Why NBA agents leak info: 'You must control the narrative'

Why NBA agents leak info: 'You must control the narrative'

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Why NBA agents leak info: 'You must control the narrative'

Around this time of year, unnamed sources are everywhere – from free-agency reports to trade rumors to tipped draft picks. These sources are typically executives, agents, players or others around the NBA.

But why do these people leak information to reporters? How do teams respond when their private business is made public? And how do the top reporters get so much information from behind-the-scenes?

HoopsHype talked to over a dozen agents to get their thoughts on leaked news and rumors. The agents spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the topic.

THE BENEFITS OF LEAKING TO THE PRESS

Agent 1: “There are definitely benefits to leaking. If you leak that there’s interest [in your client], it kind of puts pressure on the team to make that move. For example, if there’s a certain guy that they’re showing a lot of interest in and then it gets leaked, it kind of gets the fans excited, gets everybody engaged, and there’s pressure on the team. That’s the hope, that you push the team to act.”

Agent 2: “It’s just to put more pressure on the team. You want the deal to get done and make sure the team won’t backtrack. For example, let’s say there’s a verbal commitment in place with a team. It’s only a verbal commitment and there may be another free agent who they were strongly considering who’s still available. That’s where I may leak out that it’s ‘a done deal’ between my player and the team, even though it’s not completely done. Then, the news is all over the place; media people are reacting, fans are reacting and it’s much tougher for a team to back out. That’s why we leak stuff.”

Agent 1: “If my client is in the mix to be signed by a team, but there’s another player that the team is also considering, leaking information could help my guy. If that other player sees the leaked rumor or hears about it, he may lose trust in the team (which could get in the way of a deal happening) or he could sign elsewhere because he thinks the team wants my client more. Perception is everything. All of these guys read the rumors and follow along as everything unfolds on social media.”

Agent 3: “It’s also about informing other teams when important things happen. Let’s say a player gets waived or doesn’t get a qualifying offer. Rather than just having the team put out their announcement and it goes relatively unnoticed, leaking that information to a top reporter can make sure that the whole league knows your guy is available. That leak could help my guy find his next team.”

Agent 4: “The main reason some agents leak stuff is to create false leverage with a team that they’re negotiating with. Also, when you leak information to someone, they can provide you with helpful information as well. It’s not like a one-sided relationship where this person is just hitting you up to break a story. With the top reporters who break news, they can help you too. And don’t get me wrong, they are really respectful about the information they get from other agents and from executives, so it’s not like they’re giving me secrets that someone told them not to share or confidential information that they can’t discuss. The stuff they’re sharing is stuff that will soon be common knowledge, but it just hasn’t been released yet. It’s not like they’re going behind everyone’s back and telling me information that they shouldn’t share.”

Agent 5: “From a strategic standpoint, when an agent or a team leaks information, you’re really trying to create or gauge a market. Sometimes, teams or agents leak things because they’re trying to communicate with other teams through the media too. Teams are obviously having their own private conversations with each other too, but sometimes a team may leak something to let teams know, ‘We’re open for business, start making offers.’ It’s typically about creating a market or gauging interest.”

Agent 6: “Exchanging information is definitely part of it – the more information an agent can gather, the better grip they have on their player’s market and the market as a whole. But generally speaking, I think most agents leak information to create leverage in negotiations or just to get teams interested in their player.”

Agent 7: “I think it’s all about controlling the narrative. You always want to control the narrative and leaking certain things allows you to do that. I think that’s the main reason – to control the narrative and influence how the story gets told.”

Agent 8: “Any smart agent or smart manager wants to control the narrative at all times. If there’s a signing, a trade or any kind of big news, you want to make sure you have the ability to steer how it’ll be received by the public. I can’t stress enough how important it is to control the narrative. Sometimes, players don’t understand it, but it’s such a big deal.”

SOME AGENTS LEAK FALSE INFORMATION

Agent 9: “I’ve leaked information that’s not even accurate. I’ve leaked stuff that’s completely made up. If it helps my negotiations, why not?”

Agent 10: “That definitely happens. I think certain agents do this more than others. That was never a tactic I leaned on, but I’ve seen it. Around the draft, a lot of agents will leak their player’s range and it may not be true or they’ll leak that their guy has a guarantee when they really don’t. They do it because they’re trying to drive up the market for their client. The same thing happens in free agency. Some agents will leak, ‘These five teams are interested in my player,’ but the interest is exaggerated or false.”

