Oh, How We Love Sources
Yesterday there was a tweet from a long-time and well-respected NBA writer, suggesting that LeBron James was “100% gone from Cleveland,” citing an unrepairable and untenable relationship with Cavs ownership. The tweeted report came via “sources close to” which is always a dubious tool writers almost have to use.
Before we get too far into this, and by way of full disclosure, this writer (me) uses the “sources” tool to help disseminate information that the person or persons involved simply don’t want to deal with in the court of public opinion.
Given how prevalent the “sources say” tool is used it’s important to understand how this kind of world works:
In the offseason, the largest source of “sourced” information comes from the agent community. While there are some agents, you have likely heard of such as Dan Fegan, Andy Miller (ASM Sports), B.J. Armstrong (Wasserman), Bill Duffy (BDA Sports), and Jeff Schwartz (Excel Sports), these are the top of the food chain in the agent world. However, the army of support agents that work under them or the smaller agents that have a small group of clients make up the biggest percentage of the agent community. They also make up the largest sewing circle of NBA information out there. These guys are usually talking with their clients daily and are interfacing with team personnel frequently. Many of which are trying to come up in the world and having information and being willing to share that information make them valuable—valuable to reporters and valuable to teams that need to know what’s real.
In the NBA, information is currency, and it often is used to garner favor.
It’s rare that top tier agents do much talking unless you are the elite of the elite. However, getting information from the next tier is pretty common, and it’s where the bulk of chatter comes from.
It’s easy to group NBA teams into one body. However, they are 30 different constructions with different rules and different leadership styles. General managers are rarely the source of rumors, however, they typically are the source for things that really clarify previous information. It is not uncommon for a GM to say, “I don’t want to be quoted on this, but here is what’s really going on,” or to reach out and say “Hey, I don’t want to be quoted on this, but that story you put out isn’t completely true” or “We’re really not doing that.”
Most NBA teams employ a small army of people, some with access to information for a number of job-related reasons. Whether it is the PR staff, the operations staff or the coaching staff, the touch points for team information is pretty deep. The problem with information from a team about their team is it usually is not accurate unless it’s in the framework of a denial.
Teams leverage the media to help their own objectives. Whether that’s drumming up interest in trades, smoke screens about draft prospects or free agents.
Teams are a good source for the internal dynamics of a team. It’s not uncommon for a team employee to share stories about practices run ins or on the road “side stories.” The “behind the scenes” stuff commonly comes from the team side.
It’s important to point out that a number of teams have started to really crack down on leaks of team information. One franchise had their staffers sign documents stating that at any time they may be asked to produce their cell phone and detailed cell records if it’s believed they are the source of information that’s gotten out.
With information being so critical to team success, controlling information is becoming a bigger point of emphasis. Given how quickly things get out in the social media world and how quickly the wrong information can create real damage for teams, it’s a real thing in NBA circles, especially if a key player surfaces in a rumor that’s not real.
Other teams are some great sources of information about other teams. Historically, the most noise in the trade market comes from teams not involved in the deal. This kind of information can be problematic because those parties usually are not playing an active role in the deal. They are also usually the source for stuff that took place weeks ago that may be long dead.
The tone of a story can often tip you off on who it came from. Teams that are not pursuing a player may be more casual in how they describe the player or the value of a deal. It’s pretty uncommon for a team actively trying to land a player to talk up that player or being overly negative.
Equally, the smart teams understand that the NBA is a small world and the player you talk badly about one year may end up on your roster at some point in the future. So trashing him to a reporter can come back to haunt you later.
Like agents, there is a small army of support people that use the information to garner favor, especially in a world where the Assistant GM or the Director of Player Personnel has eyes on running his own team one day and having public support doesn’t hurt the equation.
Own Team’s Players
It is fairly common for players on a roster to share information about players on their team. Players are usually the worst source for trade-related commentary, but usually the best source for how a player feels about their situation, what they are telling their teammates and how they interact with coaches and executives.
Players are pretty protective of other players. They also tend to live in a bubble because of their lifestyle, especially in-season. Like teams, not all players are open to sharing, but given that reporters and players tend to spend the most time together, that’s typically the source for things a player may share in a casual conversation and not in a traditional on the record interview type session.
Other Team Players
Players on other teams are also a big source of information. Keep in mind a lot of players share similar agents or agencies. Many players have friendships outside their own team dynamic. Players often train with each other, and those players usually will chime in on things. Again, in most situations, it’s casual conversations not on the record quotes, which is why they are typically presented as “sources.”
