s case, he compares himself to Dwyane Wade.

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Confidence through strength focus

The goal of this step is to focus on a player’s strengths instead of his weaknesses. Some players are elite at one skill like shooting such as Kyle Korver, who became one of the league’s top shooters all-time instead of marginally improving as a better ball-handler or playmaker off the dribble.

Confidence through redefining vocabulary

Often, players will be asked about dealing with failure, pressure, or a  shooting slump. The word slump has a negative connotation. To combat that mindset, Nurse has shown his clients star players they look up to such as Bryant shooting air balls in the playoffs. The purpose is to show a player there’s growth from those moments.

“We don’t call it a slump,” Powell said. “As soon as you start putting that out there, you start believing it. Now, every shot that you miss is like you feel like you’re in a shooting slump. You change the narrative and wording around it so that way your perspective on it changes. I feel like a lot of times people get caught up in what’s being said, and how it’s said to you where it resonates with you differently, and it can affect you performance-wise.”

Nurse will use different vocabulary and call it a “shooting hippopotamus” instead to deviate from a negative mindset and get a laugh from his players.

Confidence through creating your own highlight reel

Here, players enter their swag zone. To do so, players will watch repetitive highlights of themselves in the morning and before practice or a game so their subconscious is at its best and not that the player is coming off a bad game. Nurse wants to instill a state of mind that the player is always who he is at his best, not his worst.

Olynyk also wore a snapback hat backward during pick-up games and his play improved. According to Nurse, that was a trick where it helped put him in the best mindset. Entering the arena, Olynyk routinely wears his hat backward to keep him in that same mindset.

“When a construction worker is going to work, he’s got his hard hat on and you know he’s ready to go to work,” Olynyk explained. “After that, snapback is on, I know I’m ready to work.”

Similarly, Nurse used the same tactic for Brook Lopez, who loves Disney World. While developing his three-point shot, the two would talk about Disney World and Lopez would wear a Disney shirt.

Confidence through pouring into others

The focus is to take the pressure off individual performance by being a part of something bigger in this step. Think along the lines of a screen assist. A player may not get the praise for making a clutch shot down the stretch, but without that screen to free the shooter, the shot may not even happen at all. There’s no statistic for diving for loose balls or hustle, but fans, teammates, coaches, and opponents recognize it.

Confidence through cue word

When you’re in the heat of battle during a game, you can’t watch your highlight reel or wear your favorite hat or t-shirt, so what do you do if a player needs a quick reset? Choose a particular word to help trigger your subconscious mind back into the self-confident person you are.

“I always had a confidence chart that would explain to me different things as my confidence cues to keep me focused and remember the present moment,” Powell said. “David would always send me three cues that I’d always have to remember or go over before I stepped on the court. They were different things that remind me of confident things that can help me stay the course no matter what comes my way. I’ll always get a reminder with that every so often throughout every few games.”

Powell’s cue word is unshakeable. He also is reminded to be as confident as the most confident person he knows, his uncle Raymond, remember Russell Westbrook’s “bring it on” pregame mindset, and remember if something goes wrong in the game, how Bryant embraced those failures to improve.

Confidence through preparation

The glue that ties all the steps together is relentless consistency with daily preparation.

Nurse isn’t focusing on the results in this step. Rather, he and the player are focused on the process and work they put in, so there’s no fear if a player misses a shot because he put in the work and had the right mindset to take it. Even the greatest shooters miss half their shots. Eventually, by tracking the process of whether a player took his best high-level shot, the results will follow organically.

Take Sabonis, who is working on his three-point shot, for example. Sabonis shoots a flat ball, so he needed more of an arch according to Nurse. After every shot, Sabonis and Nurse stopped and assessed his shot to make sure his elbow was to his eyebrow and perfecting every rep after watching his film in slow motion.

This season, Sabonis is shooting 37.1 percent on a career-high 2.8 attempts from downtown.

You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto

Art of the smokescreen: The thought process behind execs and agents leaking info

NBA executives and agents explain how smokescreens are leaked to the media and why.

According to NBA agents and executives, fans should have smoke detectors installed in their homes and web browsers while reading rumors during free agency, the draft, and the trade deadline.

HoopsHype spoke with five agents and two executives to learn how a smokescreen, a ruse designed to disguise their real intentions, is leaked during the busiest transactional points of the year.

