To our weekly readers, it’s been a crazy week. Most Knicks’ fans were looking forward to the day that Steve Mills would be fired. But just when many started to rejoice and debate which high profile executive should be hired to run the team; James Dolan found a way to upset everyone. It has been widely reported that Mr. Dolan is intrigued by the idea of hiring an agent to run basketball operations. This is based on the success that the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers have had using that strategy. While the results have been positive, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, let me explain why.
The Golden Boy – Bob Myers
What I am about to share with you is information I learned from reading the book “Betaball” by Erick Malinowski, which is about how the owners of the Warriors; Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber turned them from one of the worst franchises in the NBA to the best. In that book, they go into detail on why Bob Myers was hired.
What the mainstream media fails to mention is how the Warriors are run, which is like a tech company. Since both owners made their fortune in Silicon Valley, they decided to apply the same strategies that worked for their tech companies. The core philosophy of the Warriors is to always be innovating, never settle. They also value talent over experience. They are willing to take a chance on someone that doesn’t have experience if they are talented. That is where Bob Myers comes in.
Bob Myers grew up in the Bay Area and has been a Warriors fan his whole life. After playing basketball for UCLA he went to law school. After graduating he started working for a sports agent. After spending 14 years as a successful sports agent he got tired of it and wanted out. He reached out to the Warriors and impressed them in the interview enough that they offered him the assistant GM job. The Warriors were fed up with old guard NBA front office types that were set in their ways and not open to new ideas. They kept the current GM Larry Riley on to teach Myers the ropes, then after only 12 months promoted Myers to GM. What is also important to mention is that Jerry West was brought on as a board member and consultant. Myers was supervised and mentored by one of the greatest GMs in NBA history for 6 years.
Myers was not hired because he was an agent, he was hired in spite of being one. He was young, smart and open to tech and data analytics. He wasn’t hired to lure free agents. Before Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors in 2016, the highest profile free agent he ever signed was Andre Iguodala. He was not their primary target in the summer of 2013, it was Dwight Howard, Iguodala was plan B. Sound familiar? When Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors, it was not because of Bob Myers, it was because of Seth Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, they all recruited him as well.
When you look at Rob Pelinka’s career, there are a lot of similarities with Myers. He also played college basketball, was a member of Michigan’s famous ‘Fab Five’ teams. He also went to law school and then became a sports agent. However, Pelinka’s reputation as an agent was tainted when lied to the Cavaliers to get his client Carlos Boozer out of his contract. He got suspended by his agency and never lived down the fact that he went back on his word to the blind owner of the Cavs. He rebounded from that experience and eventually started his own company and represented many high profiled players including his best friend, the late Kobe Bryant.
That relationship helped him land the GM job with the Lakers back on March 7th, 2017. Unlike Myers, Pelinka did not have a good support system. His boss, Magic Johnson was also new at his job, head of basketball operations. Pelinka, unlike Myers did not want to be mentored by Jerry West who just finished his contract with the Warriors and wanted to end his career with his beloved team. Needless to say Pelinka’s tenure got off to a bad start and the environment around the team was toxic. Many people thought he was conniving and a compulsive liar. Remember the Heath Ledger story? This is not surprising since these are the negative traits associated with sports agents.
However, Pelinka’s job was made easier by LeBron James and his agent Rich Paul. LeBron James had decided to move to Los Angeles for lifestyle and business reasons. He did not even meet with Pelinka, only Magic Johnson in an informal meeting at his house for optics. It was LeBron James that convinced Anthony Davis to sign with Klutch Sports. Then Rich Paul pushed for the trade to the Lakers. Ironically, the only thing that held up the trade was the relationship between the Pelicans GM Dell Demps and Rob Pelinka. Who knows why Dell didn’t like Pelinka, but what we do know is that he didn’t take any of his calls. Magic had to get personally involved.
Two things needed to happen to make the trade possible. First, the Lakers got ‘lucky’ in the lottery and unexpectedly landed the 4th pick. Then the Pelicans hired LeBron’s former GM in Cleveland, David Griffin. There was a good chance that if both things didn’t happen that Anthony Davis might have gone to the Knicks. Go figure!
What also does not get mentioned about the Anthony Davis trade is how Pelinka almost screwed up the salary cap by not executing it in time. A mistake an experienced GM would not have made. As a result the Lakers had to trade three young players; Mo Wagner, Isaac Bonga and Jemerrio Jones plus a 2nd round pick in 2022 to Washington just to recoup the cap space he inadvertently lost. They had to get back to $32M in cap space to go after Kawhi Leonard. A signing the former super agent couldn’t close. Don’t tell me the Lakers didn’t wish they still had Wagner and Bonga on their roster. They could have at least used them to facilitate a trade, especially since they don’t control their draft picks for the foreseeable future. You just saw the Clippers trade for our beloved Marcus Morris who the Lakers desperately wanted as well, but didn’t have the necessary assets to make a deal.
