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: Nothing’s Promised, Not Even For The Warriors
The Warriors are wounded, and with Chris Paul, the Rockets may be equipped to take advantage.
The Warriors are wounded, and for those that thought their waltzing into a four consecutive NBA Finals was a given, the Houston Rockets may have other ideas. Especially when one considers that the beloved Dubs are trying to buck history.
Steph Curry has ankle problems, Klay has a fractured thumb and Kevin Durant—the most recent of the team’s lynchpins to find himself on the disabled list—has a rib injury.
Sure, the Dubs might shake off their injuries and find themselves at or near 100 percent once the playoffs begin, but seldom do teams in the NBA get healthier as the year progresses.
Winning in the NBA is difficult. In order to take all the marbles, teams need a bunch of different ingredients, chief among them are good fortune and health. And in many ways, the two are entwined.
Simply put: the human body isn’t built to play as often and as hard as NBA players do. Those that we recognize as being among the greatest ever—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James among them—had one thing in common. They were all exceptionally durable.
Over the years, we’ve seen attrition and fragility cost the likes of Anfernee Hardaway, Yao Ming and Derrick Rose what seemed to be careers full of accolades and accomplishments. And the simple truth is that you never know which player, players or teams will be next to be undercut by injuries and progressive fatigue.
Just to keep things in perspective, the Warriors are attempting to become just the fifth team since 1970 to win at least three NBA championships in a four-year span.
The Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Finals in 1985, 1987 and 1988 before Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls completed their three-peat from 1991-93. The Bulls would again do the same between 1996 and 1998, and Shaquille O’Neal and his Los Angeles Lakers accomplished the same from 2000 to 2002.
There are reasons why so few teams have been able to win as frequently as the Lakers and Bulls have, and health is certainly one of them. That’s especially interesting to note considering the fact that the Warriors may have been champions in 2016 had they had their team at full strength. Mind you, both Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala were severely limited in their abilities, while Andrew Bogut missed the fateful and decisive Game 6 and Game 7 of those Finals with injuries to his left leg.
At the end of the day, injuries are a part of the game. The best teams are often able to overcome them, while the luckiest teams often don’t have to deal with them. To this point, the Warriors have been both the best and incredibly lucky, but at a certain point, the sheer volume of basketball games is likely to have an adverse effect on at least a few members of the team.
We may be seeing that now.
En route to winning the 2015 NBA Finals, the Warriors turned in a playoff record of 16-5. In 2016, they were 15-9 and in 2017, they were 16-1. In total, the 62 playoff games would have worn a bit of tread off of their collective tires, just as their 73-9 regular season record may have. In becoming a historically great team, the Warriors have expending the energy necessary of a team wishing to remain a contender, and that’s not easy.
As an aside, those that understand the difficulty in competing at a high level every single night are the ones who rightfully give LeBron James the respect he’s due for even having the opportunity to play into June eight consecutive years. Win or lose, in terms of consistent effort and constant production, James has shown as things we’ve never seen before.
Today, it’s fair to wonder whether the Warriors have that same capability.
We’ll find out in short order.
* * * * * *
As the Houston Rockets appear headed toward ending the Warriors’ regular season reign atop the Western Conference, there’s something awfully coincidental about the fact that the team seems to have taken the next step after the addition of Chris Paul.
Paul knows a thing or two about attrition and how unlucky bouts with injuries at inopportune times can cost a team everything. As much as anything else, it probably has something to do with why Paul continues to believe in the ability of the Rockets to achieve immortality.
On the first night of the regular season, mind you, in one horrific moment, Gordon Hayward and the Boston Celtics reminded us that on any given play, the outlook of an entire season—and perhaps, even a career—can change.
A twisted knee here, a sprained ankle there, and who knows?
With just over three weeks remaining in the regular season, the Warriors—the team that everyone knew would win the Western Conference again this season—has some concerns. Their primary weapons are hurting, their chances of securing home court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs are all but nil and their road to the Finals may end up being more difficult than they could have possibly imagined.
If the season ended today and the seeds held, the Warriors would draw the San Antonio Spurs in the first round and the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round before squaring off against the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals.
Of all teams, the Spurs are probably the last team the Warriors would want to see in the playoffs, much less the first round. While the outcome of that series would be determined by the health of Kawhi Leonard, there’s no doubt that Gregg Popovich would at least be able to effectively game plan for Golden State.
While the Blazers might not provide incredible resistance to the Warriors, the Oklahoma City Thunder will enter play on March 18 just two games behind the Blazers for the third seed out West. With the two teams squaring off against one another on March 25, it’s possible for Russell Westbrook and his crew having the opportunity to square off against the Dubs in the playoffs.