“Every single executive does, and anyone who tells you they don’t is lying,” one former executive told HoopsHype. “You’re trying to steer people in another direction. All the narratives are total bullsh*t now.”

Rival executives and agents catch each other off guard in their offices as news breaks on Twitter. One executive recalled being stunned several times in his team’s war room during the trade deadline and draft while reading reports about his player and team.

“You just hope the people you’re dealing with are stand up people, but there’s always going to be somebody that puts out some complete bullsh*t that’s not true,” one current Eastern Conference executive told HoopsHype. “I remember saying to myself I’ve been in the room, and I know that was never offered or even presented. There have been situations like that where other teams or an agent will put out complete bullsh*t just to get reactions out of another team or the team that they want the guy traded for or whatever.”

Whether it’s a rival executive looking to stir the pot or an agent helping to shape the trade or free-agent market for his client, usually information is leaked with a purpose in mind.

“Sometimes, it gives you a competitive advantage to get you to where you need to be,” one agent with a decade of experience told HoopsHype. “The whole thing about this business, whether it’s on the basketball, media, or marketing side, is being in control and creating your own narrative. If you’re in a position to be able to do that, whether you’re twisting the truth or not, you could probably do it even after the fact if it doesn’t necessarily go in your favor or accomplish what you want at that specific time.”


Generally, there are three times when an agent will leak information for a smokescreen. One example is leading up to free agency to build a market and subsequent bidding war for the client. Another example is before the draft to steer a client towards a specific team or draft range to maximize his earnings. Lastly, when a player wants to get traded, as noted in a previous HoopsHype story on how players ask for trades.

“I would always utilize the media of building up a brand up until the free agency to develop their value,” one longtime agent told HoopsHype. “It may be in the context of a media person asking a pending free agent during the season if he plans on re-signing with his team and prepping with the player on how we’d answer it coyly, but with a little bit of a lead. Sometimes, even if you set it up, the answer is, ‘No comment,’ but at least it’s out there now. It pressures a team to think he didn’t give any sort of assuredness on this. We better think about how to re-evaluate this. You want to stir the pot a little bit, but not to the extent that you get pinned down by it either.”

Once the player is in free agency, an agent will try to squeeze teams for the most money they can get by leaking specific organizations who have expressed any level of interest in their client.

“Last year, I put out a team that had interest in my player during his free agency,” one agent bluntly told HoopsHype. “We knew the whole time we weren’t going there, but they had money and wanted him. We met with them a few times, so we knew it would make it believable to other teams. We used them as leverage.”

However, if an agent is not tactful with the smokescreen, it can severely backfire.

“It’s all about creating leverage,” another agent echoed when recalling negotiations for a restricted free agent several years ago. “A lot of these teams are going to do their due diligence and say, ‘That’s bullsh*t. That team doesn’t have the cap space to do this. They don’t have the assets to do this. This guy is f*cking lying.’

Executives also use the media to create leverage with their players and even call up some media members to send out a subliminal message.

One agent said there’s a team he’s dealt with several times that is notorious for putting out smokescreens in the media.

“They put smoke screen stuff in the media all the time,” the agent said. “Then, they’ll call you and say the media is always trying to pit us against each other. You can’t believe what the media is saying. Meanwhile, it’ll be them the whole time. They’ll call a media member, and then the media member will reach out to you.”

When asked how he knew the team was putting out a smokescreen regarding his client, the agent replied, “A reporter told me they reached out, and some of the stuff he had, there’s no way he would have that. I know they do it because the GM called me, and he told me to call a specific reporter and have him put out something about my player coming back to his team.”

That similar sentiment was conveyed by one of the executives during the trade season as well.

“On trades, there will be times where we’d have certain articles written about guys to make them look better than they are to generate interest without saying the guy is available,” one executive admitted to HoopsHype.

Agents return the favor by using smokescreens in the media to help get their clients out of town.

“You let them (media) know, and maybe somebody will write something and say this might be a good fit or say a player is interested,” one agent who has represented several All-Stars told HoopsHype. “Then, people start to talk about it a little bit.”

Here, the agent’s goal is to pressure a team by fleshing out why a player wants to be traded. One example is the reasons why James Harden wanted out of Houston.

“I’d get out there is a lack of confidence in management or a first-time head coach,” one agent said. “You’re not taking a direct shot, so it doesn’t personalize it to some degree, but essentially saying you can’t work with these people, or you want to win now, and my window is closing. It’s a little bit of a backhanded stab, but it’s not a direct cutting of the throat.”

