NBA Commissioner Adam Silver recently floated the idea of adopting a preseason or midseason tournament to compensate for a shortened schedule or replace the All-Star Game.
That got us thinking about a different kind of outside-of-the-box basketball battle royale.
Instead of sorting players by conference affiliation or the decisions of two captains, why not have them put their talents where their money is? Imagine the Association's top agencies all coming together for a king-of-the-hill style fight to the top.
Who'd be your favorite in this hypothetical field? Klutch Sports Group and its dynamic duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis? What about longtime juggernaut Creative Artists Agency, which counts Paul George and Joel Embiid among its top clients?
There's no way to answer that without a much deeper dive into the discussion, so let's get after it with a thorough examination of the top starting units each powerhouse agency could put forth.
The Playing Field
We can't talk theoretical collisions without first forming our theoretical rosters, right?
We're going to put five of the most recognizable, star-studded agencies under the microscope: Klutch, CAA, Excel Sports Management, Octagon Athlete Representation and Wasserman. If you're not familiar with their specific clientele, don't worry—we'll assemble the on-court quintets shortly.
First, let's talk about parameters: We're using as few as possible. While we're not outright ignoring positions, we're not selecting one player from each of the traditional designations. If it takes three guards or two centers to build the most formidable roster, so be it.
Also, we're going to evaluate each agency in terms of offense, defense and intangibles before settling on our subjective winner. But before we can get there, let's assume the captain's seat and start assembling our fantastic fives.
- Chris Paul
- Devin Booker
- Paul George
- Karl-Anthony Towns
- Joel Embiid
- Kemba Walker
- CJ McCollum
- Khris Middleton
- Blake Griffin
- Nikola Jokic
- Eric Bledsoe
- John Wall
- Ben Simmons
- LeBron James
- Anthony Davis
- Stephen Curry
- Trae Young
- Tomas Satoransky
- OG Anunoby
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Russell Westbrook
- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
- Klay Thompson
- Bojan Bogdanovic
- Steven Adams
Soak in those rosters, folks. All of them would be League Pass favorites for sure, and watching them collide with one another would be fascinating.
But let's get to the evaluations so we can crown our winner.
We'll work in reverse order of these attacks to thin out the bottom-feeders quickly and dig into the top teams.
Team Wasserman finishes fifth in this category, and it's not especially close to No. 4. This unit produces the fewest points (86.5) and assists (19.6) per game, and its plus-3.89 offensive real plus/minus isn't even half of the second-worst offense (Team Octagon, plus-8.53).
Speaking of Octagon, it checks in fourth despite the double Spider-Man meme team of Curry and Young, plus the walking mismatch of the Greek Freak.
But there are a couple of issues here. For starters, there are only two single-digit scorers in this entire exercise, and both are Team Octagon: Satoransky (8.3 points per game) and Anunoby (7.1). And even with Curry (28.4 points per game, 43.5 percent from three), this group has shooting concerns. Satoransky is the only other above-average three-point marksman (43.5 percent), and his impact is muted by launching fewer than two triples per game.
Now, this gets tricky.
Klutch has three of the most unique talents in the business. James (6'8") and Simmons (6'10") are legitimate supersized point guards, and Davis can function as such in spurts. Not to be overlooked, the healthy versions of Bledsoe and Wall are blurs with the basketball who can drop retreating defenders with relentless rim attacks.
But also—holy shooting shortage, Batman! None of these five clears the league-average rate from distance this season (35.4), and only James even comes close (35.0). Simmons is 0-of-15 for his career outside, while Wall, Bledsoe and Davis are all sagging below 33 percent.
This is the best passing unit by a wide margin (34.2 assists per game—no one else clears 27) and the only one with multiple players topping 50 percent from the field (James, Davis and Simmons). Still, strength and smarts can only do so much to work around a constantly overcrowded paint.
Second place nears toss-up territory. CAA averages the most points (120.5) and has the highest combined player efficiency rating (114.2). Excel paces everyone in triples (11.6), ORPM (14.96) and above-average three-point shooters (four).
The Excel pieces might fit the easiest. Griffin (5.4 assists) and Jokic (7.6) are two of basketball's best-passing bigs, which would let free-scoring guards Walker and McCollum to do what they do best. When Jokic is triggering the offense, he'd have nothing but 35.7-plus percent three-point shooters at his disposal. Each of these five can also win a one-on-one matchup when the initial action breaks down.
What tips the scales toward CAA, though, is the overwhelming amount of offensive firepower.
There are four 23-point scorers on the roster. For context, there are only 18 of them in the entire league. Excel doesn't have a top-10 scorer; CAA puts two in the top five (George at second and Embiid at fifth). Paul is the least imposing scorer, freeing the aptly named "Point God" (9,040 career assists against just 2,267 turnovers) to function as the primary floor general.
There's enough shooting to keep defenses honest—Booker, 2018's Three-Point Contest champ, ranks fourth among CAA's five in three-point percentage—and enough three-level scoring to short-circuit any coverages.
Ranking: 1. CAA; 2. Excel; 3. Klutch; 4. Octagon; 5. Wasserman.
Again, we find Octagon and Wasserman bringing up the rear.
Wasserman only has one player (Steven Adams) with a positive defensive real plus/minus, although Westbrook (minus-0.02) and Gilgeous-Alexander (-0.61) at least come close to breaking even. But they don't have the glaring holes Octagon must try to navigate.
