On Deron Williams and the NBA players who likely won’t be following him overseas


Deron Williams, in his decision to suit up for the Turkish club Besiktas next season should the lockout continue, has officially opened the door for other locked out NBAers to seek employment elsewhere. The notion that top NBA players could jet across the Atlantic to play in European leagues is no longer a mere possibility; those reluctant to be the first to make commitments overseas now have their lockout role model, and could follow Williams to Turkey, or to China, or to any team in any country willing to temporarily invest in NBA talent.

But perhaps the oddest element of Williams’ exodus is how his unique circumstances enable him to make the jump. He’s not exactly a typical NBA player — Williams is the centerpiece of his current team, and holds a considerable amount of power as a result. He’s not even a typical star — Williams has more influence and leeway than most due to both his incredible skill and his impending free agency. The Nets are trying to convince Williams to stay with the franchise for the long haul, and — lockout or not — aren’t in any position to contest his bid to play overseas nor to void his contract. In this case, Williams holds most of the cards, if not all of them. Once he decided on playing in Turkey, there weren’t many actors capable of stopping him.

All of that makes Williams’ act a tough one to follow. How many players can command the kind of impunity that Williams does? Fringe NBA players — those likely most interested in securing some extra coin during the season by playing elsewhere — risk simply having their deals voided. The league’s top players hold the same sway that Williams does, but would only earn a fraction of their NBA salaries while playing overseas and risk possible injury in the process. Essentially, those for whom it makes the most financial sense to play in other leagues may be limited from doing so, and those who have the least compelling motivations for seeking that kind of employment hold all of the power to do as the please. There are dozens of shades of gray in between (Zaza Pachulia, a solid but unremarkable NBA big man, will join Besiktas along with Williams, for example, and will likely suffer little consequence), but the enabling and limiting factors on the extremes of the NBA spectrum create a pretty strange dynamic.

The potential wild card: rookie scale players. The threat of a contract void (and it may be little more than a threat; it’s unknown just how seriously teams would consider cutting their players loose) doesn’t seem to apply to team building blocks, a convenient fact which would theoretically offer young, talented players a bit of protection. However, players on their first NBA deals could still have the financial motivations to play overseas, depending on their individual situations and their expectations for their 2011-2012 NBA salaries. If anything, it’s the players on rookie scale deals — particularly former mid-late 1st round picks or second rounders — who would seem to have the most to gain. They could supplement their income, continue playing professional-level basketball, and further refine their skills in a different setting, all with seemingly little risk.

But outlining possible motivations and benefits for young players heading overseas is very different than that outcome actually occurring. There are a million legitimate and half-legitimate reasons NBA players could use to talk themselves into staying the course and trudging through the lockout, and many will be kept stateside as a result. The power structure of the NBA already restricts the sensible candidates for overseas contracts, but the wide variety of interests and caveats across even the viable options should dwindle those who intend to play overseas to a minimum. Williams may have opened the door, but many can’t even cross the threshold, and some would rather he close it and not waste what’s left of the A/C.

The time Chauncey Billups tried to trick teams into believing he’d be a bad teammate

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In 2011, the Knicks amnestied Chauncey Billups. Unlike traditional waivers, amnesty waivers didn’t require claiming teams to pay Billups’ full salary. They could bid a partial amount – New York on the hook for the rest – and the highest bid would get Billups.

So, it was practically a forgone conclusion someone would claim Billups. The only questions were which team and for how much?

But Billups didn’t want to go to the highest bidder. He wanted to become a free agent and choose his destination – even though his contract and the Collective Bargaining Agreement put him on a different course.

So, Billups – a consummate professional throughout his career – threatened to become a problem. Adrian Wojnarowski at the time:

Wojnarowski now:

I remember talking to Chauncey on a Saturday morning one day. He was very determined that no team would put a waiver claim in on him, because he was headed to Miami. He was going to go play with the Heat. He had his bags packed. But he needed a team not to claim him. And he and I were just talking about this. I read this quote back to him recently, and we were laughing.

He went on this two-, three-minute rant about that basically, “I’m just going to be a complete asshole wherever I go if you claim me.” And so, he went on this rant. And he read that, and he kept going. And finally he stopped. I don’t even remember if I asked him a question. He just started when I called him. And at the end, there was like this pause. And he goes, “Do you think anyone is going to buy it?”

