Saturday, January 5, 2008

Scouting Report: Beno Udrih

One year after having his 2007-2008 team option picked up by San Antonio, this past last October the Spurs traded Udrih to the Timberwolves for a 2008 second round draft pick and cash. That day, Minnesota waived Udrih allowing him to join the Sacramento Kings. With Mike Bibby sustaining a thumb injury at the start of the season, Udrih was installed as the teams point guard on November 14. Since then, he has been one of the few bright spots in a difficult year in Sacramento.

Player Name: Beno Udrih
Current Team: Sacramento Kings
Ideal Position: PG
Drafted: 28th (San Antonio Spurs)
Height/Weight: 6'3"/200
Birthdate: 7/5/82
Hometown: Celje, Yugoslavia
College: -
Agent: Marc Cornstein (Pinnacle Management Corp.)

2004-05 $841,680
2005-06 $904,800
2006-07 $967,920
2007-08 $761,544

Left handed; Made his professional debut with a brief stint in the Slovenian secondary league in 1997, followed by three seasons in that country's premier league.; Named the 2000 Slovenian League Rookie of the Year, and has played for the Slovenian National Team since that same year; Played for Maccabi Tel Aviv in the 2002-2003 season, and split the 2003-2004 season among Avtodor Saratov (Russia) and Breil Milano (Italy); His father Silvo played for Lasko, and brother Samo is currently playing in Europe.

Excels in transition; has shown the ability to run a team effectively; free throw shooting; always looking to push the ball ahead; likes to shoot off the dribble, especially pull-up jump shot; Ballhandling with both hands; Splits double teams effectively.

Committment to defense; Looks like he'll never be a top knotch lead guard but very competant, especially for a team looking to push the pace; Needs to look to create more frequently - more of a pass-first guard; Needs to gain some weight in his upper body; Has struggled in big-game situations in the past; Has struggled previously to play well consistently in big games; Shooting off the catch; Needs to be able to shoot more effectively in the screen-and-roll game.

Udrih has really made the most of an excellent opportunity with Sacramento. It looks like he never will be an excellent scorer, but he prefers to get his points in the flow of the offense. His ceiling appears to be the starting point guard on a team that is looking for more of a distributor than a scorer. His man-to-man defense is clearly his biggest weakness. He needs to make more of a committment to defense if he wants to lead a playoff contender.


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Life of an Advance Scout
January 2, 2008 10:15 AM
Posted by Brian Windhorst

Pat Zipfel has one of the most demanding jobs in the NBA and his work directly affects the outcome of games. Yet you probably have never heard of him or most people like him. He's an advance scout for the Houston Rockets and, if you listen to his peers, one of the league's best. He's been "doing advance" as they say in the NBA for seven years now, also having worked for the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers. He's former point guard who fell in love with Xs and Os while playing at Cabrini College in Philadelphia. He's also been the head coach at Centenary College and an assistant at The Citadel. On a six-hour flight from Orlando to Seattle last week, Pat agreed to answer some questions for TrueHoop about the grueling yet fascinating nature of his job.

What exactly is an advance scout?
There are two types of scouts in the NBA. There are personnel scouts, who look at players and decide if they can play, fit their system and are the type of player that will be successful with the salary fitting. The advance scout is responsible for watching the opponent, diagramming all their plays, knowing their calls, knowing their side out of bounds plays and end of game plays. Then you report back to the coaching staff and suggest a game plan on how to win that game. The advance scout specializes in the knowledge of the game.

The job of advance scout is not just a job but a lifestyle. During the NBA season, it is a marathon of traveling and watching games and writing reports. Whether your team wins or loses you feel you played a part in preparing them for the game and are fully vested in every game.
So, you feel the highs and lows of winning and losing, even though you are already ahead working on the next opponent. The truth is that It can be a bit lonely when you play a game that you spent so much time helping prepare your coaching staff and you find yourself alone in a hotel room checking the scores online to see if your team won. No one is with you to celebrate victory or share defeat.

If being around the team and getting to know the players sounds great to you, then the job of advance scout is not for you. Most of our players wouldn't recognize me since they only see me a few times a year other than during training camp. Every game they read the reports and get prepared by the coaches but almost all are unaware of the process it took to get that information to them.

