TrueHoop: David Thorpe

David Thorpe and former NBA player Grant Long join Henry Abbott on the NBA Today podcast to wrap up the NBA Finals, including:
  • How the Thunder lost their cool
  • The ideal team to beat the Heat
  • How LeBron showed his leadership in Round 2 against the Pacers
  • Why the Thunder and Heat will be even better next year
  • Grant Long on raising kids as an NBA journeyman
  • What makes the Thunder such a strong organization

NBA Today: Ric Bucher and David Thorpe

June, 1, 2012
6/01/12
1:05
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
Archive
Forget taking a charge from LeBron James on a fastbreak, the most daunting experience in the NBA is interviewing Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich between quarters, especially when his team is down.

ESPN's Ric Bucher joins Henry Abbott on the NBA Today podcast to discuss his strategy for quizzing San Antonio's surly general as well as a host of other topics, including how coaches handle their huddles off camera.

Plus, David Thorpe drops by to explain why he doesn't expect Boston to escape being swept by the Heat.

It's all on the latest edition of the NBA Today podcast.

Metta World Peace lost in space

May, 17, 2012
5/17/12
12:38
PM ET
Mason By Beckley Mason
ESPN.com
Archive
Metta World Peace, Kevin Durant
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
Out on the perimeter, Kevin Durant is too quick for Metta World Peace.

Way out beyond the 3-point line, Metta World Peace never had a chance.

Kevin Durant walked forward, confidently bouncing the ball high off his right hip, his Thunder teammates arrayed along the baseline.

This was the definition of an isolation play; there was no way the other Lakers could offer help.

As he neared the 3-point line, Durant executed a hard right-to-left crossover, dipped his shoulder and glided past World Peace, who managed only to helplessly rotate his hips as though one foot was nailed to the ground.

Having summarily dispatched World Peace, Durant wove back to his right and finished past Andrew Bynum.

It was the first shot Durant took in Game 2, and one of just three Durant isolation attempts all game.

The result was no fluke. In fact, Durant isolated in space against Metta World Peace might be one of the most bankable plays in the Thunder’s awesome arsenal of offensive weapons.

As David Thorpe pointed out on TrueHoop TV, while Metta World Peace can still be a valuable defender, his worth is directly related to the distance he is from the rim. Down in the paint -- where his phenomenal strength and lightning quick hands make all the difference -- that’s where he can dominate.

But out on the perimeter, especially when called to move laterally, not so much.

Admittedly, defending Kevin Durant anywhere on the court is like trying to nail Jello to a wall. But Thorpe notes that Metta World Peace remains particularly well-suited to defending one type of Kevin Durant play.

“He can still chase, I think, very well," says Thorpe. "And for years now I’ve suggested he’s one of the best chaser defenders we have in the league, guarding the guys who want to use single-doubles or staggered screens.”

What Thorpe is describing are the pindown sets in which Durant sprints off devastating screens from guys like Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison. He uses them to create that fraction of daylight necessary to get off his silky jumper, or to create a crease for a tight curl to the rim.

These are the plays that Artest, with his intelligence and strength, still defends quite well. He remains a savvy off-ball defender and knows how to re-route Durant to keep him from catching.

Now for the other half of Thorpe’s take on World Peace’s defense:

“He can run, just fine. He just can’t slide maybe more than a step and a half to two steps and literally stops, very often, when he’s forced to take more than that.”

That’s almost exactly what happened on Durant’s first bucket.

So why didn’t we see it again, and again, and again?

Fancy plays are all well and good, and the Thunder offense has certainly benefited from more nuanced sets. But this matchup demands some good ol’ fashioned four-down isolations that pit Durant’s slick handle and slithery quickness against the leaden feet of Metta World Peace.

David Thorpe on the Magic

December, 30, 2011
12/30/11
10:56
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
David Thorpe dropped by HoopSpeak Live on Thursday to talk a little Orlando Magic and, specifically, about how the team operates under the direction of Stan Van Gundy.

Even as the Magic fell from the league's elite last season, they still ranked No. 3 in defensive efficiency. Having a presence like Dwight Howard patrolling the paint in the half court certainly anchors a defense, but the Magic's success is predicated on more than just allowing its perimeter defenders to crowd their assignments because Howard can clean up any mess.

As Thorpe describes it, the Magic are committed to a few basic -- but essential -- defensive principles.

You can watch hours of Magic basketball and be hard-pressed a Grade A screw-up defending the pick-and-roll. That foundation, in turn, allows the Magic to defend the perimeter and prevent teams from lighting them up from beyond the arc. When two men can handle pick-and-roll duty or, if they can't, the back-line big rotates swiftly, perimeter defenders can stay at home.

The Magic might have to play under a cloud of uncertainty regarding Howard, but good coaching and a defensive system that works can keep the Magic in the top third of the Eastern Conference ... so long as the roster remains largely intact.



Thorpe discusses his favorite rookies from this year's class with Zach Harper here.

Is Miami a title team? Thorpe's analysis

July, 8, 2010
7/08/10
6:16
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
I was just listening to the sports talk radio in New York, and they had Donnie Walsh on. They were saying how amazing it was that even now, nobody has any idea where LeBron James is going. Walsh said he had all his spies out there, checking on this or that, and nobody knew.

I find that shocking.

As I have e-mailed all kinds of people over the last few days, I could not believe more strongly that LeBron James is going to Miami. Chad Ford and I reported something pointing in that direction yesterday, and Chris Broussard made the point far clearer today. If it's a secret where he's going, it's hardly a very well-kept secret. (Broussard's story has more than 8,500 comments at the moment.)

In my mind, what's left to wonder about now is: How's that going to work? What does a LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh team look like? Are they going to eat all of the Heat's available cap space, or are they going to leave some crumbs to attract better-than-the-minimum teammates?

These are questions for David Thorpe. I asked him to engage his big basketball mind to help us picture what this might look like on the court. His thoughts:

If LeBron's only concern was winning a title in the next three years, where would you advise him to sign? Miami or Chicago?

I'd probably go with Miami.

Chicago has not done much of anything since Michael Jordan retired.

You know I love Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and a lot of their players. But that franchise just hasn't gotten it done. I also think it wasn't like Shaquille O'Neal was amazing when the Heat won in 2006. He's a brand more than a talent at this point.

Let me be clear: I'm not a Heat fan. I grew up a Laker fan, and Orlando is far closer to where I live than Miami.

But when the Heat were good, and on their title run -- that was as fun an environment as I have seen in an NBA arena. Boston's amazing. I haven't been to a game in L.A. There are a lot of good arenas. But Miami ... wow was that fun.

And on the pre-game show in Miami they talk about it being the most professional organization in sports. There are a lot of teams that in all sports that could compete for that, but I don't disagree about the Heat. There are a lot of people there who work very hard and are extremely professional. They are always doing little things. For instance, their players are there working out in the offseason. The team tests everybody's body fat all the time. It's non-stop, the efforts to improve in every little thing. I'm sure that starts with the owners and Pat Riley, but you can see it, and that carries weight.

