Wielding Power to Your Advantage

It's agent-picking season for players entering the NBA draft. And the more I think about it, the more I think attorney David Cornwell hit the nail on the head. He recently told me -- and I'll paraphrase wildly, the longer version is here -- that players should hire agents who are committed to supporting the player in becoming empowered, informed, savvy business people.

That's the opposite of the agent who says "don't worry, I'll take care of everything for you, you just play basketball."

If every player followed Cornwell's advice, it would be a meaningful industry reform that would make the NBA a better place for all involved. I'm sure I'll be writing more about that over time, but for now, let's discuss one little example.

Trainer Brian McCormick (who has an interesting blog) emailed to make the point that who you choose as your trainer matters more than who you choose as your agent. I don't want to get lost in whether or not that precise point is right -- agents are important -- but certainly working with the right trainer can make a huge difference to where you get drafted and how you adjust to the NBA game once you get there.

Many teams simply aren't focused on nurturing any individual player's skills -- they don't have to, because there's almost always the luxury of another player who's ready to take the minutes of an underperformer. Having your own personal coach, who watches your games, notices things, and thinks all the time about making you better -- something a-little-player-you-might-have-heard-of called Michael Jordan pioneered -- is a much surer road to successful development than just relying on the team.

As it is now, the vast majority of trainers are affiliated with certain agents. So if you sign up with this or that agent, you are pretty much guaranteed to do your draft preparations with this or that trainer, and vice-versa. It's a big deal to some agents, because trainers spend a lot of time building a player's trust, and are in a position to become influential to players. And that influence could, in theory, be used to direct the player to another agent. The fear is not unfounded: I hear stories about unscrupulous trainers steering players to agents.

Remember, NBA players are worth millions to agents, but can fire their agents at any time, and often do. That's why agents are generally pretty paranoid.

(I'm coming around to the point, I promise.) There is no reason, whatsoever, that a player can't train with whomever he wants. It's his money. The agent is working for him, right? NBA-quality players have agents lined up around the block, right?

So, it's amazing and a little sad to me that at least some players are bamboozled into thinking that they have to train with the guy their agent tells them to train with. If that trainer is good, then great. But if that trainer is not effective, doesn't have a lot of time for this particular player, or for whatever reason the player and trainer don't click? Then who is that relationship benefitting? A player's career could be taking a hit just so the agent won't have to feel insecure.

I have heard stories about players wishing they could work out with this or that trainer, but being forbidden by their agent. I think it's a good and useful role for an agent to educate the player about choosing a good trainer, and even to warn them off certain unqualified trainers. But if you're a player, and you have done your homework, and you are prepared to make a smart decision about which trainer will best prepare you for NBA success? Wield your power. Make it happen. It's your call.