Thursday, July 31, 2008

Europe: Great Rock Band and Great Basketball Destination?

So last week Josh Childress, proving that his threats were not idle, signed with a Greek professional team in a deal that was reportedly worth over $20 million (US). It's a three year deal, and he can opt out after each one of those years. Childress, who was averaging slightly above ten points a game, will now have a richer basketball salary than Kobe Bryant and be a star overseas with that ever-marketable afro. Plus, Greek chicks aren't that much worse than anything he could have pulled in the ATL.

"Secretly, little man, I just really like olives and feta cheese."

Before him, a few players of similar ability--Juan Carlos Navarro, Primoz Brezec--had re-upped overseas, but they had already played for European teams before migrating to the NBA. For a player as clearly American as Childress to decide that the international game was more profitable and promising than the NBA he dreamed of as a child is the signal of a real tipping point in the business of basketball. In the wake of his decision, many more mid-level guys have tested the waters. For example, Delonte West is mulling over a two-year $10 million deal with a Russian team--how terrifying would his neck tats be to the reds? And for the first time, pacing to Europe seems like enough of a threat that NBA teams are over-paying people (Biedrins, Andris) just to keep them from leaving. Couple that phenomenon with all the second-round draft picks from overseas electing to stay there over an NBA minimum salary, and this is significant. From my armchair, the ramifications of that Childress signing could present a very different version of the NBA to us in just a few years.

The story of Brandon Jennings, who is probably the best high school player in the country, has coincided with Childress' because he is a new breed of player as well. He has rescinded his commitment to the University of Arizona to make bank in Italy for a year before taking his rightful place in the NBA. His toying with Euroball is different though because he's still seen as a prospect. Rather than mess with high-level college competition for nothing, he wants to kill a year over there as the main attraction while making a few hundred thousand. (Plus, he didn't qualify academically for Arizona. Yikes. I doubt this is part of the equation for him, but to be honest, the education of living abroad will probably teach him more than he would learn as a U of A athlete.) But make no mistake, the NBA is his dream. This is a way to keep playing basketball, not go to school, and make money. Then he'll make the jump to playing with people in his class.

That tattoo might read "Young Money," but what it really says is: "I didn't try on my SATs."

What's different about Josh Childress is that he had already proven himself on that stage. This is a decision based entirely around the value of the contract he could receive with the present NBA salary cap and the weak US dollar versus what he could get in Greece. So it got me thinking, what would happen to the makeup of the league if more players in Josh Childress' position made the transcontinental leap?

The superstars will stay here no matter what. 25% of a team's payroll is still enough of a financial incentive, and the exposure the NBA provides leads to more than that in endorsements. God help us if Carmelo one day signed with Tau Ceramica. (And it would be 'Melo. All he has to do is learn how to say "stop snitchin'" en espanol.)

Someone with the name recognition of Brandon Jennings notwithstanding, the young players seem safe too. European teams don't seem to have the resources to evaluate American talent with as broad of a scouting stroke as division one colleges and NBA teams. I might be wrong about this, but it seems as if they have to wait for the player to make a name for himself here to be interested. Giving a lot of money to High School Blue Chip X wouldn't really translate into enough tickets over there to be worth it.

No, the players who are in danger of moving are the mid-level ones like Josh Childress. They have played a few years in the NBA, enough to be disillusioned by it, and have tested their skills against the best in the world. They'll never be a superstar in America and are tired of being shuffled from one team to another. If a team in Spain or Italy offers them more money to be first banana, why not take it? So what would happen if there were no NBA role players?

"Hold up, did somebody say 'no role players'?"

We would be faced with a league of peerless stars and unseasoned young dudes with nothing in between. (I guess there would be the occasional guy who is just really patriotic.) Role players are essential to basketball as distributors, rebounders, on-the-ball defenders, gritty energy players, etc. If this doomsday scenario were to happen, basketball would definitely be a worse game as a result. The role players are probably the most important to the philosophy of the game continuing to make sense. It's enough that players don't care about winning for their team or being the pride of their team's city, the spirit of teamwork would take a hit in a real way if the role players moved en masse. I realize I'm being too serious about this, since there would be good unintentional comedy as a result as well, but I don't want my league to change. And part of me thinks the Europeans know this and are sabotaging our game out of spite. What do you guys think?

Let's not tell any of the NBA players that strip clubs are better overseas. Then we'd be in trouble.

1 comment:

Michael said...

I don't think they allow pancake faces on planes anymore...something about pancakes possibly being stuffed with explosives???

Too bad Maccabi Tel Aviv is actually good, otherwise he could go over to the Motherland and lay bricks with my ancestors. What took them years and years of backbreaking labor, he would manage to build in one season.