How many NBA games do you see in person during a season?
Last season, I saw 144 NBA games in person during the regular season. So far this season I have seen about 65 games. But coupled with the amount of games on tape, I can't actually count how many games I have seen. While it is a dream job if you love the game of basketball, it requires a level of commitment and work ethic during the season that is grueling.

So that includes lots of time in hotels and on airplanes?
Since training camp started, I've been in my own bed (outside Philadelphia) for eight nights. Typically, I fly every day of the week, this job requires at least 100,000 miles in the air every year. A large part of the daily routine of this job is logistics, getting from one city to the next. Getting all the flights, taxis, rental cars, hotels and the whole time trying to be budget conscious is a challenge. It's not easy, especially since most of the season happens in the winter. Once last season a game in New York went to overtime and I missed the last train out of the city and all the hotel rooms were booked. I ended up sleeping in Penn Station. Because I'm up late after games working on reports and then up early to catch flights, I get most of my sleep on planes.

So who does your laundry and have you every flown to the wrong city?
Most of the 30 advance scouts in the NBA could write a travel book on how to travel in and out of the 30 NBA cities. Most of us know which airlines have direct flights, what cities and airports are the best and worst to deal with, who has the friendliest cab drivers, and even where to get laundry/dry cleaning done on short notice in each city. We see the airport, the hotel and the arena, that's it.

Most scouts stay at Marriott hotels, because you know what you are going to get and it is dependable. But because the rooms all look the same, yes, you wake up sometimes and dont exactly know where you are.

How do you get the information to your team and how has technology helped?
Advance scouting in the NBA was originally done by Bill Bertka of the Los Angeles Lakers. He could be considered the godfather of advance scouting. He was the first person to go out and watch the opponent play and report back to his team his suggestions on how to beat the opponent. Over the years, the position went from pen and paper to laptops, e-mail, software and .pdf files. Back then and now the goal is the same: to know your opponent and try to find ways to beat them.

The process following every game is the scout will go back to his hotel and input all the plays in the software that were used on that night and write a report following the game that will prepare the coaching staff on the opposing teams. That includes personnel, tendencies, play calls, frequency, and even who to suggest to foul in a close game. This information is emailed to directly to the coaching staff. Just few years ago this meant lots of faxing and FedExing but the software now allows you to do it all electronically.

The Rockets are one of the most computer savvy teams in the league, how does it carry over to your job?
Having worked for three different NBA teams, the Rockets are cutting edge with their ability to marry technology and basketball. Aside from the standard personnel database that teams have started using the past few years, the statistical and analytical work of the Rockets' front office technology team gives the coaching staff and personnel department every possible advantage. This goes back to our (general manager) Daryl Morey and (vice president of basketball operations) Sam Hinkie, they are two of the best in the business at it.

How important is getting the play calls and signals?
For our team, Shane Battier is excellent at hearing opponents calls during the game and knowing what is going to happen before the opponent runs the play and letting our coaching staff know. That type of advantage could be the difference between 2-3 possessions a game and determine the outcome.

There are lots of players who make it a priority. If you sat close enough to the court of a Dallas Mavericks game, Dirk Nowitzki does a great job of calling out the other teams plays to their bench, as does Jarrett Jack of the Portland Trail Blazers for his team. If Mike Dunleavy of the Pacers knows the play, he will call it out in his teams term just to get a small edge.

How much of the job is technical (X and Os) and how much is intuitive?
The ability to watch a game and know where all 10 players are on the floor is invaluable for the job. Being able to draw up all the plays and where each player goes is important for the coaches when they see the report. But you also have to be able to suggest ways to counteract what the opponent does, which means you have that part of your mind working, too.

So after all that, do you like your job?
As a former NCAA head coach, I know the importance of knowing how to defend the other team. I have always felt this job was valuable since we are in the business of winning games and beating our opponents. So I know how important the job is and that's important to me.

Every day I hear from people what a great job it must be and even after 7 years, I cannot tell you how blessed I feel to be sitting front row every night in the NBA, the highest level of basketball in the world. Just last week, I saw Kobe, Carmelo, and LeBron play in person in a three-day span. And if you love the game of basketball, that sounds like a dream job.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Where Will Sam Cassell Be Playing in May?

