Players Europe-bound

FRANK ZICARELLI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:45 AM ET

For many of the spoiled and selfish ball players who inhabit the NBA universe, Europe represents a vacation destination to engage in self-indulgence.

For reasons that underline finances and lifestyle, Europe has become a playing option for those whose options in the NBA are waning.

Whether it's a leveraged ploy to extract extra cash, a legitimate need to return to familiar surroundings or an itch to try something new, the NBA's 2008 off-season has ushered in a new frontier and a new debate on the rules governing the sport.

At last count, 12 players who were on NBA rosters during parts of last season have signed to play overseas.

Shawn Kemp is taking his personal baggage and whatever is left of his game to Italy, but that's a story left to be told for another day.

Ben Gordon is making waves of playing abroad, but his words smack of desperation at a time when the Chicago Bulls refuse to cave into his wishes.

Gordon's plight, and one that applies to a smattering of players, brings to light some of the problems associated with the league's salary cap, which is among the most arcane in pro sports.

Unless this year's player movement to Europe becomes a trend, the image conscious NBA isn't likely to do anything. In some cases, players, in particular restricted free agents, have left the NBA because the system failed them.

"I'm sure the players would like the system to be re-thought," player agent/lawyer Lon Babby told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We'll see how it goes. I never underestimate the power of the NBA to respond to market trends."

One of Babby's clients, Josh Childress, has left the Atlanta Hawks for Greek powerhouse Olympiakos, which offered the swingman three years and $32.5 million US.

All living expenses, including luxury accommodations, a car and driver and maid service will be covered for Childress, who covered his bases by inserting an opt-out clause for each season.

To keep his NBA rights, though, the Hawks have to tender Childress a qualifying offer each year. The kicker is that the amount counts against the team's cap. By not qualifying him, the Hawks make Childress an unrestricted free agent.

The NBA was so bent on an age limit that it misjudged the climate through its arrogance and self-righteousness.

Consider can't-miss prospect Brandon Jennings' decision to forgo university in the States to play overseas.

Money aside, the kid is going to play one year in Italy and then enter the NBA draft.

In the past, NBA teams have thrown money at European-based teams to buy out contracts of coveted players.

The suspicion within basketball circles is that nothing will happen until a legitimate NBA star decides to leave for Europe.

In no particular order, players who have departed for Europe include Earl Boykins, James Augustine, Dan Dickau, Carlos Arroyo, Nenad Krstic, Primoz Brezec, Carlos Delfino, Juan Carlos Navarro, Jorge Garbajosa, Bostjan Nachbar, Jannero Pargo and the aforementioned Childress.

No matter what combination of this group you throw out on the floor, it is at best a lottery team in the NBA.

If anything, the Euro-bound players should force the NBA to rethink the way it does business.

MONEY MATTERS

Speaking of business, rational thinking is not behind the outrageous contracts given to the likes of Emeka Okafor ($72 million), Andre Iguodala ($80 million) and Luol Deng ($71 million) -- all over six years.

Atlanta had to match the five-year deal worth $58 million tendered to Josh Smith by the Memphis Grizzlies, who are said to be interested in Gordon. Imagine the money involved when the summer of 2010 arrives and LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are eligible for free agency.


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