Friday, August 8, 2008
We here at bloodsports have yet to address this recent phenomena that is the exodus of NBA players to Europe. So far we have seen some marginal European players like JCN, Boggy Nachbar (3 year $18 mill euro for Nachbar in case you were wondering, which is just insane ludicrous berserk money for this guy), and Krstic flee back to their homelands. Childress is the best NBA guy to leave for a larger deal but that was due mostly to Atlanta's front office ineptitude than anything else. Since Childress went, there has been talk and stirrings of our more vaunted superstars leaving the NBA for Europe as well. Greek powerhouse Olympiakos was said to be contemplating offering our King something in the neighborhood of $50 million a season to play in Greece. Professional basketball leagues in Europe work under different confines than here in the United States. Salary cap, luxury tax penalties and all that good stuff we have here to keep the NBA competitive does not exist to the same degree in European leagues. Olympiakos, for example, is owned by a couple of young billionaires. They could obviously care less about creating revenue and actually making money on their little basketball team but would be infinitely amused to watch Lebron run around and drop 40 on a nightly basis. So I will try to coherently (editing this now, it is not coherent. eoh) put forth my thoughts on this whole "problem". If you care, read on, if not, go find the latest on Brett Favre and die.
There are a plethora of reasons and circumstances and etc. that can potentially surround each and every player that would impact their decision on whether to stay in the NBA or go overseas. The most obvious, and in most cases influential, is the money factor. The Euro is 2x the US dollar and dudes are just getting paid more bank to go over there. Fine, that is understandable. You have guys who will struggle to both see significant time on the court and get paid in the NBA, like those I mentioned earlier, and they can be put into better situations overseas. I'm fine with that. I mean, Sergio Rodriguez goes to Europe, who gives a fuck. That can happen for eternity, as far as I'm concerned, and business will go on as usual in the NBA. But there are two players actions I want to speak about in greater detail; Josh Childress and Brandon Jennings.
The Hawks are an insanely frustrating franchise. Their front office is run with such ineptitude it makes me sick. I won't even get into this whole Josh Smith fiasco. If they don't match the offer sheet the Grizz just put out to him and let him walk, I can assure you that a Hawks rant post will ensue. But, this is the Hawks we're talking about, so would it really surprise anyone? They have already flashed their inability to correctly manage their assets in how they handled Childress, and this is what I want to speak on. I will not get into the valuability of JChill and what he meant to the Hawks except to say that it is greater than most believe. That being said, the only blame in Childress going to Greece is to be 100% placed on Hawks management. Childress felt chided that they would not pay him what he was due - he was not demanding anything outrageous but was very much in line with his market value - and so he took a bigger deal overseas. His deal in Greece gives him the option to opt out after one year, so he will probably be back stateside soon. So far, he is the only really legit player to leave the NBA for Europe. He is capable of starting in the NBA even though he mostly filled in as sixth man for Atlanta during his career so far. Instead, he will get paid and spend a year with tan Greek babes eating pita and hummus. Good for him, because the Hawks are idiots and should have given him the rather modest deal he was looking for.
The impact of this Childress thing, as far as I see, is twofold: 1, NBA general management have got to stop being little bitches when it comes to taking out their check books to re-sign key cogs of their rotation and 2, players now have a significant piece of leverage in future contractual negotiations.
Teams across the league this off season have had a propensity for saving money and getting under the cap. I have noticed that this has been a trend almost league-wide and has been more prescient this offseason than in those in recent memory. Teams have begun trading studs for a bag of peanuts, a paperclip, and/or an ipod touch (see Gasol, Pau; Camby, Marcus). This new affinity for getting under the cap has taken an entirely new form and GMs looking to rebuild have gotten very creative. Whether this is good or bad for the league is an entirely different post and could be argued with coherent arguments both for and against. But, when it comes to re-signing players who have proven their worth and value to your team - like Childress - and are not asking for some ridiculous new contract (see Gordon, Ben), management has been reluctant and unwilling to meet their players' demands. Both Okafor and Deng were in very similar positions as Childress this off season. They both wanted to be re-upped at market value. They both liked where they were and wanted their deals to be extended. Neither the Bulls nor the Bobcats could afford to let either of these players slip away. They acknowledged this and both franchises did, after belaboring contract negotiations, eventually extend their guys. But it was in the manner by which this was done that really pissed me off. Open note to NBA GMs: Pay your players. Okafor and Deng both very good young players and both would have been likely been able to sign fatter deals if they hit the open market. But instead they wanted to get re-upped and do their franchise the benefit of NOT hitting free agency. Take care of your players and be happy they want to stay. The Hawks took a similar position as the Bobkittens and Bulls in trying to get Childress to accept a contract beneath his value. Oops. Chill didn't have such patience, said fuck you Atlanta and went to Greece where he got paid. Now the Hawks are a lot worse and missing their glue guy.
