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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NBA Daily: Georges Niang’s Big Break
After dominating the G-League for a year, Georges Niang has more than earned this big opportunity with the Utah Jazz, writes Ben Nadeau.
For Georges Niang, reaching professional stability was always going to be a tall order.
Even after four dominant seasons at Iowa State, the tweener forward was viewed as a draft risk. At 6-foot-8, the versatile playmaker has always scored in bunches but also struggled to find his place in the modern NBA. Despite excelling as a knockdown three-point shooter, the fundamentally sound Niang has bounced around the country looking for a long-term opportunity.
In the two seasons since he was drafted, Niang has played in 50 G-League games for three separate franchises and had his non-guaranteed contract waived twice.
As a summer league standout for the second straight offseason, Niang’s determined efforts officially paid off last week after he signed a three-year deal with the Utah Jazz worth about $5 million. Now with a fully-guaranteed contract under his belt for 2018-19, Niang has been eager to prove his worth both on and off the court — a newfound skill-set he happily attributes to Utah’s excellent system.
“In the Jazz organization, from top to bottom, they do a good job of nurturing guys and forming them into good leaders and things like that,” Niang told Basketball Insiders. “So, it was really easy to transition to summer league, [I’m] really just trying to lead by example, not with just my words.
“And I think playing hard, being a good teammate and doing the right thing –I think those are three things that the Jazz really stand for.”
But his meandering path toward year-long job security wasn’t destined to end up this way — no, not at all.
Selected by the Indiana Pacers in the 2016 NBA Draft with the No. 50 overall pick, Niang was correctly projected as a hard-working, high-IQ contributor that could put up points on almost anybody. Unfortunately, following a low-impact rookie year with the Pacers — and some short stints with their G-League affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, as well — Niang was waived the ensuing summer. Shortly thereafter, Niang latched on with the Golden State Warriors, where he participated in training camp and four preseason games — but, again, he was waived before the season began.
With the Santa Cruz Warriors, Niang flat-out dominated the competition for months, up until he grabbed a two-way contract from Utah in January. In total, Niang played in 41 games between Santa Cruz and the Salt Lake City Stars in 2017-18, averaging 19.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.1 steals on 45.7 percent from deep over 33.9 minutes per game.
Once attached to Utah’s affiliate franchise, Niang averaged a team-high 22 points per game and finished the campaign as the 13th-best scorer in the G-League. On top of all that, Niang was both an All-Star and honored with a spot on the All-NBA G-League First Team at season’s end.
Although he would ultimately play in just nine games for the deep Western Conference roster, Niang was simply laying important groundwork for the days ahead.
This summer, Niang averaged 16.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists in three contests during Utah Summer League. Given the golden opening to impress his future would-be-employers, Niang kept things rolling in Sin City and posted similar numbers over five games. On the back of a 20-point, eight-rebound performance early on in Las Vegas, Niang embraced the chance to fight and compete for his team — five full days before the Jazz signed him to a guaranteed deal.
“It was a real physical game, but those are the games you want to play in during summer league,” Niang said. “You want to play in those types of environments, where every possession matters and you gotta make plays down the stretch — and I think we did a really good job doing that.”
Those scrappy aspirations have been a staple of Niang’s since his collegiate days at Iowa State, too. During an ultra-impressive senior year, Niang tallied 20.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game for the Cyclones, leading their roster to 23 wins and an eventual trip to the Sweet Sixteen. That season, Niang took home the 2016 Karl Malone Award as Division-I’s top power forward and finished with 2,228 points, the second-best mark in school history.
Any way you slice it, whether at college or in the G-League, Niang can play, the moment just needs to reveal itself — and maybe it finally has.
Of course, this new contract — one that’s only fully guaranteed in 2018-19 — doesn’t ensure Niang any playing time and he’ll have some stiff competition. Just to get on the court, he’ll need to squeeze minutes from Derrick Favors, Jae Crowder and Joe Ingles — a tough task in head coach Quin Snyder’s defense-first rotation. No matter what his role or obligations end up amounting to, Niang is ready to meet that challenge head-on.
“In the NBA, everyone has a role,” Niang told Basketball Insiders. “So, obviously, things are gonna be peeled back and you’ll have a defined role. My role is just when I get the ball, and if I do, play-make for others or get guys open, defend multiple positions, play multiple positions on offense and knock down open shots.”
Although his past resume certainly speaks for itself, it’ll be up to Niang take his big break even further. But given his efficiency and execution at every other level, there’s little reason to doubt the forward now. Days before they signed Niang, he was asked if Utah was somewhere he could see himself for the foreseeable future — his response was precise and foreboding.
