There are a handful of NBA players heading to Israel when the lockout drags into the NBA season: Jordan Farmar and Omri Casspi are the big names. (Note, I’m not even saying “if” games are lost anymore because it seems unavoidable.)
But they may be joined by a bigger name.
In an article at the New York Newsday where Roger Mason Jr. parrots the union lines about reasons he would play overseas (and it might be a smart move for him), Alan Hahn throws in this note:
It’s also an easier decision for (Mason), a free agent, than some of his Knicks teammates, especially Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire, the latter of whom, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, has recently been contacted by a different team from the Israel league.
If Stoudemire were to play overseas, a team like Maccabi Tel Aviv would make some sense (that is where Farmar and Casspi are playing). It’s one of the powerhouse teams of European basketball and one that has taken on NBA players under contract.
But Stoudemire is a bigger name — and a bigger salary — than either of the other signings. And for him it is a bigger risk because if he were to get injured playing overseas the Knicks could void his deal. Remember, Stoudemire is a guy who has already had microfracture surgery and major eye surgery. He would be taking a risk and getting insurance on his contract would be expensive.
But, the talk is out there.
This is a hypothetical exercise, Dwight Howard is not going to play overseas. He may say he is open to it but there is only in infinitesimal chance Dwight Howard would actually lace up the Adidas. The fact is he is on the verge of a huge new contract — the max under whatever the new labor deal allows — and he is not going to risk that by risking injury overseas. He’s not going.
But back to our hypothetical. If Howard were to play overseas, where would he go? What he told Spanish publication Marca may surprise (translation by Hoopshype).
MARCA: If you play overseas, I have the hunch that you would choose China rather than Europe.
Dwight Howard: Yes, I think China has more options. I’ve thought about it, but not in depth. The issue is the potential of injury.
Why China? It’s about the money. It’s always about the money.
Dwight Howard is one of maybe half a dozen true international NBA stars, the icons people know in other countries. China is the biggest market in the world, and right now Kobe owns it (he has his own Chinese Web site, his on charity foundation for China, and remember how LeBron marveled at the media crush on Kobe at the Beijing Olympics).
Everyone wants a piece of that market. Dwight Howard wants a piece of that market. That’s why China. Cue Mars Blackmon — It’s got to be the shoes. And selling the shoes in China, the most populous nation on the planet, the largest potential shoe market on the planet.
Really, he should just hook up with Kobe’s barnstorming tour.
All this talk of NBA players jumping to Europe… there’s a few reasons we’re skeptical here. And not just because we’re skeptical of everything.
One big issue is money — few European teams can afford to approach even an average NBA salary. At the high end of the rumors, Deron Williams would make $5 million in Turkey — which is $11 million less than he would in the NBA.
Then there is the illustrative case of Andrei Kirilenko, as reported by the Salt Lake Tribune.
According to Marca.com, Kirilenko recently approached Spanish League power Real Madrid about a contract, but the club balked over his $5.8 million salary request.
Kirilenko was paid $17.8 million last season, when injuries again limited his contribution to the Jazz. In 64 games, he averaged 11.7 points and 5.1 rebounds.
We’re just saying, don’t expect name NBA players to race overseas where they will be paid a fraction of their NBA salaries (and risk those salaries, if they get hurt playing in Europe and NBA team can void the deal).
Deron Williams has a deal in principle to play in Turkey should the lockout extend into September (and it almost certainly will be there at the start of the month).
We have our doubts about how many other elite players will follow in those footsteps — but it is great leverage for the NBPA (the player’s union) in negotiations with owners.
So when Newsday talked to union VP Roger Mason Jr., he threw out other big names who might want to play overseas.
“I can see anybody doing it,” said Mason Jr. said. “This is what people have to understand. It’s definitely about earning a living, but we’ve already been so blessed, a lot of guys love the game and want to be able to compete . . . I’ve talked to a lot of the star players, Chris Paul, Amar’e, (Stoudemire) Melo (Carmelo Anthony), I think that those guys are open-minded to everything.”
Again, we have our doubts. In the case of Stoudemire, his agent says in the same article this is not even being considered yet. Stoudemire has four years and $83 million left on his deal that can be voided if he got seriously injured playing overseas. And Stoudemire already has had microfracture surgery and an eye retina problem. You think he’s going to risk the physical play allowed in Europe.
Anthony has for years and about $87.6 million left after just signing and extension with the Knicks. Chris Paul is on the brink of his biggest payday ever as a free agent. Would they really risk all that to make a couple million for a season in Europe?
But it’s good leverage, so expect the union to keep selling it.
It is every player’s favorite threat — “I can always play in Europe.” Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, a ton of players have pulled out the Euro card as an option.
It’s not really an option, not like they think.
So warns Nenad Krstic, who spent the last several seasons in the NBA (Thunder and Celtics) but signed with powerhouse CSKA Russia to play for them next season. Krstic spoke with the Boston Herald.
“I don’t think you will see a lot coming here,” Krstic said yesterday from his home in Kraljevo, Serbia. “Europe is not in a great situation financially. There are only four or five teams now that can offer much to NBA players, and those teams right now are almost full.
“That’s a problem for NBA players, I think,” he said. “It was a reason why I had to go right away. I got maybe the best contract in Europe because of that.”
That doesn’t even get into how players who are under an NBA contract need a special waiver from FIBA to play overseas, even during a lockout.
Talk to players that play overseas ad they will tell you that playing for the big names teams you know the names of — CSKA Moscow, Barcelona, Real Madrid — and playing for most teams are different experiences. The farther down the food chain you go, the more you run into teams that struggle with payroll, coaches on massive ego trips (and coaches have more power there) and more. It’s not exactly the NBA on the other side of the pond. And on the top teams, there will be few if any spots left by the time NBA players come knocking.
Just know that while it makes a good threat, it’s not such a practical option.