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American basketball players in Europe worried about fewer jobs, lower pay following coronavirus

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Even before the coronavirus outbreak, Devin Sweetney knew nothing was guaranteed when it came to getting paid for playing overseas.

The 32-year-old American said the Greek basketball team he played for this season still owes him “thousands of dollars.” And with sports shut down around the world because of the pandemic, Sweetney is thinking more about his long-term future.

“Now is the time to get your plan together, because you never know,” the 6-foot-6 small forward said. “It’s an eye-opener for everybody.”

American players have been able to earn livings by infusing European basketball teams with scoring and ball handling, but now they’re worried there will be fewer jobs and lower salaries in the economic fallout of the coronavirus.

“You’re going to see some teams fold or not be able to pay as much,” said 25-year-old Mehryn Kraker, who played in Spain this season. “Clubs rely on multiple benefactors and sponsors, so with companies being hit, the funding is going to be affected, especially on the women’s side.”

The United States is by far the world’s biggest exporter of basketball players, both male and female, and Europe is the top importer. Nearly as many Americans as Germans, for example, played in the men’s Basketball Bundesliga in 2018-19, according to FIBA’s 2019 Migration Report.

Jobs had been on the rise. Americans accounted for one-third of total roster spots in the top men’s leagues of Germany, Greece, Italy, France and Spain, the FIBA report said. That’s up from about one-quarter of roster spots in those leagues in the 2011-12 season.

Further, they typically averaged more points and minutes per game than their teammates, the report added.

“We take on more responsibility,” said 27-year-old Aaryn Ellenberg, whose 15 points per game led her French team, Saint Amand. “The role I’ve played on most teams is to come in and score and lift the level of the team.”

The exodus back to the United States followed leagues stoppages and travel restrictions. It could be a much different landscape when they return. Will Voigt, hired in February to coach Baskets Bonn, said some clubs struggle even in the best of times.

“In all these top leagues, there’s always a handful of teams that are right on the brink financially,” said Voigt, who also coaches Angola’s national team.

That’s true in smaller leagues, too, which is bad news for the hundreds of Americans who eke out livings on teams from Iceland to Cyprus.

“Any way you look at it, it’s not going to be positive for imports,” Voigt said.

Real Madrid, which plays in Spain’s domestic league and the regional EuroLeague, reacted by reducing player salaries by up to 20% for this season. Meanwhile, EuroLeague president Jordi Bertomeu said he is “100% sure” Turkish Airlines will maintain its sponsorship.

Uncertainty is a given for overseas players. They rarely land multi-year contracts, are quickly replaced if injured, and sometimes must go to arbitration for their money. Perks include free housing and the team handles taxes, so pay is net.

Veterans can fetch $10,000 or more per month, but others might accept less than half that amount. There’s no public listing, but Kraker said she has seen huge variations on the women’s side, from a player earning $800 per month in the Czech Republic to WNBA players getting $15,000 per month in bigger leagues. Shane Larkin reportedly earns $2 million on a men’s team in Turkey.

“The average player that comes home from overseas has a second job or a side hustle to bring in money,” said Rashad Whack, who most recently played in the Czech Republic.

The 29-year-old Whack signed to play in the NBA-affiliated Basketball Africa League but stayed in Los Angeles when the inaugural season was postponed. The 6-foot-3 guard, a newlywed, said the pay would have covered rent and other bills.

“We still have to have money coming in, so I went back to doing my security job,” Whack said of his work with a property management company.

Clubs replace players throughout the season. Sweetney, for example, signed with Athens-based Panionios on New Year’s Eve. He has a young son and wanted to parlay his time in Greece into a lucrative contract next season.

Several Panionios players said they are owed two months’ salary. Sweetney, who played the 2015-16 preseason with the Denver Nuggets, hoped to buy a house, but now it’s on hold.

“It doesn’t seem smart to make big purchases with no job,” said Sweetney, who last year joined the NBA’s Career Crossover Program.