Agent 5: “A lot of agents do that [expletive] all the time. I’ve seen so many agents lie to everyone, and then they wonder why their image and their client’s image are tarnished. They act like they have no idea how the hell it all came about, and they’ll try to blame the player’s manager or a player’s family member because they don’t hold themselves accountable. But yeah, that happens all the time. A lot of these agents do whatever they can to create leverage and they don’t realize the consequences. Then, later, they have all these relationships that they have to repair and messes they have to clean up. They think they’re doing a good job, but then they look around when all is said and done and people no longer want anything to do with them. It’s not a good way of doing business long-term.”

Agent 1: “It does happen; some agents do leak fake stuff. But the credible reporters can just call someone else to confirm the story, so I’d say 90 percent of the information that gets reported by the top guys is true. It’s not like you can just tell Woj false information and he’s going to put it out there solely based on what you said. Before something gets put out, they verify it and try to confirm it. There may be some non-credible media guy who’s trying to get into the business and wants to make a splash who will run something without confirming it. But nobody will even take it seriously if it’s coming from a person without any credibility. Teams won’t even see it. When it comes to the credible media guys, an agent may try to leak false information, but it won’t get published. I think it’s dumb because it does serious damage to your relationship with the media and isn’t even that beneficial.”

HOW TOP REPORTERS GET THEIR SCOOPS

Agent 1: “I just think, over the course time, the top guys have been able to build such strong relationships with so many agents and so many front-office guys. These guys work their asses off to build relationships with different agents and executives. They’ve gained people’s trust and proven to be credible, so people feel comfortable telling them what’s going on. Even now, after they’ve made all of these relationships and had all of this success, they still put in a lot of work to maintain their relationships. They’re constantly calling and asking, ‘What’s going on?’ Relationships are so important, and they’ve been able to build a ton of really strong ones over time.”

Agent 11: “These guys are very persistent. Very persistent. It’s not to the point that it’s annoying or anything, though. I mean, it’s just like us when we’re calling teams and trying to get one of our guys signed. We call constantly and are persistent until we can get an answer. The top guys are persistent too – they’ll text a few times and call a few times so that the message is sent that they want to know something – but it doesn’t go overboard. They’re just doing their job, and we do the same thing; we work the phones non-stop when we’re doing our job too. I never mind when reporters reach out to me.”

Agent 8: “I have a lot of relationships with the media, but I only give information to a small circle of reporters. I don’t want to get burned, so I only trust a select few guys. I don’t want something off the record to end up on Twitter or in an article, so while I have a lot of friends in the media, I’m careful about spreading information.”

Agent 4: “I think social media has given everyone a big platform. Back in the day, Peter Vecsey was able to break a lot of news and share a lot of rumors because he had a ton of relationships, but he also had a platform that a lot of people didn’t have with Hoop Du JourNow, with technology, everyone can have a big platform. If you’re breaking news and putting out credible information, it’s going to get noticed. Also, I think there’s more interest in the business of basketball today. Fans get so excited about offseason news and rumors, and there are a ton of people who now want to report on what’s happening.”

Agent 10: “The team staffs are so much bigger now than they were in the past, so it creates so many more sources for reporters to get information from. There are more people in these meetings and more people with solid information. And I’ve seen young guys leak stuff to the press because they’re trying to move up and make themselves relevant. They think if they give some info to a reporter, it could help their career.”

Agent 7: “I think Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania are the go-to guys because it’s gotten to the point where if they say something, it’s considered 100-percent fact. By now, everyone knows they’re so connected – they know executives, agents, players, everyone – so when they say something, it’s accepted as gospel. I’m not just talking about the public either. When Woj or Shams say something, teams accept it as fact too. That’s big. But beat writers are important and excellent at what they do too. I think every good agent has strong media ties at every level.”

Agent 3: “Obviously, Woj is extremely credible and great at what he does. He knows everybody. Another reason a lot of agents and teams go to him is because of his tremendous reach too. He has over 2.5 million followers on Twitter and then goes on ESPN to talk about his breaking news. That’s amazing exposure for my client! And for teams, everyone is suddenly talking about your move. That’s really appealing.”

