William Wesley, the most powerful man you don't know

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wwesley.jpgThe rumors are LeBron James and John Calipari are being packaged as a pair. Packaged by William Wesley, a man usually just described as an NBA power broker. Wesley works for CAA and is very tight with both men. But you can bet that wherever LeBron James lands, whoever his coach will be, when James is at the podium for the press conference, William Wesley will be in the room, hanging out on the side. And Wesley will have influenced the decision.

It’s left a lot of people with one simple question: Who is William Wesley.

Except, that is not a simple question. It is a mix of myth and reality, and it is a question nobody has any real answer for. Henry Abbott at TrueHoop has done an ongoing investigation over a number of years. Alex French’s piece for GQ in 2007 may be the best single story on the man. And yet you are left feeling all of what has been written is just the part of the iceberg above the water that you can see. That 90 percent of it is hidden from view.

In the NBA, talent is the ultimate commodity. Teams need it to win. Shoe companies need it to sell shoes. Agents need it to get the big contracts (and more clients). If someone has the ear of talented players, if someone has their trust, that person has a lot of power.

William Wesley has a lot of trust. Probably more than anyone around the league. That makes him one of the ultimate power brokers.

Wesley is like the Zelig of the NBA, he is everywhere, influencing everything. He was holding back Ron Artest at the Malice in the Palace. Wesley is tight with Michael Jordan — he was the one who introduced LeBron to MJ, all part of the effort to recruit him to Nike. (Wesley also helped guide James to his agent, Leon Rose.) At any given time Wesley will be sitting next to Jay-Z at a Nets game (the two are tight) or hugging Jerry Jones after a Cowboys victory (the two are tight). The man gets friendly hellos from David Stern. He has access to Team USA basketball practices. He helped guide the last two coaching searches for Cleveland.

It was now ESPN analyst Jalen Rose who nicknamed him World Wide Wes — a play on the Internet’s www prefixes and its ability to find and connect you to anything.

Yet until he signed with CAA earlier this year, he had no formal ties. Wesley was the ultimate free agent.

What Wesley does, apparently better than anyone around, is form relationships. He knows everyone. Everywhere. The GQ piece tells the story of Wes getting Jay-Z on the phone for a young Leandro Barbosa in seconds. He can get Allen Iverson, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, just about anybody on the phone instantly. He befriends players at the AAU level — the traveling club teams for top high school players — and helps guide their careers.

It works because people trust him. He calls the players he works with his family, and he treats them like the father that everyone wishes they had. There are the perks — he can hook them up with anything. A guy who can make custom suits. The right dentist. A hair stylist. Whatever you need, Wesley knows the right person. Not just can look up, but knows them.

His advice is trusted because it is seen as wise and fair, looking out for the best interest of the player and not just telling him what he wants to hear.

ESPN’s “Sports Guy” columnist Bill Simmons tells the story of a bunch of people out with a young player late one night on All-Star weekend. It’s late but the player wants to keep going, to find some after hours spots, and it is Wesley who stops it. “You can’t chase the night. When the night is over, the night is over. That’s just the way it is,” Wesley says. The crew breaks up and goes home almost instantly. Members of a player’s posse, his high school buddies still clinging on, would have pushed on into that night. Wesley got the player to do the right thing. It’s just an example, he doesn’t offer advice just in his own interest, but in the interest of the players.

Players trust him because of that and because Wesley never asks them for anything. Ever. Not a dinner, not a pair of shoes, not tickets. Nothing. He is there to help. He guides. But he has those connections. If a player wants to talk to people at Nike, Wes can make that happen for him. If there is a deal to be made, the agent or the company may give Wes a piece of the action for steering the player to them. It’s a small price to pay for the connection. Like bringing LeBron to Nike. Or Rose.

The problem in telling the William Wesley story is separating the man from the myth, the truth from the legend. In NBA circles he is a legend.  Yet nobody can easily explain what he does or how he does it. Which is part of his mystique, his attraction, his power. By accounts from people I have spoken with, Wesley is a nice guy, a good guy. People like him, they trust him. They often listen to him.

