Flashback

LaVar Ball has drawn fire for trying to manipulate the NBA draft, but a former T-Wolves exec says Steph Curry's dad pulled the same move
June 26, 2017

IN THE RUN-UP to Thursday's NBA draft, LaVar Ball has made it clear he's not beholden to standard practices for his son Lonzo, who's considered at or near the top of his class. LaVar has taken on the shoe companies, seeking a partnership instead of a straight endorsement deal for Lonzo. He has traded insults with TV personalities and called out Michael Jordan and LeBron James. And he has all but forsaken the opportunity for his son to be selected No. 1, declaring that Lonzo wouldn't work out for the Celtics, who then held the top choice. (They traded it to the 76ers on Sunday.) LaVar wants Lonzo to play for the Lakers, who hold the second pick.

In trying to avoid one team and favor another, the Balls are hardly trendsetters. Family members often work with a player's agent to determine where the player lands, with factors such as location, playing time and the team's offense determining what they believe is the right fit.

It usually works like this: After the draft order is determined by the lottery, a team will call the player's agent to arrange a visit. If the team isn't a welcome destination, the agent will say thanks, but no thanks. Just in case the team doesn't get the message, the agent might follow up with a call to management and sometimes even to the owner, asking (nicely, usually) that they not pick the player. Most agents have a long list of clients, including potential free agents, and they use it as leverage. They have long memories, too.

Of course nothing could prevent the team with the top pick from drafting Ball, whose only other option then would be to sit out the NBA season and reenter the 2018 draft. When a player asks a team not to draft him and the team picks him anyway, it usually ends with at least one regretful party.

Perhaps the most famous instance was when John Elway's father, Jack, told the Baltimore Colts not to take his son No. 1 in 1983. John wanted to play in Dallas, Miami or on the West Coast. Still, the Colts chose Elway, but after John announced his plans to instead sign with the Yankees, Baltimore traded him to Denver for a journeyman QB, a starting offensive tackle and a first-round pick. The Broncos won two Super Bowls in Elway's 16-year Hall of Fame career. The Colts made only three playoff appearances over that time.

In the 1989 NBA draft Danny Ferry's agent, David Falk, told the Clippers not to take Ferry with the second pick—or, if they did, to then trade him to the Washington Bullets, whose general manager was Danny's dad, Bob. (Full disclosure: I worked with Bob Ferry at NBC Sports in the early 1990s, and he often recounted this story.) Los Angeles ignored the warning and drafted the younger Ferry, who played an entire season in Italy rather than sign. The Clippers finally caved and traded Ferry to the Cavaliers during the '90 season. Neither team prospered from the deal.

And I once faced a potentially similar situation. In May 2009, days after I had been hired as the Timberwolves' president of basketball operations, Steph Curry's agent told me that Steph's father, Dell, did not want his son to be drafted by Minnesota. "No offense," I recall Jeff Austin, the agent, saying before adding that Steph would not visit.

The reality was, we had no point guards on the roster and only the mid-level exception to attract a free agent. We had the No. 6 pick, and I was captivated by Ricky Rubio, an 18-year-old from Spain who had a flair for passing and setting up scorers. But Rubio had a $6.6 million buyout in his European contract that was likely to prevent him from coming to the NBA right away, and conventional wisdom held that he would force a trade rather than play in the Twin Cities. Two weeks before the draft I acquired the No. 5 pick from Washington for Randy Foye and Mike Miller. Now, we could potentially take a flier on Rubio and draft another point guard who could play right away. Curry was an option, but taking two players who might shun the team? Risky.

Luckily, when we finished our evaluations, the top college playmaker on our board was Jonny Flynn of Syracuse, who had strong leadership qualities and impressive predraft workouts against Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings, among others, in Minneapolis. Rubio didn't visit, but I thought over time I could recruit him to come. He was the player I wanted. On draft day Rubio fell to us at five, we took Flynn at six and Curry went seventh, to the Warriors. Flynn started 81 games for us as a rookie before suffering a hip injury.

I never publicly discussed the Currys' feelings about Minnesota, and there are only two reasons to share this story now. First, Dell talked about it to a website last year, so part of the story is out. Second, LaVar Ball. Much of what he's said and done has invited scrutiny, if not criticism. But refusing to have Lonzo visit Boston and doing what he can to match his son with the team he desires? In that case, he's using an old playbook.

GO FIGURE

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