Players begin looking for jobs overseas amid lockout
The NBA lockout has been in place for less than a month, but already players are exploring their options when it comes to finding employment. Many players said they would consider playing overseas — specifically in Europe and China — if there were to be an extended labor stoppage, and now it appears those comments did not ring as hollow as some may have believed.
Already Marcin Gortat, Sonny Weems, Nenad Krstic, Sasha Vujacic, Darius Songaila, and Zaza Pachulia have either signed or agreed to deals with foreign clubs. And while it is not uncommon for lesser or fringe NBA players to consider signing somewhere outside the NBA, the agreement for New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams to join Besiktas, a Turkish professional club, raised a few eyebrows.
Williams’ deal is reportedly for $5 million and includes an opt-out clause that allows Williams to return to the NBA at any time if the lockout ends and NBA play resumes.
A number of star players have publicly bandied about the idea of playing overseas during the lockout, including Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Rudy Gay. However, Williams is the first to actually have an agreement in place.
And landing Williams (and Pachulia) was just the start for Besiktas. The team later claimed that it was targeting Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant to pair with Williams in the backcourt. Rumor had Besiktas offering Bryant $450,000 per month — around $250,000 more per month than Williams. Bryant has shown no public interest thus far in Besiktas’ proposition, but the fact that a foreign team has landed an NBA star does give the talk more weight.
However, an NBA player signing with a foreign team is not exactly a walk through the tulips; there are several hurdles, pitfalls, and risks that must be cleared.
For one, FIBA still has not made a statement regarding locked-out NBA players signing contracts with other teams. For instance, Williams is under contract with the Nets for next season, and if FIBA were to decide that they will honor the contract Williams signed in the NBA, then Williams would be unable to play for Besiktas, although a legal battle could also commence over the issue with Williams arguing that NBA players are not bound by their NBA contracts during the lockout and are free to seek out other means of employment.
Either way, until FIBA makes an official statement on the issue, much remains in limbo.
Then there is the issue of the clubs the players would be playing for. Phoenix Suns swingman Josh Childress, who spent two seasons playing for Olympiacos in Greece, offered some warnings to his fellow NBA players considering playing outside of the United States in a recent ESPN column. Between the long bus rides, two-a-day practices, and the possibility of never seeing a cent of the money owed to a player, one thing is clear: overseas is nothing like the NBA.
And unfortunately for Williams, Besiktas has a checkered past when it comes to paying its players on time and in the full amount they are owed. The likelihood is that Williams would get his money, but the other guys on the squad may get shortchanged in the process.
The issue gets even stickier with Besiktas now that the team’s bank accounts have reportedly been frozen amid allegations the club fixed soccer matches. The outcome of the investigation by Turkish officials will go a long way in determining whether Williams and others ever take the court for Besiktas, but the controversy itself underscores the risks and uncertainty of playing overseas.
As well, if a player gets injured while competing with another team, he runs the very real risk of voiding his lucrative NBA contract, as generally the only basketball-related activities a player may participate in outside of team-sanctioned events are pick-up basketball games.
Plus, NBA players used to running the show on the court will be in for a major wake-up call, according to Childress. Unlike in the NBA, basketball in Europe is very much a team game and is run by the coach. Also the game speed is slower, and proper team play is key to success; one-on-one play is frowned upon.
And while there are risks associated with playing overseas and adjustments that would have to be made by any player doing so, there is no guarantee that every unemployed player would have the opportunity in the first place. Many teams have roster caps that limit how many Americans can be on the roster, meaning that, for example, the entire Denver Nuggets team cannot go to Slovenia and kick established players off the Union Olimpija team to make room for them.
And NBA players will have to settle for lesser leagues because there has been no indication whatsoever that any Euroleague teams are interested in the possibility of renting NBA talent for a couple of months. The Euroleague is the best professional basketball league outside of the NBA, and those organizations have a lot of pride. While it may not have the cumulative talent the NBA possesses, it does not view itself as an inferior league to the NBA and will not diminish the quality of its product by allowing NBA players the freedom to come and go from their rosters as they please. Euroleague teams want continuity, not publicity stunts, so unless a player is willing to commit for at least a full season, those jobs will not be available.
There has been little, if any, progress made regarding bringing the NBA lockout to an end, but there has been a lot of noise coming from the players’ side about going to play overseas. Whether the players are actually willing to pursue that gambit or are just trying to put some added pressure on the owners remains to be seen.
By: Eric Lorenz
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