I don't believe this will be a trend, but it will certainly have some impact on future negotiations and GMs will not quickly forget what happened with Atlanta and Childress this off season. GMs will no longer be able to go the take it or leave it route when they are dealing with players in restricted free agency. If the GM is miffing the player, he can just pull a Childress. It is, as a result of this off season, plain fact that there is more money available to players in European leagues than in NBA. Granted that so far the guys going over there are more end of the bench guys, but still. We are in the very infancy of this new phenomena and we will see if and how it continues as we press forward. But NBA teams must now at the very least entertain the possibility that if they piss off their player too much during contract negotiations, they could take more money and run, er, fly, to Europe. The threat of signing overseas is maybe the most significant greatest piece of leverage that an NBA player has ever had during contract negotiation.
Ok, now the Brandon Jennings case. For those of you who don't know what's good, he was the overall #1 ranked incoming freshman this year. Jennings attended Oak Hill Academy, was a McDonald's All-American this past year and signed a letter of intent to go to Zona, but instead is going overseas to play with Roma in the Italian Serie A league, and of course, get paid. I am actually fairly surprised that since the NBA changed the age limit for draft eligibility to 19 and thus preventing high schoolers from entering that this is the first time a kid skipped college and spent his one year waiting for eligibility in Europe where they could get paid. First, many kids who are prep school stars come from poorer backgrounds with families relying on them for financial support. That one extra year of not getting paid while they are forced to go to college can be a very difficult one. But by going to Europe, kids can earn some bread while the year before they enter the draft. Once they hit 19, they can enter the draft and continue their dream of playing in the NBA. However, although the kid will get paid, it is very risky in terms of potential draft position. Prep school studs entering college typically dominate immediately; we've seen it these past couple years on many occasions. European leagues like Italy's Serie A, Span's league, Greece's league; these are grown men we're talking about here, not teenagers. Jennings is a sick, sick point guard and will likely flourish playing overseas just as he would have if he was at Zona vs. the Pac-10. It could even end up increasing his draft position if he really has a big year. But for players with less skill could get banged around and see their stock plummet against significantly more difficult competition. I really do see this as a potential trend and would not be surprised at all to see more kids do this in the future. Financially, this route may prove to make a lot more sense than spending a year at college in the United States before entering the NBA draft. Once more, whether or not this is a good or bad thing for the league, or for the NCAA is a whole other debate, eoh.
Ok, so now, will either of these two occurrences produce any significant rule changes in the NBA to keep players from the United States going to Europe? Short answer: no, absolutely not. Whether or not prep stars go to college, Russia, or Morocco, the NBA could care less. Until the kid is 19 and enters the draft, he can do whatever he wants. If he wants to go to a big time program, faulk every bid in sight, smoke weed and drink himself into oblivion on non-game days, and own smallish white guys on the court before going to the NBA, then that is his entitlement. If he wants to go to Serbia and bang with huger, hairier white guys and get paid, that too is his entitlement. A massive exodus of high schoolers to Europe over college will simply not happen because if you aren't a #1 (or very high) ranked talent like Jennings, your draft stock will likely plummet playing against tougher comp in Europe. The Childress thing was an isolated incident, I think. If anything it is a wake up call to GMs across the league that they have to stop dicking their players around when they want to get extended. But in terms of teams being more frugal with their dollar and are only willing to pay Nenad Krstic like $1 mill instead of $2.2 mill or something like this and he goes back to fatherland Russia, who cares? Nobody. JCN goes back to Spain? Whatever. Nothing with the NBA's salary cap or luxury tax will change to give GMs more flexibility with signing their 9th and 10th guys simply because it does not matter in most cases who fills these spots. However, if a Kobe Bryant or LeBron James take a $50 million dollar a year deal with Olympiakos or something, that would be serious. But it won't.
Kobe was just recently asked if he would take $50mill/year to play overseas. His response? And allow me to paraphrase: "Hell yeah, I'd go. $50 mill a year? I would have to be fucking out of my mind to pass up those kind of bills. Right?" Ok Kobe. LeBron echoed similar sentiments a little bit ago when the initial rumor was circulating that in 2010 he could potentially receive that type of an offer overseas.
Ok. Now lets take a step back. I'm just going to look at Leb, because he is the embodiment of the future of the NBA and has more potency to come to the Knicks than Kobe - so I am more interested in his future anyway. First of all, Leb will make like what, $18-20 mill or so a season in a max deal in the NBA when he is a free agent in the 2010 summer. Assuming he goes to one of the big market cities in the US (i.e. NYC), his endorsement deals go up like a billion percent or something. Does $10 million more really matter that much to this guy? I mean. No. He's worth a fortune, as far as I can tell. Even at $50 million/year, when push comes to shove, I think he would stay right here in the United States. It is an entertaining idea to throw out and speculate upon and talk about here in the blogosphere, media, water cooler or wherever, but it will not happen. These guys like Kobe or Lebron will get no satisfaction destroying faaarrrrrrrr lesser comp in Europe. They already have truckloads of money and are worth a ton. They want rings, they want to be heralded as superhuman geniuses here in America, where they are from and where kids across the country immortalize them. The superstars in the NBA are not going anywhere. Don't worry. I have already decided upon this.
Alright, so thus ends my rambling on about this topic. Comments welcome, I am interested to see your guys' thoughts on this subject.