A fun example of this was when Dwight Howard ultimately made his decision to leave the Lakers for Houston, he happened to have worked out with a player on another team and, in casual conversation, told that player he was picking Houston. That player shared that information with others, and that’s how the information got out ahead of Howard’s planned release.
The peripheral is usually the problem in the “sourced” information world. These are those people that love to talk, but are generally not directly connected to the subject. This is where the hearsay comes from, and it’s typically where the most inaccurate information comes from.
The one thing worth saying is it’s fairly common to accuse a reporter or a writer of “making it up,” but that’s usually never true, especially not from reputable writers and reporters. What does happen, though, is a reporter hears something from a credible “peripheral” source, and that source ends up being wrong.
A good example of this was something that happened to me this year at the NBA draft, I was talking with a very well-connected agent in the business, who used to be a part of a larger agency that had represented a player who was being actively shopped around the draft. This agent spoke with people in that player’s camp hours before our conversation, and it turned out the teams being mentioned most heavily in the hours leading up to the draft were no longer engaged in talks. According to this agent, two new teams were the front runners in the hours leading up to the draft.
From my perspective, this was a highly credible source, who explained how he got the information and from who. This is the definition of a “peripheral” source. He was not directly involved, did not have a seat in any conversation, but knew all the details and was someone I have known for years and is always hyper-credible.
Would you run that? That’s something every writer or reporter has to weigh.
Journalistically, you try and validate that with another source, but in the real-time world of news, that’s not always as easy as you’d like. Especially knowing that the teams involved are not going to comment, the player involved usually doesn’t know the minute-by-minute.
It’s not easy, and that’s typically why a writer or reporter may put something out that doesn’t end up happening as described or ends up being denied later.
This is what makes writers like Adrian Wojnarowski so special in this space, given how accurate he has been over such a long stretch of time.
The purpose here wasn’t anything more than helping you understand how rumors and “sourced” information comes about. By no means is it meant to agree or disagree with anyone’s reporting or reporting style, simply to explain how people in this business get the information they get and why it often goes unnamed and labeled “sourced.”
It’s also important to understand the role of the writer and reporter is to be your eyes and ears. Our mission here at Basketball Insiders is to tell you the stories not being told, to add value to the discussion with our wealth of experts and experience. Not everyone is driven by great stories, but that’s what we strive to do every day.
Sometimes we need to protect our relationships with “sources” say commentary, mainly because those relationships power what we do.
Hopefully, this helps you understand the business. You can always decide for yourself who you want to believe and not believe.
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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 11/17/17
Spencer Davies updates the list of names to keep an eye on and who’s in contention for DPOY.
We’re exactly one month into the season now, as the NBA standings have started to take shape headed into winter.
A couple of weeks ago, Basketball Insiders released its first Defensive Player of the Year Watch article to go in-depth on players that could compete for the prestigious award. Since then, there have been injuries keeping most of the household names out of the picture.
Guys like Rudy Gobert (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle) have been or will be sidelined for weeks. Kawhi Leonard has yet to make his season debut recovering from a bothersome right quad.
While that isn’t the best news for fans and the league at the moment, it’s likely that those players will be just fine and return with the same impact they’ve always made. In the meantime, there are opportunities for others to throw their names in the hat as elite defenders. With new names and mainstays, here’s a look at six healthy candidates.
6) Joel Embiid
Trusting the Process in Philadelphia was worth the wait. As polished as the seven-footer is with the ball in his hands on offense, he might be even more dangerous as an interior defensive presence.
One of ten players in the NBA averaging at least a block and a steal per game, Embiid makes a world of a difference for in limiting opponents. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him playing. Furthering that, he’s the only one on the floor who dips the team’s defensive rating below 100 and has the second-highest Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (3.03) in the NBA.
5) Kristaps Porzingis
Like Embiid, it’s been an incredible season for the one called The Unicorn. Before the season started, Porzingis stated it was a goal of his to accomplish three things—an All-Star game appearance, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.
So far, he’s on the right track. Outside of being the league’s third-highest scorer (28.9 points per game), the Latvian big man is hounding and deterring shot attempts nearly every time inside. According to SportVU data, Porzingis is allowing his opponents to only convert 35.1 percent of their attempts at the rim, which is the lowest by far among his peers seeing at least four tries per game. Oh, and when he’s off the floor, the Knicks have a 112.4 defensive rating, which is 9.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on.
4) Nikola Jokic
At the beginning of the season, it looked like the same old story with the Denver Nuggets defense, but their intensity has stepped up on that end of the floor for the past couple of weeks. Playing next to new running mate Paul Millsap has taken some getting used to, but it seems like the two frontcourt partners have started to mesh well.
