The NBA Playoffs are beginning to take shape and the top teams are doing what they can to put themselves in the best position possible. What does it take during these crucial weeks, and what goes on behind the scenes to put players in the best position to win? I had the unique privilege of speaking with Koby Altman, the director for pro player personnel for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Here’s what we got to talk about:
Jay: The Cleveland Cavaliers are revving up to make their way back to another championship series. Behind the scenes you work as the Director for Pro Player Personnel. What’s your role on a day to day basis?
Koby: My job is to provide our general manager, David Griffin with a full talent report of all the players we’re interested in adding to our team. These players range across all levels of basketball, from the NBA, to d-league, to college and even international basketball players. I’m also the Pro Personnel Manager, which means I’m responsible to coordinate the team’s domestic professional scouting efforts and assist General Manager David Griffin.
Jay: How do you evaluate a player and determine how good they are and project how good they are going to be in the future?
Koby: Can I guarantee?? No way, I’m human and I make mistakes. In fact, you never want to guarantee anything in life to anybody no matter what industry you’re in. You use the knowledge and experience you have to make the smartest decisions possible. For us the only way to evaluate a player is to see them play first hand, which is why I’m on the road 18-20 days a month. I want to see how they play, how they interact with other players as well as with their coaches. I also want to see how they play when they’re on the road in a more hostile environment as well as in the playoffs when the stakes are higher. All of these elements go into how we assess whether a player will fit in our organization. Just like in business it’s not just about talent, it’s about fitting with the rest of the team.
Jay: What are some of the biggest qualities you want to see in a player to determine whether they’re a fit?
Koby: The only way to successfully add players to your team is to first understand what you already have. The same is true with every team in the league, they may all have different needs, and they may look for different qualities, but you’ve got to have a solid understanding as to what the foundation of your team is. Identifying talent only has value if it will fit well within your team. For example: for us we need players that fit around LeBron James. He’s the center piece of our team and we need to add the pieces that fit with his game. Players that demonstrate toughness, great defense and great shooting are players that fit with his game. Similar to the hiring process in business, you need to build around your strengths to produce a championship caliber team.
Jay: To your point Koby, that each team looks for different things, have you noticed a common denominator that many or all of the players who turn out to be NBA stars have?
Koby: That’s a great question Jay, and there’s no question that while each player has different talents, there are tremendous similarities among the ones that become stars or leaders for their teams. From what I’ve seen the ones who become great are the ones who are the most consistent. Their routine is so regimented you almost can’t tell between the regular season and the off season. Whether it’s their diet, lifting weights in the gym, working on their shot or anything else; the ones who do it with the most reliable consistency are the ones who eventually master their craft. It may seem like a simple thing, but the reality is that it takes a tremendous amount of sacrifice and commitment to stick to their rigid routine day in and day out. A player’s work ethic and their consistency is so important to their long term success that it is probably the most important ingredient we look for when adding players to our team.
Jay: What about once players finish their careers in sports, do these talents help them succeed in other areas?
Koby: Absolutely! There’s no question about it. Many of the skills such as teamwork, leadership, competitiveness and much more are integral for success in any project you’re involved in. In my opinion the biggest advantage players have because of their experience in sports is communication. It’s not something everyone focuses on while watching a game, but there is an unbelievable amount of communication that takes place in every game. Whether it’s between the players themselves, or between the players and the coach every great win comes as a result of excellent communication. The very best teams tend to have great communication lines from the owner to the GM, down to the coach, down to the players and all the support staff. The game you watch is the final product, but in order to do so you need a team that is comprised of a group of players who understand exactly what their roles are. Identifying what role each player has and carrying that out during the game is only accomplished if everyone is on the same page at all times. To me the mastery of communication is a players biggest advantage.
Jay: Now I have a better understanding as to what you look for in a player. On the flip side what do players look for when coming to an organization? What does your brand offer to players that makes playing for the Cavaliers an exciting choice?
Koby: There’s only one way to attract people to come to your organization, business or NBA team, and that is to show them “If you come here you’re gonna win!” Period. That doesn’t mean you’re going to be the star on the team, you may not even play every game, but you’re going to be able to use your talent to help the team win. Everyone in our organization knows that we will do everything in our ability to win at the highest level. Players see our owner Dan Gilbert each year continues to invest an incredible amount of resources into this team. And that’s very meaningful. He wants to win and put the best product on the floor he possibly can. Every player wants to win, and I think the infectious and enthusiastic atmosphere in our organization makes the Cavaliers a team players to want to be a part of.
Jay: You mentioned the fact that the players appreciate the devotion of Dan Gilbert. How much does management play a role in a team’s success? Is winning all dependent on the talent on the court, or does the involvement of the staff impact the team’s success?
Koby: Before I explain that Jay, let me tell you that if you see a winning team, you know without a doubt that there’s an incredible management team behind it. It’s impossible to win in the NBA or any other venture without a staff that’s fully invested in the product on the court. The players know he will invest great resources into this organization, and that every member of the staff is completely devoted to winning. I’ve had the pleasure to work closely with David Griffin, and he is truly one of the best general managers in the business. His energy, work ethic and positive attitude has created an unbelievable atmosphere to work in. In fact David is in other people’s offices more than he is in his own office. He’s got his finger on the pulse of everything that goes on at all times. He has an incredible amount of emotional intelligence understanding how to compliment his staff when we’re doing well and at the same time call us out when we’re not. He genuinely cares about the team’s success at large and the success of each one of us on his staff. Being able to demonstrate the right balance is a unique skill that only great leaders poses- and David’s got it! Winning a championship in the NBA is not just about all-star talent on the court, behind the scenes you need hard working people that are devoted to their craft bring incredible energy, work ethic and great attitudes to their jobs every day. David Griffin has created that environment here and his influences trickles down to every part of the organization.
Koby Altman was promoted to director of pro player personnel for the Cleveland Cavaliers in September 2013. He originally joined the Cavs as pro personnel manager
in August 2012. In his role as director of pro personnel, Altman coordinates the team’s domestic professional scouting efforts and assists General Manager David Griffin with other player personnel related matters.