Smokescreens: 3 Steps to Conceal, Confuse, and Influence


Imagine Sacramento Kings president of basketball operatons, Geoff Petrie, as a 7-year-old second grade student creating his first smokescreen. Young Geoff gets the fifth pick from an assortment of candy bars his teacher sets out for him and four other students for his placement in the weekly spelling bee.

Geoff, being a resourceful young man, quickly thinks of a strategy to increase his odds of getting the Snickers bar, his favorite. He remains quiet on which bar he wants. He knows the Hershey chocolate bar will be selected first. Pouring on his charm, flashing his grin, he points out the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are “yummy in the tummy,” rubbing his belly for full effect. Next, he announces authoritatively that the Baby Ruth was named after a famous baseball player. Then, he waits to see if the Snickers will still be on the plate, when it is his turn to select.

In a game of cat and mouse, NBA general managers salivate to outmaneuver each other come draft day. Yet, unless there is a trade for a pick, there is only so much wiggle room in which to work, as each team’s pick is already determined. Their strategy: maximize their chances of landing the player they want, while minimizing any action which could reduce their chances.

Here is where smokescreens come into play. A smokescreen is an action intended to conceal and obscure the obvious. In the right hands, it may even influence the picks of other teams. Every GM hopes to have a few coups in his career, where he outfoxed another GM. It is all part of the game.

GMs will use every arsenal at their disposal to best advantage. It may be as simple as being quiet, or it could include strategies to divert attention, or attempts to influence another. Working behind the scenes is the possibility to trade your pick to move up, or wait for another team to call to offer something for yours. What at first seems crystal clear soon becomes murky in the days leading up to the draft.

Let’s see how this works:

1. Conceal: If a GM or his scouts have an eye for talent, then the selection is best kept quiet. (Don’t tell them your eye is on the Snickers bar.) He doesn’t want to run the risk of tipping his hand, only to have someone ahead take the pick, taking advantage of his hard-sought knowledge or as payback from a prior grudge.

End result: You lower your chances of getting your pick if you spill the beans.

Best strategy: Remain quiet.

2. Confuse: It is not enough to remain quiet about your pick, because the astute outsider could pick up on your silence. Instead, leak out selected bits of information to distract people away from your target. (Reese’s are yummy in the tummy.) It is easy to feed information to a reporter hungry to find a nugget to report.

One tweet on Twitter can reach hundreds of basketball media folks within minutes. The information may be re-circulated via blogs, influencing mock drafts, and be a topic du jour.

End result: Distraction.

Best strategy: Leak out information to distract and confuse.

3. Influence: The art of influence is learned. Some people are better at it than others. The goal is to have an influence on the decision of a GM deciding ahead of your team to alter the outcome. (Baby Ruth was named after a famous baseball player.)

If an organization talks up a player to the point where another GM takes the bait, releasing the target player to drop, then the GM has succeeded influencing the pick in his favor.

End result: Changing people’s perceptions of a given player.

Best strategy: Provide positive feedback about a draft prospect, other than your target prospect.

In the end, as the tale is told, young Geoff Petrie was rewarded with the Snickers Bar. We will see how grown-up GM Petrie does this Thursday, June 28, 2012, when he makes his picks for the NBA Draft.