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Armstrong’s Attempts to Strong-arm

B.J. Armstrong is a notable agent for potentially all the wrong reasons

Agents in the NBA are supposed to be as invisible as the referees. In fact, the list of agents the average reader can name is short, and most of them aren’t for good reasons: Rich Paul is (whether fairly or not) criticized for his meddling in affairs around LeBron James. Dan Fegan, meanwhile, has developed a reputation for forcing his clients to certain teams that he favors, something that was readily apparent in the DeAndre Jordan debacle. Mark Bartelstein, though less criticized (Since it is, in fact, his job to get the most player friendly deal available), is responsible for seven of the worst contracts in the league: Tim Hardaway Jr., DeMarre Carroll, James Johnson, Miles Plumlee, Jon Leuer, Andrew Nicholson, and Alexis Ajinca. And there are a few other agent names that some may recognize – Jeff Schwartz, Bill Duffy, Leon Rose – mostly from the high profile clients they have.

All that to say that if an agent’s name starts to be recognizable when they don’t have an illustrious client list, something is probably very, very wrong, and B.J. Armstrong is approaching that point. Representing one current all-star (Draymond Green) and eight other players, none of whom should be expected to close games in the upcoming seasons (There are complications to that – Mudiay, Biyombo, Jackson, and Rose all have realistic chances to end up closing games for their teams if something goes weirdly.  Regardless, they’re at best fringe candidates to close games.), Armstrong should not be a noteworthy name. Between the small number of clients he has and the profile of those clients, the only reason people should know who Armstrong is those who remember his days as a one time all-star (And otherwise good role player) for the Bulls. What has put his name in the lights is a few excessively aggressive negotiations that ended up hurting his clients significantly.

The first such case was Donatas Motiejunas. Motiejunas was already on shaky ground from a negotiation standpoint going into summer of 2016. Having only played 37 games in the 2015-16 season due to his back, and having had a midseason trade canceled due to that same injury, Motiejunas had very little negotiating leverage. Armstrong, however, took the most aggressive path possible, not only holding out through the summer but two months into the season. And then, upon finally receiving an offer sheet from the Nets for four years, 37 million, and with a lot of protection for the team, those same protections allowed the Rockets to exercise their right of first refusal to make the contract much, much smaller – effectively turning it into a four year deal for 31 million. And Armstrong, rather than simply take the win, had Motiejunas not show up for his physical. Of course, the Rockets had completely kept their end of the bargain, and according to the CBA, Motiejunas and Armstrong were in the wrong. Which made it all the more surprising that the Rockets still offered something in the four year 37 million range after incentives (albeit with even more stringent team protections including delaying a trigger date for next season into the summer).

Now, the next part, admittedly, isn’t entirely Armstrong’s fault: Motiejunas goes in for the physical on that contract and fails, something that Armstrong probably could’ve seen coming, but he had every reason to negotiate believing his client was at least healthy enough to pass an NBA physical because otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to negotiate much of anything at all. At that point, Motiejunas is renounced by the Rockets, and eventually, he signed a veteran minimum with the New Orleans Pelicans, having lost around 30 million in potential earnings because Armstrong didn’t just take a deal either earlier in the summer or the 31 million coming off of the Nets offer sheet. Motiejunas, as you’ll note, no longer appears on Armstrong’s client list as a result of how the negotiation was mishandled.

The second such case was Derrick Rose, who in January lead into free agency negotiations asking for a five year, 150 million contract, an event that if you google it by searching “Derrick Rose max contract” less the quotes come up with an article from NESN’s Derrick Hartwell titled “Internet Laughs At Derrick Rose’s Reported Plan To Seek Max Contract” for good reason – that was a completely ridiculous request that had no chance of even being listened to, and it was so far off gauging his market value that it gave teams the perception that Rose had no idea how good a player he was by now. Upon hitting the actual market, then, Armstrong took meetings with several teams, ranging from the Bucks and Clippers to the Lakers and Bulls. But by the time Rose actually did sign a contract with the Cavaliers for his veteran minimum, the number of teams that could even offer him six million in year one was an extremely short list – Dallas, Phoenix, Philadelphia, and Chicago – four rebuilding teams that don’t have a huge need for an older guy who doesn’t fit their timeline and doesn’t have a good reputation as a leader in the clubhouse. As a result, the best deal he had on the table was just to go win in Cleveland as a backup with a chance to start pending the result of a Kyrie Irving trade and make it not about the money, because the money just wasn’t good enough to make a difference. Effectively, Armstrong overplayed his hand again, giving the perception that negotiating with Rose isn’t worth it, and when the cap space dried up he was left with no way to make money for his client, costing Rose something in the range of five to six million at least – some team would’ve surely put most of a full midlevel exception on the table.

The third such case was with Josh Jackson. When the Celtics were first looking into Jackson as a prospect, they held the first overall pick and seemed unlikely to reach anywhere other than Fultz. As a result, the scheduled workout with them seemed to be a matter of due diligence rather than an actual legitimate shot to impress them. Armstrong set up a workout, which he then canceled while Ainge and company were on a plane to Sacramento, leaving the Celtics front office basically having wasted their time, something that they didn’t take kindly to. This dropped Jackson from third overall to fourth, which, while it seems minor, costs Jackson three million over the life of his rookie contract.

As a result, the amount of money that Armstrong has left on the table due to mishandled negotiations totals up to around 39 million. For reference sake, the total amount of salaries for the 2017-18 season that Armstrong is responsible for is 53 million. It only stems from three total players, and it’s not a perfect one to one comparison since some of the lost money was spread over multiple years, but considering that Armstrong only currently has nine clients, and out of those nine clients only five have ever gone through a contract negotiation (Bismack Biyombo, Draymond Green, Mindaugas Kuzminkas, Derrick Rose, and Salah Mejri – his other four are on first round rookie scale deals), three players is a very bad failure rate.

Now, some of these deals have a good chance to work out. Derrick Rose in Cleveland has a chance to start, something that nowhere else seemed to offer, and he gets to win while doing that. Josh Jackson is a better fit in Phoenix, where he can allow Devin Booker to move off the ball more as well as help make up for his defensive shortcomings, as opposed to Boston where he does a lot of the same things as Jaylen Brown. And maybe those are things that his clients truly prioritized. But ultimately Armstrong has definitely rubbed a few front offices the wrong way, and it’s costing his clients money.

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