Panionios said it hoped to resolve disputes internally.

“We cannot confirm or reject any rumors or statements made by any of our past athletes,” the team said.

Tyreek Duren left Panionios and discovered that his sister and his mother, who is a nurse, tested positive for the virus back home in Philadelphia. Duren, 28, then experienced similar symptoms but said they are all recovering. He said he’s invested his money well but hopes to play soon.

“You get to spend a lot of time with your family, but nobody’s working,” Duren said. “It’s basically putting life on hold.”

Report: Dwight Howard was nearly ejected for language in Game 3

Dwight Howard
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Dwight Howard is thriving in his role as enforcer and Nikola Jokic antagonist for the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals — and he’s talking a lot on the court to let everyone know it.  Based on matchup stats, Jokic is 3-of-7 shooting while guarded by Howard, with another 10 points at the free-throw line, which means he’s doing better than JaVale McGee or Anthony Davis (and he’s keeping Davis out of foul trouble).

Dwight Howard has been a spark of energy for the Lakers in that role, but he almost got ejected in the first half of Game 3 because of his language, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. Howard already has one technical because, with 7 minutes left the second quarter, Howard picked up a foul guarding Jokic and, in frustration with the call, threw the ball in the air, which will get any player a technical for showing up the referee and delaying the game.

Jerami Grant, who finished with 26 points, was at the free-throw line midway in the second period, and Howard uttered an obscene remark in the direction of the officials. It was apparently so off-putting that official Marc Davis shouted, “Hey, cut that out now! Are you serious? I’ve heard that twice now. Twice. Cut it out now!”

Howard got off with a stern warning, but he was visibly irritated.

Rajon Rondo had to get Howard’s attention before he made another mistake in terms of who to body up with on the free throw.

The Lakers will need better focus and play across the board to win the series than they have shown the last couple of games, particularly on the defensive end — the Lakers need stops and transition opportunities because their halfcourt offense continues to bog down. Howard can be a big part of that guarding Jokic, but he can’t step over the line and hurt the team.

Game 4 between the Lakers and Nuggets is Thursday at 9 p.m. Eastern. The Lakers lead the series 2-1.


J.J. Redick says he hopes to play four more years in NBA

Pelicans guard J.J. Redick
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This past season in New Orleans, J.J. Redick averaged 15.3 points and shot 45.3% from three, played solid defense, and stayed healthy enough to get into 60 games. At age 36, he didn’t show signs of slowing down.

How much longer can he keep that up? Redick told Mark Medina of the USA Today he hopes to play four more years.

“I realized this year I want to keep playing as long as possible. My goal is to play four more years. Year 18. That’s my goal. I’ll play to 39. Then my offseason, I’ll turn 40 and then I can walk away at that point. That’s my goal. We’ll see. The body has to hold up. But we’ll see.”

Redick is meticulous and intense with his conditioning, with his routine to take care of his body, although as we all age sometimes that is not enough. Father time wins every race. Redick, however, is in a good spot to hold him off for a few more years.

His skills as a shooter and floor spacer undoubtedly will be in demand, plus he is the kind of player GMs want in the locker room of a younger team like New Orleans. Redick had to put in a ton of work to transform his body and his game to go from collegiate star at Duke to his current role in the NBA. He’s professional about preparation and taking care of himself — exactly the kind role model for young players that GMs want.

Which will get him paid for another four years, if he wants it.

Heat says they need faster start in Game 4 against Celtics

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The formula that the Miami Heat had backed themselves into using throughout this postseason wasn’t exactly ideal.

They were losing almost every first quarter, and winning almost every game anyway.

It’s not a sustainable plan, and the Boston Celtics finally showed that in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals when they pulled off a wire-to-wire win over Miami, not letting the Heat put together their typical comeback. Game 4 of the East title series — with Miami still leading 2-1 — is Wednesday, and the Heat are insisting that there will be more urgency at the beginning.