Agent 5: “It’s always really tough when you’re deciding who to leak information to among the top reporters. It really depends on what kind of news you’re talking about. Certain things don’t need to be national stories. I like to lean on the beat writers because they have their finger on the pulse of their market and they’re the ones who are communicating with fans in the market on a day-to-day basis, whether that be through their articles or through local radio and TV. But when it’s a national story and you’re trying to create a market and get the most attention, clearly you’re going to go to the person with the most credibility and the biggest reach. Right now, there’s no question that person is Woj. He’s so respected and he’s always accurate. Also, when Woj puts something out, everyone is going to assume that it’s 150 percent correct. His accuracy rate is incredible; the guy knows everything that happens before anyone else. And the public knows this too. So when your guy is mentioned in a ‘Woj Bomb’ on Twitter, Woj has helped create interest, helped create a market, helped create conversation and helped create excitement. It’s really hard to pass that up. There are other writers I love too. You go to a guy like Lee Jenkins for an amazing, in-depth article on your guy. I like Sam Amick a lot because he’s a well-rounded writer; he can break news, but he can also put together a fantastic article and expound on topics too. I go to beat writers if I want an article about something my guy is doing in the community. It depends on the situation. But if you’re just talking about where to go with a scoop, it’s hard to pass up a ‘Woj Bomb.’”

SOME AGENTS DON’T DEAL WITH MEDIA

Agent 4: “I’m not really a leaker. I usually go into silent mode. Like Drake said on his last album, ‘A wise man once said nothing at all.’ (laughs)”

Agent 6: “Some agents leak out that other teams have interest in their player, but I prefer to just tell the team that I’m negotiating with, ‘Hey, we also have interest from these other teams.’ I think it serves the same purpose and increases your leverage, without the possibility of upsetting the team because you involved the media. That’s just my approach.”

Agent 8: “I like to keep things close to the vest. From my perspective, there aren’t many situations where it makes sense for me to do things through the media. Sometimes, with certain free agents, it may make sense to get their story out there with an article and try to create some interest in that player by letting people know how productive they were during the previous season. But, typically, we try not to go through the media.”

Agent 12: “There’s a time and place for the media. You have to know how to use the media to your advantage. You really have to be careful about what you share and you can’t have a ton of transparency, in my opinion. Sometimes, a leak can be bad because then the people in competition with you have access to information that helps them. If you talk to someone in the media, you have to really trust them and be really careful.”

Agent 11: “I understand that media members are just doing their job and this is no knock on media members. But they’ll often ask me or my player, ‘What teams are showing interest in you?’ To me, I’d rather keep that information confidential. I don’t like to put out anything that makes a team look bad. If you leak all the teams that are showing interest in a player, he’ll eventually pick one of those teams and everyone will know the teams that he rejected. It’s not a great look for those teams. Also, if a team is just ‘showing interest’ and the talks are in the early stages, leaking that information to the media may upset some of the teams who don’t want their business out there. Some agents have an urge to put out information or feel good about themselves when they can say, ‘There’s a report about six teams liking my guy!’ But I don’t know; I don’t think you need to tell the whole world that.”

Agent 5: “I understand why some agents don’t deal with the media, but I’ve always felt like it’s best to maintain a respectful relationship with them. There are a lot of things that reporters know that they don’t put out there. And there are plenty of things that we never want to see the light of day. That alone is one reason to keep the media happy and maintain these friendships with them, so they don’t put out stuff that could hurt or embarrass you or your client.”

MOST AGENTS TELL PLAYERS TO STAY QUIET

Agent 8: “Without question, players are their own worst enemy when they’re talking to the media as they’re going through free agency. They often say stuff and it sometimes undermines the progress you’ve made toward a deal with a certain team. It’s totally natural to want to talk about free agency because they’re a mix of nervous and excited, but it can hurt them if they aren’t careful.”

Agent 1: “I tell my players not to deal with the media until something is finalized. And even then, I try to tell them to go through me first. I like for everything to filter through me. As far as how I deal with the media, I have a lot of relationships with different reporters. I’m not someone who is constantly leaking information during negotiations, but once something is done and official, I’ll put it out there. If you’re putting stuff out there before a deal is finalized, it can really blow up in your face. I try to avoid that. I also coach my guys not to say anything on social media or tell anyone outside of their close family members. Don’t tell some random cousin every detail because he could leak it. I tell them to keep it to themselves until we make it official, then they can announce it to whoever they want or tweet about it. I try to continually stress that to these guys, so no mistakes are made.”

