heinnews’s David Hein this week caught up with Brad Ames, Director of Basketball Operations and an NBPA and FIBA-certified player agent with Priority Sports. Among their clients are NBA players Danny Granger, Mo Williams, Bobby Brown, Will Bynum and Charlie Bell and Americans in Europe such as Dan Dickau, Jannero Pargo, Chad Prewitt and Marcus Fizer. Hein and Ames discussed the business of being a sports agent, American basketball players playing in Europe and returning to the NBA, gauging players’ stock for the NBA Draft, the impact of Josh Childress and Brandon Jennings playing in Europe, high schoolers going to college and college players staying in college.
heinnews: Maybe talk about how you became an agent and what someone needs to do the job.
Ames: I was fortunate to start working with Priority Sports while I was in college, and joining a growing company allowed me to choose which aspect of the business I wanted to pursue after getting exposure to the basketball, football, and marketing operations. When I started, Kurt Warner had just won his first Super Bowl, which gave the agency a lot of recognition. I’ve been here for 8 years, and Kurt Warner just went to another Super Bowl. Our basketball division has grown a lot during that time.
Representing players is obviously a people-oriented business. Good interpersonal and presentation skills are necessary, and organization is important. You have to be able to develop meaningful business and personal relationships with people from all walks of life. It’s helpful to love basketball and to enjoy playing a part in helping people reach their goals.
heinnews: When people think of agents, there is not exactly the greatest of pictures that come to mind. How do you deal with these kinds of stereotypes?
Ames: There are a lot of stereotypes about agents, and unfortunately many have a lot of truth to them. We have built our company in a way that has allowed us to be successful while maintaining ethical standards. There are many ways to bend the rules in this business but we refuse to cross that line and we have always put our clients’ best interest first and foremost. I can sleep at night knowing we are doing things the right way.
heinnews: What’s the best thing about being an agent?
Ames: One of my favorite things about being an agent is recognizing potential and providing the opportunity for a player to realize it. We are one of the top agencies in the world, yet we have only represented two Top-10 NBA Draft Picks. I think that says a lot about our ability to recognize talent and character in potential clients and knowing how to best help them reach their goals. We have had 10 first round picks in the past 3 years, and 9 of them were not universally considered first round picks when they signed with us. We have represented almost 40% of the NBADL callups to the NBA, secured many guaranteed contracts in the NBA for players who chose to develop their games overseas, and have many players on NBA rosters after going undrafted. There are so many players out there, and it’s very satisfying knowing that through our scouting process, draft training, and work with teams that we have a very high success rate in terms of players surpassing everyone’s expectations, often including their own.
The relationships forged with clients are very special. It’s a unique relationship that runs much deeper than most business relationships. There is a large element of trust involved, as players are esentially putting their livlihood and that of their families in your hands and that is something we take extremely seriously.
heinnews: You deal with Americans who play in Europe, European players in the NBA and Americans who played in Europe and are back in the NBA. What is the biggest difference in dealing with those three types of players?
Ames: In terms of Americans playing in Europe, the players who are most successful are those who embrace the cultural differences, including the basketball differences, and recognize they are making a pretty good salary to live abroad temporarily and get paid to play the game that they love. There are certain players who just aren’t cut out for Europe, just as there are players who thrive there and have had limited success in the NBA. It’s always a difficult transition for a player going to Europe for the first time, and we stay very much involved in the day-to-day issues that come up for those players while we are following a longer-term plan to increase their value overseas while promoting them to NBA teams in many cases.
Players who return to the NBA after playing in Europe tend to appreciate the NBA more. But I have seen a lot of players who miss the team atmosphere, intense fan support, and passion that comes with basketball in Europe when they get back to the NBA.
heinnews: Looking at the Americans who get back to the States after a successful run in Europe – Charlie Bell for example – what do they say were the keys to their development and how has playing in Europe helped them make the NBA?
Ames: Many borderline NBA players choose to play in Europe instead of the D League because of the development aspect as well as the financial implications. Recently there has been a trend of bona fide NBA players choosing to play in Europe because their role with a European team is much more prominent than their NBA role would be at the time (and they are paid more in most cases). The quality of competition in many leagues in Europe is much higher than the D League, and unless a player is right on the cusp of making it in the NBA (and even some who are very close), there is potential to benefit greatly from playing in Europe for a year.
There is a major difference in development potential and exposure between being the 12th or 13th player on an NBA roster with limited practices and playing time, and spending a season in Europe with two-a-day practices, an increased role, and a great deal of pressure to win. Charlie Bell, for example, was able to play both guard spots in Europe. Bobby Brown is another example. He chose to play in Berlin over the D League last year, and he credits much of his success and growth as a player to his coach who helped him limit his turnovers over the course of the year. Will Bynum, a physical player in any league, spent most of his two seasons with Maccabi fighting through hard screens and hand checks (90% of which would be fouls in the NBA), and when he returned to the US for summer league, the game seemed a lot easier as he had logged meaningful minutes in Euroleague competition when he was relied on to carry his team at times. Now he has the 4th quarter scoring record for the Pistons.
