As sick as this sounds, Rob Pelinka may have just saved the league thanks to his questionable ethics. We are at a very dangerous time for the NBA. The league is highly unstable right now. Some of the biggest names in the league trying to force their way onto other teams by complaining publicly through the media. An endless barrage of potential mega-block buster trades loom that will redistribute talent in a spattering of directions that will leave everyone confused. The break up of the Lakers and success of the Pistons is creating seismic waves that has teams re-evaluating their philosophies and scrambling for a piece of the Laker yard sale. Teams are awarding indefensibly horrendous contracts to mediocre players as the unsigned superstars sit back and laugh as their potential dollar amount sky rockets by the day. Along came Rob Pelinka, whose indiscretions are going to create tension between teams and agents that should at least slow down the out-of-control signings. Instead of inking Adonal Foyle to $42 million with the good faith that he will improve his play to match the contract, teams can now take a step back and use the Pelinka scenario as precedent. “How do I know that you are telling me the truth?” If Boozer and Pelinka can stab a team in the back, how can teams trust anyone? The process of locking players into contracts will become more tightly guarded with good faith guarantees now meaningless. After witnessing what has happened to the Cavs, GMs and owners across the league are going to step up what they need guaranteed from the player/agent side and always be able to fall back on the excuse that “Boozer and Pelinka did this, so how do I know that you won’t?” How do we know that Shaq is really going to move to Miami or that Steve Nash will sign with Phoenix for $65 million? All we have is hearsay and proposals, but nothing on contracts. What does someone’s word in the NBA count for these days? We will begin to find out on Wednesday, July 14, when teams are finally allowed to turn verbal commitments into tangible contracts and the chaos continues. But thanks to Pelinka and Boozer, a culture of mistrust will now lurk in the background of every transaction, and just might slow down a total meltdown of the NBA as we know it.
Carlos Boozer went for the money and now he won’t ever be looked at the same. Why Boozer? It’s no secret that professional athletes will go to the highest bidder, and that’s why the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Lakers are able to lock down much of the big name talent in their leagues. Whether it’s A-Rod turning his back on the Seattle organization that raised him as a ballplayer to sign his ludicrous contract with the Texas Rangers or Shaq doing the same, leaving Orlando for the Lakers, pro athletes reputation as loyalists has been dead for a long time. Even as these mercenaries turn their backs on fans that live and die with every game they play, the public expects more of them. But why? Carlos Boozer, a man who has a fairly low public profile for a good NBA player, is about to become synonymous with the phrase “re-neg”. His word will become meaningless, and people will always see him as a backstabber. Pro athletes are trained their whole lives to become ruthless, competitive machines that will do whatever it takes to win and improve their game. They take their natural gifts and put in thousands of hours to develop them, playing through pain on all kinds of exotic drugs, sometimes risking their long term health in the process, all so they can gain a competitive edge. And then, at contract time, they are expected to be humble and loyal and not try to go for every last dollar that they can?
When you make a promise and you break a promise… Jiminy Cricket would be devastated. But this isn’t Pinocchio. It’s a world driven by a vicious competitive edge that goes far beyond just the players on the court. The coaches, the fans, the general managers, the team owners, the physical trainers, and the broadcasters all have their reasons to be competitive, which drives the game to new heights created by that conflict. And then there is another tier of person that must fight for everything they can get; the agents. While a public figure such as Boozer or Kobe Bryant or Tracy McGrady can speak publicly about how they don’t care about money and just want to be in a good situation and just want to win blah blah blah, the agents are behind the scenes fighting with management for not only every last dollar, but incentives and intricate clauses that will never be made public knowledge. Those agents rarely become public figures. The select few that do, such as David Falk, Drew Rosenhaus, and Scott Boras, are only in the public consciousness to give a face to the business of sports that exists in a world behind closed doors. Now we can add another name to the list of agents that fans will be aware of: Rob Pelinka, who represented Carlos Boozer.
Public outrage and a saddened state of disappointment in Cleveland have turned Pelinka into a scapegoat. Is he absorbing too much of the blame while Boozer comes off as an innocent who blindly followed his agent? Or is Boozer the mastermind behind the whole ugly situation, and using his agent as a shield to deflect criticism that will define his career? There is no way to know the content of the private conversations between agent and client, but neither of the two will ever be completely trustworthy again. Boozer is yet to comment publicly about what happened, but his agent already claims that the player went against what he was advised. The super-powered sports agency firm SFX Sports Group, which resembles the company that Tom Cruise’s character was forced out of in “Jerry McGuire”, is expected to take measures to distance itself from Pelinka as well as Boozer.
