Arn Tellem Rumors

“I needed a challenge,” Tellem said Sunday afternoon. “I needed a personal challenge. And I need to live with a purpose in my life. To me, this gave me a greater purpose.” And so Tellem, after weeks of anguish and thought — “I’m an emotional basket case right now,” he said — pulled the trigger last week, and accepted Pistons’ owner Tom Gores’ offer to become Vice Chairman of Palace Sports and Entertainment.
Tellem will not be directly involved with the Pistons’ basketball side — coach Stan Van Gundy will still have final say over personnel. He will be one of three people who report directly to Gores, along with Van Gundy and CEO Dennis Mannion. And his duties will run the gamut from looking at improvements to the Palace, to improving the team’s footprint in Detroit, to potentially working on the creation of a regional sports network. In switching careers, Tellem is leaving his position at Wasserman Media Group, where he headed the agency’s basketball division, and was considered the most powerful agent in basketball. He represented 42 NBA players — almost 10 percent of all the players in the league, who made more than $324 million this season in salary — and 12 All-Stars.
Nobody, however, will replace Tellem, per se. “I don’t know that you can fill his shoes,” Myers said. “I know Casey’s a great leader and they’ve got a great company over there. I don’t know exactly what their strategy is, but I’m sure they’ll be fine. He’s unique, so I don’t know anybody who replaces him in that capacity, but they’ve got a good infrastructure and they’ll figure it out. They were fine without me.”
Tellem will be charged with big picture issues – negotiating future TV contracts, assisting PS&E and Pistons owner Tom Gores in exploring ways to grow business interests in the area and other responsibilities. But Tellem brings more than 30 years of contacts in the NBA and Van Gundy can see a scenario where a former client calls Tellem to get an opinion on the Pistons organization. And Van Gundy will take that help. “I would think they’d have great trust in him,” Van Gundy told the Free Press. “It’s certainly an advantage. There’s no question about that.”
Arn Tellem: When owner Tom Gores offered me the job, I was at first stunned, and then flattered. Part of me thought, I can’t possibly accept. I’m responsible for helping to guide the careers of scores of pro baseball and basketball players. But I grew pensive when I remembered something a friend once told me: That making a difference in a community gives you a deeper sense of purpose. Tom was offering me a chance to join him in making a difference in Detroit and its surrounding neighborhoods. I thought, ‘I’m 61. If not now, when?’
Arn Tellem: Ten years ago Steve Jobs gave a commencement address in which he advised young graduates to continually ask themselves: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” Whenever the answer is “no” for too many days in a row, he counseled them to summon the courage to follow their hearts and intuition. Those thoughts have stuck with me ever since. This week, after 34 years as a player agent, I tendered my resignation to the Wasserman Management Group in Los Angeles and accepted an offer to, later this summer, become vice chairman of Palace Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Detroit Pistons. This decision to change careers has been the most difficult of my professional life.
“The decision to change careers was in one sense a difficult one, because I am leaving a terrific job with great clients and an outstanding leader in Casey Wasserman, who I believe runs the finest sports marketing and talent company in the business,” Tellem said. “But in another sense it was an easy decision, because I am joining another great organization with an outstanding leader in Tom Gores, who is committed to ensuring Palace Sports & Entertainment is a championship organization both on the court and in the community.”
So what would be the biggest benefit from my proposal? In my opinion, cap management should be independent of player development. Let’s say an NBA team could spend up to $2 million a year on D-League player pay (not counting the salaries of first-rounders); if that number didn’t count against the actual cap, the team would be more likely to take chances with development. Right now, the 18 current D-League franchises are said to be worth around $5 million each. If the NBA created 12 more teams, each parent franchise could have its own affiliate.
From a player agent’s perspective, Europe offers a bigger immediate payoff. Normally, agents don’t take commissions on D-League contracts and charge second-rounders 2 percent. In the European leagues, the standard 10 percent cut is generally split between the American and European agents. But the best agents help their clients get better in the hope that the improvement will result in a long-term NBA career. If your client is rewarded, you will be, too. To be one of the 60 annual draftees should be an honor, not a burden. Yet it can be downright traumatic for a prospect to get selected late in the final round and then realize his new “team” has no intention of giving him a guarantee (and that he likely must play professionally out of the country). It’s in both the player’s and the league’s interests for him to mature on his own home turf.
Arn Tellem With the business booming by all accounts, why would the NBA continue to ignore its own development league? It’s not like the league lacks innovative leadership right now. Commissioner Adam Silver and Players Association executive director Michele Roberts have proven to be progressive thinkers who are open to new ideas. They know the world of college sports has been upended by litigation — not just Ed O’Bannon’s antitrust suit against the NCAA, but the Northwestern University athlete unionization case as well. If the amateur landscape is being reshaped, then why wait to follow the NCAA’s lead? The NBA should act preemptively in what, down the line, will be in its own best interests. The NCAA would then be obliged to adapt some of its more draconian rules to the 21st-century game, making the system more balanced and player-friendly. At the moment, the NBA is abetting the NCAA. It should be the other way around.