The lead in the op-ed posted on ESPN on Thursday by agent Jeff Schwartz, who represents Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Paul Pierce and other NBA stars, is that the NBPA search for a new executive director, a post left open for a full year since the dismissal of Billy Hunter, is a joke, and a sham and needs to start over.
This is not new, but the strong words from a powerful agent so close to the process certainly will stir some rumblings from the players behind closed doors. But if you read deeper, you start to see another message in Schwartz' missive. He wants the agents more heavily involved in NBPA business.
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 as well as represent their 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.
After the mess with Hunter last year, several members of the NBPA executive committee told me that a priority going forward for the union was to attempt to limit the outside influences in union business. You woud presume that would include agents, who have a strong investment, as Schwartz says, in players' current interests. The key there is "current." What may be best for the players short-term, and by extension for the agents, may not be what's best for the players long-term, something that doesn't affect the agents, at least not to the same degree.
But then you have to factor this: the NBPA is a joke. After securing a strong postion and guaranteed contracts, they've seen most of ther gains rolled back through the prior negotiations and lockouts. They are disorganized and worse, disinterested right up until the point where the league locks them out. Only when the checks stop coming do the players start to pay attention to league business. If the players won't or can't be involved day to day in the business of the union, maybe it's better for agents, who are well-versed in not only the current issues but the history of the negotiations and the actors involved, to take a bigger role. After all, they have the ability to stand up to the league in a way most players can't, just by virtue of the circumstances.
When Chris Paul was made President of the NBPA, many expected a tougher take and a more organized approach. So far it's been the same story for a faltering union, confusion and apathy. They have a few years before the next lockout (and there will be a lockout). They need to start getting organized now if they want a chance to protect themselves from future rollbacks of salary and benefits.