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The Figures behind the Curtain

A rundown of the top prospects and the people represents them

Syndication: The Oklahoman CHRIS LANDSBERGER/THE OKLAHOMAN via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Over the last few weeks, there has been a lot of debate and consideration around the top prospects in this class. A lot of the debate has centered around the player’s skill-set and how they will improve their current teams. It is normal conversation. but it fails to consider an important stakeholder.

We often consider the relationship between player and management to be direct and simple. Management relays information to players and the player informs management of matters around the league. The reality is often more complex.

The career of a NBA player is a multimillion dollar business in which they are trying to maximise their earnings and success. The average player does not have the connections or influence to get well-paying contracts or solid endorsement deals without receiving some help.

Agents act on behalf of their principal and use whatever capital they have to make these moves happen. Anthony Davis wanted to leave New Orleans and Rich Paul burned every bridge getting his client to the Lakers. Paul ended up being a disliked figure but he got the job done.

Agents have huge power and are an important stakeholder in a player’s career. Arn Tellem used his friendship with Jerry West and empty threats to ensure that Kobe Bryant was taken by the Lakers in 1996.

With that in mind, I thought it important to consider the top picks in this class and how their representation may influence the draft process.

Jabari Smith Jr - Auburn

Agent: Wallace Prather - Par-Lay Sports

Jabari Smith Jr is signed to an agency which is relatively new among the field of established agents. Par-Lay Sports is headed by Christian Dawkins, a power broker who was arrested for bribing young players. Dawkins is currently in prison but it has not stopped the expansion of his agency.

Par-Lay recently negotiated a $200m extension for Fred VanVleet and has added established agents over the last year or so. Steve Haney, agent for Scoot Henderson, a consensus top-five pick in 2023 is part of the agency. The other recent addition is Wallace Prather, a long-time agent for the NBA’s role players.

Prather has links to the Thunder. He represented Anthony Morrow and is Derrick Favors’ agent. Prather was teammates with Jabari Smith Sr in AAU basketball and is now Smith Jr’s agent. He has not had a client of Smith’s ilk for a long time which means it is harder to predict how the Smith camp will approach the Draft.

Chet Holmgren - Gonzaga

Agent: Bill Duffy - Endeavour/BDA

Chet Holmgren first signed an agency deal with Endeavour in 2021 relating to NIL endorsement deals before moving to add Bill Duffy as his agent. Duffy is one of the most experienced agents in professional basketball. He has been in the business for almost forty years and has represented the likes of Steve Nash, Yao Ming and Nikola Vucevic.

Duffy is known to be scrupulous, fair and honest in his dealings. He is not the sort of agent who will light a franchise on fire to try and achieve the end goal. Duffy is also vastly experienced when it comes to the management of young players who are a little bit different to the norm.

His work with Yao Ming was hugely impressive. He spent years winning over Chinese basketball officials and convincing NBA teams that Ming could be a great player in the league. It was a thankless task but Duffy stuck to his guns and helped Yao to Houston.

Chet does not have the same sort of bureaucracy issues or language difficulties but there is a perception issue associated with his game. His gangly, rail-thin frame casts serious doubts about Holmgren’s ability to be productive at the NBA level. Holmgren will need to dispel these doubts to be taken seriously.

Duffy has previously represented two Thunder players, Hasheem Thabeet and Andre Roberson. His comments around the Thabeet signing in 2012 were telling of how he views the Thunder.

It is no surprise that Chet wants to go to Oklahoma City. He and his agent know that it is a good environment for young players to develop their game and become successful basketball players.

Paolo Banchero - Duke

Agent: Mike Miller - Lift Sports Management

Banchero is the headline name for Mike Miller’s fledgling agency. Mike Miller, an NBA champion with the Miami Heat, is making his first foray into sports agency. Miller had previously worked as an assistant coach with the Memphis Tigers under Penny Hardaway.

During those two years at Memphis, Miller established himself as being a top level recruiter who helped land one of the strongest classes in college basketball. Memphis added James Wiseman, Precious Achiuwa and Boogie Ellis in 2019.

Mike Miller also trained Darius Bazley during his internship year with New Balance. Bazley spent time in Memphis refining his game and developing his fundamentals. That is Miller’s only link to the Thunder.

Jaden Ivey - Purdue

Agent: Aaron Mintz - CAA

Ivey has been closely linked to the Thunder in recent weeks and it is not difficult to see why. Aaron Mintz is one of the top basketball agents for CAA, a sports agency powerhouse. Mintz represents Paul George and advised PG during his free agency process in 2018.

There is a lot of mutual respect between the Thunder and Mintz stemming from George’s tenure in Oklahoma City. It could possibly be the reason why the rumors around Ivey have been so strong.

Mintz has a vested interest in ensuring that Ivey ends up in a good situation. At present, Jaden Ivey is mocked to end up with the Kings. The Kings are a dysfunctional franchise with two other lead ball-handlers in De’Aaron Fox and Davion Mitchell. It is the sort of place where growth is stunted.

By making it seem like the Thunder want Ivey, a market is created for the player and the possibility of going to Sacramento diminishes. It is quid pro quo for the Thunder and the sort of move which could reap dividends in the future.

The agency game is more important than most think. They have such power in dictating the future of their clients which is why it is valuable to consider their relationships with the Thunder. These relationships influence behaviour and could make all the difference in the long-term.