Though it might not have been the case a season ago, the Denver Nuggets are a net -12.4 per 100 possessions defensively without Jokic on the court as opposed to a team-best 100.1 defensive rating with him on. A huge knock on the Serbian sensation last year and before then was his inability to defend. He’s still got things to work on as a rim protector with his timing, but the progress is coming. He’s seventh in the league in total contested shots (168) and has been forcing turnovers like a madman. Averaging 1.6 steals per game, Jokic has recorded at least one takeaway in all but two games.
3) Draymond Green
In the first DPOY watch article, the Golden State Warriors had been better off defensively with Green sitting. That right there should tell you how much we can really put into data in small sample sizes. It’s changed dramatically since that point in time.
Without Green playing, the Golden State Warriors have a defensive rating of 105.4 as opposed to 98.4 on the same scale with him on the floor. His matchups are starting to grow weary of driving on him again, as he’s seen less than four attempts at the basket. Currently, in DRPM, he ranks eighth with a 2.60 rating.
2) Al Horford
The Boston Celtics are still the number one team in the NBA in defensive rating. Horford is still the straw that stirs the drink for Brad Stevens. If you didn’t see that watching that knockdown, drag-it-out game against the Warriors on Thursday, go back and watch it.
He has the highest net rating on the team among starters and is leading the team by altering shots and grabbing rebounds with aggressiveness we haven’t seen since he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ranking fourth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and in DRPM, Horford is continuing to make his presence felt.
1) DeMarcus Cousins
Dominance is the word to describe Cousins’ game. With a month-long absence of Gobert, he has a real chance to show fans and voters that his defensive side of him is no façade.
Next to his partner Anthony Davis, Boogie has kept up the physicality and technique of locking up assignments. The third and final member of this list averaging at least a block and steal per game, Cousins is at the top of the mountain in DRPM with a 3.13 rating.
The New Orleans Pelicans significantly benefit with him on the hardwood (102.3 DRTG) as opposed to him on the bench (112.7 DTRG). He’s one of six players in the league seeing more than six attempts at the rim, and he’s allowed the lowest success percentage among that group. He’s also contested 193 shots, which is the second-most in the NBA.
Gregg Popovich Continues To Be The Gold Standard For Leadership
There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and Gregg Popovich.
There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs.
Okay, let’s be honest, it’s probably not the first time that you’ve heard that one, but it also won’t be the last.
Behind the genius of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have qualified for the NBA Playoffs 20 consecutive years. In hindsight, they appear to have been the only team to legitimately frighten the Golden State Warriors during their 16-1 playoff run last year, and this season, well, they’ve been the same old Spurs.
That’s been especially amazing considering the fact that the team has been without Kawhi Leonard. Although Popovich recently said that Leonard would return “sooner rather than later,” he himself admitted to not being certain as to what that meant.
Best guess from here is that Leonard will return within the next few weeks, but at this point, it’s entirely fair to wonder whether or not it even matters.
Of course, the Spurs don’t stand much of a chance to win the Western Conference without Leonard thriving at or near 100 percent, but even without him, the Spurs look every bit like a playoff team, and in the Western Conference, that’s fairly remarkable.
“A team just has to play in a sense like he doesn’t exist,” Popovich was quoted as saying by Tom Osborn of the San Antonio Express-News.
“Nobody cares if you lost a good player, right? Everybody wants to whip you. So it doesn’t do much good to do the poor me thing or to keep wondering when he is going to be back or what are we going to do. We have to play now, and other people have to take up those minutes and we have to figure out who to go to when in a different way, and you just move on.”
In a nutshell, that’s Popovich.
What most people don’t understand about Popovich is what makes him a truly great coach is his humility. He is never afraid to second-guess himself and reconsider the way that he’s accustomed to doing things. Since he’s been the head coach of the Spurs, he’s built and rebuilt offenses around not only different players, but also different philosophies.
From the inside-out attack that was his bread and butter with David Robinson and Tim Duncan to the motion and movement system that he built around Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the latest incarnation of Popovich’s genius isn’t only the fact that he has survived without Kawhi Leonard, it’s what could fairly be considered the major catalyst of it.
There are many head coaches around the league that take their roles as authority figures quite seriously, and that’s why a fair number would have been threatened by one of their star players requesting that things be rebuilt in a way to maximize his potential.