“I think we’ve just got to start off better,” Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. “I don’t think we started off anywhere near where we’re capable of. I think we dig ourselves a hole and try to fight back out of it. I think going into this next one, it’s up to the starting five to come out with a great start.”

Before Game 3, Miami was 8-0 in the playoffs when trailing after the first quarter — after going 10-16 when put in that position during the regular season. In the 36 minutes of first-period action against the Celtics, the Heat have led roughly one-sixth of the time.

Butler is 1 for 6 in 29 first-quarter minutes in the series. Duncan Robinson and Goran Dragic are a combined 10 for 19; the rest of the Heat in first quarters against the Celtics are 11 for 46. Boston has won the first quarters by a combined score of 88-68, shooting 54% to Miami’s 32%.

“Certainly, it would help to be able to get off to a good start,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But you have to play good basketball more consistently when you get to this point in the conference finals against a quality opponent.”

Another wild stat is this: Boston has outscored Miami 50-18 from 2-point range in first quarters so far in the series. And yet, somehow, the Celtics still need a win on Wednesday to even up matters — or fall into the dreaded 3-1 series hole.

“Obviously, you know that when a team lost its last one, you’re going to get a great shot,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “But you expect a great shot every time. We’re going to have to play our best game in Game 4, and then after Game 4 is over, we’re going to have to play better than that in Game 5. That’s kind of the way it works.”

The teams have had three full days off since Game 3, a quirk in the schedule to allow the Western Conference finals matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets to catch up; the Lakers and Nuggets were to play the third game in their series Tuesday night.

Not that this one needs explaining, but Miami’s chances go up considerably in this series if the Heat find a way to win Game 4. The Heat are 11-0 in series where they lead 3-1, and 9-9 in series where it’s tied 2-2 after four games. The Celtics haven’t successfully overcome a 3-1 deficit since the 1981 East finals.

LeBron James has “zero comment” on L.A. County Sheriff, speaks on violence

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Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has been no stranger to outlandish acts and putting himself in headlines since taking office. Most recently, he and his department were sued by Vanessa Bryant over photos from the site of the plane crash that took Kobe’s life.

Last week, the controversial Villanueva decided to drag the most popular athlete in Los Angeles into his headlines, challenging LeBron James to double the reward for the person who shot two Sheriff deputies who were sitting in their car. It was a clear dig at LeBron’s stances against police violence around the nation, and Vanessa Bryant had slammed Villanueva for it on social media.

LeBron, after the Lakers’ loss to Denver Sunday night, refused to play Villanueva’s game, saying he has “zero comment” on the Sherrif. However, LeBron did speak on police violence.

“I’ve never in my 35 years ever condoned violence. Never have,” LeBron said. “But I also know what’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong… I’ve seen a lot of counts firsthand of a lot of Black people being racially profiled because of our color. And I’ve seen it throughout my whole life.

“And I’m not saying that all cops are bad because, I actually, throughout high school and things of that nature, and I’m around them all the time, and they’re not all bad. But when you see the videos that’s going on and you can see all over the — not only my hometown but all over America — you continue to see the acts of violence toward my kind, I can’t do nothing but to speak about it and see the common denominator.

“But not one time have I ever said, ‘Let’s act violent toward cops.’ I just said that what’s going on in our community is not OK, and we fear for that, and we fear for our lives. It’s something that we go on every single day as a Black man and a Black woman and a Black kid, a Black girl. We fear. We fear that moment when we’re pulled over…

“But I do not condone violence toward anyone — police, Black people, white people, anyone of color, anyone not of color — because that’s not going to ever make this world or America what we want it to be.”

LeBron’s too smart to be dragged into Villanueva’s game, which is more about the Sherrif trying to distract from issues around himself.

LeBron has put his money where his mouth is on social justice issues, forming an organization to work to register minority voters and work against voter suppression nationwide.