“I’d love to be here — what [the Jazz] stand for is what I’m all about. I’ve had a blast with all these guys and I’d love to keep it going.”
And now, he’ll get at least 82 more games to make his case.
NBA Daily: The Carmelo Anthony Trade is a Rare Win-Win for All Involved
It is rare for a trade to be beneficial for all parties, but the Thunder-Hawks-76ers swap has the makings of a win-win-win situation.
The Big Three Era in Oklahoma City came and went rather quickly.
On Thursday, the Thunder reached an agreement to trade Carmelo Anthony and a protected 2022 first-round draft pick to the Atlanta Hawks for guard Dennis Schröder, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. As part of a three-team deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Thunder will also walk away with Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot while the Hawks and 76ers swap Mike Muscala and Justin Anderson.
Oklahoma City has agreed to trade Carmelo Anthony and a protected 2022 first-round pick to Atlanta for point guard Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala, league sources tell ESPN. Anthony will be waived, and he will join team of his choice. Rockets are frontrunner.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 19, 2018
It is rare for a trade to be beneficial for all parties, but the Thunder-Hawks-76ers swap has the makings of a win-win-win situation. Just as well, the trade is perhaps even more beneficial for the players involved.
While Anthony may have wanted to stay with Russell Westbrook and Paul George, the trade is more than beneficial for him. After the trade goes through, the Hawks plan to buyout Anthony’s contract and he will reportedly receive the entire $27.9 million he is owed next season. Even better still, Anthony is free to join any team he wants, whether it be the Houston Rockets and friend Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Lakers and friend LeBron James, or elsewhere.
With his money already in hand, Anthony could sign on the cheap as well, making negotiations with any franchise that much easier.
For the Thunder, clearing Anthony’s massive salary from their books was of paramount importance. Staring down a $150 million luxury tax bill, Sam Presti managed to move Anthony and improve the team or, at the very least, make a lateral move depending on how you look at Schröder. Even as they take back the remaining $46.5 million owed to Schröder, the Thunder will save more than $60 million next season alone. That makes the trade worth it for Oklahoma City all by itself.
Still, the move allowed them to fill a need, perhaps more important than the cash savings as they look ahead to next season. Schröder not only fortifies the Thunder bench but the point guard position behind starter Russell Westbrook as well; he is another athletic playmaker that Oklahoma City can play on the wing with confidence. And, after averaging a career-high 19.4 points per game to go along with 6.2 assists last season, Schröder provides the Thunder offense with more firepower to compete against the other top teams in the Western Conference, a necessity if they hope to make a long playoff run.
For Schröder, the move to Oklahoma City is just as beneficial for him as it is for the team. Schröder is no longer the starter (he was unlikely to be the starter in Atlanta with Trae Young in the fold), but he can still make an impact and now he can do so for a contender.
The Hawks, as they should be, are playing the long game here. They acquired Jeremy Lin, an expiring contract, from the Brooklyn Nets earlier this offseason. After drafting Young, their guard surplus afforded them the chance to move Schröder’s deal off their books, netting them a first-round pick in the process and opening up playing time for the Young right away.
While the pick is top-14 protected (the pick becomes two second rounders if it doesn’t convey in 2022, every asset counts as the Hawks will look to add talent through the draft for years to come. With the addition of the Thunder pick, the Hawks now are owed an extra three first-round picks between the 2019 and 2022 drafts, a benefit for the Hawks whether they use those picks or trade them for already established talent. Meanwhile, Anderson, 24, presents another intriguing, and more importantly, young, option alongside the core of Young, Kevin Huerter, John Collins and Taurean Prince.
Anderson will almost certainly receive more playing time in Atlanta as they figure out who and who can’t help the team. His time in Philadelphia was mired by injury and he never had the opportunity to show what he could do. So, whether they use him as an asset in a future trade or plan to keep him on the roster, Anderson, at the very least, will have the opportunity to show what he can do.
For the 76ers, Muscala is essentially insurance for the reneged deal with Nemanja Bjelica. Bjelica agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the team but the stretch-four never signed his contract and backed out of the deal. With him out of the picture along with losing Ersan Ilyasova, Muscala was one of the few remaining options for the 76ers in that specific, stretch-big role.
