They sit on opposite sides of the table, pushing and pulling over players and how much they should be paid.
They have different agendas, different outlooks, different tactics, and -- not surprisingly -- plenty of difficulty getting deals done.
Yet while the relationship between NBA agents and front-office types is so often an oil-and-water mix, the Golden State Warriors became the latest team to tap into that little-used well of experience this week with the hiring of former agent Bob Myers as assistant general manager. And at a time when the economic crunch and the intricacies of the salary cap are forcing owners to be smarter and more efficient with their money than ever before, we appear to have, as Myers himself put it, "a mini-trend" in the works that few could have seen coming.
Whether it was Sacramento's hiring of former agent Jason Levien as assistant general manager in November 2008 (he resigned in July of 2010), or Phoenix's addition of former agent Lon Babby as its president of basketball operations last July, there appears to be an increased appreciation for the agent skill set among the league's owners. And in the case of new Warriors owner Joe Lacob, adding Myers as his likely general manager of the future was just the sort of innovative move he had been looking to make.
Myers has never been an executive, but he has negotiated between "50 or 60 contracts" worth approximately $575 million (including the three-year deal of Warriors small forward Dorell Wright worth $11.5 million last July). He has never made a single draft pick, but he has landed plenty of lottery picks as clients amid a brutally competitive climate. He has never browsed the free-agent market for talent instead of a team, but he has personal relationships with players around the league that could certainly come in handy now that he has switched sides.
"In a general manager's role, you can be in the business for 15 or 20 years and maybe you do one or two [contracts] a year -- maybe," said Myers, who spent his 14-year career with the one of the biggest firms around, the Wasserman Media Group, and -- according to Hoopshype.com -- had 19 clients of his own, including Portland's Brandon Roy, Sacramento's Tyreke Evans and Oklahoma City's Kendrick Perkins. "I think what's attractive to the teams, or the front offices and owners of teams, is to bring in somebody with that level of experience because often times ... any small advantage you can get in this business -- whether it's from the agent side or game side -- can prove immeasurably valuable to the future of your team.
"It may be finding out on the night of the draft that this guy was in the gym at midnight two days before working on his jump shot. Or maybe you find out a guy was doing something he shouldn't have been doing. A lot of it is information, and just making that decision based on information. I think [that in] free agency, things like that -- relationships, network, experience, negotiating -- from the team side, they see somebody who kind of navigated those waters so it's attractive to them."
As was the case, quite clearly, with Lacob.
"You could argue that we don't have as much strength ... in experience with respect to negotiating contracts, [and] the Rolodex," Lacob said of Myers, who played at UCLA and grew up rooting for the Warriors in the Bay Area. "So we wanted to strengthen that side of the business, and it became clear looking at other general manager office candidates ... that we could go to someone who had done it before somewhere else, or we could pick off a No. 2 [executive] somewhere else. But I thought that it would be better to get somebody fresh and new that really was a superstar in his own right."
Myers' cause was aided by his temperament, as he is known for his pragmatic personality. It's a quality that Levien said will come in handy as he makes the transition.
"Having dealt with Bob, I think he has the right temperament to be on the team side; to be on either side, really," he said. "I think it's a lot like someone who has been a prosecutor. Being a lawyer, I see it that way because you're a prosecutor and now you're going over to being a defense attorney, a criminal defense attorney, where you sort of have a sense of what's going on behind the curtain on the other side. You get a really nice view that way."
Myers will be second in command under incumbent general manager Larry Riley, who was retained and who sources said is expected to remain for "two or three" more years. When Riley retires, as he told Lacob recently that he was planning on doing in "a few years," Lacob said "Bob would be expected to ascend to the general manager role" while adding that "there are no guarantees."
He joins a front-office team that is expected to be in place, according to Lacob for the foreseeable future and also includes Director of Player Personnel, Travis Schlenk, and Director of Basketball Operations, Kirk Lacob, the son of Joe. There have been no such assurances for coach Keith Smart, whose team had a 10-game improvement from last season but whose future will be determined in the coming weeks.
"We're hopeful [that a decision will be reached] within a month," Riley said.
Lacob said the first in-person discussions between himself and the front office group regarding Smart would not take place for "eight to 10 days" because of scheduling matters. Smart has a team option on his contract for next season.
"There's no point in putting a deadline on yourself that you don't have to put on it, but it's in the best interests of everybody to move as quickly as we can," Riley said. "We had a 10-game improvement, and it's difficult to say that we exceeded expectations because you could say that we could've won more games. If you get a 10-game jump, you've had some obvious improvement. You could argue that a little bit. You could say the team before had some injuries and maybe they should've won more than 26... Expectations being exceeded greatly? No. Being met? Maybe so. We're in that gray area a little bit."