For Golden State, their path to the Finals having to go through San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Houston would absolutely be a worst case scenario. The only thing that could make it even more terrible for Steve Kerr would be having to do it with a platoon that was less than 100 percent.
Funny. In yet another season where everyone thought that it was the Warriors and everyone else, there are quite a few questions facing the defending champs heading into the final few weeks of the regular season.
Indeed, the Warriors are wounded. And whether they can be nursed back up to full strength is perhaps the most interesting thing to watch as the calendar turns to April and playoff basketball draws nearer.
NBA Daily: The Golden State Warriors Need to Enter Rest Mode
With a bevy of injuries to their stars, the Golden State Warriors should rest up the remainder of the regular season to avoid any playoff letdowns.
After a three-year-long run of dominating the NBA, the Golden State Warriors are showing some cracks in their armor.
Granted, those cracks aren’t a result of a botched system or poor play, but rather the injury bug biting the team in full force as they come down the regular season stretch.
First, it was Steph Curry and the ankle that’s bothered him all season — and for most of his career — when he tweaked it yet again on March 8 against the San Antonio Spurs. Golden State announced he would miss at least four games. Then it was Klay Thompson, who fractured his thumb three days later against the Minnesota Timberwolves — he’ll miss at least two weeks.
Now it’s Kevin Durant. Last year’s Finals MVP suffered an incomplete rib cartilage fracture and was ruled out of Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings. Durant is expected to be sidelined for at least two weeks. The Warriors would go on to lose that contest 95-93.
In about two weeks time, the Warriors went from having one of the most formidable offenses and scoring trios in the entire league, to having Quinn Cook and Nick Young logging starter minutes.
Luckily for the Warriors, they’ve built up a big enough lead in the standings to achieve a 52-17 record, good for second place in the Western Conference. But the issue for the remainder of the season now becomes how healthy will the Warriors be come playoff time?
Curry and Durant have injury histories. Curry particularly has been bothered by this ankle since he entered the league. Without either of them, the Warriors — while still incredibly talented — will be on a completely even playing field with the Houston Rockets, and possibly other teams in the gauntlet that will be the Western Conference playoffs.
The bigger issue on top of the pending injury concerns becomes whether the Warriors should just pack it in for the rest of the regular season, and regroup for another expected title run.
Steve Kerr doesn’t seem to be thinking that way, however.
“All these injuries seem to be temporary,” Kerr told reporters. “A couple weeks, a week, two weeks – whatever. We’re in good shape. We’ve just got to survive this next slate of games and hopefully, start getting guys back and get rolling again for the playoffs.”
That’s true. None of the aforementioned injuries seem to be anything more serious than a few weeks of rest and relaxation. But that’s assuming the best case scenario for these players.
Should we assume that the Warriors are without their scoring trio for the next couple of weeks as their health updates have indicated, that would put their return roughly around April 1. At that time, Golden State would have six games remaining on their schedule. Four coming against playoff teams (Oklahoma City, Indiana, New Orleans, and Utah) with the other two games against Phoenix.
After missing the last few weeks on the court, with injuries that most likely won’t be at 100 percent, tossing their most valuable contributors back into the fray against a slate of playoff teams probably isn’t the smartest idea.
At this point, the Warriors postseason position is locked up. They likely won’t take the top seed away from Houston, and their lead is big enough to keep their second seed intact regardless of who’s on the court. The only thing left now is the determining who Golden State will play in the first round. With the revolving carousel that is the playoff standings out West, that’s anybody’s guess right now.
The only thing that’s certain is whichever team coming into Oracle Arena for that first round will be battle tested and talented based off of the dogfight they had to survive just to make the playoffs. The last thing the Warriors need to be is a banged up in a postseason with their first opponent smelling blood in the water.
In all likelihood, the Warriors — should everything go according to plan — will play the Houston Rockets for a chance to return to their fourth straight NBA Finals. Only this time, a potential Game 7 won’t be at Oracle Arena. It will be in downtown Houston, at the Toyota Center.
An advantage as big as the Warriors’ homecourt can never be understated. Operating in a do-or-die situation away from home will be newfound territory for this bunch. Regardless of talent or team success, at that point, it’s anybody’s game.
It won’t be easy for the Golden State Warriors as they try to extend their dynasty’s reign. This might be their most difficult year yet.
Durant, in his own words, can’t even laugh right now without feeling pain. The league’s only unanimous MVP is operating on one and a half ankles, and the team’s second Splash Brother has an injury on his shooting hand.
Resting up the team’s stars should be the team’s top priority right now, at risk of entering the postseason hobbled. Track record means nothing if the Warriors don’t have their full arsenal at disposal when the games matter most.
Hey, a 16-seed finally won a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament. Anything is possible on a basketball court, and the Warriors should do everything possible to ensure they’re not the next major upset candidate in line.
