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Sunday, 31 May 2020 02:53

"The Plan"

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"I want to play for the better team." 


These were the words that closed the e-mail from the agency representing then-New Jersey Evolution forward Luis Engram on the opening day of free agency, after hearing an initial pitch from the Seattle Sea Dogs earlier that evening. All signs and expectations pointed to Engram returning to the team that had made him the youngest draft pick in OBWL history four years prior.


What could not be captured in those eight words though were the plans and presentations being put together by the Sea Dogs for when he arrived. Seattle had chartered a private jet from Engram's offseason home in Shallowater, Texas to the SeaTac airport where a limousine awaited the 6-8, 258 pound forward and his agent. In the limousine were Sea Dogs owner Arthur White, general manager Jay Amado, head coach Jeff Brown, a Nike shoe executive, a representative from Amazon--sponsor of the arena where the Sea Dogs play their home games--and superstar point guard Charles Ackerman. Though it was all hands on deck as Seattle made its pitch to the only max-level player to visit the team this year, it was not a night of opulence or displays of wealth that occured in the back of that limousine. Instead, what happened was a multi-thronged approach where Seattle attempted to demonstrate its commitment to building a winner and a community where Engram would be the driving force, and be put in a position to succeed in all facets. Simply called "The Plan," it could probably be said that the entire future of the organization could be shifted if things went right.


White and the Amazon exec led off the night, as they outlined the benefits of playing in Washington State, where there is no state income tax, and which has become a tech hub the likes of which you won't find in another OBWL city. Maximum contracts would be coming from all angles for Luis this year, so the "finance team" in the group would outline the benefits of how being able to play 50% of his games every year in Seattle would close the gap that the raises allowed for. A prodigous thinker in addition to basketball player, Engram graduated from high school at just 16-years-old, and has many interests off the court as well. A hub for angel investors, innovation, and with a storied history of top companies in the world being based in the area, having Amazon on board was crucial to being able to demonstrate the possibilities that playing in Seattle would grant versus New Jersey. As they crept along the Puget Sound explaining these benefits, the two gurus fielded questions, outlined benefits, and went to work doing what they do best: selling hopes, dreams, opportunities, and "the future."


As daylight began to fade into darkness, Nike executive Jill Day took center stage. With the screen in the back of the limo bursting on, she presented the resources that could be made available from a business and marketing standpoint should Engram choose to come to the Pacific Northwest. While Portland is closest to the Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, Day stressed that Nike saw itself as a PNW powerhouse; with less than 200 miles between Seattle and their headquarters, it would be less than one hour of flight time between the two cities. A "shoe free agent" too, Engram was presented with designs for what would be his own signature shoe, where he'd have creative control and an entire marketing campaign at his disposal. Day flashed images of signs and billboards dotted around town, alongside markups of what a campaign involving both Ackerman and Engram would look like. As the car rounded the corner to pull into the team facility, a large banner came into view hanging over the entrance to the facility. Underneath a large Nike logo stood a Photoshopped version of Engram and Ackerman triumphantly standing in Sea Dogs uniforms overlayed with the word "#Phenoms". They entered the facility, where any chance of signing Engram would have to be closed. First and foremost, Luis Engram is a basketball player. As the limousine pulled out with the executives, dreamers, and money makers in tow, it was time for the basketball portion of the night.


Ascending up a stairwell leading to the office which Amado still had not fully unpacked, Engram and his agent, Ackerman, the GM, and the coach got down to brass tax. First, the personnel side. Amado made his case quickly and concisely: he had failed in three previous locations in three other divisions, but he was not returning to his Washington roots to see the same result here. He was committed to bringing in players with championship mentalities. He outlined a list of stars, role players, youth, veterans, and mentors that he envisioned alongside his two superstars: Engram and Ackerman. He let Engram into his world, asking about preferences, personalities, and assuring him that unlike in New Jersey where he became discontented last year, he would be featured in the lineup. No expense would be spared in pursuit of a title. There would be no lack of talent in Seattle. 


From there, Jeff Brown took the lead. Though he has just a .308 career winning percentage, and has failed to make the playoffs in his first five years as a head coach, Jeff Brown does not lack charisma, confidence, or intelligence. Ackerman, Brown, and Engram spent nearly 3 hours dissecting film, filling boards with x's and o's, talking about tendencies and how the coach could leverage Engram's talents, and how he thought basketball should be played. He spoke of the offseason training activities, his philosophy on building a team, his approach to developing players, and the tempo at which he envisioned playing. He talked of mismatches and cross matchups and pick-and-rolls, and the duo that he was envisioning. He spoke of work ethic and commitment and where his lines in the sand were drawn, constantly returning to how well the games of Ackerman and Engram complemented one another.


Since he burst onto the scene winning the 2024 Rookie of the Year award, Charles Ackerman has basically been a one-man show for Seattle. Posting two all-star games (including being the game's MVP last year), he has proven himself to be among the league's elite players, but he had reportedly grown increasingly-frustrated about the direction the Sea Dogs franchise would be headed. Rumors abound that, heading into his contract year, he was the one who forced out former general manager Andrew Retz. While the team had done their best to deliver a sidekick for the superstar, in the end, they would hope that he could deliver one more assist. As the night reached the single digit hours of the morning, the front office in Seattle started to feel like they actually had a shot to sign one of the league's most coveted free agents. Leaving the facility after the film session, it was Ackerman who was last seen with Engram. A hometown hero who never left the Pacific Northwest, Ackerman welcomed him to a world far from small town Texas. A city famous for seafood and Pike's Place Market. With ever-lasting evergreens, mountains, and serene escapes. The birthplace of grunge music and unlimited nightlife, where the only thing that rivals the number of coffee shops is the number of microbreweries. Speeding through the streets of Seattle telling stories, giving recommendations, and talking about all things life and basketball (for him there isn't much difference) in the end it was Ackerman who the team would hope could deliver again. 


With the sun creeping over the Cascade Mountains marking the end of "The Plan" and the beginning of a new day, he inched the pedal on his Lamborghini closer to the floor. Two of the game's brightest young stars continued headlong towards a private airport where Engram would reconvene with his agent, and continue their free agency tour. The team in Seattle had done all they could do.


Working the free agent lines that evening, Amado sat in his office poring over spreadsheets, analytics, databases, and simulations in between phone calls that often went ignored. Engram was set to take a couple more visits with a couple more teams, and the OBWL waits for no one, so he was knee-deep in reports on the secondary market when he was surprised by a call from a 609 phone number. Figuring it was another East Coast biotech start-up that had been trying to sell Covid antibodies ever since the infamous outbreak of 2020 that nearly shut doen the world, he let it go to voicemail. Then immediately received a text from the same number. Before he could get to the end of the text, the elation exploded from the sparsely-decorated office and echoed through the halls. It could only mean one thing. "shutting everything down. lets do it. -LE"


While the hype on Engram may be premature, the move signaled a seismic shift because of what he represents. The entire organization came together to convince the youngest player to ever receive an open-market max contract to make the move. He had identical 5 year/94 million dollar offers from some of the most storied franchises in OBWL history in addition to more money offered from his own team, but chose to come to a team on a half-decade drought from the playoffs, who sold him on opportunity. It took an entire night, every resource the team had at its disposal, and frankly a bit of luck, but the Sea Dogs had their guy. "The Plan" had worked to perfection, and the team began ecstatically and frantically hitting the phone lines with a new-found vigor.

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