It's one reason they were able to win a title.

And consider that Wade wants to stay. They lost way more than LeBron did in Cleveland over the last few years. Why would Wade want to stay? There's a reason for that. LeBron James and Chris Bosh played against that. They know about it.

It's a great message for the league. A lot of what they're about is not settling, and being smarter and working harder.

With those three players, are they the favorites?

I think it has a chance to be a very special team, in the running for a championship. There are variables like injuries. You have to get lucky. You have to hit big shots in big playoff games. It's not like they're going to march through the playoffs 4-0, 4-0, 4-0. But when you have three players of this magnatude, especially Wade and James, special things can happen.

They need 3-point shooters off the bench, and in the starting lineup. They don't need a point guard, necessarily, because Wade and James are both such willing distributors. And look at the teams that have won titles in recent years. Many have not had trandscendant point guards. Jason Williams, Avery Johnson, Derek Fisher, Jordan Farmar ... they're not lottery picks.

They have two players who are so good with the ball, and so willing to make the right pass. You need 3-point shooting to execute the strategy, but this team is not going to be selfish.

And then you have got to find some centers. They don't need to score. They just need to rebound, play defense and race the floor.

Players like that can be found cheaply and developed. This team will have a real advantage in getting the most out of development, because nobody's going to relax. When your best players are your hardest workers, good things happen. Players in that environment play much better and develop faster.

You have long talked about seeing a special connection between Wade and James.

A year ago in Orlando, when the Cavaliers lost, I saw LeBron perform like a superhuman in a losing effort. I tried to read his face as best I could. That's my reaction as a coach. I always watch body language and faces even before and after the game.

I saw, in LeBron, a real sense of loss. Like he didn't have the guys he had with him on Team USA.

I think that was a real eye-opener for him.

Meanwhile, on Team USA Wade volunteered to come off the bench! What a huge signal. For a period there, before the injuries, many thought Wade was the best player in the world. And he was just all about winning. Players respected Wade as a competitor and a performer.

And in those Team USA games you would have thought he was the young guy trying to make the team. He was saving balls going out of bounds and sprinting for race-out dunks. And he was a Finals MVP!

Meanwhile, James has always been the kind of guy to make the right play, like when he famously passed the ball to Donyell Marshall in the corner. He was so ridiculed for that, but it was the same play Michael Jordan made passing to Steve Kerr or John Paxson. If Marshall hits that shot James' play would have been judged similarly.

And I'll tell you this. In my gym we use James and Wade as role models in a drill we do. We talk about them as perimeter guys who get above the rim as help side shot-blockers, whether it's chasing somebody from behind, or helping on a post player who has lost track of them, and getting over there to lay a finger on or just influence a shot.

That's a great thing to master, and that's all from James and Wade. They are the two guys who play with that zeal.

This roster would seem to have nobody who can guard, say Rajon Rondo or Dwight Howard.

There are a lot more guys to add to your tough-to-defend list.

But it's a myth that defense is a story of one-on-one matchups. OK, Kendrick Perkins can slow Dwight Howard in some games, or for a quarter. But not every game. Defense is a five on five story, and you can challenge the ball with any one of those five players. You can double-team. You can zone up. That's all legal.

Not to mention, Wade, LeBron and Bosh may be the fastest at their positions in the NBA. Certainly the three fastest really skilled players.

You can create a tempo game. You can aggressively trap. You can make it a game about aggressiveness, and those three will all have a great feel for that.

Erik Spoelstra is a very bright guy. If he doesn't have the roster for it, he's not going to play a classic defensive scheme and get crushed. He will strategize with what he has.

But remember that guarding fast point guards is a problem for everyone. Derrick Rose can't guard fast points. Rondo is one of the best, but he can't stop Derrick Rose, who cooked him in the playoffs a couple of years ago. It's hard to guard those guys! You have to have structure in the defense behind the point guard.

But you don't like Chris Bosh as your starting center, do you?

Not unless you're using him like they used Amare Stoudemire in Phoenix, where you're basically going small and fast and making the other team's big man into a dinosaur who has to run to keep up.

This team, though, they might not have to go small. They can go unique. They can have James and Wade as the backcourt, with a couple of 6-8 athletic shooters, and Bosh, and then race the floor. That's not a tiny lineup.

There will be work to do. And they will be scouring Europe and the draft and everywhere else for some big men. It's hard to find a good big for the minimum. But the three of them will be recruiting. And I think it's foolish to think of it as they have to win a title this year. You give yourself a five-year window, you've got the three big names, you've got a strong ability to develop players, and you see what you can do.

But there are people out there. For instance, I was just at summer league. I don't love his game, but Brian Zoubek from Duke was there. I believe he can learn to defend the center position in the NBA, and that he can rebound in the NBA. He knows how to play, because he got all that coaching at Duke, and he's a big guy. He probably can't help your team in November. But by April or May he may be serviceable.

Jeremy Evans was drafted in the 50s by the Jazz. He's 6-9, but very long and very athletic. He really knows how to play. He's an NBA player. There are all kinds of players like that, and the Heat will have to do the work of finding them.

What about a point guard or two? Some names I'll throw out there: Keyon Dooling or Anthony Carter.

Two great names. No question veterans who understand the game, and can execute with five guys working together, will bring a ton to this team. Dooling I like a little better than Carter.

Derek Fisher?

No question the phone calls are going to be made.

Also, Mario Chalmers can probably play like Fisher. Shoot 3s. Defend like crazy. And if you take an extra dribble, we'll sit you down on the bench. He should be able to do that.

Would you keep Michael Beasley?

If I could I absolutely would. If he can't figure it out with these three guys, he's never going to figure it out. He's the one guy who could absolutely put this team over the top.

I'd get him very excited about coming off the bench, scoring in bunches, and competing for sixth man of the year. He's a fantastic bucket-getter, and if you can re-sign Udonis Haslem, that's a three-four combination off the bench that not a lot of teams can match. He's a great scorer when he's dialed in, and superstar teammates working so hard can change everything.

I like Kendrick Perkins, but I don't know if he's the same player without Kevin Garnett firing him up. Beasley, with those three ... that's a really big opportunity for him to show what he can become.

What about Erik Spoelstra as coach of this team?

Erik has known this league more or less his entire life. I can just imagine Wade telling James "He's one of us! He's our guy." He as a low-level assistant when Wade was a rookie, and he put in work. You want to shoot at 4 a.m.? He was there. They grew up together.

But watch that team: He's an alpha male. There's no doubt he's ready to take charge at any time. But he's also a little bit of a new-breed coach who is not afraid to ask "What do you think we should do?"

