Bonzi Wells' dumping of his his agent was as predictable as a horror flim, the plot between him and William Phillips no less ugly to watch unfold. And just like the moviegoer who leans over and says “I told you this would be bad,” the consensus among the NBA's more experienced agents is a resounding lack of surprise at this story's ending.
Free agency is tricky enough without taking it on with an agent who hasn't been there before. And so it is that Wells' lesson may be one for so many other players to learn from.
As one veteran NBA agent said,
“You don’t have a dentist do heart surgery."
Phillips' resume' is long and impressive, but short on dealings such as these. His background is filled more with politicos than players. His feather-in-the-cap client is Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, to whom he served as general counsel during a successful re-election campaign not long before the Detroit-based attorney would change venues last year.
Only months before Wells was traded to the Kings from Memphis last August, he hired Phillips and thus became his one and only NBA client.
From speaking with those with knowledge of the negotiations, Phillips’ mistake was bluffing about the true level of interest in Wells early on. He spent more than a month saying he was negotiating with six teams, taking the methodical approach as if the only mystery was which team would give Wells the deal he wanted and not whether or not he’d find it. Phillips - who once told me he also represents players in European leagues - often seemed enamored with the courting of Wells during the free agency process, perhaps assuming that the surface interest and wooing phone calls meant the jackpot payday would come soon after.
The other mistake, it seems, came late. Phillips played hardball with the Kings when he should have come soft, once not returning a phone call from Kings president of basketball operations Geoff Petrie for a week as some sort of hardline stance. The move made little sense, because the Kings were the ones who had offered the most (reportedly five years, $36 million) and the alternative options obviously weren’t there.
All of which leaves the player with plenty to offer without an offer of his own. Wells - who will turn 30 this month - recently informed the Kings that he would like to return, a notion Petrie said last week was improbable at best given the roster and salary cap status. He is in the process of finding a new agent, starting over again just as the offseason is about to end.
– Sam Amick