When the clock struck midnight on July 1st, 2017, possibly the biggest Free Agent switch had already occurred.
No, it wasn’t one of the number of deals that were announced at 12:01am when verbal agreements became legal. Agents and teams are quick negotiators these days, right? Either that or tampering rules only exist in a dusty old rule book somewhere in Adam Silver’s bookcase.
The big switch? Adrian Wojnarowski joins ESPN.
After years of rumours that make the LeBron to the Lakers stories seem like child’s play, Woj finally took the deal ‘too good to refuse’. He was abandoning The Vertical team he helped create and build with Yahoo Sports. In making that switch, he left his understudy and apprentice, Shams Charania, as the lead news breaker with The Vertical.
Believe it or not, Charania is only 23 years old and just graduated from College. In a great piece last year by Aaron Mansfield, we got a small window into Woj’s protegé and just how hard he works. Woj himself noted that he was essentially training Shams up to surpass him as the best reporter in the NBA.
“If we’re doing our job, it’s to develop him in a full way… He will be the news breaker in the NBA—whether it’s tomorrow or next year or five years from now. He’s going to be that. But he could be a lot more, and that’s my job, to help him in all those facets.”
Perhaps Woj didn’t anticipate it would be this soon, or maybe he did? Either way, Shams was about to be given the opportunity to be his own man. To prove to the wider NBA community that he wasn’t simply handed stories by his mentor at The Vertical. He was slowly but surely building his own network and carving out a career that could stand on his own two feet.
The Wojnarowski defection to ESPN created a unique situation as the Free Agency window drew closer. Woj disappeared from his Yahoo Twitter handle just as one of the biggest dates on news breakers’ calendars approached. He couldn’t report as an ESPN employee until after July 1st and decided to not waste any of his bombs on his outgoing employer.
That little quirk allowed others in the NBA media to have their moment in the sun, breaking mainly trade news in the Woj-free environment.
Ramona Shelburne got the huge scoop of Paul George being traded to the Thunder right on the eve of Free Agency, while Marc Stein had his own weird July 1 to deal with. Stein’s scenario was essentially the antithesis of what was coming from Woj and also directly linked. Stein was on his way out of ESPN, largely seen as making way for Woj, and he fired all his tweets out before midnight. He speculated on deals for Curry, Teague, Holiday and even gave details from the Rubio trade, before signing off just before July 1 came.
One constant remained though, ESPN was owning the coverage. Enter Shams.
Despite Woj dropping a bunch of pre-written bombs as the clock hit 12 (there’s those super quick agents again!) and fellow ESPN reporters such as Chris Haynes chipping in, the wunderkind was trading blows. In fact, Charania was upstaging his old boss and the internet had a field day supporting him along the way.
All of a sudden, people had to pick sides. Were you #TeamWojBomb or #TeamShamsWow?
The next three weeks have seen 13 reporters break 84 Free Agent deals, from July 1 through to July 25th. That’s 37 players in the East compared to 47 from the West, as the superior conference continues to get stronger. The total amount of money committed as of right now is approximately $2.3 billion, with the East just shy of hitting the Billion Dollar mark but the West surpassing it comfortably.
So who broke all these deals?
Rules: A reporter is credited with the exclusive if they are the first to correctly report a Free Agent reaching an agreement with a team. In the case of ‘dead heats’, extra details such as money/years are rewarded while incorrect details are punished.
With the above rules as a guide, there is a lead pack of 4 reporters breaking the majority of the Free Agent deals. Joining Woj and Shams, is the previously mentioned Chris Haynes of ESPN plus Mike Scotto of Basketball Insiders. Haynes is comfortably in third with 7 scoops and perhaps the most notable deal (and VERY notable Tweet) in Gordon Hayward. For Scotto there has been the exclusive scoops on Lowry and Selden, with shared announcements for Dion Waiters’ and Taj Gibson’s contracts with Woj and Shams respectively.
Filling in the gaps are David Pick (Speights & Theis) and 8 other reporters with one scoop a piece. Headed up by none other than Ron Baker who broke his own signing well before anybody cared to take notice. Despite being low on numbers, there are still some key names in this list; Caldwell-Pope was broken by Brian Windhorst and Nowitzki by Tim MacMahon.
However, there is no denying who the major powers in this scoop war are. It is very much a race in two. Adrian Wojnarowki Vs Shams Charania.
Woj: 34 signings for a total of $1,091,000,000.
Shams: 31 signings for a total of $853,100,000.
In terms of overall firsts, the master is barely holding the apprentice at bay and the money difference can be equated to just those three extra deals too. Woj basically has Steph Curry’s $201,000,000 contract plus those of Gay and Collison to thank for the current lead in the money stakes. With little between them, this battle needs breaking down a little further.
How many were truly exclusives for each reporter?
Not surprisingly, Woj’s ties look to run a little deeper and a little more loyal. Of all his reported exclusives, there are very few where Shams was also in on the action. Shams had an earlier report on Steph Curry’s deal but never followed it through. He also reported when Nene was back on the market but did not announce his initial misfire or eventual final deal. Finally, there were details on the Gallinari trade, McRoberts salary dump and the Miles/Joseph swap but never any announcements on agreed contracts for those involved. Woj owned his market.
On the other hand, Shams had a little more difficulty monopolising his and relied more on his fast hands. There were several of his high-profile deals where Woj was sniffing around; mainly Rose where Woj reported earlier meetings and Millsap where he leaked the DEN & PHX interest. But to his credit, Shams was the first with the final report. He also proved to be more efficient and effective on multiple occasions. Credit was given on the Iguodala and Teague exclusives, due to having correct or extra detail compared to Woj and several others. While he beat Woj out by mere seconds on several deals, such as Hardaway, Simmons and Sefolosha.
Cornering your market is therefore an obvious advantage when going up against your fellow reporters. For reporters, sources could come from teams, agents, players or any mixture of the three.
So using this FA period so far as a sample size, what does it tell us about Woj and Shams respective markets?
Beginning with agents, it shows that for a particular FA period you can’t rely solely on those connections. Whilst the bigger agents have long client lists, they can only have so many clients effected in one particular FA Period. Mark Bartelstein of Priority Sports for instance, maxes out at 6 uncontracted players who have signed new deals so far. Woj’s longer history seems to win out here. He broke all of Steven Huemann’s deals, as well as all of Greg Lawrence’s and all but one of Bill Duffy’s.
Team sources appear to be the better place to focus. Especially for Shams.
Charania was able to break every Atlanta, Chicago and Minnesota deal before all other reporters plus all of Cleveland’s deals minus Jeff Green. While Woj has strong ties too, it seems. He broke 100% of Indiana and Philadelphia signings, while the ESPN crew has been able to collectively shut out Shams on the 6 Warriors deals so far. Woj also appears to have strong ties with the Heat and Spurs, breaking 7 of 9 player agreements. Only the small fry deals of Haslem and Lauvergne went Shams’ way.
So what does it all mean?
Just like Free Agency overall, there is a fair bit of educated speculation going on here. However, Charania has well and truly stepped outside of Woj’s shadow. He is going up against a juggernaut in ESPN and proving to be far superior to any of the other reporters out there on smaller teams.
Woj may have been right after all. Shams is on his way to being the news breaker in the NBA. He may even surpass Woj for total scoops before this Free Agency is even over. Whether that alone grants him the throne is up in the air but one thing is for sure, the myth that Woj was gifting him reports while they worked together is well and truly busted.
Just like all the small market teams out there trying to win that elusive Championship, Shams is punching well outside his weight class and it’s no surprise that the wider NBA community wants him to win.