Every team had advanced scouts who’d dutifully jot down the plays that the next opponent was running, but few, if any, had pro personnel departments dedicated to gathering every last tidbit of information about NBA veterans they might acquire via trade or sign as free agents. Now, most teams have numerous people doing this dirty but necessary work. The proliferation of pro scouting came at a time when less information about college players was available than ever before, as players stayed in school for at most one or two years. The draft was becoming a much riskier way to build your team. With this trend came the realization that the financial investment in draft picks was minimal compared to a big-ticket free-agent signing or franchise-shaping trade, either of which could make or break your franchise.
Scouts and personnel men quickly learned that the real scoop would come from ball boys, equipment guys, teammates, various members of a player’s entourage and even other scouts. (In case you’re wondering, yes, media reporting on the NBA has evolved in much the same way.) “All the GMs have their guys out there, and their job is to go get information,” said another person who is an executive with a team. “It’s really extreme, but it’s what is going on right now. That is the norm, it has to be done, and every team does it.”
In short, people get fired over these decisions. So no longer is it enough to report back on a player’s post moves on the left block or the range on his jump shot; anyone can watch those things at the office or on an iPad. When writing a report for your GM, you need to tell him what kind of teammate the player is … whether he is high maintenance … what his family situation and other relationships are like … and yes, whether he is a “locker room lawyer,” a term that is often included in scouting reports about players, whether they are black, white, Asian, European or otherwise.
So in describing what kind of investment Deng would be for the Hawks, Ferry didn’t say a word about his wing defense or his offensive rebounding, or even what kind of fit he would be with the various talents on the roster or with the coaching staff. Instead, his scouting report — prepared from multiple sources, including former teammates and yes, ballboys, according to a league source — read more like a psychological profile filled with loosely verified gossip and innuendo. In this way, in the tabloid culture of the NBA and pro sports in general, it was no different than any other scouting report or, frankly, most of the sports coverage you read or watch on TV.