Summer leagues offer diversion for players as labor strife continues
Most NBA players use their summers to recover from the previous season’s grind, spend time with their families, and train or play some pickup ball outside the prying eyes of the public.
Then there’s Kevin Durant.
Durant has been on a virtual tour of the country, showcasing his basketball skills to anyone interested. His penchant for showing up at playgrounds or in summer leagues has reached new heights now that the NBA has locked out the players with no resolution in sight.
Though he cannot have contact in any way with his current NBA team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, the lockout hasn’t stopped Durant from doing what he loves. Already this summer he has played at the basketball Mecca, Rucker Park, where he dropped 66 points in a game, and he has spent a great deal of time playing in the Washington, D.C.-based Goodman League. A team representing Goodman that included Durant took on a team representing rival Los Angeles-based Drew League in an exhibition Aug. 20 and saw Durant score 44 points in the win. He then led Goodman against Melo League on Aug. 30 in a game that pitted Durant’s squad against Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Chris Paul and others. While Durant scored 59 points, his undermanned team lost 149-141.
Such high-profile players playing in summer leagues is unusual, but with the lockout preventing players from engaging in NBA-sanctioned competition, more players are looking to get their basketball fix on the amateur circuit, following the lead of Durant. Along with those mentioned earlier, others gaining exposure for their summer games include Michael Beasley, Brandon Jennings, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, and Nick Young among others.
A contingent of nine NBA players also played two exhibition games in the Philippines on July 23 and 24, beating the Philippine Basketball Association All-Stars 131-105 and the Philippine national team 98-89 on consecutive days. The NBA roster included Durant, Paul, Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, JaVale McGee, Tyreke Evans, James Harden, Derek Fisher, and Derrick Williams.
And now it appears that a new round of exhibition games is gearing up. Impact Basketball, a training site in Las Vegas for many NBA players, will be holding a pseudo league from Sept. 12-24. With anywhere from 50 to 70 NBA players expected to participate, it promises to have the biggest collection of NBA talent playing in one place since the NBA shut down.
The Impact Basketball Competitive Training Series will have players work out in the mornings, then take part in games in the afternoons. Fans will be able to buy tickets to attend or watch games streaming online.
Players expected to participate include Chauncey Billups, John Wall, Rudy Gay, Al Harrington, Jermaine O’Neal, Zach Randolph, Stephen Jackson, Mo Williams, Jared Dudley, DeAndre Jordan, Chase Budinger, J.J. Hickson, Eric Maynor, Kyle Lowry, Courtney Lee, Chuck Hayes, Shawne Williams, Iman Shumpert, and possibly Blake Griffin.
But not all players took to the basketball courts this summer; some decided to cross over into other interests. Kevin Love and Budinger each tried their hand at beach volleyball. Budinger, who was the 2006 national volleyball player of the year in high school, teamed with Dale Jensen in the Corona Light Wide Open tournament while Love teamed up with pro player Hans Stolfus to compete in the Manhattan Beach Open. Neither will be quitting his day job, though. Meanwhile, Nate Robinson has been joking that he should try out for the NFL, although nothing has come of his jokes.
However, not all players have followed Durant’s lead this summer. While many players have taken to the asphalt, concrete, or rec league courts, noticeably absent have been the veteran NBA players. Older players (and those on large contracts) have chosen to sit out the summer fun that the younger players have engaged in. That has meant little has been heard of Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Tim Duncan, Grant Hill and others who will take the opportunity to rest their aging bodies instead of subjecting themselves to the wear and tear of summer ball, risking injury in the process.
The lockout has also altered the summer plans of a number of foreign-born NBA players who had hoped to play for their country’s national teams in international competition. The biggest problem has been for countries to procure the necessary insurance to cover the players’ contracts should they be injured in competition. While well-backed teams like Spain and Argentina were able to find insurance to cover their contingent of stars, teams like Poland could not afford to insure a player like Marcin Gortat, leaving him off their roster.
But now that the calendar has turned to September and summer is wearing off, the time has come for the out-of-work NBA players to decide whether to sign overseas or wait out the lockout. While a number of the older players seem content to sit it out, the younger players are more actively seeking out jobs in other nations.
The job search has become more complicated with the Chinese Basketball Association’s recent decision to not grant NBA out-clauses in their contracts and to forbid teams from signing NBA players who had active contracts with NBA clubs going into the lockout. In other words, any player who is eligible and is considering signing in China had better be prepared to stick around for the long haul, effectively ending any chance of taking part in the 2011-12 season — if any of it can be saved, that is.
Already Wilson Chandler and Earl Clark have taken the plunge, and others could follow if it appears there will be no NBA season forthcoming.
Other players, like Baron Davis, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Trevor Ariza, Stephen Curry, and Kyrie Irving for example, have chosen to take advantage of their free time by heading back to their alma maters to continue with their degrees.
And speaking of free time, Ron Artest will be participating in the upcoming season of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars alongside partner Peta Murgatroyd.
As for Durant, he too has a decision to make. After all, the summer leagues do not last forever. It has been rumored that he could wind up playing in Russia, but he likely will not make a decision until October.
Summer can offer a number of diversions from reality, but now that fall is around the corner, the truth about the dire situation between the NBA and Players Union is becoming real for even the most optimistic of players. With NBA arenas locked up tight, now is the time for the players to finally start asking “What now?”
By: Eric Lorenz
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