I don't think Phil Jackson ignores the wants and needs of his best players. He integrates their best ideas into the team's plan. If you have a good idea for the team, you call Coach Spoelstra. He might disagree for some reason, but if it makes sense, he'll probably try it. He doesn't have an ego like that. That matters.

Are we being too harsh on Amare Stoudemire?

May, 22, 2010
5/22/10
5:20
PM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
Anyone who witnessed the carnage at Staples Center this past week knows that the Phoenix Suns have serious defensive issues. Suns head coach Alvin Gentry even went so far as to playfully solicit suggestions from the media at his postgame press conference following Game 2. To the naked eye, nobody on the Suns' roster has appeared more culpable for the team's defensive meltdowns than Amare Stoudemire. Defense has long been a major knock on Stoudemire's game, and there have been countless instances in the first two games of the Lakers-Suns series that seem to affirm Stoudemire's reputation as a defensive liability.

How bad has Stoudemire been? I put a call into David Thorpe to get his impressions -- and Thorpe's response was surprising:

To young players, playing time is oxygen

April, 7, 2010
4/07/10
2:47
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton
Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty Images
Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton are some of the most productive lower draft picks ever. Do they get playing time because they're so productive, or are they so productive because they get playing time?

As I've mentioned, I've been stepping up my Twitter game, for better or worse.

Honestly, I'm digging it. It's a place where smart people debate hoops around the clock. It reminds me a little of the early days of the TrueHoop comments, when the vibe was a little like the bar scene in "Cheers." (Sometimes these days, the commenting vibe all over the web is a tad more "Rambo.")

But last night, for the first time in the last several-hundred tweets, I really chafed at that 140-character limit. Basically, I couldn't figure out how to make my point that quickly without acting like a jerk.

Thankfully, ink is free on TrueHoop and now I can explain a little better.

Zach Lowe (he of CelticsHub fame) wrote a great story for The New York Times' blog making a case that, relative to draft position, the Hornets' rookies Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton are among the most productive picks ever.

The Times' Howard Beck tweeted about that, and my initial response, by Twitter, however, was that those guys have something amazing that most lower picks do not: A coach who is really motivated to make them look good. After Byron Scott was fired, Jeff Bower became not just the guy who picked those players, but also the one who hands out the playing time. That's a powerful combination.

Now, let me be clear: the players have done the work, and earned all that time. Collison and Thornton have earned everything they have -- any team would love to have those guys. What's impossible to say is how many other players picked late in the draft have also done that work and would also be fantastic with the kind of coach's support, and minutes, that those two enjoy. They got an opportunity a lot of players don't get, especially those drafted outside the lottery.

Lowe is right to call them some of the most productive rookies drafted that late. But a wholly different thing is to call them the best players drafted that late, because without a coach's support and playing time, it's almost impossible to tell what most late-drafted players would have done.

Beck replied that he thinks, by and large, players get the playing time they deserve. It seems like a pretty simple thing, though, really. Players who produce get time, and players who don't produce sit. Some other tweeters jumped in and pretty much accused me of disrespecting those Hornet rookies, which is the last thing I'd want to do.

If I agreed with Beck's assertion, though, this is something I'd be able to discuss meaningfully in 140 characters.

But player development experts I've talked to at length are unanimous that one of the best things one can possibly do to help a rookie's career is to bless him with the confidence of a supportive coaching staff and minutes to get used to the NBA game -- and very few players get that. Just a week ago an elite player development coach told me that every single player in the NBA can play, and it's really just a matter of opportunities and coaching and the team.

David Thorpe has been making similar points for years. He talks all the time about "the royal jelly." Literally, that's what worker bees feed a chosen baby bee to make her the queen. But it's also, says Thorpe, what coaches and others can feed players to help them achieve their potential. A lot of it has to do with building confidence. Throughout his career, Thorpe has been accused of hyping up his players up and giving them big heads, to which he replies, jokingly, "guilty!" Thorpe is convinced that "the royal jelly" can and has fundamentally changed the careers of countless players. The gold standard of helping a player evolve, he says, starts with playing time.

"Playing time is the first part," says Thorpe. "A coach's support is another thing -- it helps you grow as a player if you know you're not going to get yanked the first time you miss a shot. That gives you the confidence to be creative and expand your game. And then the final aspect of the ideal set-up is coaching you up on the new things you're adding to your game. A great recent example of this was Trevor Ariza with the Lakers last season. In the spring, everyone was wondering why they'd let him shoot all those 3s. It wasn't productive. But they needed him to be able to do that, they let him do that, they didn't yank him for doing that, and they coached him how to do that better. And in the playoffs he was amazing at that and helped them win a championship."

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The Rashard Lewis mistake

March, 25, 2010
3/25/10
11:20
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
It has already been written about several times, and Stan Van Gundy has been clear: The mistake on that last play belonged to Rashard Lewis.

In a phone call, David Thorpe shared some thoughts:

Back when I was a high-school coach, Lon Kruger was the coach at Florida, and he came to my gym to recruit a player. That's how we first met. I talked to him, and his assistant Ron Stewart, a lot about coaching.

Lon had a line that he used all the time, which I still use every day: "There's nothing else to think about."

Think about it. If Rashard Lewis was guarding you, in the first quarter of some game, and Joe Johnson put that shot up, all he'd have to worry about was making contact with you. That's the main thing. Then he can go get the rebound, or someone else will. But when that shot goes up, it's about contact. There's nothing else to think about.

Now, the only downside of baseline shots is that rebounds can go long and start the break for the other team. It's a debate. Some coaches will tell some players that if a guard like Johnson is out of position to run back to prevent the other team's break, they should.

But think about Rashard! He's not guarding you, he's guarding the guy who might be the most athletic power forward in the game. And there's no time on the clock, so there's no worry about any fast breaks the other way. Orlando doesn't even need to get the rebound. If the ball just hits the floor, the clock expires and they're OK. There's never anything else to think about, but there's especially nothing else to think about on that play.

So, Rashard screwed up.

I'll tell you what, though. I would not be at all surprised if at some point in the near future, late in this regular season or in the playoffs, a similar play will develop and Rashard will make the box-out beautifully. Because you can not have a more powerful teaching point than last night.

People act like players should progress in some way, like you get a certain amount of experience and coaching and then you can check the box that says "knows how to box out." But of course it's not like that. Bobby Knight said the most important skill for a player to have is the ability to concentrate, and he's right. This is the kind of thing that can make you concentrate.

UPDATE: Stephen Danley, former University of Pennsylvania big man, and current grad student, writer and TrueHoop reader, begs to differ:
Not sure it matters, especially with basketball minds as good as Kevin, Thorpe and Stan Van Gundy arguing the other direction, but as a big I completely disagree that the play was a basic boxing out mistake by Rashard Lewis.

