NBA lockout causing Euro exodus?
By UMAR ALI, SPORTS NETWORK
|Kevin Durant says he would not be opposed to looking for employment overseas during the NBA lockout. (REUTERS/Mike Stone)
TORONTO -- More than two weeks into the NBA lockout, it appears the NBA and the NBA Players' Association couldn't be further apart on reaching an agreement to end the labour dispute.
It may be early in the process, but there appears to be leverage beginning to develop in the players' favour.
When the New Jersey Nets prized mid-season acquisition, Deron Williams, announced he'd be taking his talents to Turkey to play for Besiktas -- the club that signed Allen Iverson last season -- signing a one-year deal worth $5 million with an opt out clause if the strike is resolved, many felt like he was an aberration amongst NBA players and it was unlikely others would follow suit.
Taking a look at how players have responded to the move, however, suggests Williams may have been onto something.
It didn't take long before one of Williams teammates in New Jersey, guard Sasha Vujacic, inked a deal with another Turkish club, Anadolu Efes. Though the 27-year-old Slovenian may not be in the same class of talent as his Nets backcourt mate, it is an indication playing overseas presents an opportunity to those currently with few options in hand.
And though it may seem more enticing for medial role players to cash during a prolonged hiatus, a few NBA superstars have not ruled out competing abroad too.
From a promotional event in China, Kevin Durant claimed he would not be opposed to looking for employment overseas. Even Dwyane Wade weighed in on possibly traveling to another continent to play ball until a deal was struck.
Though NBA players taking the trip across the pond to play professionally is not a new concept -- journeymen and unproven college players have made a living in Europe for nearly two decades, acting as an apprenticeship to players passed over in the draft and others who were completely overlooked coming out of college -- Williams electing to go to Turkey is the first instance in which an All-Star caliber player decided to jump ship.
With big name stars considering to make the move, the league is faced with a dilemma it didn't have to consider in 1998 -- the last NBA lockout -- as the European route was still uncharted by the mainstream and it was certainly not the life of luxury NBA stars are accustomed to.
Though the accommodations pale in comparison to what the average player receives while playing in the NBA -- five-star hotel rooms, luxury vehicle transports and catered food compared to second rate rooms on the road, cramped buses and whatever is provided for sustenance -- there is still enough to sway players to consider making the transition.
It's a decision the players' union will stand behind, as a memo was released on Tuesday by the NBAPA stating support for those "who are taking steps to continue to earn a living, stay in peak competitive shape, and play the game that we love while the unfortunate league-imposed lockout is in place."
Of course there is a risk being taken by all those who choose to compete in any league outside of the NBA, as any serious injury sustained could possibly lead to a termination of any current standing contract.
Yet, there will be no move from the NBA or FIBA to bar players from playing overseas. What may hinder a complete exodus is the tough economic outlook many European clubs are currently facing. Two of Greece's biggest powerhouses -- Olympiacos and Panathanaikos -- are now up for sale and it suggests the obscene sums of money being thrown at players a few years ago will be scaled back significantly. Not to mention there are limited roster spots for foreigners and it will be tough for medial players to sign contracts with opt-out clauses as there could be a resolution to the strike midway through the European season.
Despite these barriers, players still hold a card that can be used as a bargaining chip on the negotiation table, as the league has tried to impose hard-line tactics to bully the NBAPA into settling for a less-than- satisfactory deal.
A lack of cash can't be the motivating factor for big name players, rather, it could be a brilliant public relations tactic. If players are in the spotlight and showing they have the desire to play, are willing to risk their current contracts and will do so for considerably less money, it looks rather favourable for them in the eyes of fans.
If Williams is the first of many NBA stars to jump on a plane and head for Europe this lockout may have turned in the players' favour, but if he's the only big fish amongst just a few expatriate players then things haven't changed very much at all.
Whether the league feels a few recognizable players heading abroad warrants a reconsideration of the current proposal remains to be seen, but the players being proactive and looking for employment elsewhere exemplifies they aren't totally dependent on the NBA as the league would like them to believe.