The shifting balance of power in the NBA has been well documented this summer. Players have started to act in their own best interest, with loyalties to fellow players proving to be stronger than those with teams and executives. The Trio in Miami is the case that first comes to mind, but Amar’e Stoudemire going to the Knicks could very well be the first piece of another trio with Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul potentially joining forces in the Big Apple in the coming seasons.
Not to discount the intelligence of any one of these players, or any professional athlete for that matter, the majority of them have surrounded themselves with incredibly intelligent agents and advisors in an attempt to maximize not only their athletic potential, but in an attempt to promote themselves in as many ways as possible.
Professional agents in particular are some of the most controversial actors in the sports world today, as they generally operate behind the scenes, but their influence is monumental. Leon Rose, Arn Tellem and Dan Fegan are among the most powerful agents in basketball today, with hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for their respective clients secured in recent years. While it is unclear if any of them act similarly to Ari Gold, it is clear that their influence within the sports world is similar to Mr. Gold’s in fictional Hollywood.
The relationship that agents maintain with owners of the NBA franchises is often contentious, understandably so when dealing with such large investments. There have been cases in which agents, such as David Falk, have gone out of their way to cross owners, but they generally attempt to maintain a somewhat amicable relationship, as the agents do not decide who drafts their clients.
But the balance of power has continued to shift away from the owners and the teams. This time the agents are taking charge of their client’s futures, with little concern about precedent or repercussions. The case in question is that of Xavier Henry, the first round selection of the Memphis Grizzlies this past summer.
Since 1995, the NBA has had a rookie pay scale in an attempt to prevent the current situation in the NFL, where rookies enter the league as the highest paid players in the league. So the process that takes place once NBA rookies are drafted is that the team offers them a contract based on the position that they were drafted in the first round. They are able to offer between 80% and 120% of the suggested slot, but common form is to offer 120%. This is when it got interesting on the Grizzlies front.
Owner Michael Heisley, who admits to not having read the CBA, must have been advised that the team is not required to offer the full 120%, so he decided to attach performance incentives to the rookie contract offers for Henry, as well as fellow first round pick Greivis Vazquez, which is unheard of in the league. This caused a contract stalemate that has rarely been seen since the pay scale was introduced.
One would assume that when being offered millions of dollars, over $2million in this case for Henry, you would fold to the demands of your employer, but Tellem does not play that way.
“I will never yield to pressure, and Xavier’s family feels the same way,”
Tellem took the unprecedented step of offering to pay Henry out of his own pocket, or that or his agency, if Heisley refused to offer his client the contract structure that every rookie had already agreed to from this year’s class.
$2.02 million to be exact. Xavier Henry’s agent was willing to pay his client the amount that he is entitled to based upon the spot that he was selected in the draft. As previously states, there is no precedent for such a move, but it is a clear sign that the agents and players influence is continuing to grow compared to that of the owners and general managers.
Agents act in their own best interest, but they also have relationships with their clients that their teams cannot compete with. Conflicts rarely arise between players and their agents, and Henry for one is unlikely to every leave Tellem after his incredible offer before having ever seen Xavier play a minute in the Association.
A new CBA is looming, and many issues will be discussed during the drawn out negotiations that are sure to take place. But amongst the most prominent ones that owners are sure to bring up is the exactly how it occurred that the players and agents essentially took over the game from the team and the league itself.
The league is at the mercy of what the players want to do now. If they want to team up with each other and form real-life super teams, then there is little that other teams of the league as a whole can do to prevent it. Chris Paul is still contractually bound to the New Orleans Hornets for another two years, but he has already expressed a desire to leave town. Carmelo seems to already have a foot out the door in Denver, with rumors of his arrival in New York or Chicago growing by the day.
It was inconceivable just a few months that this could ever happen. Everyone knew that the free-agent class of this past summer was one to remember, but no one envisioned the three biggest pieces teaming up together. They sacrificed personal stardom in an attempt to do what all players wish to do, win, and with the help of their agents, the past few months have irreconcilably altered the landscape of the league.