Around the Nets: On Jeremy Lin, and a Tight Lipped Front Office

It was the fall of 2010.  The (then) New Jersey Nets were trying to acquire Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets.  The news was filled with rumors of potential deals, offers, calls between Billy King and Masai Ujiri and third team involvement.

Next, it was the fall of 2011.  All of the above happened, this time with Dwight Howard.

Under Billy King, the Nets operated, likely deliberately, as a leaky ship.  The school of thought surrounding that approach is two fold.

First, by spreading a combination of information and misinformation, you can, in theory, gain leverage on the market.  Maybe you make a good trade with Phoenix because they were worried about the rumored offer made by Sacramento.

Second, by leaking information, you keep fans invested in your product.  Almost all of what a GM does to build a contender is done behind the scenes, unbeknownst to fans.  GM’s do not send fans their season ticket invoice with a time sheet detailing things like “telephone call made to Grizzlies involving availability of Tony Allen,” or anything of the sort.  Accordingly, unless a trade happens, or is leaked, there is no tangible evidence, to a fan, that their GM is working his butt off.  The reality, however, is that a GM can be putting in 80 hour weeks, despite not getting any deals done, between scouting, assessment and valuation, long term planning, calls, and the like.  Some GM’s presumably, leak information so that fans can think “he’s working hard! I like him!”

Nevertheless, there is value in not being a leaky ship, and in withholding information.

When information leaks, that allows other teams to know what you are doing, or at least infer what you may be doing.  The less your adversaries know of your plans — whether those plans be to make a trade or to sit a player who is injured — the better. There is absolutely a large amount of value in keeping information internal.  If I know you will start a player who is questionable to injury, I can plan for him.  If I know you are shopping Brook Lopez and what you are looking for, I can swoop in and meet your price (you can demand more if your price is a secret), or I can offer teams a comparably valued player and steal the trade for myself.

The Spurs are notorious for operating in secrecy, rather than being transparent with the media and with fans: http://voiceglance.com/what-businesses-can-learn-from-the-san-antonio-spurs/.

In reality, there is nothing wrong with being a leaky ship OR with acting in secrecy.  Often, media judge these behaviors based on a team’s win-loss record, rather than the merit of the strategy.  For example, as for being a leaky ship, the Celtics are absolutely notorious for letting their business go public.  Since the Celtics have been successful, however, the general reaction to this is “the Celtics are smart to leak trades for leverage! That’s how they acquire the best value. What a good organization.”  Yet, while Billy King’s leak strategy was essentially similar, it did not work and the Nets are unsuccessful, so the reaction to the same tactics becomes “what a dysfunctional organization. They can’t keep anything internal and leaked all kinds of crazy things.”

The same unfair characterizations have occurred with secretive franchises.  When a team like the Spurs, or the notoriously secretive New England Patriots, are tight-lipped, since they are incredibly successful, the school of thought is “what great organizations. Great franchises keep things internal and do not leak misinformation to drive their agenda.” Nevertheless, when the Sixers recently employed the SAME tactics under Sam Hinkie, the idea became “why are they so hush about everything.  Where is the transparency with the fans!”

In short, there is nothing wrong with being tight-lipped as an organization, and many incredibly successful franchises are.

The Nets?  They are tight-lipped under Sean Marks in many ways.

Check out this article – and this article – about how high Kenny Atkinson and Sean Marks were on Thaddeus Young this May and June.  When Marks and Atkinson were hired, you did not see a slew of articles like “sources: Nets shopping Thaddeus Young” or “sources: Nets engage with 3 teams on Thaddeus Young and target player X in a package,” or the like.  Rather, the Nets spoke highly of him, and then things went quiet.

Then, out of nowhere, Thad was traded, absent any real leak storm. All there was was a Adrian Wojnarowski Tweet (in the link) regarding Thad potentially going to a team in the West- but he was then dealt to the East’s Indiana Pacers.

The Thad trade should have been a lesson for Nets fans: the new Nets operate in a tight-lipped, secretive manner.  Sean Marks sees value in withholding information from fans, the media, and other teams, because of the inherent advantage in there being an information gap in your favor.  As a result, public comments the Nets have, as to how much they like players, plans on the trade market, or the like, should be dismissed by fans as “GM speak.”

The Nets, after all, were incredibly complimentary of Thad in the above links.  A comparison to Paul Millsap?  Thad as a leader?  That is SERIOUS praise…but the Nets still traded him.

