Front-Office Insider: The art of the guarantee

·The Vertical

The Vertical Front-Office Insider Bobby Marks, a 20-year executive with the Nets, examines the weekly thought processes of NBA teams and offers a behind-the-scenes look at the everyday grind of putting a team together.

This week we examine the process of a team making a guarantee to a draft prospect.

League executives offered their insight to The Vertical about the process of making a guarantee to a draft prospect.

Submitting your name
There will be a college prospect in the next few weeks who will declare for the draft, and the move will have you scratching your head.

The first question you will ask yourself is, “Why would he put his name in?” The second: “Did he hire an agent?” If the player hired an agent then there could be a backdoor deal between a team and the agent; if not, then the player likely has been given bad advice.

The targets

Boise State's James Webb III is a potential second-round pick. (AP)
Boise State's James Webb III is a potential second-round pick. (AP)

Players must fit certain criteria before they are given a promise from teams. Targeted prospects will usually fall within the late teens to mid-20s.

The player characteristics teams identify with:
The freshman with huge upside who’s not ready to play.
The college prospect coming off an injury with lottery-level talent.
The European stash.
The prospect who can slowly develop on a playoff-caliber team.

The promise
The backdoor deal, otherwise known as a draft guarantee, is when a team picking in either the first or second round promises an agent that it will select the client if he is still available when the team picks.

The ‘witness protection program’
Once a team makes a guarantee to an agent, the process of “shutting down” commences. Similar to the witness protection program, the agent, player and team agree that the player will go into hiding for the next two months. The player will not have any draft workouts, no medical information will be shared and the player will not visit teams for interviews. Usually a mysterious injury creeps in to disguise the side deal. From a team standpoint, it is business as usual on how it conducts the process of bringing in players to work out and interview.

There are circumstances, however, when a team with a late lottery pick will guarantee a prospect who will be drafted in the top five. In that type of situation, the player will continue to work out for teams in the early part of the lottery. That type of arrangement is called the “soft promise” and there is a clear understanding between team and agent that the player will likely be drafted before it picks.

Benefits to the player and agent
Both know there is a soft landing spot if the prospect slides in the draft. Having a team in your back pocket eases the stress going into the draft.

Incentive to a team
The team is simply hedging its bet. It’s a lot like buying insurance for the draft.

The first piece to understand is that not every team goes into the draft with the mindset that the player it selects will have an immediate impact.

There are many types of goals a front office can have on draft night.

One of which could be that a team is looking to clear a roster spot by drafting a player who will be kept in Europe or in the NBA Development League.

If a player is stashed for the upcoming year, the team creates an open roster spot while also clearing cap space by not have a first-round salary on the books.

In addition to a possible financial incentive, teams also use this process as a way to turn a pick in the 20s into a player with tremendous upside for the future.

For example, a team could get the value of a lottery pick by guaranteeing a spot to an injured player who will slide on draft night.

The danger of the promise
A team’s flexibility goes out the window once a player is guaranteed.

What happens when someone a team covets falls to it at No. 23?

Or what happens if a trade falls in your lap in which you can move into the lottery or trade the pick for an established player?

A team is stuck in both cases.

This puts teams in a difficult situation because backing out of a deal is unheard of.

Keeping your word
Although there is nothing in writing that binds a team to select a guaranteed player, the NBA is a league based on relationships. The one thing a team cannot do is burn an agent by bypassing his client if he is still on the board. A team might not need the agent or player that night, but it certainly will down the road.

With less than three weeks left in the regular season, there are six teams with open roster spots: Boston, Miami, Cleveland, Minnesota, Orlando and Phoenix.

Detroit and Brooklyn have Lorenzo Brown and Henry Sims, respectively, on 10-day contracts and can create a roster spot if needed.

Now until the early-entry deadline on April 24, when the NBA sends out the official memo on the players who have declared for the draft, The Vertical will have a weekly update (in no particular order) of underclassmen who have sent their names to the NBA.

Keep in mind that the process is still early, and, like the teams, prospects are doing their own research to find out if they should staty in the draft or go back to college.

Each prospect will also rely heavily on the NBA undergraduate advisory committee. The NBA will gather feedback from general managers and scouts on early-entry prospects. The information will then be relayed to college coaches, who are used as advisers during this process.

Keep in mind: The list of early-entry international prospects, which is not yet set, will certainly have an effect on the draft field.

Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson
Malik Beasley, Florida State
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State
Jamal Murray, Kentucky
Skal Labissiere, Kentucky
Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky
Marcus Lee, Kentucky
Charles Matthews, Kentucky
Derek Willis, Kentucky
Ben Simmons, LSU
Chinanu Onuaku, Louisville
Malik Newman, Mississippi St.
Cat Barber, N.C. State
Trevor Thompson , Ohio State
Kris Dunn, Providence
Ben Bentil, Providence
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
Marquese Chriss, Washington
Dejounte Murray, Washington
Stephen Zimmerman, UNLV
Makai Mason , Yale
Tim Quarterman, LSU
James Webb III, Boise State
Cheick Diallo, Kansas

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