Muscala doesn’t have the same shooting chops that Bjelica has, but he is younger and might have more upside alongside Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and co. Last season, Muscala, in addition to career highs in points and rebounds, averaged a career-high 3.2 three-pointers per game and hit 37.1 percent of them. While he likely won’t see the playing time he saw in Atlanta, Muscala should easily slide into a role off the bench for the 76ers. Moving Anderson and Luwawu-Cabarrot clears a logjam on the wing as well and will afford more minutes to Markelle Fultz (when he is ready), T.J. McConnell and rookies Zhaire Smith and Furkan Korkmaz.
As it stands, this trade made sense for all parties involved, and that alone is reason enough to consider it a win all around. While things could certainly change and hindsight is 20/20, this deal is beneficial for all three teams right now and could positively impact all three squads both next season and beyond.
NBA Daily: Grayson Allen Ready for NBA Challenge
Making it in the NBA alone is quite an impressive feat, which is why Grayson Allen is doing the best he can to prepare for the big stage.
Grayson Allen may not be the most hyped-up prospect to come out of this year’s draft, but he is one of the more experienced rookies coming into the league this season.
Allen spent four years learning under the tutelage of Coach K at Duke University while also playing with the likes of Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum, and Marvin Bagley III. He’s been through it all at the collegiate level, but he knows that if he’s going to make it in the pros, he’s going to have to adapt as quickly as possible.
“I have to set the tone for myself where I have to know playing in the NBA as a rookie, guys are going to be physical with you,” Allen said. “They’re going to come at you, they’re going to test you and see what you got. You’re gonna get beat. You’re gonna fail, but you gotta come right back at ‘em the next time.”
Since debuting in the summer league, Allen’s been the perfect storm for the Jazz. His shooting numbers have not been encouraging, but his numbers across the board have shown how impactful a player he can be. These have been his stat lines in both the Salt Lake and Las Vegas summer leagues.
July 2 vs. San Antonio: 11 points on 4/16 shooting including 2/6 from three, eight rebounds, seven assists
July 5 vs. Atlanta: 9 points on 2/13 shooting including 0/2 from three, six rebounds, eight assists
July 7 vs. Portland: 16 points on 6/17 shooting including 2/9 from three, six rebounds, six assists
July 19 vs. Miami: 17 points on 7/17 shooting including ⅕ from three, seven rebounds, three assists
Maybe it’s been the dry climate, or maybe it’s been the high Utah elevation that has caused Allen’s struggles shooting-wise, but the fact that his all-around game has shined despite his shooting woes should excite the Jazz. After his summer league play, Allen says the biggest adjustment he’s had to make offensively is acclimating himself with the pace of the game.
“Offensively, it’s a lot easier when you slow down,” Allen said. “I’m starting to see the space of the floor a lot better and finding the open guys. There’s still a few plays out there where I think I got a little antsy but it’s human nature and I’m trying to fight it right now. As a rookie playing in his first couple of games, I’m trying to fight that and play under control.”
On the other side of the ball, Allen says the biggest adjustment is the increased level of physicality in the pros.
“Defensively, it’s physical,” Allen said. “You gotta fight guys. You gotta get through screens. I mean, the bigs, they really set great screens, so you gotta be able to fight through that… If you’re tired on defense, they’ll find you.”
Allen knows that he needs to commit if he’s going to make it in the NBA, which requires eliminating all bad habits. In order to eliminate any habit that Allen has, which in his case is fatigue at the moment, Allen believes that he needs to be more mindful of himself when he’s physically drained.
“I try to be really self-aware of my habits when I get tired out there,” Allen said. “On defense, I have a habit when I’m tired, I stand up and my feet are flat. On offense, I’m not ready for the shot… I try to be really self-aware of that stuff so that in practice or in August, September, October, leading up to the regular season, I can have good habits when I’m tired because we got a short leash as a rookie. You don’t have many mistakes to make.”
In Utah, Allen will be playing for a team that exceeded all expectation last year and has a much higher bar to reach this season. He believes the summer the league should serve him well as he fights for minutes in the Jazz’ rotation.
“I’m joining a playoff team, so I gotta carve out a role with the guys they already have,” Allen said. “When I’m playing in summer league, I’m trying to play the right way. Don’t take too many tough shots, find the right guy, make the right pass.- Because when you come and play for Quin Snyder, that’s what he’s gonna want. He’s just gonna want you to play the right way.”
When Adam Silver announced that Utah was taking Allen with the 21st overall pick, the general masses laughed due to Utah, a state with a white-bread reputation, took a white player. Given that Allen just played four years of basketball at one of the best college basketball programs in the nation and will be starting his career playing for one of the most well-run organizations in the league, he may be the one laughing when it’s all over.
In other words, Grayson Allen playing in Utah could be quite the trip.