Players’ union may name Hunter’s replacement at Las Vegas meetings

The NBA players association’s 18-month search for a permanent executive director could come to an end next week in Las Vegas when members of the NBPA executive committee and other union reps meet with finalists for the position.

As part of the union’s annual summer meetings, the hiring of a replacement for Billy Hunter, ousted at All-Star Weekend in Houston in February 2013 amid allegations of allegations of conflicts of interest and mismanagement, looms as the biggest likely headline. Chris Paul, point guard of the Los Angeles Clippers, was elected NBPA president at last year’s meetings in August after a four-year run as one of several vice presidents.

An executive search overseen by Sacramento Mayor (and former NBA All-Star) Kevin Johnson and conducted by Chicago-based Reilly Partners was in the final stages of winnowing a list of 18 to 20 candidates down to a trio of finalists, league sources told NBA.com. The three candidates will be presented on Monday afternoon, one insider specified, with each scheduled for 45-minute sessions to give their visions and qualifications to the members. Deliberation would take place that evening, with a vote tentatively scheduled for 8 p.m. PDT.

Johnson, who in his most recent NBA incarnation helped broker the deal for his city to keep the Sacramento Kings and thwarting a potential sale and move to Seattle, was enlisted in April to assist in the NBPA search. In May, Johnson met with players and agents in Chicago, synched up to the pre-draft camp held in that city, to update them on the search’s progress.

Prior to Johnson’s involvement, the NBPA had moved slowly in the process. Despite the presence of deputy general counsel Ron Klempner as the acting executive director, the NBA had cited several matters on which it was awaiting Hunter’s permanent replacement, including the possible implementation of testing for human growth hormone (HGH) use.

By All-Star Weekend in New Orleans last February, two leading candidates had emerged: David White, an executive with the Screen Actors Guild, and Michele Roberts, a corporate lawyer from New York.

But more recently, two more names – New York Knicks GM Steve Mills and powerful NBA agent Arn Tellem – have surfaced. Last weekend, longtime basketball writer Peter Vecsey speculated on both men via Twitter, pivoting to Tellem by Monday based on word that Knicks boss Phil Jackson is happy with his working relationship with Mills:

Tellem, 60, is considered to be one of the most influential sports agent in the world. He serves as Vice Chairman on the Wasserman Media Group and, according to his biography on that firm’s Web site, has negotiated NBA and MLB contracts worth more than $3.5 billion since 2008. The basketball site Hoopshype.com ranks Tellem first among NBA agents with a stable of 35 clients and contracts totaling nearly $273 million.

It was Tellem who, in January 2013, wrote a letter to his players calling for Hunter’s firing. He was among a group of powerful agents during the 2011 lockout who called for the union to decertify, which would have removed Hunter from his position then while providing new leverage toward a resolution.

If Tellem is among the NBPA search’s finalists, his client relationships could be an issue for players who haven’t used his services. As one former NBA player knowledgeable in union business put it, “With all of his players and all of his friends who are agents, all those relationships you have, how do you make decisions and judgments in an unbiased way?”

The ex-player added: “Arn is a great negotiator, without a doubt. It would be interesting to see him across the table from Adam Silver in 2016.”

The current collective bargaining agreement between the players and the owners can be re-opened by either side after the 2016-17 season, with talks for a new deal presumably beginning sometime late in 2016. The next round of labor talks will be Silver’s first as NBA commissioner, though he was heavily involved and influential as David Stern‘s deputy during previous negotiations.

In other NBPA news, Bloomberg.com reported this week that the union spent about $5.42 million on the internal audit that resulted in Hunter’s dismissal. That amounts to $12,378 per each of the 438 members, compared to $10,000 annual dues.

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