And in the NBA, that is real power.

Ryan McDonough: Suns plan to be ‘major players’ in 2017 free agency

Ryan McDonough
AP Photo/Matt York
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The Suns have swung big in free agency the previous couple years, chasing LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in 2014 and LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015.

But 2016 appeared to be the year Phoenix really eyed.

The Suns structured the contracts of multiple players – including Brandon Knight, Tyson Chandler, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris – to have salaries that dipped this summer. Time that flexibility correctly, and it can really pay off.

Phoenix big prize? Jared Dudley.

Dudley is a nice player, but he’s hardly the star the Suns seek. So, they’ll try again next year.

Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough, via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

That’s been one of our frustrations this summer. We were kind of on the sideline for some of the marquee free agents. But as you know, Woj, it wasn’t the deepest free agent class.

Potentially, it’s a very strong free agent class next year. And one of the things we’ve done with our contracts is we’ve lined them up to have max cap space next year without really touching the core of our roster.

I think and I hope at this time next year, we’re major players in free agency. Because as you mentioned, the Phoenix Suns are a destination franchise.

The 2017 free agent class won’t be as strong as hoped.

LeBron James locked in for multiple years with the Cavaliers. Russell Westbrook signed a contract extension with the Thunder. Kevin Durant indicated he’ll re-sign with the Warriors. So has Stephen Curry. Blake Griffin is reportedly “adamant” about re-signing with the Clippers.

Teams will almost certainly match any offer for the top restricted free agents – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel – if they don’t extend their contracts first.

That still leaves several quality unrestricted free agents – including Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, Gordon Hayward and Paul Millsap – but Paul and Lowry are point guards. Phoenix already has Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, and Devin Booker looks like the shooting guard of the future. So, forget simply sliding Bledsoe or Knight to off guard. It’d take a major shakeup for Paul or Lowry to make sense with the Suns.

Still, McDonough’s approach is logical. If he can keep kicking the can down the road, perpetually selling that his plan is a year from taking it hold, it’ll make it easier for him to retain his prestigious job.

But if he has to make his 2017 free agency plan work rather than deferring to 2018, it could be difficult.

The Suns project to have about $17 million in cap space (under a system that could change significantly with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement). Renouncing restricted free agent Alex Len could clear about $12 million more, and just $500,000 of Leandro Barbosa‘s $4 million salary is guaranteed. Trading Tyson Chandler, Bledsoe and/or Knight could open even more space. Losing Len isn’t ideal, but for the right free agent, the upgrade would be worthwhile.

The bigger issue is winning. Phoenix has struggled to lure top free agents, because the team has missed the playoffs six straight years. That’s unlikely, though not impossible, to change this year. If the probabilities hold, what does McDonough sell then?

He always has the option of using cap space to facilitate uneven trades, a route he previously broached. Depending on the deal, that could encroach on 2017 cap space.

But if his plan holds, the Suns will keep their books relatively clear until next summer.

Wesley Matthews: ‘I’m a whole different person’ further removed from injury

DENVER, CO - MARCH 06:  Wesley Matthews #23 of the Dallas Mavericks controls the ball against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 6, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Mavericks 116-114 in overtime. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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After Wesley Matthews tore his Achilles in March 2015, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle preached caution and suggested Matthews could be out until Christmas.

Matthews said he’d play opening night.

Matthews was right.

He played in Dallas’ first game and 77 others last season. The problem: He didn’t play that well. Matthews meandered through arguably his worst pro season.

Matthews, via Earl K. Sneed of Mavs.com:

“I’m a whole different person,” the 29-year-old Matthews said. “I’m a whole different player, and I’m really just excited to get out there and show it, and just to be who I know I can be and just to continue to grow. Obviously, it was different coming off of an Achilles (injury) and not having four or five months to prepare and all that stuff, and jumping right into the season being physically able to play every single game and play heavy minutes. It took until about after the All-Star break for me to get my legs back, because I play both ends of the court. And I feel better than when I got hurt.