The Clippers submitted the highest bid for Billups, and he quickly got on board. Even though they traded for Chris Paul at point guard shortly after, Billups of course was a model teammate and veteran leader. Late in his career, he couldn’t stay healthy enough to contribute much on the court. But the Clippers still valued his presence. He even re-signed with them the following summer.

This was such a readable bluff – which says plenty about Billups’ character.

Rumor: Magic expected to fire Frank Vogel

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Magic president Jeff Weltman inherited an expensive and bad roster, limiting his options to shape it.

He also inherited coach Frank Vogel, and maybe there’s something Weltman will do about that.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

Orlando’s ongoing malaise, especially after the promise of an unexpected 8-4 start, make it a widely held assumption in coaching circles that Vogel will be dismissed after the franchise’s sixth successive season out of the playoffs.

Perhaps, these people in coaching circles are doing nothing more than connecting dots. Many coaches with poor records – only the Suns and Nets have been worse during Vogel’s two-year tenure – inherited by a new front office get fired.

Or it could be something more concrete, like Orlando putting out feelers for potential replacements. That possibility gives juice to this report.

Vogel has one more guaranteed year left on his contract, according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. Will ownership pay to oust Vogel? That seems likely. The alternative is paying Weltman to sit on his hands.

This would be a tough break for Vogel, who coached well with the Pacers. The Magic’s roster is just so lacking. Vogel hasn’t impressed in Orlando, but his opportunity to do so has been narrow.

At least it’d be more understandable if he got fired by a losing team. Last time, he got fired by a winning team.

Rumor: Bucks, Jabari Parker could part after season

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Jabari Parker is a confounding fit on the Bucks now and in the future.

Could he and Milwaukee part ways this summer, when he’ll be a restricted free agent?

Gery Woelfel on 105.7 The Fan:

At this very moment, I’d say the odds are slim to none it’s going to happen … that he’ll be on this team next year.

I just don’t see a good fit there. I didn’t bring this up, and I’ve been meaning to do so, but I haven’t. He came very, very close to being traded at the deadline. And I think that spoke volumes of they think of Jabari Parker and whether he’s a part of their future plans.

Bucks executive Alex Lasry denied it:

So did general manager Jon Horst. Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Horst made it clear both on the radio and in a separate interview with the Journal Sentinel on Wednesday that the Bucks never had any intention of trading Parker

Teams often discuss trading players then deny it to avoid offending the player. Whether or not they nearly traded Parker, the Bucks would probably respond now similarly.

As far as Parker’s future in Milwaukee, it’s unclear where the well-connected Woelfel’s reporting ends and his analysis begins. There’s a huge difference between trading Parker for value and letting him walk for nothing. Just because the Bucks came close to trading Parker wouldn’t mean they won’t re-sign him.

Shedding Parker would not open cap space without additional moves. It would probably allow Milwaukee to use the full mid-level exception and stay beneath the luxury-tax line. But that’s unlikely to land a player who combines Parker’s age and talent.

Because Parker will be a restricted free agent, the Bucks hold the cards. If he’s upset about trade talks or anything else, he can’t unilaterally leave.

Milwaukee must determine how much to pay Parker and how to utilize him with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Those are hard questions. But the Bucks throwing up their hands and letting Parker walk in free agency isn’t the answer.

Tony Parker: My quad injury 100 times worse than Kawhi Leonard’s

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Tony Parker reportedly led a players-only meeting in which Spurs implored Kawhi Leonard to return.

Leonard injured his quad last season, has played just nine games this season and remains sidelined. The Spurs have reportedly cleared him, but he got second opinions and is waiting for his medical team to clear him.

Parker injured his quad last May then returned in November – and said at the time Leonard would return in 2-3 weeks.

Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News:

It’s not hard to read between these lines.

Though some Spurs reportedly told Leonard to return only once he feels ready, Parker is clearly applying pressure. It’s not working, but he’s apparently not stopping.

These comments don’t befit a healthy organization, which is just so stunning for the Spurs, whose excellent culture has been exalted for year.

Maybe Parker will get his wish, and a shamed-into-playing Leonard will lead San Antonio deep into the playoffs. But it seems more likely these quotes will just increase tension.