Tuesday, August 23, 2011

NBA stars playing abroad a plan going nowhere

According to NTV Spor, New Jersey Nets guard Deron Williams will sign a contract with Turkish club Besiktas. Photograph by: Eddie Keogh, Reuters.

BY AILENE VOISIN, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS, We all long for those European vacations, don’t we? Paris in May. Rome in October. With the Acropolis staring down on its ancient city like a sentry, Athens is enchanting any time of the year.

But Kobe Bryant in China? Deron Williams in Turkey? Omri Casspi in Israel? Ron Artest in London?

Despite ongoing speculation suggesting NBA players will flood the international market if the lockout persists into the regular season — and the latest chatter has Kobe entertaining offers from China and Turkey — American fans should be advised to pick up a sharp knife and cut through the baloney.

With few exceptions — perhaps New Jersey’s Williams among them — established NBA stars will remain stateside and await a new labor agreement. Most talk to the contrary is a bunch of hooey, sandwiched by potentially significant health/injury factors.

Owners barring players from their NBA facilities during the lockout is excessive and more than a little foolish. But preventing players from consulting members of the medical staff if injured?

Now think about that for a minute. If you’re the Cleveland Cavaliers owner who recently traded for Casspi, wouldn’t you want your medical experts involved in determining the extent and treatment of the ligament tear he suffered last week?

There are other issues complicating a potential rush to the airline ticket counters, not the least of which is the fact that basketball’s international governing body (FIBA) will require players to fulfill their NBA contracts whenever the labor agreement is reached.

Connect the dots. Teams that play in the Euroleague are wary of signing superstars with existing contracts for fear of an inevitable and disruptive exodus. Officials with the Chinese Basketball Association are said to be even more skeptical; they are debating whether to place a cap on the number of Americans per team and disallowing opt-out clauses.

"There will be a few players on the high end and a few on the low end that go," union leader Billy Hunter told The New York Times. "The vast majority will not get an opportunity, and we have told the players to not believe that Europe or Asia is going to be an elixir here."

The temptation to think of the Euroleague or the Chinese Basketball Association as competitive alternatives to the NBA is nonetheless considerable, mainly because players historically lack leverage in labor discussions. During every impasse of the past two decades, someone floats the utterly impossible notion of starting a competing league, which in this current economy is like asking Hayley Mills to dribble behind her back while playing Pollyanna.

The NBA is and will remain a one-size-fits-all league that employs 450 players at generous wages (most recently at an average of $5.1 million per year), except when the owners cry poverty and impose a lockout. The owners claim that a majority of teams (22 of 30) are hemorrhaging millions, that the business model is flawed, and that they should share equally in basketball-related income.

The talks are further complicated by too many people in the bedroom. There are differences of opinion among some large-market owners ñ particularly newcomers who paid hefty prices for franchises and want substantial immediate returns ñ and owners of small- to mid-market franchises arguing for a more extensive revenue-sharing plan, comparable to those in the NFL and Major League Baseball.

Additionally, there are factions of player agents advocating on behalf of their individual clients, which often conflicts with Hunter’s more collective approach.

So while the bickering parties stand on the bed and throw pillows and occasional verbal stones, NBA players are left to decide whether to remain patient or pursue temporary employment overseas.

"The trouble is that, right now, it’s not a pretty economic situation over here," said Vlade Divac, president of Serbia’s Olympic Committee. "If an NBA player just wants to stay in shape until the lockout ends, signing (temporarily) makes sense. That’s what I did before I signed with the Kings (January 1999). The biggest difference for Americans will be the accommodations."

Some European clubs require players to share rooms. Most squads travel commercial, not charter. The schedules also tend to be compressed because the elite franchises compete in both the Euroleague and their respective leagues, with practices often lengthier and more demanding than in the NBA.

But it’s the risk of injury, and what happens thereafter, that should be of greatest concern. If you hurt your knee, you want to see your own doctor.


(c) 2011, The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.).

Visit The Sacramento Bee online at http://www.sacbee.com/.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

© Copyright (c) McClatchy-Tribune Information Services


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