Some say that by dropping Boozer and separating himself from the situation Pelinka can continue his career as an agent, which includes another client named Kobe Bryant, who is a pretty high profile free agent this off-season himself. But how can any general manager take Pelinka’s words at face value in the future? One of the most important aspects in the business of sports is the working relationship between the agent and management of a team. It’s why players hire agents in the first place. The ability to negotiate multi million dollar contracts might even be secondary to keeping a healthy working relationship with the general managers and owners that will be the ones making the ultimate decision whether or not take a huge financial risk on paying professional athletes. For the rest of his career, whether it lasts until after Kobe signs with a team, or if it somehow continues beyond that, Pelinka will have trouble earning the trust of men that are investing uncountable millions of dollars on his word, which right now is worth nothing. Imagine Pelinka in a meeting with his client Kobe Bryant, or some of his other clients, Andre Iguodala, Corey Maggette and Chris Kaman, coming to an agreement with the representation from the other side. Would a handshake be enough? I would think that the lawyers for a GM or owner working with a Pelinka client would request everything in writing and to be recorded with multiple surveillance cameras. And all of this mistrust comes from an agent going out and trying to secure the most long-term financial security for his client. Or did he? Maybe it was Boozer that told the Cavalier family what they wanted to hear, what his agent thought he should do, and then stabbed everybody in the back for the guaranteed money.
Even if Boozer takes the new Cleveland offer, which is a one year contract for about $5 million, roughly half of what he would be making in Utah every year for six years, can he escape with his good name intact? On the court Boozer is an emerging beast on a team that is destined for greatness. He has a chance to be the ferocious big man inside that gets to run with Lebron James as the Cavs grow into a playoff team and eventually a champion. Boozer will always be in the shadow of LeBron if he stays in Cleveland, but he has already earned respect around the league coming off a great season. At times he was just as valuable to his team on the court as the phenom. It seemed like Boozer understood that he had to stay with James and grow together, which was why he offered Cleveland management the option to sign him for a basement bargain discount of about $600,000. The team would be able to stay within the rules of the salary cap for a year until they had money available to give him the supersized contract that young power forwards averaging a double-double get. As the story goes, he said all the things that the owner and the GM wanted to hear from him right to their faces, and they treated him as a man that would honor his word. So why did Boozer turn around and do this to the Cavaleirs, a team with the biggest future star in the sports/entertainment galaxy? Nothing is guaranteed, unless you have a guaranteed contract.
The Utah Jazz made the offer, and Carlos Boozer would be crazy not to at least consider it. He could have told the Jazz that he couldn’t sign with them because he is happy playing for about 1/20th of what they were willing to pay him because he loves the city of Cleveland and the people are so nice, the future is bright, and he’ll be taken care of in a year. What if Boozer, a monster on the glass, whose play is, in a word – physical, suffers a career destroyer. The threat of an injury to a young professional athlete without guaranteed money in his future is the ultimate nightmare. What if Boozer goes down with an injury this season and is never the same player again? Would the Cleveland Cavaliers management still pay him like a future cornerstone of their franchise? Probably not. There are players like Grant Hill and Jayson Williams (before his whole, um… other situation) that had their careers ruined by serious injury, but both had secured long term deals before the injuries took place. Ever wonder how Williams could have that Jersey mansion and life of luxury while being nothing more than a late blooming All-Star? It was the guaranteed contract. Maybe if Boozer knew that other teams would throw long-term lucrative guarantees at him, he would have forced the Cavs to make the deal to stay sweeter for him. Decisions were made, and whether it was Boozer or Pelinka’s lack of business ethics or the Cleveland Cavaliers gullibility, what’s done is done. All that’s left is to see how the public and industry treat the player and the agent. Will fans throw dollars on the court when Boozer returns to play a game in Cleveland? Will he take the Cavs redesigned contract proposal and then offer a teary apology to the fans and people he betrayed? Will Cleveland fans embrace him or are they so damaged by what he did to them that he can not be forgiven? There are so many questions revolving around Boozer now, but they don’t compare to what his agent has done to the negotiating process of the NBA.