Other times, an agent will put out a smokescreen to protect a player. One agent recalled such an instance during a pre-draft workout for a prospect in Atlanta.

“As soon as he hurt himself, we stopped the workout, and he didn’t do any workouts after that,” the agent said. “Because it was in a private setting and not in a team setting, we were able to withhold that information. I think that happens a lot with players and their injuries.”

Sometimes, an agent will put out a smokescreen that his player has a promise to go to a specific team in the draft as the reasoning for shutting down his remaining workouts.

Conversely, executives will use smokescreens to disguise their level of interest in a player they covet leading up to the draft.

“It’s used around the draft in terms of what players teams are going to see or not see and putting it out there,” one executive explained. “Who did they see twice, and who did they have a lot of phone interviews with? Depending on your draft position, you don’t want people to know who you really like. When you get into the draft, telling a reporter our second-round pick is available to generate some interest and let teams know who may want a second-rounder, call us, ours is available and drive the price up.”

“When you hear this team is high on this or this team is high on that, nine times out of 10, it’s a smokescreen,” the former executive explained. “It’s not that player.”

Related: How NBA players ask for trades: ‘It does get vicious. It’s a divorce’

You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto

How NBA players ask for trades: ‘It does get vicious. It’s a divorce’

NBA executives and agents explain how players ask to be traded, what information gets leaked, and the fallout from the breakup.

Whether it’s a franchise player like James Harden, a role player, or a parent like Marvin Bagley’s dad, trade requests happen.

The reasoning for a trade request can vary from a lack of playing time, unhappiness with management over contract negotiations, the team’s direction, etc.

Once it gets to a boiling point where a player wants out, tensions between the player and his agent with the team’s management and ownership can rise exponentially during in-person meetings and calls over the phone.

“Sometimes, you have to get to the point that you play hardball with the team, and it does get vicious,” one longtime agent told HoopsHype. “It’s a divorce. It’s never a pleasant situation when you’re dealing with high-level players, especially when there’s emotion involved. You have to get vicious at some point. What I’d always try to do was force the player’s temperament and disposition to change to show the team that this is not going to work.”

HoopsHype spoke with an additional three agents and two executives who’ve dealt with trade demands involving players and explained how the request is submitted, why sometimes it leaks to the media, and the fallout.

Generally, a player’s trade request begins by an agent calling a general manager and speaking over the phone or a face-to-face meeting between the two parties.

“I’m pretty straight forward,” another agent said. “That’s how I operate. If a client wants to be traded, I’m going to tell the team he wants to get traded. I’m not going to dance around the subject and be pretty straight forward about it and let it be known that’s what we’re looking to do, and in these scenarios, we’ll work with you in terms of what would make sense for you guys as well.”

If talks on a trade request don’t progress, usually the player is brought into the fold, or a meeting is requested with the owner to spur action.

“It depends on the level of the player, but I’ve had players go straight to the owner and request it (a trade),” an agent who represents several All-Stars told HoopsHype. “A lot of times, they (owners) think the agent might be bullsh*tting, so when the player says it himself to the general manager or the owner, they know it’s the real deal.”

Once a player gets involved in discussions with management and ownership, he can provide his agent with intel behind the scenes to present a unified stance on a trade.

“On the high end, I always involved the player because they have to play their role too,” the longtime agent told HoopsHype. “It has to be sort of playing off of each other. I handle the heavy work. You handle the light work. The communication between the coaching staff and the front office with you, how are we handling that? If they are communicating, what are they communicating? Keep me in the loop so they can’t split you up and make it seem like it’s an agent-driven activity.”

James Harden, Houston Rockets

When a player is not as responsive or engaging with management, it forces the organization to wonder what the player is thinking, what the problem is, and if the situation can be resolved.

“Once they get a little bit unnerved, and the axiom tilts toward their insecurity, then you have them,” the longtime agent said.

After a trade request is made, the ball is usually in the team’s court. If the player is in the final year of his contract, the leverage swings to the player. Unless a team is willing to give up assets for a short-term playoff rental, most teams won’t give up assets to acquire a player without some background intel that they can re-sign the player.

The next step is to keep it under wraps for the benefit of both sides to get the deal they want, according to one executive who dealt with the trade request of a Hall of Fame player.

“They (agents) don’t want to put it out in the media first because then it just upsets the team because the team is going to be negotiating from a position of weakness when it’s already out there that the player wants to be traded,” the executive told HoopsHype.

