Miller’s first big splash in the agent business also brought his first controversy. After swiping Garnett and other top clients in 1999 from his former employer, established NBA agent Eric Fleisher, Miller was forced to pay $4.6 million in compensatory legal damages in 2002. Since then, his career has been pockmarked by persistent disputes and disagreements. In more than 30 interviews with coaches, executives and three former Miller employees, a portrait of Miller emerged as a ruthless narcissist, his success driven by his obsession over his standing as a top-five agent. So locked in on closing the next deal and landing the next star, he left a trail of aggrieved parties and bitter rivals. He stood out as an extreme practitioner of shadowy tactics in a cutthroat industry. With his career potentially in peril having lost at least five clients in the past two months, the question lingers whether the NBA agent world’s ultimate survivor can find another way to survive. “It’s amazing that he’s lasted this long,” Fleisher said. “It really is. It’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of things going on.”
It’s unknown if Miller could face charges in the federal investigation, or the extent of his involvement, but legal experts believe he has emerged as a key figure. “In order to get a search warrant, the federal agents were able to convince a federal judge that Miller’s computer was connected to either a criminal act or had evidence on it of a criminal act,” said Stephen L. Hill, a former federal prosecutor now a partner at the Kansas City branch of the global law firm Dentons.
Agents sponsoring grassroots teams eventually became commonplace, but Miller was considered an innovator. After luring Garnett and landing Telfair in 2004 and Monta Ellis in 2005, other agents started pouring into the grassroots scene. “Everyone was looking for the next Kobe,” St. Joseph’s Coach Phil Martelli said of the agents. “And it polluted the game.” Throughout the 2000s, agent involvement in the grassroots scene morphed into a full-blown trend, as backroom deals led to college and agent recruiting pipelines and runners began ingratiating themselves with the families of prospects during their freshman and sophomore years of high school. “There is agent involvement even before we make the first recruiting call, in the spring of 10th grade,” said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey. “They’re there. They’re involved. They’ve identified the top prospects before we have. I’ve had runners call or text me saying, ‘Have you seen this ninth grader in Chicago?’ ”
That’s allowed Miller to continue to fight his version of “the good fight.” But with federal scrutiny creating an undercurrent of uncertainty in the industry, the question lingers whether the scene at Miller’s office on that September morning could be replicated elsewhere. The federal authorities have made it clear this is an ongoing investigation – will they dig in on other agents and financial advisers? The answer to that will reverberate through every level of the basketball world. “I’d say three letters would be how worried I would be in that world – FBI,” Martelli said. “It’s not four letters [NCAA]. This is the federal government. They’re not playing. The pros are involved. They’re going to get to the bottom of it. How deep is the bottom? I don’t know that.”
Aside from Cousins and DeAndre Jordan, two established All-Stars, Nurkić projected as one of 2018’s top free-agent centers. However, if his production or impact waned there were plenty of cheaper comparison points: Plumlee re-signed with Denver for $41 million over three years, Kelly Olynyk inked a four-year, $50 million deal with Miami, and Cody Zeller signed a 4-year, $56 million early extension in Charlotte. “I feel like the Blazers are very happy with Jusuf and Jusuf is very happy there,” Tesch, the agent, told The Crossover by telephone this week. “We had some [extension] talks but we decided to play it out this year and engage in talks again in July. He has already proven that he can help the team. There is a fit for Jusuf in Portland and he’s looking to stay there long-term.”