Boxing out seems like a simple concept (hit your guy) but in the case of help defense it gets much more complicated. I watched the film. Dwight Howard leaves his man to play help D, leaving Lewis and Nelson guarding 3 players on the weak side. Lewis pushes Nelson up to guard Marvin Williams at the top of the key, leaving Lewis with two offensive players. When the shot goes up, both Horford and Smith crash the boards.

This is where it sucks to be a big man. Because of the defensive scheme, which involved Dwight Howard helping, Lewis now has to rebound the whole backside. Who should he block out? Horford? Smith? Just jump and try to get a piece of the ball?

Obviously, whatever Lewis chose didn't work out, but whatever else it was, it wasn't a simple box out.

David Thorpe on the trading of Kevin Martin

February, 18, 2010
2/18/10
5:26
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Kevin Martin
Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images
The Rockets have been needing a scorer; Kevin Martin is one of the most efficient in NBA history.

David Thorpe has been training Kevin Martin every summer in person, and on the phone day in and day out, since Martin was a little-known guard at Western Carolina. You could argue that they essentially "made it" (Martin as a player, and Thorpe as a trainer) together. In the hours after learning that Martin had been traded to the Rockets, Thorpe shared his views about why things didn't work out in Sacramento, how Martin will fit in Houston and why he thinks Martin can be a solid NBA defender.
Were you as surprised as the rest of us to learn late Wednesday night that Kevin Martin had been traded?

Yes, only because it seemed that no one really had an appetite to trade him. There were certainly teams that were making inquiries, and I get privy to some of those because teams will often call me first to get insight on what Kevin's mindset is. So I knew teams were interested. But it always seemed like the Kings would hold off until the summer, and I understood why they would do that. I can't say I was too surprised, when the team has been struggling, and has such a need for inside help, getting an offer like Carl Landry, I understand why they'd want to do that.

You're a basketball expert, but you're also someone who knows Kevin Martin very well and considers him almost like a family member. For you in that role, how do you feel?

I feel amazing.

There's a little touch of sadness. If I take off my basketball analyst and basketball trainer hats ... Kevin has a very special connection to the city of Sacramento and to the Kings. I was a nobody, and only had one or two players who were just barely in the NBA when the Kings took Kevin in the draft. And the Kings decided to take him in the first round and ultimately decided to stay with him long enough to learn how to be an NBA player. He became a pretty good one and they paid him a great contract. Kevin and I talked a lot about retiring as a King one day, and having his jersey hanging in the rafters with a couple of championship banners. And, obviously that failed. That didn't happen. Doesn't really matter who's to blame. The end result is it failed. That's sad.

On the other hand, that's a team that, over the last four years has gotten younger and younger. Kevin should be entering his prime. He was playing for a coaching staff that didn't really know him or his game all that well, and had a bunch of 23-and-younger guys, for the most part, next to him, who were far from their potential. They're going to be good players one day, but how long is it going to be? Now Kevin gets to go to a storied franchise that's got multiple championships, in a city that's basketball-crazy like Sacramento is.

The great thing about this is that in some respect he's going back in time, to a head coach and two or three assistants who coached Kevin when he was just starting out. So that's exciting. And the idea of playing with the talent that Houston has, they've got some talented veterans, I think will be a better complement to what he brings, and hopefully he'll be a better complement to what they have.

Houston, without Landry and with an injured Yao Ming, is pretty thin in the frontcourt. But Rick Adelman's an innovative coach. How is this Houston team going to play, now?

There's a short-term and a long-term approach. The short-term approach will be: This is our team without Yao Ming. Let's try to manufacture wins. I think one of Adelman's real strengths has been that he's a very pragmatic guy. When he's got slashers and passers, they run more of this open-floor Princeton stuff. And when he doesn't then they'll feature the great, dynamic dribble-drive game of Aaron Brooks. And obviously, they did a lot with Carl Landry.

So I think they'll get back to utilizing Kevin, and Trevor Ariza. Now he has two wings who are really athletic and can move without the ball -- Trevor really learned that in that triangle system in L.A. There'll be some adjustments, because they obviously haven't been doing that a bunch because of what Aaron does. They'll feature Scola more. But Kevin's going to have to carry a big scoring load, because Carl was one of their two best offensive players.

And then when Yao comes in, that's really the game-changer. Kevin, historically, has been one of more efficient shooting guards ever to play the game, based on the stats we use now, and he's never really had a low-post player that commanded a double-team. The idea of dumping it into Yao Ming and running two-man stuff off him, running some of Adelman's Princeton stuff off Yao, with his shooting abilities, and Kevin's ability to move without the ball ... it's pretty exciting.

I also think the Jordan Hill component is interesting, because they've had some success in finding ways that guys like that can really be productive. Look at the production they've gotten out of maligned big men: Scola, Hayes, Landry ... Hill is an interesting component. And they're going to get a number one pick from New York at some point in the next couple of years. You've got that great mix of veterans and youth, where Kevin was coming from a program that was almost all young guys.

There's a lot that we can do because veteran experience allows you to do a lot more.

There has been this idea that Houston needs a superstar, or at least a go-to crunch-time scorer. I don't even know if you believe that, but if you do, is Kevin Martin that guy?

I never really believed that. With some exceptions. Wade and Kobe and LeBron are at the highest level of that. But two years ago the champions were the guys who had three great players. Go back and watch Celtic tape and I think you'll see Eddie House hit some pretty big shots, too.

I really believe that if you've got a super special featured scorer, then great. But it's good to have more than one guy.

And I don't know if Kevin's good enough to be a "give him the ball and get out of the way" kind of guy. I don't think that's really playing to his strengths. I think you can run sets for him late in games. The other night in overtime he scored nine straight points for the Kings, because they actually ran some stuff for him and it worked out well.

I think, though that Houston's going to have some really dynamic actions with a number of guys. You're talking about a starting five of Brooks, Ariza, Martin, Scola and ultimatley Yao. All five guys can get 25 points in a game. Not a lot of teams have that.

I think Kevin can be an important fourth-quarter player for them. Obviously, he's got to get to the free throw line a lot, and typically he makes 80-plus percent. And that's important too.

(Read full post)

Friends in High Places

March, 11, 2009
3/11/09
2:47
PM ET

What's it called again? The TD Banknorth Garden? That thing, whatever it is, where the Celtics play. I sat there on Sunday afternoon, watching the injured home team lose to the Orlando Magic.

There was quite a lot of  media there. Enough that ESPN.com's armada of journalists couldn't all be in the primo media seats. So Kevin Arnovitz, David Thorpe and I sat in the sky.

You know how some arenas do a parachute drop, where they drop little treats, attached to parachutes, onto the crowd below? 

Eric GordonThey drop the parachutes from where we were sitting. Literally. The only way you could be further from the action would be to be outside the building.

It's actually not bad, though. You can see plays develop nicely, there is plenty of room to stretch your legs, and no lines for the bathrooms!

Anyway, we sat up there, chatting away, and after a while the topic became: Why isn't Eric Gordon higher in Thorpe's rookie rankings? 

