Thursday, May 17
Updated: June 19, 6:09 PM ET
Calculus 101: Introductory math for NBA rookies
By Darren Rovell
Eddie Griffin, who could be the first overall pick in next month's NBA draft, has only taken a handful of college classes, but he doesn't need an A in calculus to negotiate his own contract without an agent or attorney.
It's that easy.
Simply pick up a copy of the NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement, flip to "Rookie Scale Contracts for First Round Picks," punch into a calculator the salary corresponding to his draft position and add the permitted 20 percent bonus to each year. Then fill in the blanks on the contract.
The rookie salary scale was implemented prior to the 1995 draft by the NBA and the National Basketball Player's Association, a year after overall No. 1 pick Glenn Robinson signed a 10-year, $68 million deal with the Milwaukee Bucks out of college. CBA rules now force first-round picks to play at a predetermined pay structure for at least three years before becoming a free agent. All three years of the contract are guaranteed.
"Every contract is just a form agreement. My plummer could negotiate a first-round pick's contract as good as the best negotiator in the country can," said agent Keith Kreiter, who represents Robinson's teammate and Bucks backup guard Rafer Alston.
With the values clearly spelled out pick-by-pick, the days of needing a crafty negotiator appear to be over in the NBA. That is, until some three or four seasons down the road, when the player can shop himself to the highest bidding team.
"It used to be that it came down to good negotiation on the part of the agent," said Merle Scott, the agent for Toronto Raptors star Vince Carter. "But now (with the rookie scale) those skills have been taken away, so that puts the average agent on par with the David Falks and Arn Tellems of the basketball world."
|Eddie Griffin doesn't know how high his stock will go, but once drafted he should know what he'll make as an NBA rookie.|
It was another Milwaukee Bucks player who put agents on edge two years ago. Ray Allen with the help of Johnny Cochran at $500 an hour negotiated his own $70.9 million contract extension (the maximum deal allowed) with Milwaukee owner Herb Kohl.
"I'm not bringing (on) anybody that's going to reap all the benefits of what I've tried to put together for the first three years of my career, and they just come in and get that whopping percentage," Allen told ESPN's "Outside the Lines" in April 1999, two months after signing the contract.
After Allen's success without an agent, the word was out, and many players began talking about negotiating the contract themselves. "Next time around ... I might not get anybody, I might do it myself," said Allen Iverson, who fired David Falk months before the program's inception.
But most league veterans haven't dumped their agents just yet. And draftees still seem to prefer agents to represent them at the bargaining table.
But why do first-round picks bother to pay agents when their salary range is dependent on where the player is selected in the draft?
The prevailing opinion seems to be that players need someone to organize their off-the-court life and the agent takes care of it all from contracts to endorsements to investments and even prenuptial agreements.
"Signing a minimum contract means that the player, financially speaking, qualifies as a mid-size corporation," Kreiter said. "So just to have one attorney to do the contract is ridiculous." In addition to Cochran, Allen had a personal lawyer, an accountant and a business manager on his payroll.
Agent Bill Duffy, who represents recent first-round draft picks Michael Olowokandi (1st, 1998), Joel Pryzbilla (9th, 2000), Rasho Nesterovic (17th, 1998) and Craig "Speedy" Claxton (20th, 2000), said agents can play an important factor in leveraging a client's potential and even can help secure a higher selection in the draft.
Duffy is the American agent for Yao Ming, who emerged as a possible No. 1 pick this year, before it was decided he would stay with his Chinese team until at least the 2002 draft.
Agents vs. lawyers
Many agents believe a player gains a competitive edge when they retain an agent rather than an attorney to represent them.
Some agents claim lawyers aren't tapped into the sports world, aren't familiar with the personalities of a team's front-office personnel and do not understand tryout strategies necessary to ensure a player is drafted early in the first round.
The lack of an agent, they say, could have caused a prospect like Corey Maggette, who hired an attorney to review his contract, to slip in the 1999 draft. Some think the former Duke standout projected as an top-10 pick slipped to No. 13 because of poorly planned workouts.
Agents often advise top players to skip group workouts and instead hold private tryouts for NBA scouts. One bad workout, the theory goes, can do more damage in a group setting than in front of a single team's personnel.
"Half the GM's have never seen Yao play at all and only three guys have seen him play in Shanghai," Duffy said. "Every one is saying he would have definitely been the No. 1 pick and I've played a part in creating that hype."
Duffy said it's not like he hasn't pushed his client to the top before.
"Nobody knew who Michael Olowokandi was, and everyone was saying he was a top-five pick despite the fact that he played at University of Pacific. People questioned the top-notch competition he played against," Duffy said.
Speculation remains that top power-broker agents with a healthy client roster help manipulate the draft by promising future deals for a higher draft position. But some agents deny such practices happen very often.
"No one says, 'If you don't take my player third, there's no chance you are getting Grant Hill in the free-agent market,'" said Lon Babby, whose clients include Hill, Tim Duncan and Shane Battier, a projected first-round pick this year. "That's the ultimate conflict of interest and what would I say to my client if the team calls my bluff? 'Oh, you can't play there?'"
"I might have a rapport with the Raptors because of Vince (Carter), but if I have a player that's a trash player, they're not going to take him," Scott said. "It only happens if they're comparing apples to apples, player vs. player, and the two are similar."
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
|Ray Allen said he didn't feel he was in over his head when he negotiated his contract without an agent.|
Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories
By the numbers: NBA rookie salaries
Trying to avoid the shaft in NBA draft
Lure of stardom can glitter like fake gold