Antonio Maceiras: The Eyes and Ears of the Lakers In Europe

LOS ANGELES – The current composition of the Lakers roster, as well as its potential for the future,  isn’t something that happened overnight.

Both management and the team’s scouts, at home and abroad, have proven their mettle and the results are showing.

From Brandon Ingram to Ivica Zubac, and without forgetting Larry Nance, Jr., D’Angelo Russell, Marcelo Huertas and Jordan Clarkson, the Lakers now possess a significant flow of talent thanks to the smarts, good eye and creativity of the people in charge of finding those that will make up the franchise’s next championship roster.

Along with the credit that goes to Jesse Buss, Ryan West and others stateside, the work of Antonio Maceiras in Europe deserves mention.

In very low key fashion around the end of 2011, the Lakers hired this Spanish legend, an icon in the highest circles of the sport in Europe.

Maceiras had been, among other roles in his decades-long resume, the architect of great teams at FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, two of the best basketball programs outside of the United States.

This month, Rodrigo Azurmendi from Lakers.com/espanol talked with Maceiras, who left us with a wide array of interesting concepts, as we talked about his beginnings, his arrival to the NBA, his job description, aspirations and more.

RA: When and how did you start working in the NBA?
 AM: “I’ve been lucky to have worked in huge and well-known organizations, especially in Barcelona, where I spent 14 seasons, and that allowed me to establish contacts in the NBA a long time ago. That also allowed me to get closer to the NBA gradually, starting in the mid-‘90s, and when it happened, it didn’t seem something too far away, or something I would’ve only been able to watch on TV.

“Regardless, you can’t help but being excited about joining the structure of an organization in the best league in the world, and specially that of a team like the Lakers which, for those from my generation, was always the dream scenario. I was a teenager in the ‘80s, so the Lakers and Magic Johnson were (the peak)”.

RA: Tell us about your start with the San Antonio Spurs and the recommendation you got from Ettore Messina, with whom you worked in Madrid.
AM: “There was a season in which I worked (for the Spurs) as a consultant in Europe, the season before I got hired by (Real) Madrid. There were also a couple of other seasons in which I wasn’t officially integrated, but I still helped in various forms.

“It helped me be better prepared, and to make it easier when it came time to syncing up to the way teams worked in the NBA, because it’s very different compared to other organizations in the rest of the world. It helped that by the time I started with the Lakers, I already had the knowledge and some experience.

“(My arrival to the Lakers) was a situation that happened thanks to the connection I had with Ettore Messina. The year he coached with the Lakers (as an assistant under Mike Brown) was the year that the old (international) scout had left the team, and they asked him about someone that could do that job in Europe, and he offered them my name.”

RA: What are the biggest differences between the elite European teams and the NBA?

AM: “One (of the differences) is the dimension of an NBA franchise, which have huge front offices with a lot of people, each tasked with a very specific part of the job, and where everyone is a small part of a big structure. The teams in the rest of the world, even the best in Europe, have much smaller structures, and so you’re forced to do a little bit of everything.

“Also, while teams outside the NBA compete to get to a player, keep him under wraps to try to sign him before others do, the teams in the NBA are subject to other rules, especially those players that are Draft eligible, and you can’t make a move, so you have to gather the maximum amount of information and be prepared come Draft time. You don’t have that component of rushing to someone, because the rules don’t allow it.”

RA: How realistic is it finding a diamond in the rough in the digital age?

AM: “To think of finding someone that no one else knows about is practically utopian. The element of surprise doesn’t exist, so the most important thing is finding the best information, because it’s nearly impossible to find a player with the potential to play in the NBA that isn’t known to the rest of your competitors.”

“In Europe, players that are projectable, at the ages of 18 or 19, already train with the professional team, and with far superior media coverage, and they’re widely and easily known. Right now, unless we’re talking about a late bloomer, who when he was 18 or 19 didn’t have an important profile, but then made a leap at 20 or 21, it’s practically impossible for a player to get to the Draft without having been scouted for a long time.”

RA: Tell us a little more about you. Where do you live? How many languages do you speak?
 AM: “I’m from Barcelona but for the last three and a half years I’ve been living in Mallorca. It’s a paradise that I’m glad I live in. Besides, among the many advantages it has, the airport is tremendously connected, especially with Germany, so I don’t have any problems in finding flight connections to the destinations I usually visit.

“I speak Spanish and Catalan, the language of where I’m from, and I’d add that I speak English, Italian and Portuguese. (I have a decent mastery of) French, and the truth is that after so many trips, you learn phrases or ways to communicate in many other languages. Sometimes it’s about ordering food at a restaurant, or communicating with a cab driver, but you’re forced to learn something in every language. The toughest ones are those that use the Cyrillic alphabet, like Serbia, Bulgaria and those countries. The language, phonetically, is not that complicated, but it’s tough reading their characters and those things”.

RA: What part of the year do you travel the most?
AM: “You clearly travel more during the season. During the season I watch an average of three to four games a week, and that means a lot of times going across the continent. It’s going and watching a game on Tuesday in Athens, and then one on Wednesday in Paris, and then going and watching one on Saturday in Moscow. That makes for a tremendous level of traveling.