The conversation didn't randomly drift there, either. Arnovitz watches every second Gordon plays, and raves about the guy, at both ends of the floor.

Kevin made a convincing case, talking about scoring efficiency, defensive assignments, and shooting stroke.

Thorpe, who takes the rankings very seriously, swore to dig in to the statistics and video.

He also said something to the effect of: Could he really be in the top four? Up there with Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Brook Lopez and O.J. Mayo? 

I smiled a little today, when I saw that Gordon has, indeed, passed Mayo to claim the fourth overall spot.

I don't know if Kevin affected Thorpe's thinking or not. But it couldn't have hurt.

(Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

When I saw Ric Bucher's report that Jermaine O'Neal and Jamario Moon have been traded to Miami for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks (pending league approval), I was hungry for some basketball analysis, and called David Thorpe, who was kind enough to explain.

What does this do for Miami?
It adds another big to the rotation. Also, it's an opportunity to try Michael Beasley as a small forward. It helps Udonis Haslem, by letting him move to his natural position, at power forward. And Joel Anthony, I assume, will come off the bench.

With that, maybe they can win a few more games, and made Dwyane Wade happy. But no one thinks they are contenders. 

But they must feel like Jermaine O'Neal has something left.

Jermaine O'NealDo you think that?
You can never account for motivation. I remember this off-season, everyone was so excited about how Jermaine O'Neal was working out so hard, raising his game. Talking to the Raptors, they were pumped up.

That dissolved quickly, however, when the team got on the floor and nothing much happened.

Last year, though, you had that trade of Shaquille O'Neal, and it's impossible to argue that he is not playing better now than he did before the trade. How much of that is the Suns' trainers, and how much of it is motivation? Paying attention to detail, trying harder, practicing harder and all that.

Now Jermaine will be playing alongside a superstar in Wade, he has a new coach, a new team ... We don't know what all that might do.

What about for the Raptors?
They are more or less saving money, which will give them flexibility to bring in young players to play alongside Bosh, Calderon, and Bargnani. I see Toronto like Portland a couple of years ago. More or less, you want to get cap space and picks, and start over again with young assets.

Will they get to keep Chris Bosh? I don't know. But maybe Andrea Bargnani is a keeper. And Calderon.

So you think there's no chance they'll be re-signing Shawn Marion after this year?
I wouldn't say that. I know they have been really looking for a tough, defensive oriented small forward. Is that Shawn Marion? Maybe. They get a free look at him now.

I do not think it's likely they'll sign him to a long term deal at big money. But if it proves, this off-season, with the economy as it is, that he has low value, then maybe they'll re-sign him cheaply.

In every business there's book value and then there's actual value. Shawn Marion might have a book value of $8 million a year. But if no one has that much money to give him maybe he's yours for $4 million.

In the meantime, Toronto just saved a whole bunch of money they won't be paying Jermaine O'Neal next year. I bet a lot of owners are a little jealous of that right now.

And Marion -- he has been motivated. He just had a game-winning dunk last night against Chicago. They'll get to see, up close, what he's like at this stage of his career.

Shawn MarionWe used to talk about Shawn Marion, in his Phoenix days, as an MVP candidate.
History, I think, is starting to write the story of how special that Phoenix franchise was. That was something so amazing.

Besides winning, the first agenda of any coach is creating systems to help players reach their potential. 

And in what I do, every player tells me they are motivated not by money, but by the urge to be as good as they can possibly be.

But it's not up to me, or some assistant, to get the most out of a player. It's really largely a factor of the head coach, and the system they choose to execute. And it's beginning to be clear that the job Mike D'Antoni did in Phoenix was at a Hall-of-Fame level. Steve Nash was an MVP. Amare Stoudemire one of the best big men in the league. Shawn Marion having amazing years.

That guy created something pretty special, and that's gone now. Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion ... I don't think anyone of them is going to see that level of basketball again, unless they luck into another similar situation somehow.

It's a little bit of a tragedy, like from Broadway: The Sinking Suns. It's really sad. 

I know they're trying to rebuild that in New York. And maybe it will be better. But it won't be the same.

I remember one night when I was brand new at ESPN, and I was trying to watch as many games as possible. I was watching Phoenix vs. whoever. There was no one on either team that I knew, and I had no real reason to be invested in that game. But I just had to admit that it was the most fun I had had watching basketball in a long, long time.

They were just so selfless with the ball. The only person who would probe with the dribble was Nash, and he'd only do it to find better angles for his teammates. And they cared about each other on defense, while still managing not to foul, which is what Mike wanted. Keep the game moving!

So, over the rest of the season, do you think this trade makes the Heat noticeably better?
If I had to guess right now, I'd say more of the same, I suspect.

They get an upgrade at center, and a downgrade at small forward. And it's not like Jermaine O'Neal was tearing it up. Jamario Moon is OK, and he blocks some shots which is nice from a small forward. But I think Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley are from the school that wants someone tough at that position. So who plays the three? Moon? James Jones? Beasley?

I prefer Beasley playing power forward. Not a lot of guys can make that transition to small forward. But he's talented, and he might be able to do it.

Do you think this trade makes the Raptors better in the short-term?
I actually think this could make the Raptors a little better. You could argue they were better with Andrea Bargnani playing center instead of Jermaine O'Neal anyway.

I don't know if he was in Toronto, but Jermaine O'Neal can be a dark cloud over a locker room. I don't think that leaving Miami for Toronto in the middle of February will thrill Shawn Marion, but he'll be happy to have this uncertainty behind him, and he's still playing for a contract. So this team could be better ... until they reach the point of the season when they start thinking about draft positioning. I don't want to say tanking, but at some point, maybe they decide they want to see Roko Ukic a lot more, and don't play Calderon as much. Or they might want to give some other young players a look. Those kinds of things can change the math a lot.

(Jermaine O'Neal photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images, Shawn Marion by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

David Thorpe Raves

July, 23, 2008
7/23/08
11:52
AM ET

About rookies like Russell Westbrook, Jerryd Bayless, Anthony Randolph, Jason Thompson and Kevin Love, in a review of everyone's summer performances.

Thorpe's so-so on some of the other big names. For instance, here is Thorpe on O.J. Mayo:

I don't see a lot of upside with him, but I don't see much of a downside either. His ability to get open jumpers off the dribble is nice, and he competes pretty hard. But he's not special as an athlete, so his ability to blow by people is average at best. Learning the "shot-fake attack game" will help him a great deal. 

Rodney Guillory. It's a name we have learned in recent days, thanks to Kelly Naqi and her Outside the Lines investigation.

Guillory, we have learned, has reportedly been acting like a runner.

OK, you say, fine.

But what exactly is a runner? How big a part of basketball are such people? What are the rules of being a runner. Does anyone get hurt in the process?

TrueHoop convened a roundtable of experts to talk about it. The first part of the conversation was published yesterday.

