Role Players Cashing In Abroad
It’s official – the NBA has a big problem on its hands. This problem goes beyond dress code and player image, fixed games, gambling, and officiating scandals.
[img_assist|nid=1581|title=Josh Childress|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=450] The NBA is losing players to Europe, a huge dilemma for the League as a business and as a product on the court.
It wasn’t a huge cause for concern when former Grizzly Juan Carlos Navarro and former Raptors Carlos Delfino and Jorge Garbojosa headed back overseas after short-lived, mildly successful NBA campaigns that saw them make less money while getting less playing time. It wasn’t a major concern when Boki Nachbar, a valuable role player for the Nets, took a 15 million dollar contract to play in Russia instead of settling for a smaller contract.
The Brandon Jennings situation caught everyone’s attention, but that’s a different issue altogether, affecting the NCAA more than the NBA because he will still be eligible for the 2009 NBA Draft just as he would if he went to college.
But yesterday, with Josh Childress signing a lucrative, multi-year deal in Greece, the lure of Europe became a major concern.
This isn’t Dominique Wilkins and Bob McAdoo heading abroad at the end of their careers. This isn’t Trajan Langdon relocating after failing to make it in the NBA.
This is a former #6 overall pick, fresh off completing his rookie contract with a solid statistical season for an up-and-coming Atlanta Hawks team, opting to sign in Europe. This is a young, American player with significant talent and potential choosing to take the money in Greece.
“The NBA had better be careful,” Nachbar said after signing in Russia. “European teams are offering a lot of money. It’s much more than I could make signing for the midlevel exception.”
In recent years, the world has caught up to us from a basketball standpoint, but now it is catching up financially. It’s been reported that there are several European clubs (most notably in Greece, Russia, Spain, and Italy) that have a lot of money to offer players, perhaps more than the NBA is willing to offer. European agent Herb Rudoy predicts that a major NBA talent will opt for Europe in the coming years, but it’s doubtful that a superstar still in his prime would make that move.
First, superstars in the NBA will never have a problem getting paid. Second, they are way too competitive to settle for playing against inferior competition. Maybe guys like Stephon Marbury will go, but does anyone really care if Europe steals away our troublesome, cancerous, basket cases, even if they are great talents? I don’t.
What I care about, and what the NBA should care about, is that with this abundance of money in Europe, the NBA could lose a lot of quality role players: lesser-known starters and important reserves that will receive offers from European clubs that are substantially better than the offers they’d receive over here.
Josh Childress is the perfect example. He’s averaged 11 points and 6 rebounds per game in four NBA seasons. He helped the Hawks make the playoffs this past season and push the eventual champion Boston Celtics to seven games. He is a quality player, a starter on some teams, and all summer long, the Hawks front office said that retaining Childress (along with Josh Smith) was priority #1.
According to ESPN, they offered Childress a contract with a first year of about $5.5 million, slightly more than the midlevel exception. Olympiakos offered a three-year deal that will pay Childress more than $7 million per year. It’s a no-brainer.
Instead of being a role player for a team that will perennially contend for an 8-seed and getting knocked out in the first round of the playoffs, he will make more money and be a star for one of the best clubs in Europe. He will get more playing time, giving him the opportunity to improve his game. He will make a name for himself in Europe, and when his deal is up, he will have the chance to get a bigger NBA contract if he decides to come back. If I’m Josh Childress, I make the same decision ten times out of ten.
With Childress making this shocking move, look for more solid NBA players to opt for stardom and riches in Europe over mediocrity in America. With the economy the way that it is, and the luxury tax scaring owners to death, teams are being far more careful with their money than in the past. That’s why Donnie Walsh was brought to New York and why Marcus Camby was given to the Clippers for literally nothing. Furthermore, with the big free agent class of 2010 only two summers away, teams are not willing to offer long-term deals worth more than the midlevel to solid contributors.
Childress, Garbojosa, Navarro, Nachbar, and Delfino have already made the move, and reports show that Nenad Krstic is considering his options abroad. And don’t be surprised if more players, American or international, do the same thing, if not this summer than next.
How can the NBA fix this problem? Right now, their hands are tied. NBA teams can’t compete with the Euro and the other benefits that European teams can offer (housing, cars, tax breaks, etc.) However, they can make a few changes that would make the NBA more attractive.
The first is the elimination of the restricted free agent. The phrase itself is a contradiction. Restricted players do not have the mobility to go out and get a contract or field offers that unrestricted players do. Childress has spent the entire summer waiting for a deal, but his restriction granted the Hawks the opportunity to weigh their options while waiting to make him an offer. However, restricted free agent status means nothing when the player is negotiating with a team overseas. So instead of sitting around all summer and settling for a smaller deal, Childress went out and got the contract he wanted.
Most teams typically deal with their restricted free agents the way the Hawks did with Childress, waiting until the last minute to either make or match an offer. But, unless David Stern does something soon, more restricted free agents might very well follow Childress’ lead and bolt for Europe rather than waiting around all summer for an offer.
