When Jason Kidd left the New York Knicks to coach the Brooklyn Nets, his longtime agent, Jeff Schwartz of Excel Sports Management, came with him, helping him bridge the gap between playing and coaching. Then, when things went sour after one year in Brooklyn, Schwartz oversaw the process between Kidd, the Nets, and Bucks owner Marc Lasry, who also happened to be Kidd’s former financial advisor. Kidd credited Schwartz’s help in the switch.
An agent helping his client sounds innocuous — and legal — enough. But it represents a potentially dangerous trend, according to new NBPA director Michele Roberts: the blurring line between player representation and management representation, and the obvious conflicts of interest it could cause.
It’s a rule that’s been in place for “decades,” according to Ken Berger of CBS Sports, but has rarely been enforced.
Berger spoke with Roberts, who might use Schwartz’s wide influence as a litmus test for the future of player-management representation. Schwartz represents Nets players Deron Williams, Jarrett Jack, and Mirza Teletovic, as well as former Nets Shaun Livingston and Paul Pierce, who left the team in free agency. According to Berger, one league source was adamant that the two sides of the coin — Kidd’s departure from Brooklyn in conjunction with Pierce’s and Livingston’s — were kept separate; indeed, Livingston left for a deserved contract with the Golden State Warriors the Nets couldn’t offer, and Pierce signed a contract with the Washington Wizards the Nets wouldn’t offer.
But the very idea that the two could represent a conflict of interest represents a major issue, one that Roberts considers “really high” on her priorities list, she told Berger.
“We can’t allow the status quo to remain, i.e. people to act in defiance of the rule because the rule is the rule,” Michele Roberts, executive director of the NBPA, told CBSSports.com Wednesday. “But I also want to try to do it in a way that makes sense for everyone. If it appears that the rule is not something that we can work around, then it’s time to enforce it.”
“One way to resolve it is to strictly enforce it or to figure out ways for the conflict to be mitigated,” Roberts said. “We want to find a way to address this in a way that doesn’t cause too much havoc in the industry.”
Upon arriving in Milwaukee to take over as coach, Kidd and Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry matter-of-factly discussed Schwartz’s role in the power play in a nationally televised news conference on July 2. To those familiar with the union’s rules forbidding such behavior, and the steps taken by many in the industry to disguise it, such transparency was stunning.
Berger spoke with a longtime NBA agent, David Falk, who detailed how the “strong potential abuse” could work:
“My company’s called FAME,” Falk said. “Suppose I set up a separate company called FAME Coaches. I’d have one person working for me to do the coaches, and I’d do the players. I know I could do it, but I wouldn’t do it because the reason for the rule is when I walk down the hall and say, ‘Hey, let’s talk about how much money you’re asking for so and so,’ you can’t separate it out.
“What if the guy wants to be traded and the coach or GM doesn’t want to trade him?” Falk said. “Who are you representing? … You can’t represent people on both sides of the table without having a conflict.”
Seeking punishment for Kidd or Schwartz retroactively could be a fool’s errand — the league rarely changes their ruling on old issues like that — but the future of how players find representation in their post-playing career could change drastically, with Kidd’s ugly departure from Brooklyn as its lead example.