COLUMN: Stevens' economics background may pay dividends in NBA

Thursday, July 11, 2013

While talking to DePauw basketball coach Bill Fenlon the other day, he said something interesting about one of the reasons his former player might be interested in the NBA.

Aside from the paycheck and challenge and talent-level, Stevens will have a chance to put his economics background to the test for the first time since he went into coaching.

Stevens majored in economics at DePauw, got internships and highly coveted scholarships, then was hired into the field out of college.

When he turned his attention away from the business world and entered college basketball, the subject he'd spent four years building knowledge in got pushed to the back of his mind. All his training and expertise went to waste.

There is economics in college basketball, to be sure, but by the coaches.

Stevens recruited players, then he taught them how to play.

In the NBA, he'll buy players, then teach them how to play his way.

"From Brad's standpoint, there is some really interesting economics that go into putting together a professional basketball team that I'm sure is very intriguing to him," Fenlon said.

The financial structure in the NBA is complicated--it became even more complicated after the lockout two years ago--but Stevens will be able to pick it up pretty quickly.

It's unclear how much power he'll have with personnel or contract negations (probably very little), but he will be able to understand what the front office is trying to do from an economics standpoint.

In the NBA, a high percentage of player transactions (probably somewhere around 60 percent of trades) have a lot more to do with economics than basketball skills.

A lot of coaches have had trouble grasping this, and some of them have been let go as a result. Stevens will intuitively know it.

The Celtics won a lot of games in the past six years, but the team also paid its players a lot of money. Money they probably deserved, but it adds up.

That team appears to be in rebuilding mode, after trading away two aging future Hall of Fame players in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Before that, the roster was pretty set.

The team is going to spend the next few years figuring out which players to give money to, and how much they deserve. What does a player have to do to earn $3 million per year? $6 million? $20 million?

Who better to answer questions like that than a brilliant economics major.

The Pacers have spent the last three seasons giving too much money to bench players that haven't been able to live up to their contracts. Even Danny Granger, a former all-star, is wildly overpaid.

His contract has hindered the Pacers' ability to build depth. If Stevens is successful, maybe more teams will start to search for economics majors when they look for coaches.

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