The participants:

James TannerJames Tanner is a lawyer and agent working for Washington D.C.'s Williams & Connolly. Tanner represents Josh Childress, Marvin Williams, Brandan Wright, Zaza Pachulia, Morris Almond, DeVon Hardin. Together with Lon Babby he represents Grant Hill, Tim Duncan, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Bruce Bowen, Andre Miller, and others. Tanner has a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, B.A. and a J.D. from the University of Chicago.



David ThorpeDavid Thorpe is an NBA analyst for ESPN.com and the executive director of the Pro Training Center at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., where he oversees the player development program for NBA and college players. Thorpe has coached for more than two decades, in recent years focusing on professional clients who have included Kevin Martin, Udonis Haslem, Luol Deng, Tyrus Thomas, Daniel Santiago, Jared Jeffries, Kyrylo Fesenko, and others.



Jason LevienJason Levien is an attorney, agent, and founder of Levien Sports Representation. He represents players including Kevin Martin, Kyrylo Fesenko, Orien Greene, Loren Woods, Courtney Lee, and Pat Calathes. A graduate of Pomona College, where he was a member of the basketball team, Levien served as an editor of the Michigan Law Review while earning his law degree and master's in public policy from the University of Michigan. Levien has had faculty appointments at the University of Michigan and Harvard Law School.


Marc IsenbergMarc Isenberg is the author of "Money Players: A Guide to Success in Sports, Business & Life for Current and Future Pro Athletes." He also co-authored "The Student-Athlete Survival Guide," a book that helps athletes make the transition from high school to college and succeed once there.


Joining the conversation in progress ...

Jason Levien: I want to ask you one other thing: What is the plan?

Certainly one of those plans would be to have some type of body that actually is interested and cleaning it up and finding out the truth.

I think it's pretty fair for us to say, whether the NCAA's intentions were good or not is a separate issue, the result isn't so good, because these players are in the NCAA. These things are happening all the time. And maybe it's beyond their ability to do so. But there certainly could be a system created where, for example, I mean, here we are, we all know that we're supposed to watch ourselves at airports and transportation systems, be on the watch for this, this, this. If you see a stray backpack on the side of the road, people go crazy.

Yet we see very similar things going on at college campuses or at AAU, basketball high school tournaments, doesn't have to be AAU, could be a regular school event, and nothing is done about it. So if you have someone to go to and say, listen, I see this guy, here is his card, here is his name, here is what I think is going on. Who would you send it to and what would they do about it? Like I said before, everyone kind of knows what is going on, but who is going to follow up on it, even if it's reported in the first place? If you know there's a guy out there telling people he can get you a SAT score, he works for an agent, he's connected to colleges, he's trying to get commissions when he delivers a guy to an agent, even if he's committing all sorts of crimes or rules against the NCAA, who would do anything about it?

James Tanner: That's the big question.

Marc Isenberg: There's a lot of look-the-other-way mentality that's pervasive, not just among fellow agents. I wrote extensively about David Falk, about all the accusations that he was putting out there. And then I remember a few months ago Nick Saban, the coach at Alabama football, was quoted as saying that he documents all the transgressions of his fellow coaches and he keeps a file on them because I think basically what he wants to do is if he's ever put in a situation where somebody turns him in, I mean, he can up the ante. So I think that's really the vigilante justice that's going on in this industry. Nobody wants to shed light on what is actually going on. There's this acceptance of it.

And at the end of the day the athletes are getting hurt during the recruiting process from high school to college and then college to professional sports and once they're in their college career. I think that education is a great concept. And it's certainly not the magic pill. But for those athletes that don't want to be exploited, don't want to be taken advantage of they're going to become more active in managing their business and professional careers.

One last topic: I feel schizophrenic. I've had meaningful conversations with people this week along the lines of sending some money or benefits along, down the line, towards somebody who's influential to a young player is just kind of the way the business goes and there's not really a real victim to that crime, and you're naive if you don't think it happens. What's the big deal? That's one rationale, that actually if you put aside NCAA rules and whatnot, I guess I can theoretically understand that.

The other thing is, even people who say that to me also say, I would never pay a runner, I'd never be involved in this kind of recruitment.

Which makes me think, Hmm, either there's something wrong with it or there isn't.

I suspect we could all see both sides of that conversation. I was wondering if you could, in whatever order you feel like talking, just address that schizophrenia I'm feeling there.

David Thorpe: In business, you do what you have to do. You have your office manager, if you're running an office, and people are always bringing in bagels, cream cheese, donuts, whatever else. If your office manager is in charge of making decisions for your business, the people that are selling or hoping to service your business, are making sure that that decision maker is well thought of and really likes the people that come and sell things to your firm.

That's really what we're talking about here.

But the difference would be, I would suggest, we're ultimately talking about the life management of a young person's next 10 to potentially 40 years. And that shouldn't be influenced by donuts and bagels and cream cheese. (Or in a more realistic case lots of money or equipment or tickets.)

I have kids with limo rides, tr
ips to places, really exotic situations. These players don't have the wherewithal in almost any case to navigate through that. Adults sometimes don't. So as someone in the business of literally having helped players, I've got players that will make $11 million this year and I have players that are hoping to make $22,000 in the D-League. I love them all. They're all great kids. They need help in managing their careers.

Every one of them has different needs. That decision on who should help them shouldn't be because of some relationship that that person's family or friend has or some kind of money or some other transaction that took place.

James Tanner: I think there definitely is a victim to that style of recruiting. I think the victim is the player. The player is deprived, first, of knowing what the ulterior motives are of the people around him if they're accepting things on his behalf.

Secondly, I think the player is deprived of the opportunity to make the best decision for him. If you're going to choose representation based on these relationships as opposed to making a decision on the merits and really hearing what people have to say, then selecting the best representative for you, then I think you are a victim, and I think it deprives you of that opportunity.

Jason Levien: I think there are three questions you have to ask yourself, as an agent. First is, does it make good business sense. Secondly, is it good for the player and is it right. And thirdly, is it against the law.

If you're an agent looking at it, number one, I think you stop yourself and say, we might want to change these laws. There are some serious criminal penalties on the books right now from that standpoint.

Does it make good business sense? Generally I don't see -- in a lot of cases -- how the business adds up if you're paying people to get to a player.

Then, thirdly, as Jim pointed out, I just think it's wrong for the player and ultimately they are the victims here. It's the point I made earlier about all these relationships, people trying to monetize their relationships with the player without the player having full disclosure about what their agenda is. It's complicated and it creates a lot of confusion and a lot of mistrust. And I don't think it ultimately leads the player to making an informed business decision about their future.

So on all three examples, maybe the first one about the business sense, maybe for some people trying to get in the business, it would make sense. But on the other two, I think it would clearly knock you out and say, A, the laws are on the books and, B, ultimately the player is the victim in that.