In fourteen season in the NBA, Sam Cassell has played in the playoffs ten times. Although at this point in his career, he can only be expected to play twenty minutes a night, he has great value to a team looking to add another piece for a playoff run. Unfortunately, his current team, the Clippers, are ten games under .500 right now and it appears that they will not be participating in the playoffs in the 2007-08 season.

With a favorable contract of $6,150,000 this season, the Clippers will likely look to move him to a contender in order to pick up some more assets that can be beneficial as the reload. Cassell's contract expires after this season, which may likely be his final year in the NBA.

Five teams currently in competition to make the playoffs could certainly use Cassell. Here is a look at those five ranked by how the need of Cassell and the likelihood of a trade working out:

1.) Orlando Magic
With only Carlos Arroyo and Keyon Dooling available behind Jameer Nelson, the Magic could desperately use some backcourt punch. This trade is likely because the Magic currently have a handful of players with expiring contracts, plus young players that the Clippers may want to take a look at. An exchange of Cassell for Pat Garrity ($3,818,750), James Augustine ($687,456), and J.J. Redick ($2,000,160) would allow the trade to work. At the end of this season, Redick's contract has a team option, so the Clippers would get a good look at him before deciding whether to bring him back or not. Garrity likely would be released when this trade would be made.

2.) Golden State Warriors
With Troy Hudson likely out for the season, Don Nelson and the Warriors need a backup point guard to Baron Davis. With trade exceptions, multiple expiring contracts, and a collection of underused young players, the Warriors would have several ways to go about acquiring Cassell.

3.) Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta is a team that has missed a quality, veteran point guard going back to the days of Mookie Blaylock. Though they may not have the experience to advance in the playoffs this season, they still should make a push for Cassell. A swap of Tyronn Lue ($3,500,000), Lorenzen Wright ($3,250,000) and either Salim Stoudamire ($783,000) or a future draft pick would allow the Hawks to bring in the veteran point guard. Unlike with the teams previously mentioned, Cassell would likely get the chance to start at point guard over incumbents Anthony Johnson, Acie Law, and Speedy Claxton.

4.) Los Angeles Lakers
A trade for Cassell would make a great deal of sense for the Lakers. With young players such as Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, and Javaris Crittenton playing behind starting point guard Derek Fisher, Cassell would bring a veteran prescence of the bench that is currently not there. The difficulty with this trade is that it would take some creativeness for it to work. Chris Mihm ($2,500,000) and Sasha Vujacic ($1,756,951) are the two most likely players the Lakers would include in a trade whose contracts expire at year end. However, Kwame Brown ($9,075,000) would also be a contestant to move to the Clippers in a trade netting Cassell. Brown has battled injury all year and appears to have completely fallen out of favor with the team. Adding Cassell to a group of smalls that include Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Farmar, and Trevor Ariza would make sense for the Lakers in their playoff pursuit.

5.) New Orleans Hornets
The Hornets are looking to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-04 season. Led by the league's best young point guard in Chris Paul, the Hornets are an exciting team that could give anyone a tough run in the postseason. Beyond Chris Paul, Bobby Jackson, and Morris Peterson, the Hornets are very thin at the guard spots. The Hornets could put together a package of expiring contracts (Ryan Bowen, Melvin Ely, Bernard Robinson, Marcus Vinicius) or inexpensive young players (Adam Haluska, Hilton Armstrong) to acquire Cassell. He certainly would bring a big-shot type player to the squad.

Sports Agents Discuss Negotiating

This Is Not a Game
Top sports agents share their negotiating secrets.
Alix Stuart, CFO Magazine
January 1, 2006

From the sidelines, professional athletes have leverage that corporate negotiators can only dream of. Endowed with unmatchable skills and advised by top agents, stars like Alex Rodriguez, LeBron James, and Maria Sharapova can just name their price, threaten to walk, and receive untold riches, right?