So when LaMarcus Aldridge proactively sat down with his coach to discuss the ways that he felt he was being misused in the team’s schemes, it wouldn’t have come as a shock for Popovich to meet him with resistance.
Instead, he did the opposite.
“We have talked about what we can do to make him more comfortable, and to make our team better,” Popovich acknowledged during Spurs training camp.
“But having said that, I think we are mostly talking about offense. Defense, he was fantastic for us. Now, we have got to help him a little bit more so that he is comfortable in his own space offensively, and I haven’t done a very good job of that.”
Just 11 days after those comments were printed, the Spurs announced that they had signed Aldridge to a three-year, $72 million extension.
Considering that Aldridge’s first two years as a member of the Spurs yielded some poor efforts and relatively low output, the extension seemed curious and was met with ridicule.
Yet, one month later and 15 games into the season, the Spurs sit at 9-6. They’ve survived the absence of Kawhi Leonard and the loss of Jonathon Simmons.
Behind an offensive system tweaked to take advantage of his gifts, in the early goings, Aldridge is averaging 22 points per game, a far cry above the 17.7 points per game he averaged during his first two years in San Antonio.
I think not.
Death, taxes and the Spurs.
So long as Gregg Popovich is at the helm, exhibiting strong leadership while remaining amazingly humble, the Spurs will be the Spurs.
Sure, Kawhi Leonard will be back—at some point.
But until then, the Spurs will be just fine.
NBA AM: Atlanta’s Dewayne Dedmon Is Letting Shots — And Jokes — Fly
Dewayne Dedmon’s emergence has been an unexpected positive for the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks.
It’s been a brutal season for the Atlanta Hawks, currently 3-12 with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.
Wednesday’s franchise-record 46-point win over the visiting Sacramento Kings was a rare chance for Atlanta to have a laugh in the postgame locker room and reflect on things that have gone well, including hot shooting for the team and a potential breakout season for center Dewayne Dedmon.
The Hawks trail only the Golden State Warriors in three-point shooting at just over 40 percent. Prior to joining the Hawks, Dedmon had attempted only one three-pointer in 224 career games. As a Hawk, though, Dedmon is shooting 42 percent on 19 attempts. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer explained after Wednesday’s game how his staff decided to encourage Dedmon to extend his range.
“You do your research and you talk to friends around the league, you talk to people who have worked with him and you watch him during warmups,” said Budenholzer. “We had a belief, an idea, that he could shoot, he could make shots. We’re kind of always pushing that envelope with the three-point line. He’s embraced it.”
Dedmon is currently averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes, and set season-highs in points (20), rebounds (14) and assists (five) against the Kings. He’s also brought an offbeat sense of humor that has helped keep the locker room loose despite the struggles. It became apparent early on that Dedmon was a different type of dude.
At Media Day, when nobody approached Dedmon’s table and reporters instead flocked to interview rookie John Collins at the next table, Dedmon joined the scrum, holding his phone out as if to capture a few quotes.
“This guy’s going to be a character,” said a passing Hawks staffer.
Those words proved prophetic, as Coach Bud confirmed after Wednesday’s win.
“He brings a lot of personality to our team, really from almost the day he got here,” said Budenholzer. “I think he’s getting more and more comfortable and can help the young guys and help everybody.”
Dedmon took an unconventional path to the NBA. Growing up, his mother — a Jehovah’s Witness — forbade him to play organized sports. Once he turned 18, Dedmon began making his own decisions. He walked on to the team at Antelope Valley College, a two-year school in Lancaster, Ca., before transferring to USC and eventually making it to the league.
His personality, which formed while Dedmon forged his own path, shone through in the locker room after the Sacramento win. Asked about conversations he’s had with Budenholzer about shot selection, Dedmon turned to teammate Kent Bazemore at the adjacent locker.
“What’s the phrase, Baze? LTMF?”
“Yep,” Bazemore replied.
“Yeah, LTMF,” Dedmon continued. “Let it fly. So he told me to shoot … let it go. I’m not going to say what the M means.”
Amidst laughter from the assembled media, he explained that ‘LTMF’ is Budenholzer’s philosophy for the whole team, not just part of an effort to expand Dedmon’s game.
“Everybody has the same freedom,” said Dedmon. “So it definitely gives everybody confidence to shoot their shots when they’re open and just play basketball.”
With the injury bug thus far robbing Atlanta of its stated ambition to overachieve this season, Dedmon’s career year and team success from three-point range are two big positives.
Rebuilding or retooling can be a painful process. But with a unique personality like Dedmon helping keep things light in the locker room, Atlanta should make it through.