Sports Law Blog
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Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Oral Promises & Professional Sports: The Carlos Boozer Saga

First off, I would like to thank Greg for inviting me to contribute to the Sports Law Blog.

Let me jump right in: As many of you know, last week Carlos Boozer of the Cleveland Cavaliers and his agent, Rob Pelinka, persuaded the Cavaliers into voluntarily making Boozer a free agent. Specifically, Boozer orally promised the Cavaliers that if the team declined to pick up its $695,000 option for the 2004-05 season, he would then sign a 6-year, $40 million contract. The Cavaliers were interested in this arrangement, as Boozer would otherwise become eligible for free agency in the summer of 2005, at which time he would likely command a contract well in excess of 6 years at $40 million. However, after the Cavaliers acted on the oral promise and declined the option, Boozer and Pelinka decided to entertain offers from other teams, and Boozer ultimately agreed to a 6-year, $68 million offer sheet from the Utah Jazz. Since Boozer is a restricted free agent, the Cavaliers can match the offer sheet, but only if they clear up enough salary cap space, and they are not expected to be able to do so. Even if the Cavaliers somehow create the requisite cap space, they would still be paying Boozer $28 million more than he had orally promised to sign for. Alternatively, the Cavaliers are now said to be offering Boozer a 1-year, $5 million contract, but he is still expected to formally sign the $68 million deal with the Jazz -- not surprising, considering the $63 million difference in guaranteed earnings.

The fallout from this escapade has been significant. For one, the Cavaliers, and in particular the team's general manager, Jim Paxson, have been ridiculed for needlessly allowing a 22-year-old player, who averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds per game last season, to become a free agent. Indeed, given his remarkable performance and youthful age, Boozer may even be considered this summer's marquee free agent power forward. That must be particularly deflating for Cavaliers' fans, who expected to watch a young nucleus of Lebron James, Luke Jackson, and Carlos Boozer grow into a potent trio and perennial playoff contender.

Only receiving more criticism has been Boozer and Pelinka, both of whom have been labeled liars, if not worse. One report even cites Boozer as a "backstabbing, double-crossing, money-grubbing Judas." Interestingly, Pelinka announced last night that he is no longer representing Boozer, which to some signals Pelinka's disagreement with the decision of his client to renege on an oral promise. In his defense, Boozer is now denying that he ever made a promise, while claiming complete surprise that the Cavaliers would decline his option.

This fact pattern raises a number of questions. For instance, assuming that Boozer indeed made a promise, should we admire him as an adroit manipulator of the NBA's economic system, or should we condemn him as a greedy and untrustworthy opportunist? For those who regard Boozer as greedy/untrustworthy, is it fair to blame him when it was ultimately the decision of the Cavaliers to decline his option? Along those lines, how will contract negotiations between teams and players be affected, if at all? Lastly, what is the role of the agent: To secure his client the most amount of money -- ethically or unethically -- or to only represent his client in ways that adhere to higher ethical norms?


Keep up the good work with your blog! I am booking marking it now so I can come back...


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