Not quite. For anyone who has followed the saga of Terrell Owens, All-Pro wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles, it's clear that even a star needs to play by certain rules. When Owens's agent, Drew "The Shark" Rosenhaus, fumbled an attempt to secure a better contract for him, Owens vented his displeasure by insulting his teammates and was effectively terminated.
While Owens's situation is an extreme example of how aggressiveness can backfire, other top agents say they are just as restricted by basic negotiation principles as the next guy. "There has to be some resolute willingness to push the envelope," says sports agent Leigh Steinberg, head of Leigh Steinberg Enterprises and the inspiration for the character Jerry Maguire in the 1996 movie of the same name, but "you need to remember that all humans have ego and pride, so the key is to try and avoid confrontation."

Can the intricacies of sports negotiation offer any lessons for finance executives? Sure, signing All-Star pitcher Roger Clemens to another year is much more glamorous than brokering a better compensation package, selling off a business, or quelling employee dissatisfaction. But the similarities outweigh the differences. Deal-making in the corporate world involves "the same dynamics" as negotiating sports contracts, says Peter Carfagna, who oversaw contracts for the likes of Tiger Woods while he was chief legal officer at International Management Group and now teaches negotiation strategy at Case Western Reserve University. Even when you have a good deal of leverage, he adds, "you have to use it selectively, so you develop a reputation for being reasonable."

Make a List, Check It Twice
The first step, say many agents, is to catalog what you want. The longer and more varied your wish list, the better. "You should itemize a whole litany of requests, which become bargaining chips," says Bill Duffy, agent for National Basketball Association stars like Yao Ming and Drew Gooden. That strategy essentially means padding your must-haves with nice-to-haves and not disclosing which are which. "You may have things that you're willing to throw away, but your opponent doesn't know that," says Duffy.

Knowing the priorities ahead of time makes it easier to concentrate on the things that matter most to your client, says Lon S. Babby, agent for the NBA's Grant Hill and Ray Allen. He gives clients a list and asks them to rank about 15 criteria, from salaries and incentives to state income-tax considerations. Such lists are just as critical in corporate deals, although they may not appear until the later stages of a negotiation. "A lot of people think it's just about price, but it's often more subtle," says Peter Falvey, managing director at Revolution Partners, a Boston-based investment bank. In his experience, concerns like liquidity and employee provisions often take precedence.

The question then becomes whether to tackle the most or least important issue first — and how transparent to make the ranking. Carfagna says that while at IMG he used an "inside-out strategy," starting with the most-important issues, "because I wanted to know if we had a deal before getting to the peripheral issues." In the corporate world, some deal-makers, like John J. Leahy, CFO of Boston-based technology consultancy Keane Inc., believe in dealing with the low-hanging fruit first. "The more things you can agree to, the more psychological momentum you get, and the further along you are to getting the deal done," he says.

In most corporate deals, a letter of intent spells out core terms like price and time frame, so there is a defined starting point. Finance chiefs say that makes the process more efficient. Duffy, on the other hand, prefers to have the other side make the first offer, because "you certainly wouldn't want to underbid." Either way, the key to a successful deal is to engineer the back-and-forth so that "you get what you want, but you have the other side offer it," says Babby.
Head Games Once you know what you want, the next step is to "inhabit the reality" of the person with whom you are negotiating, says Steinberg. "You've got to understand what the pressures are on that person," he adds. His first step is to research the negotiation history of a team's general manager, running through questions like: Is this someone who will make a first offer and stick with it, or does he play a high-low negotiation game? Is this someone who has real authority, or will he need to run the deal by his boss?

Such due diligence, as CFOs would call it, is much like that advocated by negotiation guru Roger Fisher in his landmark book Getting to Yes, and it recently helped Steinberg land a giant salary for Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. When Steinberg negotiated the first-round draft pick's initial contract with the Steelers in 2004, he knew the team was "philosophically opposed" to clauses known as escalators — incentives that enhance base salary in a deal's latter years. For his part, though, Roethlisberger wanted the opportunity to earn more for performance and to keep pace with other quarterbacks over time.

So Steinberg did some creative term-setting, and in the end Roethlisberger agreed to take the lowest possible base salary in his starting year in exchange for a $9 million signing bonus and a six-year contract filled with incentives based on playing time that could make it worth as much as $40 million over that time. "Had we insisted on an escalator, he might still be holding out," says Steinberg.

