For the latest twist in John Stockton's contract talks with the Jazz, we bring you . . . David Falk.
Stockton has left his former agent and joined Falk and ProServ, the people who engineered the Adrian Dantley holdout in 1984 and are still regarded as enemies by the Jazz. "I'd like to think we have a clean slate," says Falk, looking ahead to negotiations for Stockton, who has three years left on his contract.In any case, Stockton's move was bold. He fired Jim White, a basketball coach who represents almost exclusively players in Europe, and went with ProServ, which counts Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing among its high-profile clients - even after considering Falk's history with the Jazz.
"I was not surprised," said Jazz president-general manager David Checketts. "Obviously, David (Falk) has some impressive clients."
And as the Jazz and the rest of the NBA know, Stockton is a lot tougher than he looks.
"He is a lot stronger personality than people think - he'll make the tough decisions in his life," noted Dan Fitzgerald, Gonzaga University's coach/athletic director and Stockton's close friend. "John can separate the emotion from the business. He felt it was something he had to do. He knew he might be at a level where he needed different expertise, especially if they're talking long-term."
Fitzgerald originally lined up Stockton with White, a former coaching colleague, but understands Stockton's thinking. "He probably needs someone other than Jim now - he's taken on a little different status," he noted.
White, who had already started negotiations with the Jazz, was clearly disappointed, but said only, "It was his decision, not mine."
After leaving White, Stockton contacted Falk, shopped around and eventually chose ProServ over Keith Glass, who represents Mark Eaton, among others. So now Falk joins the game - and consider that earlier this summer, Jazz owner Larry Miller actually said the Jazz would have to be sure to be fair to Stockton and not take advantage of him, because he's such a nice guy.
Somehow, we figure that will hardly be a concern now. Falk is considered one of the most shrewd, tenacious negotiators in the business.
The Jazz-Falk relationship soured during Dantley's holdout and the 1986 incident when A.D. was sent home from a road trip. This summer, the Jazz planned to pursue free-agent guard Rory Sparrow, a ProServ client, until Checketts became frustrated by talks involving Marc Iavaroni and Mel Turpin. "It's this ongoing battle we have . . . all the rules of dealing just fly out the window," Checketts said in August.
The Jazz later found a solution for Turpin, represented directly by ProServ's William Strickland. Falk, who has talked all summer about "burying the hatchet" with Frank Layden and Checketts, figures that was the start of the new Jazz-ProServ era.
"We have proven conclusively that we can deal with them amicably and professionally, which I never doubted, but previous events caused people to question that," noted Falk. "The situation with Utah clearly bothered me personally. I didn't think there should be a spillover of business things into a personal relationship. I think all of us have grown up a little bit and put the past behind us."
The Stockton situation is complicated by the NBA's 1988-89 minimum payroll that makes Jazz pay $6.7 million, about $1.8 million more than they'd planned. They'd intended to leave Stockton's remaining three years intact and make up his salary discrepancy in an extension, but obviously have to pay him - and others - a lot more money this year. But the guidelines also give the Jazz the choice to wait until the end of the season and reach the minimum by paying bonuses.
So what we really want to know, with training camp starting Oct. 7 and Falk and the Jazz going head to head, is will Stockton hold out? "With one glaring exception," said Falk, a little mischievously, "we don't believe in holdouts . . . it's not in my thinking whatsoever for John not to be in camp."
Checketts is willing to talk contract while Stockton is in camp, with a Nov. 1 deadline for a new deal.
Concerned about his image, Stockton has already told Falk that he wants to avoid a holdout. The next few weeks will be interesting.