Agent 10: “Most of my players usually ask for my advice about what to say or whether they should say anything at all to the media. But the bigger problem I’ve had to deal with is family members speaking to the press. Sometimes, they’ll say way too much or they’ll say stuff that is in poor taste.”

Agent 5: “More than anything, I’ve had issues with players’ managers talking to the press. Most of these managers don’t know [expletive] and get in the way. Now, we’re seeing more and more players hire their friend as their manager, which is a problem because they have no formal experience. They’re thrust into this role and given great responsibilities, but they aren’t cut out for it because they don’t have the requisite skills.”

Agent 2: “It’s tough because everyone is reaching out to them, especially if I’m not talking to the media. When the agent is silent, that’s when reporters start reaching out to the player directly. Sometimes, they want to tell a reporter what’s going on, especially if it’s someone they’ve known for a long time or someone they’re close to, but I just tell them to go through me or not say anything at all. The last thing we want is for the player to say something he shouldn’t and that ends up hurting our talks.”

Agent 5: “I generally tell my guys not to say anything to the media. I think, typically, having a player talk to the press about their free agency does more harm than good.”

Agent 13: “I’ve always been fine with the media talking to me and to my players. I tell my guys, ‘Be honest and be upfront.’ If you want to re-sign with your team, I have no problem with a player saying that. I know some agents are against that because they feel like you lose leverage, but I’m fine with it. If all things are even – or close to even – and this is the place that they want to be, you can’t put a price tag on that. I’m a big believer in that. These guys have families and relocating can be hard. If you want to be there, go ahead and say it. Sometimes, that puts the onus on management and that can sometimes put more pressure on them too. So I have no problem with a guy saying that if it’s how they feel. If you’re willing to weigh your options and relocate, say, ‘I’m going to weigh my options come July 1 and, while I’d to stay here, I’m not married to here.’ I think that’s a fair statement to make as well. I’m fine with guys being honest.”

HOW DO TEAMS RESPOND TO LEAKED INFO?

Agent 11: “There are some teams who, if something leaks, will say, ‘Screw you, we don’t like leaks,’ and they’ll sign a different player who is similar because they’re upset. I totally understand why fans and media members want this info, but you don’t want to ruin opportunities because you can’t keep your mouth shut.”

Agent 4: “Over time, teams figure out which agents are doing the leaking. It’s not too hard to figure out. Once teams start to identify the leakers, they’re much less likely to give those agents accurate information or, in some cases, any information at all.”

Agent 1: “When someone leaks something, it can definitely backfire. You may leak something and then the team gets upset and chews you out. They may say, ‘You leaked our business and ruined our chances of signing another player we were looking to get.’ Then, that’s where leaking can hurt your talks with a team and then you’re taking several steps back rather than taking steps forward toward a deal.”

Agent 7: “I think it depends on the organization that you’re dealing with. Some organizations care, some organizations don’t. Obviously, I’m not going to say anything if someone makes a point to me like, ‘I really don’t want this information out there, so keep your mouth shut.’ If you want to have a good working relationship with them, you’ll stay quiet. But some teams don’t really give a [expletive], so it’s fine to put it out there.”

Agent 1: “If a team if 50/50 on making a deal and you leak something out, they may just end the negotiations right then. It’s one thing to leak it when there’s a verbal commitment and it seems like the deal is a lock to get done. But if you’re leaking something in the really early stages, the team is most likely going to be upset. And that may stick with you too. You obviously don’t want teams to view you as this untrustworthy, unprofessional guy who leaks everything.”

Agent 7: “If teams don’t want something to leak, they shouldn’t tell it to an agent. Because for most agents, it’s hard for them to keep something a secret. There’s no blanket answer because every team feels differently about leaking and each organization has different relationships. But my advice would be not to give away any information if they absolutely don’t want it leaking.”

Agent 10: “It really depends on what’s being leaked. If a contract negotiation is being leaked, it’s a little tacky, but it’s not really affecting things too much – in my opinion. If you’re leaking trade negotiations, that’s much more sensitive information and teams will get upset because that could butcher the relationship and trust with the other team they’re dealing with. Plus, it could also upset the players on their team who are involved in the trade talks. It really depends on what’s being linked. Each team, each general manager, is a little bit different in terms of how they react to leaks too.”

If you’re interested in how agents navigate the free-agent process, click here. To read about players’ free-agency experiences and what can go wrong when they’re trying to find a new team, click here.

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