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.

Suns keep winning, T.J. Warren keeps scoring, Nuggets outlast Jazz in 2OT

Suns star Devin Booker vs. Heat
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The Suns are unbeatable. T.J Warren is unstoppable. And the NBA is unapologetically fun.

Just another day in the NBA bubble.

Phoenix – already the NBA’s only undefeated team at Disney World – moved to 5-0 in seeding games with a 119-112 win over the Heat.

The Suns are still a half game outside play-in position with a tougher closing stretch than the ninth-place Trail Blazers.* But Phoenix sure is making the race interesting, and Portland isn’t closing the door.

*Both teams still play the 76ers and Mavericks. The Suns also play the Thunder. The Trail Blazers’ last seeding game is against the Nets.

Whether or not they make the playoffs, the Suns should absolutely be encouraged by this stretch. Unlike an early-season surge, when Aron Baynes and Ricky Rubio carried big loads, Phoenix’s young players are leading the charge now. Devin Booker scored 35 points tonight. Jevon Carter added 20 points on 6-of-8 3-point shooting off the bench. Deandre Ayton (18 points and 12 rebounds) continues to impress. Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson have steadily contributed at forward.

Expectations are rising for next season.

First, the Suns aren’t ready for this season to end soon.

All the best bubble stories were in Phoenix last season.

Pacers forward T.J. Warren – whom the Suns dumped with a draft-pick sweetener last summer – continued his scoring binge with 39 points in a 116-111 win over the Pacers.

Warren could always get buckets. But he has been on another level lately.

The Nuggets (somewhat safely in third place) and Jazz (who might prefer to finish sixth) had few obvious reasons to care about beating each other.

But then the game got going, and both teams’ competitive juices took over.

Donovan Mitchell drove for a layup to force overtime. Nikola Jokic converted inside to force double overtime. Finally, Jamal Murray – who scored 23 points in his first game of the resumption – put Denver up for good with a jumper then 3-pointer in a 134-132 victory.

Bubble games have featured such great energy and competitiveness.

Damian Lillard to Paul George on Instagram: ‘keep switching teams … running from the grind’

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Damian Lillard missed a pair of clutch free throws in the Trail Blazers’ loss to the Clippers today. Patrick Beverley and Paul George let Lillard hear about it. Lillard boasted in his post-game interview about his series-winning shots over Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and George’s Thunder in 2019 (which literally came over George).

Now, the conflict has spilled onto Instagram.

Bleacher Report:

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Dame, PG and Pat Bev went at it in our comments 👀

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George:

And you getting sent home this year 🤣 respect✊

Beverley:

Cancun on 3😂😂😂

Lillard:

keep switching teams … running from the grind . You boys is chumps

George:

@damianlillard respect that too in my stint with my first team I had more success… Dame time running out g

George did lead the Pacers to Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals, losing to the eventual-champion Heat. Indiana also pushed Miami to Game 6 in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals. George doesn’t get enough credit for those achievements.

Though Lillard’s Trail Blazers peaked in the 2019 Western Conference finals, they got swept by the team that lost in the NBA Finals.

But George forced his way out of Indiana despite that being the only place he could earn a super-max contract. He also re-signed with the Thunder, announcing his plan at a big party thrown by Russell Westbrook, then requested a trade to join Kawhi Leonard on the Clippers only a year later.

Lillard just has different sensibilities. He said he’d stick with the Trail Blazers rather than join a super team. Lillard even talked disparagingly about players who get pressured into bypassing super-max contracts in order to be viewed as a winner elsewhere.

So, this clash makes sense.

Maybe it got too personal for George, who has overcome major injury and returned even better. He surely doesn’t want to be called a chump at this point in his career.

But I disagree with George’s championships-only argument. There is plenty of room for major achievements that fall short of a title – like the Pacers’ deep playoff runs George cited. And Lillard’s series-winning shot last year. George was the casualty on that play. There’s no way around it, and it’s likely still a sore spot. That was a high-profile moment that supersedes missed free throws in a seeding game.