On the corporate side, Keane CFO Leahy has recognized that one of his first steps in deals with privately held, owner-run companies is to get sellers "past the emotional hurdle" of letting go. Since sellers are typically concerned with the fate of their customers and employees, Leahy says that he tries to make the case that merging with Keane will be best for all involved. Without promising too much, he tries to get owners comfortable with "the role current employees will play in the combined company, or demonstrate the type of investments we're willing to make."

Perception Is Reality
Of course, what both sides want ultimately ends up second to what the market will bear. Consequently, in sports negotiations — as in many CEO and CFO compensation contracts — a major component of external due diligence is a peer review. That often means making a case that a particular athlete exceeds the competition — as the agent defines it. "The question in these negotiations is often whose definition of performance and value will prevail," says Steinberg.

Setting such terms is especially important when marketing somewhat damaged goods. Last season, Tom O'Connell, head of Tampa-based Legends Management Group, represented a minor-league third baseman who was struggling after a "tremendous" previous season. By isolating the source of his poor performance — a switch to the American League after seven years in the National League — O'Connell could then go back to some of the National League teams that had courted him to "rekindle the fire." And in the end, O'Connell secured a deal in a more familiar environment; one that he believes offers the player a greater opportunity to make the majors. The trick, says O'Connell, is selling potential: "It's very easy to ride a thoroughbred, but Seabiscuit is a whole different animal," he explains.

Similarly, the jockeying Guidant recently did to rejuvenate its acquisition by Johnson & Johnson is a case study in emphasizing potential. When Guidant announced last fall that some of its pacemakers and defibrillators had been recalled, J&J tried to renege on its $25 billion offer, on the grounds that conditions had materially changed. Rather than rolling over and playing dead, however, Guidant filed a lawsuit against J&J for breach of contract, maintaining that its share price was still strong and that it would soon have the lawsuits behind it. Ultimately, the two parties agreed on a discounted price — about 15 percent below the original offer. (At press time, however, another suitor — Boston Scientific Corp. — had trumped the J&J bid for Guidant and the deal was uncertain.)

Some agents have struck gold for their clients by thinking outside the peer group. That was how former tennis player Anna Kournikova earned a reported $20 million in endorsements in 1999, more than any other female tennis player, even though she was hardly a top-ranked player. "We posited that the marketplace for Anna Kournikova was not the tennis marketplace, but the celebrity and entertainment marketplace," says Kournikova's agent at the time, Octagon's Phil de Picciotto. "Essentially the argument is, 'Yes, you're paying more than you ever thought you would. But we're going to deliver more than you could ever imagine.'"

Executive-compensation consultants are hard-pressed to name a CFO with that kind of star power, but there are ways to stand apart. "Some CFOs are more valuable than others, either because they have depth in a certain area of finance expertise or breadth in areas beyond finance," says Jan Koors, managing director of Pearl Meyer & Partners. One advantage enjoyed by those in the business world is that, unlike athletes, executives typically enhance their skills with age. An athlete, says Babby, may be "the nicest guy in the city, but if he can't play anymore, it's a cold business."

Resolve and Patience
Many athletes get the best deals when they have alternatives. That's why free agency, or being able to field offers from multiple teams, is so often at the heart of the deal in professional sports.

That fact was perfectly illustrated by Ray Allen's most recent negotiations with the Seattle SuperSonics, says Babby. The agent started by approaching the team a year ahead of the contract expiration to offer it first dibs on "a franchise icon," but found the team unwilling to pay. Not until a year later did the team re-sign Allen at the salary he wanted — after his contract expired and he had other offers. "We saw the market one way, they saw it another way, and ultimately we couldn't get it resolved until [Allen] could go out and prove his value," the agent says.

Still, for the ultimate alternative — walking away — to work, says Carfagna, "you have to be willing to make good on your threat." Such resolve is probably why the Minnesota Vikings' Bryant McKinnie eventually got a better deal than the team wanted to give. The seventh draft pick in 2002 asked to be paid more than the player ranked behind him, but the team refused to meet that condition. In response, McKinnie held out eight weeks into the regular season, losing out on any salary he would have been paid if he had been signed in a timely fashion. Finally, as the November 1 deadline by which Minnesota had to sign or lose him drew near, the team owners caved and paid McKinnie for a full five years, despite the half season he'd missed. "He was able to resist the temptation of signing an inferior deal," says McKinnie's agent, SFX Sports Group's Jim Steiner.