While Mr. Rose is not a popular choice with the fans, he is an interesting one. He also is a lawyer by trade that played college basketball, Dickinson College, a division III school. Leon Rose is one of the most successful agents in the league. He represents high profile players like Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker. Rose is also well respected(powerful) and connected throughout the NBA. However, that can only get you so far. You actually need to know how to structure and run a front office, create a culture, set a vision, manage the salary cap, hire coaches, draft players and identity market inefficiencies. Not saying an agent can’t, especially Mr. Rose. But those are the main criteria for the job.
What worries me most about Leon Rose is that he wants to bring “World Wide Wes” into the front office. Rose needs someone with experience by his side, not another novice. I am sure Rose’s knowledge of basketball is very good, he has coached at the youth level and even a little at the college level.
Another positive is that he knows how to handle star players. I think this is something else Mr. Dolan likes. The last two presidents did not know how to handle conflicts with Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis(KP). Maybe Mr. Rose could have navigated those conflicts better and convinced KP to sign a team friendly contract. We don’t know, but I trust a seasoned executive would have handled those two situations better than Jackson and Mills did. Mr. Rose is also a great negotiator. That’s great, but does he know how to identify undeveloped talent? Negotiation skills don’t matter if you don’t have talented players on your roster to negotiate with.
Something else worth considering was brought up by Stephen A. Smith. He asked would a younger Leon Rose take this job? If you noticed, the recent team presidents have been men at the end of their careers: Donnie Walsh(67), Phil Jackson(69) and Steve Mills(58). It was easy for these guys to take the job; it was the last big pay day they were going to get. It was worth the risk. They signed up for the Dolan retirement plan
I would also like to address another fake news story floating out there about Leon Rose. He did not orchestrate the “Big 3” era in Miami. That was done by Dwyane Wade with guidance from Pat Riley. Yes, James, Wade and Bosh were CAA clients, but they were also good friends off the court since they came into the league together and played on the same Olympic team. Also, why is Rose now getting credit for something that happened 10 years ago? Do you really think an agent would advise his clients to take pay cuts? Also make a move that would hurt their off the court endorsements? That would be career suicide as other agents would use it against them to steal their clients. Also, it would have destroyed Leon Rose’s relationships with the other teams in the NBA. Do you really think Leon Rose wanted to get on Dan Gilbert’s bad side? Or the owners of the Raptors? Let alone the other teams that offered those players more money? There is no way. CAA simply did what their clients requested. They did not convince a bunch of friends to take pay cuts and alienate the rest of the NBA.
Debunking the Agent Strategy
When you see how the Knicks have been run recently, you would think they were run by a sports agency. Always trying to find the big name to give them credibility and success. Maybe that is why Dolan is intrigued by the idea. But the more I study the concept, the less I am convinced it will work, especially in the case of Leon Rose.
Let’s compare Leon Rose to Bob Myers to see how they stack up. I do not like to have preconceived notions about how people will perform based on their profile, but here are the facts. Bob Myers was 36 when he was hired, Leon Rose is 59 years old, Pelinka was 47. Not saying Mr. Rose is set in his ways and that is not a dynamic learner, don’t know that. Myers started as an assistant GM with the best support staff in the business. Leon Rose would come in as a president learning on the job at almost 60 years old. Also, Myers got tired of being an agent and wanted his dream job which was managing his hometown team. Rose as been in the business for almost 25 years and is a Philly area guy. His dream job is working for the Philadelphia 76ers.
The real strategy
I agree with the Warriors’ owners that talent is more important than experience. But as you can see with Bob Myers, he was groomed for almost 6 years before Jerry West left his side. That is just for a GM role, imagine having another president learning on the job. It would be the Knicks 3rd president in a row that is learning on the job at an age of 58 or older.
In closing, the Knicks are one of the few destination teams in the NBA. It’s the most valuable franchise at $5 billion. New York sells itself; it doesn’t need a salesperson(agent) to sell it to players. All the Knicks need to do is not be incompetent and they will always have a chance because of their built-in advantages. If the team is run correctly, they will compete for championships and be able to build multiple dynasties.
The only teams that need the help of an agent are ones that are run poorly or in an undesirable market. Also, why would you want to do business with an agent that would deceive his own client? You don’t want a player to join your team under false pretenses. That will eventually end poorly. So my advice to Dolan is to think outside his box and hire an experienced and proven executive like a Sam Presti. His last two hires were outside the box (Jackson and Mills), because they were not qualified. Why do the same with Leon Rose? There is no need to do that.