Lillard and George can go back-and-forth about their accomplishments. Both have done plenty in this league. Their individual routes to success show their contrasting values. Neither are wrong. They’re just different.

That’s perfectly fine and – when it leads to spats like this – fun.

Damian Lillard misses clutch FTs, Trail Blazers blow key game against Clippers backups

Damian Lillard vs. Clippers
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The Clippers – maybe wanting to give the Lakers a tougher first-round matchup – showed their lack of interest in beating the Trail Blazers today by sitting Kawhi Leonard. Down five with two minutes left, the Clippers really waved the white flag by closing with a lineup of:

But that group ended the game on a 12-2 run to hand Portland a devastating 122-117 loss.

The Trail Blazers are now just half a game up for ninth in the Western Conference. This further opens the door for the Spurs, Pelicans, Suns and even Kings to make a play-in (and gives the Grizzlies more breathing room for advancing to that stage).

After McGruder hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 26 seconds left, Damian Lillard drew a pair of free throws with Portland down one. Lillard is arguably the NBA’s most clutch player, and he had made 89% of his free throws this season. But he missed both – to the particular delight of injured Clippers guard Patrick Beverley:

Beverley and Lillard have a longstanding personal rivalry. The Clippers also have Paul George.

After the game, Lillard – who hit a series-winning shot against Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and another series-winning shot over George, who was with the Thunder, last year – didn’t mince words.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Lillard:

Asking me about Patrick Beverley, who – I sent him before at the end of a game. Paul George just got sent home by me last year in the playoffs. So, they know. The reason they’re reacting like that is because of what they expect from me, which is a sign of respect, and it just shows what I’ve done at a high clip more times than not. So, I’m not offended by it. If anything, it should just tell you how much it hurt them to go through what I put them through in those situations previously.

I love Lillard’s ability to remain calm and in control. Kudos for him for finding a way to boast after missing a pair of free throws that effectively cost his team a big game. Really. Lillard’s emotional maturity is an asset.

Expect the Trail Blazers to follow his lead and not further unravel. They can and probably should still be favored to reach the play-in.

But their margin for error definitely just shrunk.

76ers star Ben Simmons leaving bubble for surgery

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Ben Simmons injured his knee, and the 76ers didn’t hide their concerns.

This is serious.

Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Obviously, the surgery itself is a setback. If Simmons becomes healthy enough to return before Philadelphia gets eliminated, he could be required to quarantine in his hotel room – which would limit rehab and training.

And of course it will be difficult for Philadelphia to advance deep into the playoffs without Simmons.

There are even graver concerns beyond this season. Will Simmons now be more susceptible to future injuries? This could derail a budding championship contender with Joel Embiid and Simmons.

Embiid already has long-term health concerns. It was always uncertain how long Philadelphia’s window would remain open despite Embiid and Simmons being so young.

Even next season could be perilous. How long will Simmons take to recover? Next season could be right around the corner (or not). If the 76ers’ outlook looks worse – especially amid the economic downturn caused by coronavirus – they could no longer follow through on their plan to pay the luxury tax. Slashing payroll could further reduce the roster’s effectiveness.

Already, expectations shrink this season without Simmons. Philadelphia appears increasingly likely to land the No. 6 seed and a tough first-round series against the Celtics (rather than a spot in the 4-5 series against the Heat or Pacers).

Will these difficult circumstances give 76ers coach Brett Brown more leeway to keep his job? Or do they just make it more likely the 76ers lose early in the playoffs and fire him?

He has plenty of options for proceeding without Simmons. Simmons was a multi-positional star who spent most of the season at point guard but had been playing power forward in the bubble.

Without Simmons, Al Horford moved back into the starting lineup, and Mike Scott – who had been out with a knee injury – joined the rotation. Glenn Robinson III could also get an expanded role once he’s healthy.

Many sans-Simmons lineups could give Philadelphia more spacing around Embiid, which makes the star center even more dangerous.

But this loss of talent can’t be offset and significantly lowers the 76ers’ ceiling this season and maybe reduces their odds of reaching their ceiling in future seasons.