Young has been this season's worst defender by a lot. His minus-4.68 DRPM not only ranks last out of 494 players, but it's also one of only three to fall south of minus-four. Considering he's sharing a backcourt with Curry (minus-.45), there is nowhere to hide him, meaning Octagon is getting skewered in the backcourt despite having the rangy frontcourt combo of Anunoby and Antetokounmpo doing as much damage control as they can.
Excel holds down the No. 3 spot and isn't particularly close to either of its neighbors.
The Walker-McCollum tandem is problematic in much the same ways as the real-life McCollum-Damian Lillard pairing. But Middleton is a malleable stopper for the modern game, Griffin helps more than he hurts (plus-0.28 DRPM) and Jokic has shed the liability label (25th among centers in DRPM).
But this category is a two-team race.
In January, ESPN scribes tabbed five favorites for this season's Defensive Player of the Year award. Three of them are rostered here, two on CAA (George, the front-runner, and Embiid) and one on Klutch (Davis).
George is a menace on the perimeter (minus-2.7 defensive field-goal percentage differential), and Davis is even stingier (minus-2.9). Embiid sits among the NBA's most effective interior stoppers (seventh in blocks per game, fourth in field-goal percentage allowed at the rim).
The George-Embiid connection could be as good as it gets. Having Paul serve as the head of that snake almost feels unfair.
And yet, this category goes to Klutch because it's stronger from 1 through 5.
Booker is the worst defender on either roster (minus-3.24 DRPM), and Towns could be close if he's stuck chasing stretch 4s. Conversely, Klutch's only player in the red when it comes to DRPM is Wall, a 2014-15 All-Defensive selection who wasn't looking like himself before surgery and a subsequent Achilles tear prematurely ended his season.
If Klutch's coach can get James and (a healthy) Wall engaged, this defense could fly around the floor and seamlessly switch assignments 1 through 5.
Ranking: 1. Klutch; 2. CAA; 3. Excel; 4. Wasserman; 5. Octagon
This is the hardest category to gauge, as leadership and chemistry creation (or combustion) remain among the few things today's athletes do away from the cameras.
Still, there are enough anecdotes and public examples to break down this field.
Wasserman gets its second fifth-placed finish, although that's not the slight on Westbrook some may perceive it as. In fact, the fiery floor general gets among the highest marks from teammates.
"It's like school, where you have the cool guys everyone gravitates towards. He's always been one of those guys," former teammate Nick Collison told SI.com's Chris Mannix in December.
So, what's the hang-up? It's that there isn't a second voice to counteract Westbrook's hyperintensity. Thompson, the team's only other All-Star, is more laid-back than a chaise lounge. Gilgeous-Alexander could eventually become that, but he still has on his leadership training wheels.
Klutch comes in fourth, and it's closer to fifth than third.
While you have to praise its collective hoops IQ, you must also acknowledge all the locker rooms it has rattled over the years.
Wall's calls for front-office activity are thinly veiled examples of throwing teammates under the bus. Bledsoe once tweeted his way off a team. Davis is holding an organization hostage right now. James, whose defensive energy tops out at lethargic these days, seemingly abandoned his current teammates in a transparent pursuit of Davis.
"He killed the [Lakers'] chemistry," an NBA executive told Bleacher Report's Eric Pincus. "He shouldn't have been so public about it."
CAA slides into the third spot.
Paul is a brilliant basketball player, but his demanding leadership style isn't for everyone. Embiid might help keep things light, but he's not above airing his frustrations publicly. Towns had his toughness questioned by a teammate and can get too jumpy on defense.
Excel gets second, which feels like an undersell of Walker's natural leadership. His loyalty to the Charlotte Hornets doesn't always make sense from the outside, but it's obviously endeared him to his teammates and fans.
It would help if Jokic was a bit more comfortable as a vocal leader or if Griffin had more of a track record as an organizational alpha. Those aren't knocks necessarily, but they're enough to keep this group out of the top spot.
That instead goes to Octagon, which gets two unique, powerful brands of leadership out of Curry and Antetokounmpo.
Curry is almost an ego-free superstar. As Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr put it, per Chris Haynes of ESPN.com, "He's obviously a superstar player, but he acts like he's the 12th man."
Curry can mold his game—and leadership style—to adapt to any teammates or situations, a critical skill for an exhibition like this.
Antetokounmpo combines both the Mamba Mentality and legendary work ethic of Kobe Bryant, allowing him to build a potential perennial basketball power in southeastern Wisconsin.
Now, tack on a leader-in-training with Young plus willing complementary pieces in Satoransky and Anunoby, and it's easy to envision this group creating the best chemistry.
Ranking: 1. Octagon; 2. Excel; 3. CAA; 4. Klutch; 5. Wasserman
So, Who Ya Got?
Sorry, LeBron and Co., but the numbers say Klutch isn't king.
In fact, Klutch lands in the third spot, dragged down by less-than-stellar standings on offense and intangibles.
But maybe James can take solace in the fact that a banana-boat buddy enjoys this win. Paul and Team CAA take the crown with the best combined finish in all three categories.
Excel gets the silver medal, while Octagon lands fourth. Wasserman brings up the rear.
Team CAA might not have the top tandem—Klutch and Octagon can make awfully good arguments for that—but its starting five is weakness-free and, at least in our eyes, the best in the business.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.