Every player’s path is different, and there’s not a uniform method that works for everyone. Because the timing differs between the start of most European and the NBA seasons, it’s incredibly important to have accurate information from both the NBA teams and European teams in order to help a player make the best decision.
heinnews: When you are advising players about the NBA draft, how do you go about gauge the players’ stock?
Ames: The best way to guage a player’s draft stock is to hear what NBA teams are saying about them. While we consider ourselves pretty good at recognizing talent, there are a lot of aspects to consider when humans are evaluating humans. There are varying opinions on a lot of players, sometimes within one organization. We talk to as many people as possible during our recruiting and pre-draft processes, as well as watching a lot of games.
Obviously once we sign a player we try to address any concerns teams may have shown. There is a great deal of misinformation and lack of information on the team end during the draft process due to the sheer number of draft candidates, and we help fill in the blanks and try to open some eyes and minds in terms of the misinformation. In terms of underclassmen, we have no problem telling a player it is in his best interest to return to school, even if it means we are missing out on a chance to represent a player right away, and also risking the possibility of them signing with another agent when they do enter the draft. Some players look for an agent who tells them what they want to hear and not what is real, and we refuse to do that because it is not in the player’s best interest even though it may serve our interests.
heinnews: When you have a free agent – how important really is the money? Both in Europe and the States.
Ames: The money in free agency is important and is what drives the free agent market, like any market. While there are certainly differences between organizations, cities, and situations, in the NBA there is a much more uniform comfort level for players when it comes to receiving your payments, facilities, and travel accommodations. The difference between two NBA teams is not nearly as drastic as the difference between two teams in Europe because there are so many factors and variables between countries. We have had players turn down big time money in one country to take much less money in a more historically reliable and competitive country in Europe. It depends on the player’s personal preference, his family situation, and many other factors.
heinnews: The NBA used to be ruled by guys like big agents like David Falk. How has the power shifted in the world of agents?
Ames: There are still a handful of agents who are considered the power players in the NBA. There are major differences between them, and with consolidation, buy-outs, mergers, and agents getting in and out of the business, it is a constantly changing dynamic. Some of the top agencies put a major emphasis on recruiting and representing as many draft picks as they can at the expense of providing the right level of service to each player. Our focus is to find the players who fit our culture and we can develop long term relationships with.
heinnews: The NBA has new labor talks coming up. What are the perspectives of a lockout?
Ames: A lockout would be a disaster for all involved. There are many ways to find a resolution and both sides will work hard to get that done.
heinnews: Looking at two of the biggest American names coming to Europe this past off-season, Josh Childress and Brandon Jennings. How successful do you think those moves have been, looking back on them?
Ames: It’s too early to tell how successful those moves have been. They were groundbreaking moves in both cases, and how each player’s decision to go to Europe will fit in their respective plans remains to be seen. But I don’t think either player could have made a wrong decision with their options, they both went to very historically reliable clubs in high competition settings in an era when the NBA is scouting globally so they are not off the map for the year. In general, however, we are big advocates of young players going to and staying in college. There are many aspects of development both on and off the court that players miss out on by skipping college or leaving early.
heinnews: And how much of a trend do you think this will become – both for NBA players going to Europe and high school grads choosing Europe over college?
Ames: NBA players going to Europe is a trend that will vary each year. Clubs in Europe are hesitant to assume that a player’s success in the NBA will automatically translate to success in Europe because the games are very different. But with issues here such as restricted free agency and the luxury tax, Europe will be a viable option for a lot of players each year.
We will see how well choosing Europe as a high school grad works out. I understand the reasoning behind it and it seems to be going well, but with a young kid you face many issues that you don’t have to worry about with an older, more mature player. The potential for problems both on the court and with the changes that come with living in a different culture halfway across the world can directly impact a player’s path to the NBA, both positively and negatively.
heinnews: And would you recommend such a move?
Ames: The decision to accept an offer in Europe has to be done on a case-by-case basis because there are so many factors to consider. There are many cases where it makes sense, and there are many cases where it does not. It’s hard to generalize a decision with so many variables.
heinnews: If a recent high school grad comes to you and says he would like to play in Europe, what would you tell him to expect and what positives and negatives he would face?
Ames: Again, we are advocates for players developing both on and off the court in a college setting. If there were a situation that a player had to go to Europe and college wasn’t an option, the first key is to be patient because it is a long season. Training camps begin 6-7 weeks in advance of the season and high-level teams are hesitant to give a lot of responsibility to unproven players. The potential for development and individual success will be there, but not at the expense of the team. The key is to remain consistent in your approach and take advantage of the opportunities when they come to you and to temper your frustration when things aren’t going great, which is going to happen at some point.
heinnews: What do you think about the NBA’s age limit? Has it helped the level of the game in the NBA and college?
Ames: The age limit is a positive for most players. There are many opportunities for development and gaining maturity both on and off the court in college and we truly believe that almost all players benefit from spending more time in college.
heinnews: Many observers and fans believe too many college players are leaving early. Do you share this opinoin at all?
Ames: Yes, overall there are too many players leaving college early. That decision certainly depends on each player’s personal situation, but overall the benefits of continued development in college are too important to a player’s long term career to miss out on.