Marc Isenberg: I have the unenviable task of going last because you all make good points. A few thoughts that echo what statements have already made.

Number one, whatever benefits that are being offered to these players is not sufficient competition to the risks of their eligibility. That agent is knowingly exposing an athlete to a mine field of potential hazards, risk to their eligibility, the agent laws. Really what we also have to get down to is just how business is conducted in the real world and understanding that the payments typically would flow from the person who is having the services provided to the service provider. And this sort of changes the whole dynamics of that relationship.

And ultimately it compromises the ability to think clearly when it comes time to selecting an agent and you're selecting that agent on all the wrong merits. And I think that that's really at the crux of this. Whatever money we're talking about, it's still chump change. It's $50,000, it's $100,000. Whatever the rumors are, ultimately as I said before, this is small potatoes relative to the big issues of being a marketable professional athlete that has the potential to make 5, 10, 20 million dollars a year from their playing career and then whatever else from their marketing deals.

David Thorpe: As an agent, how do you have a positive and successful relationship with a player and the people around them when they've chosen you based on that? I think it's very difficult to do that. Because the player is putting a lot of trust in your guidance and your counsel. If it's based on a monetary inducement to do so, I can't see how you ever really have the trust and the proper relationship with that individual and their family going forward.

A higher bidder could come down the road at any time if it's all about the money, right?

David Thorpe: Right, but they are still doing it. The reality is, we all know it's happening.

Henry, I'd like to throw in one last point that I think is maybe the most important of all. You and I probably deal with as many agents as anyone outside of a general manager, talking to them, learning the business.

This is not the first time there's been a story about something like this. But it's the first time I've experienced a real push back from the agents and agencies I deal with saying, We've got to fix this.

And the reason why I think it's happening finally, I'll give you an example from a friend of mine in the camp business. He's really trying to be a leader in regulating the summer camp industry, because in the absence of self-regulation, you then allow people like Congress or the state legislatures to regulate it.

And they're not going to do it with the interests of the business of the summer camp industry.

If you wait long enough and don't regulate it by yourselves, all of a sudden you're in the camp business, the horrible thing happens, young people are molested or wounded or worse, well, now Congress gets involved, the government gets involved, and they put so much bureaucracy into it, there's so many things you have to fill out, so many more background checks, whatever, all of a sudden it's very hard to make any money in the camp industry.

So that's why you've got real leaders in that industry, like any other industry, trying to self-regulate it first.

We have the same situation here. As some point something so terrible is going to happen because of the flaunting of the laws. And Jason made an important point. These are laws that are on the books. Whether they should be or not is a separate issue. Laws are being broken within the state, not just one state, many different states, depending on the situation. And in the absence of any kind of self-regulation within that industry, the agent industry, at some point something terrible is going to happen, and now the government is going to have to get involved and make it a much more difficult and onerous business to navigate successfully both for their business and the player. That's the point I see.

It's great to see agents concerned. Now clean it up, get it right, do the best you can before someone else does it for you and makes it much worse.

Rodney Guillory. It's a name we have learned in recent days, thanks to Kelly Naqi and her Outside the Lines investigation.

Guillory, we have learned, has reportedly been acting like a runner.

OK, you say, fine.

But what exactly is a runner? How big a part of basketball are such people? What are the rules of being a runner. Does anyone get hurt in the process?

TrueHoop convened a roundtable of experts to talk about it. The second part of the conversation will be published tomorrow.

First, meet the participants:

James TannerJames Tanner is a lawyer and agent working for Washington D.C.'s Williams & Connolly. Tanner represents Josh Childress, Marvin Williams, Brandan Wright, Zaza Pachulia, Morris Almond, DeVon Hardin. Together with Lon Babby he represents Grant Hill, Tim Duncan, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Bruce Bowen, Andre Miller, and others. Tanner has a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, B.A. and a J.D. from the University of Chicago.



David ThorpeDavid Thorpe is an NBA analyst for ESPN.com and the executive director of the Pro Training Center at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., where he oversees the player development program for NBA and college players. Thorpe has coached for more than two decades, in recent years focusing on professional clients who have included Kevin Martin, Udonis Haslem, Luol Deng, Tyrus Thomas, Daniel Santiago, Jared Jeffries, Kyrylo Fesenko, and others.



Jason LevienJason Levien is an attorney, agent, and founder of Levien Sports Representation. He represents players including Kevin Martin, Kyrylo Fesenko, Orien Greene, Loren Woods, Courtney Lee, and Pat Calathes. A graduate of Pomona College, where he was a member of the basketball team, Levien served as an editor of the Michigan Law Review while earning his law degree and master's in public policy from the University of Michigan. Levien has had faculty appointments at the University of Michigan and Harvard Law School.


Marc IsenbergMarc Isenberg is the author of "Money Players: A Guide to Success in Sports, Business & Life for Current and Future Pro Athletes." He also co-authored "The Student-Athlete Survival Guide," a book that helps athletes make the transition from high school to college and succeed once there.




(Note: Levien joined the conversation in progress.)

After the Outside the Lines investigation of O.J. Mayo and BDA Sports and everything, it prompted just a flood of phone calls here at my office where I talked to so many agents, so many people involved in the business who took the opportunity of the O.J. story to talk about recruiting in general.

It seems to me that nobody really likes it the way it is now and everybody has ideas about how it might be better. A lot of people seem to be concerned that the quality of the representation, i.e., the merit of your agent, isn't a big consideration in how a lot of players choose their agents. So I thought it would be good to investigate some of those issues a little bit with people who know a lot about the business.

So you three are some of the people I know who know the most about it, so I thought it would be great talking together. So thanks for joining me.

Maybe I can start with you, Jim. When you heard about this O.J. Mayo thing, you don't need to talk about that case specifically if you don't want to, the story as reported by ESPN is that Rodney Guillory was acting as a runner in cahoots with an agent. Do you think a high percentage of players are involved with runners or a high percentage of NBA recruiting happens with the help of runners?

James Tanner: I would say that I think runners are prevalent in the industry in terms of recruiting clients for various agents and agencies. What percentage of players are actually influenced by those runners, I wouldn't know. But I certainly think they have a presence and agents rely on them to help introduce them to various athletes and their families to establish relationships with those athletes and their families and to speak on their behalf.

We at Williams & Connolly do not use runners and we recruit very differently than I think most agencies do, but I certainly think they're out there.

Is that a problem? I know it's illegal in many states. You can sort of guess a lot of problems that might result from using runners.

David Thorpe: Don't we first need to define 'runners?' Because just to infer that what happened potentially or allegedly in California means that agents spend lots of money on runners to go recruit for them, it's really unfair. I'm not at all absolving anyone of that. Obviously there's guilt, Jim and I and Marc and others, we probably all know of instances.