Accordingly, it does not matter if the Nets say that Brook Lopez is playing very well and doing everything they ask of him.  Or if they say that they love the way Sean Kilpatrick is developing.  Or if they appreciate Bojan Bogdanovic as a high character man.  All of those things may be true!  But that does not mean the Nets will not deal those pieces.

And, as we saw with Thad, do not be surprised if those players (or any Nets for that matter) are on the roster one moment, then not on it when you check your Twitter feed five minutes later.

Which Brings Us to Jeremy Lin: Is the Nets Radio Silence Okay?

During a November 2 game against the Pistons, Jeremy Lin was pulled with a hamstring issue — we were told Lin would be out for 2 weeks and would then be reevaluated with a hamstring strain.

It should be noted that, by the report’s explicit terms, Lin did not miss more time than expected, as all that was reported was he would be reevaluated in 2 weeks.  The Nets released factually accurate information on Lin.

However, it is clear that while the information the Nets released was factually accurate, it was also vague, and lacking much substance.  The Nets under Marks closely evaluate player health and performance, and do not want to go public with much of that information.  At the surface here with Lin is that very fact.

Indeed, Lin missed 17 games over 40 days after the 2 week reevaluation announcement.  Flashing forward, Lin has now missed 31 games since the announcement (one game was not for the hamstring).  After the 17 missed games, Lin reinjured the hamstring, and the Nets shared that the injury was less severe this time around.  Lin has already missed 13 games, close to the 17 of last time: less severe was a factually accurate description, but is a relative term. Indeed, if a $500,000 purchase of a diamond is cut to $499,000, your spending is “less severe.”

Essentially, with regard to Lin’s injury, the Nets took the same stance they took with dealing Thad Young: rather than be open books, or leak information, they were secretive, and guarded about what the public sees.  The Nets — right or wrong — see an advantage in being hush about Lin’s status.

The Nets’ quiet necessarily creates two questions.  First, is it appropriate?  Second, is it appropriate for fans to question it.

First, it IS APPROPRIATE, in all respects, for the Nets to elect to be hush about Lin’s injury status.  The Nets have been factually accurate in their minimal public reporting, and there is no obligation for them to do more.  There is also, as discussed above, an advantage to being tight lipped.  Other teams can be unsure if Lin is a go.  If any of the Nets performance team, proprietary data, biometric or otherwise, has anything to say about Lin’s hamstring, there is an advantage to keeping that data completely confidential.  What if releasing information helps other teams know what the data says and helps them learn about the Nets approach to player health?  What if the data has the Nets believing the Nets should deal Lin?  We, and teams, have no way of knowing – and the Nets are reasonable to do all they can to keep it that way. Some teams may have elected, given Lin’s amount of missed time, to provide some information to assuage fans.  But that does not change the result (the player is still sitting); the Nets choice NOT to do that is more than fine.

Second – and on the other hand – it is ALSO APPROPRIATE for fans to question the Nets in this regard.  Sure, when a team like the Spurs, or Patriots, is tight lipped and experiences massive success, fans buy in.  They assume the tight lipped nature of the franchise is good, because hey, the results are there.

But the Nets — in all due fairness — have not earned that type of buy in from their fans — not yet.  While Marks and Atkinson have been great (I trust them completely) and the teams’ failures should be laid at Billy King’s and Mikhail Prokhorov’s feet for prior moves, the Nets are 9-34, with a slew of picks out of their control.  Fans invest significantly in the franchise, with their money and their time.  They have a right, given those investments, to question the franchise, worry about its direction, and wonder, given the record and outlook, if it will ever get better.  Even if, on the merits alone, they should not be so worried, they have the right to be.

With that, when you tell your fans that your second best player’s strained hamstring will cause him to be out 2 weeks pending reevaluation, after a “less severe” reinjury, the player has missed 30 games with the injury, and your response is to go silent on the issue, fans are going to have some questions.  Fans of all ages will question: do I want to invest my money and my time, both of which are in finite supply, in or on this product?

Would the Nets being more open about their plans with players, leaking trade rumors, and updating the status of an injured player like Lin, assuage these questions?  Not fully.  But, arguably, more information flow may reduce the concerns those fans have.

The Sean Marks led Nets are tight lipped.  That is their choice, that makes them have something in common with some great organizations, and that is NOT a problem. 

But fans have a right to question that approach.

 

 

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