“During championships (European, U17s, U19s, etc.) you arrive and you say in the same place. You see a lot of teams at the same time, but it’s more comfortable in that you’re watching 20 teams in the same city, and it’s easier to move around. It’s complicated in the sense that you’re watching four to six games daily, and with that it’s tougher to maintain your focus.

“On the other hand, it’s a more relaxed setting, since those championships are usually in July and August, and you’re starting to see players which, in the best case scenario, you’ll be looking to draft the following year. You practically have a year to see them, and you start with a different level of stress.”


RA: Who do you report to in the organization? What’s the main objective of your job?
 AM: “I normally report to Rondre Jackson (Director of Player Development), but with the technology we have these days, I email my reports and they’re automatically available for anyone in the organization to check.

“During the season I do a general search. We look for talent, potential, and those who have an important margin of growth that could have a very good career in the NBA. The method during the season is to gather as much information as possible, and as the Draft gets closer, the decisions get made within the corresponding structure. I can form opinions about players, have my way to look at them, but at the end what matters is the consensus within the structure and where the Lakers place them.

“The Draft takes up the biggest part of the job. First because it’s many players, and guys you know very little about, and players that are coming up as we speak. Also players that you’ll need to make a decision about them eventually.”

RA: Who else do you scout? How do you scout veterans?

AM: “The other type of player, either those who weren’t drafted, those who played in the NBA and went back to Europe, or that for whatever reason are eligible to play in the NBA, are players that make a splash. A player that in Europe is a veteran is someone who has a prominent role and shines, which makes it a lot easier to follow. Compare that to those we scout for the Draft, which are 18 or 19-year old kids that maybe play five minutes a night with their professional team, and which require more intensive scouting and to follow them a lot closer throughout the year.

“The critical part is deciding the difference between a player that’s successful in international basketball, and one that can be successful at the NBA level. NBA basketball is a much more athletic, physical and individual game, which relies heavily on one-on-one play. European basketball is more of a team game, where it’s paramount to have good range on your shot, otherwise that’s a big problem for the team. They’re significantly different styles, and that’s where one’s capacity to evaluate how it would translate comes into play. I don’t think there’s an exact formula, but the style of player, the way he executes his game, and such can help you in deciding whether he would have more or less trouble adapting to the NBA.”

RA: How much do economic reasons and roles come into play when it comes to convincing a player to make the jump from Europe to the NBA?

AM: “Some players have a very high level of performance in Europe and could be NBA players, but they’re at salary levels that don’t go along with the role they would have in the NBA. It’s a very sophisticated equation with a lot of factors to evaluate. How his game would translate, how prominent would their role be, because some players perform very well if they feel they’re the leaders of their teams, but in the NBA their job would probably change dramatically, and their effectiveness could too. The third factor is the salary, since a player makes a net amount in Europe, and the role they could play in the NBA maybe wouldn’t match that salary category, so one has to make an informed guess about how much he would be interested in making in the U.S.

“It’s tough finding that algorithm between what you see, what you hear, what can be checked against the statistics, what your intuition tells you and finally what the organization needs because, in the end, even if the player has the right projection, maybe the organization doesn’t have a need for a player of those characteristics. Everything has to come together for the possibility of a player transferring to the NBA”.

RA: How much do you follow players whose rights belong to other franchises?
 AM: “I try to follow that type of player just like I scout any player that I think could be important. Evidently that level of decision-making doesn’t rest upon me and it’s much higher. I try to be prepared so that in the case the moment comes and the franchise suggests or is interested in that type of player, I can provide updated information and the most educated opinion about him. At some point (in the past) I saw a player whose rights belonged to another team, and I informed them about it because I thought he was developing in a very interesting way, and if the opportunity arose, that it would be worth it to look into it”.

RA: How many opportunities are out there for international executives in the NBA?
 AM: “I believe that basketball executives in Europe could have access to mid-level positions, and the chances are more or less real, but a position of maximum responsibility is something that requires being completely immersed in the American culture, both in sports and the culture of living and doing business in the United States. In that sense, for that to happen, those international executives would have to have a background similar to that of Vlade Divac. It has to be someone who got there, who knows how it works on the inside and lived it, and that practically has become one of them when it comes to seeing the business. It isn’t simply a matter of technical preparation.”

RA: Do you picture yourself making the jump to working in the U.S.?
AM: “Right now I imagine myself very happily working for the Lakers and doing the job I’m doing. It’s just my way of living life. First, I’m happy doing what I do and where I do it, because I’m lucky to be in a franchise that has no equal, and with a group of people I really enjoy working with. Second, because it’s my life philosophy that the best way for your next step or chapter to be successful is doing your current job well. If you’re thinking about what you’ll be doing in the future, and meanwhile you’re not doing things the right way, then you’re going to have a tougher time. I’m enjoying my life and my profession so much right now, that I don’t feel the need to be looking for objectives in the future. I want to make the most of this experience.