When such strong-arm tactics would be counterproductive, agents say that relying on performance-based contingencies — and patience — can be the best way to get a deal done. When the San Francisco 49ers released Jerry Rice in 2001 at age 39, for example, Steiner, his agent, admits that "we had only a certain amount of leverage, because there were only two teams interested, [the Oakland Raiders and the Detroit Lions,] and Detroit was willing to go only so far." In that case, he and Rice accepted a relatively low seven-figure salary, and then renegotiated for a better deal after Rice exceeded expectations and went to the Pro Bowl.

Similarly, earnout structures used in deals when an unproven product is at stake can reward future value. Murraysville, Pennsylvania-based medical-device maker Respironics Inc., for example, agreed to buy a product line from SpectRx Inc. back in 2003 for $5 million in cash and an additional $6.25 million over the next two years, contingent on the business's performance. In November, SpectRx got the last of its checks from the buyer, ending up with a grand total of $9.5 million for the product line. Says CFO Dan Bevevino: Earnouts are "a good way to bridge any difference in valuation perspectives," while ensuring that the buyer pays only for what it gets.

Be Nice
In all negotiations, however, sports agents agree that the tenor must be professional, courteous, and ethical. As soft as it sounds, many agents say building good relationships is what is most critical to getting the best deals. "It's a small world, and what goes around comes around," says Duffy.

Such an attitude paid off in spades for agent Mark Bartelstein when client Darius Songaila's contract with the Sacramento Kings came up for renewal last year. Bartelstein could have secured a release by working up a three-year deal with another NBA team that the Kings could not have matched, but Songaila's preference was an offer the Kings easily could have topped — a shorter contract from the Chicago Bulls.

So, with nothing to offer, Bartelstein went to the King's operating chief, whom he considers a friend, and asked for a favor. "I went to Geoff[Petrie] and said, 'Would you do the right thing for Darius?'" Bartelstein recalls, at which point Petrie backed off the negotiations. Bartelstein believes the implicit agreement was that he would remember the goodwill in the future when it came to marketing the Kings to clients. "He knows I'm not going to forget he did something for me," says Bartelstein.

The ultimate prize for a CFO in any negotiation, however, may be the personal satisfaction that comes from a battle well fought, regardless of the final terms. If a CFO won't argue for what he really wants, says Steinberg, he will be consigned to "that great mass of people who walk through life with a terrible roiling sense in their gut, feeling underappreciated and trod on." And, of course, if you can show shareholders the money, you may just feel like a star.

Alix Nyberg Stuart is senior writer at CFO.

Top 25, 25 or Under

I went through the NBA and ranked the top 25 players that are 25 years older or younger. Rankings were based on the idea that salaries and teams do not matter - solely the value of that player. So for instance, right now, Andrea Bargnani is clearly not as good of a player as Gerald Wallace. However, because of potential, the Raptors would not trade him straight up for Wallace.

The top eleven or so picks were pretty easy, but the rest of the way was very difficult. At the end, I had sixteen or so guys for ten spots. I had to leave off: Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Leandro Barbosa, Al Horford, Monta Ellis, Rajon Rondo, T.J. Ford, Devin Harris, Chris Kaman, Mike Conley, and David Lee.

Here were my rankings:

1) LeBron James
2) Dwight Howard
3) Dwyane Wade
4) Chris Paul
5) Carmelo Anthony
6) Amare Stoudamire
7) Chris Bosh
8) Kevin Durant
9) Greg Oden
10) Al Jefferson
11) Deron Williams
12) Andrew Bynum
13) Kevin Martin
14) Tony Parker
15) Yi Jianlian
16) Brandon Roy
17) Andrea Bargnani
18) LaMarcus Aldridge
19) Josh Smith
20) Marvin Williams
21) Gerald Wallace
22) Luol Deng
23) Andre Iguodala
24) Danny Granger
25) Al Horford