My only thing was, we all could maybe speak to it at different levels. Again, you've got guys that are 20, 21, young guys up to 40s or so, that just want to get their foot in the door. And because they may have a relationship with a player that could potentially be an NBA player, they're going to be targeted potentially by an agent and no money exchanges hands. Maybe buys him a dinner or two just to get to know him. And that guy is just so happy to be able to connect his player/friend to the agent, maybe the value of that relationship amounts to $50. That's different than what the situation is in California, which happens as well. You have two different spectrums on the runner side. Does that make any sense what I just said? Do you follow that?

Sure. I feel like there's also probably two different setups for how you could have a runner, right? There could be somebody who has a pre-existing relationship with a player who might be kind of coordinating their agent selection process, right? Or there could be somebody who has a longer term relationship with the agent and then tries to get close to the player.

James Tanner: The latter is what I was referring to when I talk about a runner. A runner is somebody who is on an agent's payroll whose job is to recruit for that agent. So to establish a relationship with a player or a family member or a friend of player, whoever it may be, that's what I consider to be a runner.

I have seen the other situation where you have somebody who's already close to the athlete and the agent tries to establish a relationship with that person, ultimately trying to recruit the athlete. So I think that's a different category.

David Thorpe: That's exactly what I was hoping to get defined, Jim. I just wanted to make sure I was speaking clearly. So I agree with Jim. To me the runner is in the employ of the agency, which is separate from the one, the guy or the girl, that knows the player and hopes to one day work for the agency. So is literally used by the agent in some cases to be able to get that player. So now at least we have our terms d
efined a little bit.

Marc Isenberg: To take it further, a lot of these relationships aren't properly defined when the relationships are first established. So what ends up happening is, and I don't want to talk specifically about the big case that brings us all here together right now, but the AAU programs, the mentorship, whatever percentage we want to assign that says, you know, that most of these relationships are holistic and proper in terms of providing guidance, father figure-type relationships. At some point, you can sort of get an idea that some player has potential market value, the relationships have at least an increased chance of changing to include the agents and all the relationships that that business brings in.

So, I don't think it's a situation where people are sort of saying, my job description, my job title is I'm a runner. I think that they tend to emerge, that agents tend to identify with those people that can be the circle of influence that are so necessary in influencing the decision to sign with a particular agent.

David Thorpe: Right. But Jim is right in that there are, without question, any way you want to define runner, is the person in the employ of an agent or agency whose sole job is to befriend players and their parents, in some cases if they can't get access to the player, or some other avenue to get right to the player, to basically convince that player or the family, about the agency that he's working for.

Well what about the AAU coach, right? We hear this story all the time. I actually heard it just this morning. If you are -- you know, if an agent may be recruiting a player, talking to a player, et cetera, they might hear from an AAU coach or somebody else, some event promoter, whoever, who then wants basically money to be in player's ear and recommend that agent.

David Thorpe: Right. That's why I brought it up, Henry. That's why I was trying to get the definition because that's exactly what ends up happening, is the AAU coach, and that's also a loose term, but the person affiliated with the player in the AAU program, whether the head coach or assistant, the sneaker guy or the jersey guy, if he has access to the player, the agency approaches him, they work out some kind of deal, and now it's up to him to try to deliver that player to the agent in some respect. It might be just to deliver a dinner together, then it's up to the agent to close the deal. That certainly is an ordinary situation that occurs in basketball today.

And why is that bad?

James Tanner: I would say it's bad to the extent that the AAU coach does not have the player's best interest at heart. I would caution us against painting all AAU coaches with the same brush because I think there are probably quite a few very good AAU coaches out there that have their player's best interest in mind. My son started playing AAU basketball recently and I think most of the people I met have been great people that are there for the right reasons.

I think it does become dangerous, though, when the AAU coach is doing it for his own interest as opposed to the player's best interest. So he's not helping the player make a decision on the merits and he's only steering the player based on what he's going to receive in return. That's when it's bad.

David Thorpe: I would take that a step further. There's just no accountability for a lot of these situations. And I don't know that you can always guarantee that you can get it, but it's always nice to have some kind of accountability. If you steer, for selfish reasons, and it ends up hurting the player, as the person that did the steering, the AAU-connected runner, he has no consequences to face. He cuts the people in, moves on, tries to get the next guy, the next guy, maybe he just doesn't do it with that agency because they failed the first time. There's obviously no oversight to it.

There's also a situation and, guys, I'm dealing with players on a daily basis and I'm not an agent. Right now I have 12 players on campus, I have 10 players on campus. I think we have six different agents representing them. So I see all kinds and I hear the players' perspectives on everything. And it's a real situation where the players are blind and a lot of the so-called runners that we're talking about, whether they're in the employ of the agents/agency, or on the AAU side, those guys are blind, too. They don't really understand the business.

Promising draft position or promising -- one of my favorite ones are shoe deals. Henry, you obviously know that pretty well. Jim does. It's not so easy to land any kind of shoe deal, much less a lucrative deal. I'll talk to players who are lucky to be second-round picks and they're telling me they're going to choose one agent over another because of the potential for shoe deal. When I ask them where did you hear that from, almost invariably it's not from the agent's mouth themselves as much as it is somebody connected to the agent, which is the runner or the AAU guy involved that's kind of convinced them of this great shoe deal possibility for a guy that is going to be hoping to be drafted No. 45. It just doesn't exist.

Marc Isenberg: I think what we're learning now, and it's sort of that common refrain when I talk to NBA guys who are in their mid 20s, late 20s: If I only knew then what I know now. It's very difficult a 16-, 17-year-old going through the first recruiting process, and then a short time later when he's been recruited by agents, to discern the facts from this, understanding how the business really works, because they're relying so much on, you know, what these people are telling them.

So, if an agent says, and once more with conviction, that I can affect where you're selected in the draft because I've got these special relationships, I have got independent relationships with general managers ... just use common sense. There are no favors in this business. It's all about winning. I mean, just because you have a strong relationship because of other players that you might represent, there's nothing that Jim Tanner or some other agent can do to ultimately affect draft outcome. They can certainly help with the training, the workouts, train them in the best possible light. I would attribute most where they're going to be selected to their own efforts. And I think that's sort of self-preservation in the agent business to oversell and hype their roles.

James Tanner: I think the problem, though, you know, agents overselling, I think is a by-product of the fact that the players don't do the right level or don't engage in the right level of due diligence. So I think many agents or agencies or runners, they try to develop that relationship early on, and so they're able to say whatever they want. And if the player doesn't then have a real process after the fact where he then has meetings with other agents or other representatives, challenges things that are said by the first agent that has established a relationship with him, then you end up making a bad decision because you're taking someone at his word without checking with the NBA, checking with potential sponsors, checking with the union, checking with other agents to find out the way things should work.

And so that's why I think it's dangerous if you don't have -- if the player doesn't have -- the savvy to kind of ask those questions. He needs to have someone else, some other adult figure, whether it be an AAU coach, a college coach, a professor at the school, to help them conduct that process.

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