I’ll need to see it to believe it.

Considering Matthews age, time might not be enough to return his production to pre-injury levels. He did improve after the All-Star break, but not enough to put concern behind him.

The stakes are high for the Mavericks, who still owe Matthews $53,652,528 over the next three years. Not only could Matthews’ decline hinder their ability to win a reasonable amount in Dirk Nowitzki‘s final years, it could limit their inevitable post-Nowitzki rebuild.

Hopefully, Matthews feels as good as he says, but players tend to be overly optimistic in these situations. On the other hand, Matthews backed up his similarly daunting declaration last year.

Report: Nets paid record $3 million to move up 13 spots in draft for Isaiah Whitehead

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Isaiah Whitehead #15 of the Brooklyn Nets poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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In 2010, the Thunder paid the Hawks $3 million for the draft rights to No. 31 pick Tibor Pleiss. That, according to Bryan Fonseca of Nets Daily, is the most ever paid for a player’s draft rights.

The Nets matched it this year – and they didn’t even get a fresh pick. They just paid to move up 13 spots in the second round.

Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders:

Nets sent $3 million and the 55th pick (Marcus Paige) to the Utah Jazz for the 42nd pick (Isiah Whitehead)

That’s a sizable commitment to get Whitehead, who has the size and raw skills to thrive at guard in the NBA. He was just so inefficient at Seton Hall, I have major doubts about his approach to the game. It will be up to Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson to refine Whitehead’s style.

If owner Mikhail Prokhorov is willing to pay for that opportunity, good for the Nets. Brooklyn has bought several extra draft picks over the last few years. The Nets don’t have an exceptionally high hit rate on those selections, but every extra swing increases their odds of finding quality contributors – especially important because they dealt away control of so many of their own first-rounders in doomed trades with the Celtics and Hawks.

Report: Incentive bonuses in Yi Jianlian’s Lakers contract would septuple his salary if he plays 59 games

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14:  Jianlian Yi #11 of China controls the ball as Nikola Kalinic #10 of Serbia defends during the preliminary round game at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Yi Jianlian’s unconventional contract terms with the Lakers had slowly emerged. He’ll earn somewhere between $250,000 and $8 million next season, $1,139,123 just for remaining on the roster through Jan. 10.

But that left a huge sum to unknown incentive bonuses.

Now, they’re known.

Yi can trigger $2,286,959 bonuses for hitting three benchmarks based on games played, according to Basketball Insiders. Here’s the running total for those incentives:

  • 20-39 games played: $2,286,959
  • 40-58 games played: $4,573,918
  • 59+ games played:$6,860,877

Whether or not he plays or is even active, Yi will earn $6,701 each day he’s on the roster from Oct. 25 until Jan. 10 (with a guaranteed minimum of $250,000 in total income). Then, if he’s still on the roster Jan. 10, Yi will lock in another $623,167. That’s his base compensation.

But the bonuses – for actually playing in games – are far more lucrative.

Here’s how Yi’s salary would increase throughout the season, which begins Oct. 25 and ends April 12, if he plays every Lakers game:

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Of course, Yi might not play every game.* So, those three big jumps can be slid back accordingly. The Lakers did well to build Yi’s contract around incentives they have complete control over.

*If Yi doesn’t trigger his first games-played bonus so quickly, his base salary ($6,701 per day) would pass his guaranteed minimum ($250,000) Dec. 1.

The NBA Constitution calls for the trade deadline to be the 17th Thursday of the regular season, which would be Feb. 16 this year – before Yi can earn his third bonus and maybe before he earns one or two. This makes him an intriguing trade chip. Because his cap number will be $8 million throughout the season, he could help fetch a higher-priced player in a trade. Then, the team that acquires him could waive him and pay only what he had earned to date.

But before it gets to that point, Yi will try to fight his way into the rotation.

There’s a lot on the line.