However, as trade discussions move forward between the player’s team and potential trade destinations, there are instances when information is selectively leaked by either the agent or management.

“Depending on the team’s reaction, if it’s not what they want, then they go to the media and put it out there,” another executive told HoopsHype. “A lot of times, if you have a good relationship with the agent, you can say, ‘Alright, let us work on some things. Give us a list of teams you want to go to or what you’re looking for, so we can start to put some stuff together as a group and approach it.’ Sometimes, agents are impatient and want to put it out there.”

Some agents take the executive’s role into their own hands and evaluate what the market could be for their client. The agents evaluate potential teams that have a better opportunity for playing time for their client and crunch their cap space numbers for future contract negotiations.

“You also run the risk that they may trade you to somewhere you don’t want to be traded,” the longtime agent told HoopsHype. “Then, you have to go backdoor and block the teams that you don’t want him to be traded to, so you can narrow the scope. There’s a lot that goes into these things.”

This is when the cat and mouse game between an agent and the executive trying to move the player can come to a breaking point.

“A lot of times what a team will do is they’ll keep it tight and won’t communicate with the agent until it’s too far gone, so the agent can’t muck up the deal if they’re powerful enough to play that role,” the longtime agent told HoopsHype. “Sometimes, the team they’re dealing with will backdoor them and go directly to the agent to get an idea of what’s going on too. If the trade does go down, they don’t want to be caught off guard, then an agent turns around and says, ‘What the f*ck is he doing here? I didn’t want him here in the first place.’”

When it gets out there that a player has requested a trade, it’s harder to get the deal you want as a team

If an agent oversteps and attempts to block a trade that the organization feels is in its best interest, there can be repercussions for the player.

“You’ve also got to be careful because if they’re not going to trade him, you don’t want the player out there where it hits the media that he wants out,” one agent said. “Then, the fans are against him, and there’s just negative energy because they know you don’t want to be there.”

According to another agent who represented a former first-round pick who asked for a trade, the general manager didn’t want to move his client and sent the player to the G League Showcase as punishment for asking to be traded.

Executives will also leak to the media to counter an agent’s attempt to block a deal behind the scenes or gain leverage from other potential suitors in trade talks.

“When it gets out there that a player has requested a trade, it’s harder to get the deal you want as a team,” one executive told HoopsHype. “When an agent does that, then the team starts to put out and use the media to try and get the deal they want by saying other teams offered other things to drive the price up and create a bidding war.”

Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks

One example was when Carmelo Anthony requested a trade and made it known he wanted to go to the New York Knicks. The Denver Nuggets were fortunate to create a bidding war between the Knicks and Brooklyn Nets. As the offers progressed, they were leaked to the media to build up the best offer. The final straw was New York adding Timofey Mozgov to push the trade through.

Not all trades are facilitated by leaking intel through the media. There are instances when an agent and an executive work together cohesively to get a fair deal for both sides.

“I think you approach it as we want a win-win and make sure it works for both of us so that they get a nice draft pick,” the agent who represents several All-Stars told HoopsHype. “A lot of times, they’ll tell you what they want, and they’ll trade him. Then, you’ve got to go out there if they want two second-round picks or a late first-round pick. Then, you have to go out there and tell them this is what it’s going to take.”

One scenario considered a win-win from all parties involved was the Paul George trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Los Angeles Clippers. George, a California native, was able to return home. The Thunder used valuable intel that Kawhi Leonard wanted to play with George as leverage to acquire a bounty of future first-round picks, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and more. If the Clippers didn’t land George, Leonard was strongly considering signing with the Lakers.

However, not all sides are usually in sync to get a deal done. One agent recalled a scenario where his star player was getting traded, and three teams were vying for the player in a trade. When one of the teams didn’t land the player, it prompted the general manager to sound off on the agent, who he believed blocked the potential acquisition.

“I remember one executive said, ‘You motherf*cker. You f*cked me over. I’m going to get you.’” the agent said. “I was really caught off guard. I just listened. I let him cuss me out. When he was done, he hung up on me. Then, I didn’t call him after that. About a week later, he called me and apologized for his reaction.”

Some relationships between executives and agents are strained for a prolonged period and affect future free-agent negotiations and other business. Other “divorce” agreements and trade requests are handled amicably, and the sides hold no grudges down the line.

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You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto