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Thursday, March 13, 2014
Process for NBPA's search must change

By Jeff Schwartz
Special to ESPN.com

Editor's note: Jeff Schwartz is a prominent NBA agent. This is his first guest post for TrueHoop.

As a longtime and ardent supporter of the National Basketball Players Association, I am deeply troubled by the clandestine process to date in the search for the union's next executive director.

This is a critical hire for the players, who have been impacted so negatively by the most recent collective bargaining agreement. Salaries are down leaguewide, contracts are shorter and include less guaranteed money than they once did, and free-agent movement has been curtailed significantly at a time that NBA franchises are reaching record valuations. Leadership from the union's next executive director is essential to the ability of current and future generations of NBA players to restore many of the critical benefits that were lost in the last round of negotiations. But here we are again witnessing a search marked by the sort of troubling secrecy that has been synonymous with the NBPA for years.

One of the most frequent complaints voiced by players and agents against the previous regime was the union's obsession with secretive practices and compartmentalization. The expectation moving forward was that the NBPA would start to insist on transparency in everyday business operations and in the search for its next leader. The NBPA, however, has unbelievably yielded again to opaque methods in choosing the next union leader. This approach can no longer be tolerated.

The only way to repair the damage that has already been done, in my view, is to bring an immediate stop to the current process and then start the executive-director search over from scratch with a much broader approach.

Transparency in NBPA matters is essential for the healthy functioning of the union and for restoring the confidence and trust of players, agents and the public. Aside from a short meeting at All-Star Weekend in New Orleans -- which only a small percentage of players attended -- information on the search process has been withheld from anyone beyond the union's nine-player executive committee and a handful of NBPA staffers. No one else has been provided information about who was considered for the position, what qualifications were sought from the candidates, and how those qualifications were valued. Aside from the executive committee, furthermore, no one else has been afforded the opportunity to meet with and/or screen any of the purported candidates.

Despite the fact that it was widely reported in the media during All-Star Weekend that there are two finalists for the position, their identities have yet to be publicly disclosed. I've also spoken personally with a number of qualified candidates who either dropped out of the search due to the cumbersome process or say they were ruled out of the search without explanation. This is far too important a decision to be made via such an uneven process.

The next executive director should not be selected by a small group operating in a cone of silence. Players and agents alike should be involved in the process. They should be asked to identify possible candidates, provide their input regarding candidates and, most importantly, contribute to the composition of a list of finalists that is openly distributed to players and agents for consideration and vetting before any candidate is put forward for a vote. The union's announcement at All-Star Weekend that the process will proceed with players receiving video presentations from the two reported finalists is a rushed process at best and a manipulation of the process at worst. Players and agents have the right and responsibility to meet and question candidates face-to-face.

As strange as this sounds to me, I recognize that the prospect of involving player agents in this process is seen as a thorny issue by some in the union. I would counter by saying that the interests of agents and the players they represent, both individually and collectively, are indivisibly intertwined. Agents stand with their clients on the front lines of CBA negotiations with the NBA and represent players' interests during the draft and in contract negotiations with NBA teams. As such, we are stakeholders in this sport on a parallel plane with our clients and should have a voice in determining the NBPA's next leader. And from a strictly economic standpoint, no one is better versed in understanding what it will take for a new executive director to be successful in negotiating with the NBA than the agents.

All the proof you need can be found in the limitations of the current CBA. If the union and executive committee members had listened to some of us during labor negotiations in 2011, perhaps today our players would be rightfully sharing a larger piece of the NBA economic pie. Instead, our players will lose billions in revenue over the life of the current CBA thanks to the 7 percent decrease in their share of basketball-related income from the previous CBA, as well as the knock-on effects of shortened contracts and an increasingly punitive luxury-tax system on NBA teams that acts as a de facto hard cap.

At a time when some are projecting that NBA franchise values will cross the $1 billion threshold in the near future, only 58 players in the league are earning in excess of $10 million annually. Only six players are earning more than $20 million -- and five of those six players signed their original contracts under the guidelines of the previous labor deal. In Major League Baseball, by contrast, 22 players will make $20 million or more this upcoming season.

The union's interim executive director stated recently that there is a "healthy middle class” in today's NBA, with an average salary this season of $5.6 million and more than half of the league's nearly 450 players earning more than $2.6 million. But that “healthy middle class” is greatly exaggerated, with 72 percent of NBA players earning at or below the league average salary and 47 percent making less than $2.6 million.

Many of the fundamental benefits that players struggled for decades to achieve have been wiped out by the deal that ended the 2011 lockout. What is the union's strategy to reverse these trends? As the NBA moves forward into what we all hope will be a period of sustained growth and prosperity, it is incumbent upon the union to give its players every opportunity to share fairly in that growth and prosperity. The selection of the executive director who will lead the NBPA in this critical time in its history is crucial to making that happen.

The process leading to that selection, accordingly, must involve all of us who are concerned with the well-being of NBA players. The players have earned the right to find the most astute union head to protect and expand their interests in the 21st century. The next 10 years in the NBA are poised to be enormously profitable thanks to the fast-rising valuations of media rights and the global demand for the sport of basketball. The players have to make sure they are not left behind. The best way to do this is to bring the current process to an immediate halt and relaunch the executive director search again with the involvement of a larger group that includes the agents.

Jeff Schwartz is the president of Excel Sports Management. Excel's NBA clients include Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Tyson Chandler and Kemba Walker.