Fixing The Detroit Pistons
David Yapkowitz looks at how the fading Pistons can turn things around moving forward.
We wrap this week up with another installment of our “Fixing” series here at Basketball Insiders. The next team up is the Detroit Pistons.
The Pistons came into this season with playoff aspirations after a disappointing 2016-17 campaign that saw them regress instead of building on their playoff appearance the season before. To begin the season, they looked like they were on their way to accomplishing that objective. Then Reggie Jackson got hurt and the season began spiraling out of control.
They tried to inject some life into the team by trading for Blake Griffin, but it hasn’t worked out as expected. The Pistons have gone 8-12 since acquiring Griffin and the postseason looks like a pipe dream at this point.
What Is Working
Not a whole lot. Despite trading for a superstar player, the Pistons have tumbled down to the point where playoffs are looking extremely unlikely.
If there’s one thing that’s a welcome sight, it’s the bounce back of Andre Drummond. After being named to his first All-Star team in 2015-16, Drummond had a bit of a let down the following season. This season, he was once again an All-Star while putting up career-highs in rebounds (15.7) and assists (3.2). Drummond is still only 24 years old and has his best basketball years ahead of him.
The Pistons have also received encouraging signs from rookie Luke Kennard. A lottery pick in last summer’s draft, Kennard he’s been one of the few bright spots at times for the Pistons. About a week ago, his playing time had diminished some and he racked up a few DNP’s, but Stan Van Gundy has since reinserted him into the rotation.
They’ve also gotten solid production out of Reggie Bullock. When Bullock came over to the Pistons in a trade with the Phoenix Suns almost three years ago, he was little more than a seldom-used wing with the potential to become a solid 3&D guy. This has been his year, however. He’s the best shooter on the team at 43.5 percent from the three-point line. His numbers, 10.8 points per game and 49.1 percent shooting from the field, are career-highs.
What Needs To Change
Quite a bit. Acquiring Griffin was a move the Pistons needed to make. On the verge of losing control of the season, they needed to make a move to try and turn things around. It’s been a disaster thus far, however. They are 2-8 in their last 10 games and although they’re in ninth place, they’re falling farther and farther away from eighth.
Who the Pistons are really missing is Reggie Jackson. Ish Smith, who has proven himself beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is an NBA player, just isn’t Jackson. They desperately need Jackson’s playmaking abilities to help take the pressure off everyone else. Even if he returns this season, it’s already too late. The Pistons need to focus on getting him healthy and ready for next season.
The Pistons also need to improve their offense. They’re in the bottom half of the league in both points per game (25th) and offensive rating (24th). A big part of that is Jackson’s absence, but they could also benefit from additional outside shooting. Right now they have one long-range threat on the roster and that’s Bullock.
Focus Area: The Draft
To make matters worse, the Pistons will likely give up their draft pick to the Los Angeles Clippers as part of the Griffin trade. The only way the Clippers wouldn’t acquire the Pistons’ pick this year is if it falls in the top four, and that’s not going to happen.
The Pistons will have a second-round pick though. The draft is never 100 percent guaranteed, and the second round is even more of a crapshoot, but talented players can definitely be found. That’s what the Pistons’ main objective in the draft should be. It sounds silly, but they truly need to buckle down and do their homework in hopes of finding that one overlooked guy in the second round. That’s pretty much all they have to look forward to come draft night.
Focus Area: Free Agency
The Pistons are going to have a couple of minor decisions to make this summer regarding their free agents. Jameer Nelson, James Ennis, and Anthony Tolliver are all unrestricted free agents. Out of the three, Ennis has given the team the best on-court production, but it isn’t necessary that any of them are brought back.
Bullock and Dwight Buycks have non-guaranteed contracts, and those are the two guys that the Pistons should work towards bringing back in the fold. Both should have their contracts guaranteed for the following season. Bullock is their only three-point threat. Buycks began the season as a two-way contract player splitting time between the Pistons and the Grand Rapids Drive of the G-League. He’s since been converted to a standard NBA contract and has done enough to earn his spot on the team next year.
In terms of adding new players to the roster, as mentioned before, the Pistons need outside shooting. Marco Belinelli and Wayne Ellington are possible options that the Pistons might be able to afford. Joe Harris is another option, but it will be interesting to see what the market is for him after the strong season he’s been having in Brooklyn.
It’s tough to gauge the Pistons’ true potential without Jackson. If he returns before the season ends, it will be too small a sample size to accurately assess the team. There are only 14 games left. Although things look pretty bleak right now, it can’t be argued that injuries haven’t played a big role in the Pistons disappointing season.
The team deserves a shot at seeing how a healthy Jackson, Griffin, and Drummond trio looks on the court together. If they start off next season the same way despite all three being healthy and in the lineup, then it would be time for serious changes.