The big story of the NBA lockout has been the idea of NBA players taking their talents to signing with European teams as a way of replacing a portion of their incomes as the owners try to renegotiate the CBA pie.
Deron Williams is going to Turkey. Kobe Bryant is being pursued to play in Turkey. Eddy Curry is … never mind, that’s too easy.
Many NBA veterans are looking overseas, perhaps to gain some leverage in negotiations with the owners. Whether it ends up being a serious option or not, it’s all about how the owners ultimately perceive that threat and allow it to influence them at the bargaining table. Some players, like Sonny Weems, are signing overseas with the intention of playing there the full season, regardless of what happens with the new CBA.
We keep hearing about how this lockout impacts NBA players and where they will be playing basketball this winter, but we haven’t heard about the impact this has on European players who might be looking to come over to the U.S. someday. Naturally, we assume that players from all over the world desperately want to come to the NBA because it is the best league in presumably the best country in the world.
For decades, foreign players have been making the trek from all over the world for a chance at playing against the best competition in the world and for the most lucrative contracts available. This migration hasn't produced a lot of stars, but it has led to a large number of foreign players coming over to see what they're made of.
And there are sometimes when they don't bother to come at all. Fran Vasquez was drafted 11th overall by the Orlando Magic in the 2005 NBA draft. He was going to be the other big man next to Dwight Howard in the Magic’s rebuilding process. Unfortunately for Magic fans, he never came over to the NBA. It’s been six years now and it looks as if Vasquez is content with staying in Spain for the entirety of his professional basketball career.
Then you also have someone like Dimitris Diamantidis. Diamantidis is the best point guard Europe has to offer. He went undrafted in the NBA in 2002. Since then, he’s been dominating the Euroleague like few guards have done before him. He’s one of the best defensive players in the world at his position (including NBA players) and a really great overall player that has proven himself in various international settings. He keeps signing contract extensions to stay in Europe, and with him turning 31 a couple months ago, he’s unlikely to ever play in the NBA.
While these two guys are two of the higher profile players in Europe not interested in trying out the NBA game, we could see a big wave of players deciding to stay on their own shores. Jonathan Tjarks over at RealGM explored the idea and offered up examples of why certain international prospects could be hesitant to play for less in the NBA under a new collective bargaining agreement.
Instead of encouraging American players to flock overseas, the lockout is likely to have the opposite effect: increasing the incentives for international players to stay home without ever making the leap to the NBA.
In the name of increasing parity, the owners’ CBA proposal institutes a hard salary cap which would lower player salaries across the board. The removal of the Larry Bird and mid-level exceptions, in particular,would have a devastating effect on the salaries of the “middle-class” of players. Combine that with a reverse-order draft where poorly managed teams in small markets can gain complete control over international players for at least four years, and we’re likely to see more foreign players following the path of Fran Vazquez.
If salary cap exceptions are removed in labor negotiations, foreign players would have to take drastic pay reductions to play in the NBA. The Spurs are an incredibly well-run organization with lots of experience dealing with international players; imagine the problems a franchise like Sacramento or Charlotte would encounter in a similar scenario.
This year, Nikola Mirotic,a 20-year old 6’10 sharp-shooter, signed a two-year extension that will keep him under contract with Real Madrid until 2015. His exorbitant€2.5 million bailout caused his draft stock to plummet, and he slipped from the lottery to the #23 selection.
Currently, the plan is to wait at least two to three years until his buyout becomes less onerous. But at that point, the Bulls, one of the most promising young teams in the NBA, will likely be locked into long-term deals with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson. They certainly won’t have the cap room to offer Mirotic a big contract, and if he continues his upward path, he’ll likely be worth more to an European team than the mid-level exception the Spurs used to sign Splitter, if it even exists after the lockout.
And this is where the potential problem lies. Competition aside, there could be very little incentive for foreign players to come over, as the money is most likely to be quite inadequate compared to what they can make in the Euroleague. When you factor in buyouts, smaller yearly salaries for the first four years, taxes gutting out those lower salary figures, and the cost of living in various NBA markets, it makes very little financial sense for these players to leave their homes (that could be taken care of by their respective teams) and lack of taxation just to come be a role player in the NBA.
For years, there were rumors of Rudy Fernandez wanting to ditch Portland for better opportunities in Europe. Part of that was probably just a negotiating tactic to try and force a trade to another team (which finally sort of worked this summer when he was dealt to the NBA champion Mavericks). But another part of it could very well have been following in the footsteps of fellow countryman, Juan Carlos Navarro (who skipped out on the NBA after his rookie season to return to Spain).
Now, there are rumors of Ersan Ilyasova of the Milwaukee Bucks signing with Fenerbahce Ulker in Turkey, where one-time Buck Roko Ukic once left the NBA to join.
The NBA dollar is no longer a promise of the best financial situation available for any player in the world. The new system could be devoid of incentives that would make such a life-altering and challenging move to the NBA a fruitful venture. It will come down to just how much competition the foreign players thirst for.
Maybe on a patriotic level, this is a better situation for Americans wishing to play professional basketball. There will be more “homegrown” jobs in the NBA that aren’t outsourced to foreign temp agencies. It will only bring over the most competitive and bloodthirsty international players, and that could ultimately be a good thing, especially in terms of draft busts.
Regardless of the "bright side" of such a situation, this lockout could very well change the global landscape of basketball far more than we could have ever imagined.