Running for cover
In a surprising, and rarely seen, move, SFX Sports Group and agent Rob Pelinka have decided to "fire" embattled free-agent power forward Carlos Boozer after he was accused of misleading the Cleveland Cavaliers before negotiating a six-year, $68 million offer with the Utah Jazz.
Two league sources told SI.com that SFX was preparing to send a letter Monday to the NBA Players Association stating that the sports management agency and Pelinka would no longer be representing Boozer. The sources said that SFX chief Arn Tellem made the final call, deciding that the agency wanted nothing to do with Boozer after, sources say, he convinced the Cleveland Cavaliers that he would re-sign with them if they made him a free agent. In the wake of that conversation, Pelinka went on to negotiate the lucrative offer with the Jazz last week.
By Monday night, however, Pelinka was seeking to distance himself from a contract negotiation that has been blasted from nearly every corner of the NBA. Sources from both SFX and the Cavaliers confirmed that SFX considered leaving Boozer once he began courting other offers, but at Paxson's request the agency stayed on because the GM believed that SFX provided the only hope of convincing the player to honor his gentleman's agreement with Cleveland. It appears that SFX will now try to pin the fiasco on Boozer, even though from all accounts Pelinka helped Boozer negotiate the offer from the Jazz.
"Rob tried to get Carlos to do the right thing," said a source close to SFX, claiming that Pelinka -- not Tellem -- chose to dissolve the relationship after it became clear that he could not convince Boozer to re-sign with Cleveland as Boozer reportedly promised.
By resigning as Boozer's representative, the source confirmed that Pelinka and SFX will sacrifice their $2.7 million commission should Boozer commmit to Utah. The source added that this was the first time SFX had dissolved its relationship with a player under these circumstances.
While SFX has closed the door on its relationship with Boozer, the Cleveland Cavaliers have not, offering the third-year veteran a one-year contract worth approximately $5 million, an NBA source tells SI.com.
Although Boozer and his agent have already secured the six-year offer with the Utah Jazz, those negotiations were conducted under a cloud of supposed promises and possible betrayals that has still not fully cleared. According to team sources, Pelinka, Boozer and Boozer's wife, CeCe, convinced Cleveland owner Gordon Gund and GM Jim Paxson to forgo a team option that would have paid Boozer $695,000 next season, thus making the improving forward a restricted free agent this summer. Had Cleveland held Boozer to his original contract, the Cavaliers could have matched any offer to him as a third-year free agent next summer.
Instead, Gund agreed to set Boozer free with the understanding that Boozer would sign a long-term deal with Cleveland. Because the Cavs are over the league's salary cap, the most they could offer Boozer this summer was a six-year contract for $41 million. The Cavs say that no illegal under-the-table offer was made to Boozer because it was understood that the NBA's collective bargaining agreement prohibited the team from paying more than $41 million.
According to a source who participated in the meeting when the Cavaliers decided to allow him to become a free agent, Boozer told Gund, "If you respect me by not picking up the option, I'll show trust and loyalty to you by signing with you." As a matter of common sense and, say team sources, the Cavaliers never would have relinquished their long-term rights to Boozer unless he made it clear that he would re-sign with them.
Agents throughout the NBA have united in criticizing Pelinka for committing what one agent called a "fraudulent inducement" by using Gund's act of kindness against him. They believe that Pelinka's betrayal has eroded whatever trust exists between agents and team executives, making it more difficult for each side to take the other at its word. Pelinka could not be reached for comment.
Gund is said to be "crushed" by Boozer's betrayal, but will make his feelings public only if Boozer signs the offer sheet with Utah.
In downgrading their offer to one year at $5 million, the Cavaliers have let Boozer know they will forgive him for his lapse in judgment, according to the league source. Boozer would be invited to play out this season in Cleveland and negotiate a long-term contract with the Cavaliers next summer.
That leaves Boozer with two choices: Take the big payday from Utah at the risk of ruining his good name; or sacrifice the sure money in order to salvage his reputation in Cleveland.
Word around the NBA is that Boozer has refused to take phone calls from his former coach at Duke, Mike Krzyzewski. "That's because he doesn't want to hear Mike telling him not to do this," a league source says.
Earlier Monday, many in the NBA were questioning whether Pelinka's career was at risk. In attempt to rescue his reputation, some speculated that Pelinka would resign as Boozer's agent and disavow himself from the Utah contract if Boozer signed the offer sheet. But a top agent who said he is friendly with Pelinka believed it was already too late: "Rob needed to walk away from this as soon as it became public. It's been out there too long to distance himself from it."
Sources close to Pelinka's agency, SFX, say that the management group is seeking to distance itself from the agent. Later this summer, after Pelinka's client Kobe Bryant has signed with either the Lakers or the Clippers, look for SFX and Pelinka to cut ties permanently.