Is the idea of locked-out NBA players jumping to Europe lucrative and legal and viable? Is Deron Williams a pioneer … or a PR tool?
With reports that Williams, a Dallas-area native now starring with the New Jersey Nets, has an agreement to play with the Turkish team Besiktas come the assumption that a flood of other inactive standouts will follow.
Indeed, the Besiktas coach, Ergin Ataman, is now telling the New York Times that he'd like to invite Kobe Bryant to also experience a European working vacation.
But this is not yet a "flood''; just the continuing gathering of storm clouds that hang over the NBA and the sound of thunder … that might actually simply be the noisy beating of attention-seeking drums.
First to the legality: I recently asked Dallas Mavericks GM Donnie Nelson whether there are rules that would preclude someone like Dirk Nowitzki from playing in his native Germany.
"In one sense, there are no rules,'' Nelson told me, "because in the event of a protracted labor dispute, it could be argued that there is no contract.''
And in fact, that is the stated position of commissioner David Stern. So with the league shut down, there is no league for Dirk to be contractually obligated to. … though international governing body FIBA might still want its say.
Deron has two years and $34 million left on his Nets contract but that seems immaterial at this moment. Same with Atlanta's Zaza Pachulia, who apparently has a deal to join that same Turkish team. Also working on Euro plans is Ben Hansbrough, the Notre Dame standout who went undrafted. (That sort of move seems potentially far more commonplace than Deron-level moves as Hansbrough needs a job, period.) He's reportedly signed to play in Germany. NBA journeyman Hilton Armstrong is apparently also going to play in France..
Dallas' J.J. Barea has mentioned the idea of playing in Spain. But knowing JJ, I get the feeling that if the Harlem Globetrotters or the St. Paul Saints or the Grand Prairie AirHogs offered him a contract, he'd give them all a smile and a "maybe.''
Does that constitute a trend? Williams would be by far the biggest NBA star to move to Europe in his prime. (Besiktas is the same club that a washed-out Allen Iverson joined for a time last season.) That's part of why this is surprising. Also on that list: Deron has unlimited earning power in the US, has a young family here, has no known ties to Europe and in Besiktas, is not joining a premier club.
In short, he doesn't need to do this.
More logical: Nenad Krstic of the Celtics is a relatively accomplished NBA player but tells the Boston Herald that his two-year, $9.8-million contract to play back home in Europe is only as high as it is because he made the decision early, and that money on even that level isn't readily available anymore.
And remember, $5 million a year (or the $4 mil-a-year offer from Real Madrid that the Mavs' Rudy Fernandez apparently turned down) represents only a middling NBA salary.
Cash flow is going to be an issue, though; even guys making $5 mil or $10 mil or $20 mil a year have bills to pay. And speaking of money, remember that getting injured while playing in Europe isn't the issue some think it is, as players can simply purchase their own insurance policies to pick up that slack.
But that logic might be less applicable to someone like Williams, who might stand to make $100 million for the rest of his NBA life (not counting endorsements.)
How affordable is a $100-million health insurance policy?
One central point, and this goes hand-in-hand with talk of Kobe leading a barnstorming tour through China: Some of this smells like a PR effort.
Last year, Besiktas missed payroll, causing its players to temporarily walk out. The Iverson signing was an attention-getter and nothing more. The Turkish team's mention of Kobe might as well have included its desire to also lure LeBron and Dwight Howard and Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Jordan.
And remember something about these labor negotiations: There is no real deadline upon us. Once we get to September, the tone will change. Once we get to September, Williams will need to report to Besiktas, or …
NBA training camps will begin.
That's an optimistic view, but it remains a possibility. And if there is an NBA season, Deron Williams' contract in Turkey will be voided – at which point Bestikas will probably be fine with it because it will have generated international publicity without having to actually pay the contract.
What I believe: Ben Hansbrough might trigger a flood of other Ben Hansbroughs.
But other Deron Williams-level players? It depends on whether they want to be pioneers or PR tools.