The second thing that needs to be dealt with is the drafting of international players. Most of these guys are professionals in Europe, making good money while playing significant minutes for good clubs. Why would they want to come over to the NBA after getting drafted in the late 20s? The rookie scale gives no flexibility for negotiating, so it’s no surprise that guys like Tiago Splitter would opt to sign a lucrative deal in Europe rather than coming over to the Spurs to make less than $2 million dollars per year in accordance with the rookie salary scale.
“[Splitter] wanted to come [to the NBA],” Rudoy said. “But his team made him an offer that he couldn’t say no to.”
The reason I like the rookie salary scale in the NBA is that it doesn’t allow players that have never played a pro game to come in demanding money like they do in the NFL. However, a lot of international players that get drafted are already pros and can make more money if they stay overseas. Why would they want to settle for the standard contract for a 25th pick when they could make a lot more playing in Italy? Stern needs to address this, or else the best international players will stay in Europe.
The NBA has some work to do before more of its players hop a plane and head to Italy, Greece, Spain, or Russia to cash in on the names they’ve built over here. Because if that happens, if Childress sets a trend, there will be a significant drop off in talent and quality of play, which is the last thing that the NBA needs amidst all its other current problems.
I definitely agree that something has to be done with restricted free agency. However, getting rid of it completely would be bad. Yes, starting with last summer and moreover this summer we have seen teams try to low ball their restricted free agents knowing other teams are afraid of their offers being matched. But getting rid of restricted free agency would mean teams would not have leverage at all of keeping their players. The league would be like MLB; players bolting from team to team, which isn't good when most players can't even stay on one team. Plus it would be worse in the NBA since there are less players and fans would only remember players and not remember them for what team they play for. What I think the NBA should do though is keep restricted free agency for the first week or so of free agency after the original negotiating period to get a deal done, otherwise if the team and player can't come to an agreement then he would become an unrestricted free agent. That way the team would essentially get first dibs, and with the waiting period only being 7 days, other teams wouldn't bother of putting an offer sheet on most occasions when they could just wait until that player is an unrestricted free agent. As for drafting international players, I think we will see the trend of the really good talent being drafted in the lottery ala Danillo Gallinari while the solid/raw talented players being drafted early 2nd round. Teams aren't even going to bother drafting international players in the mid to late first rounds unless they somehow get assured these players will sign with them. Of course their might be a Serge Ibaka situation here and there where teams know they won't get their player for a few years, yet their talent is good enough to have the right to. I believe we will see plenty of Marc Gasol scenarios down the road with first round talent players playing overseas after being drafted in early 2nd round and getting a nice "rookie contract." Honestly, I don't think the NBA will have a problem of solid players going overseas. American players especially we will see will take millions to stay in their home country with their friends and family rather than go to a foreign place to make an extra million per year in a less talented league. Restricted free agency is the real killer right now, but if they could implement something resembling my plan for it will allow this to be a non-issue.
A week for restricted free agency? Why not make it a day? A couple of hours? If the player feels he has the ability and desire to go somewhere else, how easy would it be for that player to just say no for the first week? What you would see happen then is players would just turn down any offer that comes from their team or have their agents argue minute points in the contract for a week and magically he is an unrestricted free agent. Either the system goes or it stays, period.
Comparing the NBA to the MLB is also a ridiculous notion because because there is no salary cap in the MLB. Players are able to jump from team to team because there are always teams like the Red Sox and Yankees who have insanely deep pockets and do not need to worry about limiting their spending. That is why teams have been so hesitant to spend money this summer, they know that if they do they will not be allowed to sign a huge name like LeBron in 2010. Have you ever heard of a baseball team saving money so they can go after a big name? No, because for the teams that can afford it, money is a non-issue.
You are correct in assuming that big name players won't leave their family and friends for "for an extra million a year in a less talented league", but that is not what DeStefano was referencing. For a player like Childress, a million more a year is exactly enough to get him to change teams or, in this case, leagues. This is not the days of old where if you wanted to play competitive basketball you had to be an American in America. Players can go abroad, live like kings, and still be competitive, not toe mention be "The Man" on their teams, a la Joe Johnson's desire to play for the Hawks when he was on a great Suns team.
As far as the Rookie pay-scale goes, this is the trickier issue. On the one hand, you want to allow teams more flexibility in signing, as DeStefano said, players who are already professionals. A few years ago, or even earlier this year, the simple solution would have been to say there are two pay-scales, one for college players and one for pros. Now, with the Jennings situation, all you would see is players going from high school to Europe for not only immediate money, but for a more generous paycheck when they do decide to return stateside.
At the end of the day, the NBA is a business and NBA players are businessmen. With Europe catching up to us in the economy and the game of baseketball, the League needs to make changes fast or DeStefano will be saying "told you so" sooner than you think.
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