NBA Sunday: Exodus to Where?
Exodus to Where?
Deron Williams has dominated the basketball headlines for the better part of the last week because of his having signed with a professional basketball team in Turkey for the duration of the NBA lockout, but his latest comments—that there could be an exodus of NBA players to international leagues—is what’s got everybody up and arms right now.
As if basketball fans weren’t already scared enough about having no basketball for a year, the thought of losing players to Europe and Asia permanently is all the more frightening.
Well, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, understand that a permanent exodus to international basketball is not happening. For starters, even with a new CBA that heavily favors the owners, the NBA would still be able to pay almost any player more than a team in Europe or Asia would be able to do. Beyond that, travel and hotels through the NBA are top-notch, as are endorsement opportunities and even the level of play. There are just too many things that international hoops can’t compete with.
Beyond that, most international leagues have rules about the number of non-native players they can feature on their rosters, and in most cases it’s just two or three slots. We’re talking about hundreds of NBA players looking for work this fall; there just won’t be enough places and/or enough money to make a true “exodus,” as Williams suggested, possible.
All that said, here’s a look at some of the leagues that could come calling for players now that D-Will has set the toppling dominoes in motion. If an NBA player is going to get a reasonable paycheck overseas, it’s probably going to be through one of these leagues:
Euroleague – Officially called Turkish Airlines Euroleague, this is the most reputable FIBA Europe league out there. There are 38 teams represented from 18 countries, and games are broadcast in 191 countries and viewed by over 245 million people in China alone. NBA TV and ESPN3 have even broadcast games in the past, and a strong majority of the arenas players play in can accommodate several thousand fans. When players say they want to come to Europe, this is what they’re talking about.
Some of the more well-known and successful teams in the Euroleague include CSKA Moskow, Panathinaikos, FC Barcelona, and Maccabi Tel Aviv, and when the NBA comes over to Europe to play exhibitions against an international team, it’s always against a Euroleague squad. NBA players have both been discovered from this league and exiled to this league
Eurocup – After Euroleague, Eurocup Basketball is the next tier of international pro hoops. Founded fewer than ten years ago, 32 teams compete in the competitions, which also occasionally broadcasts on NBA TV and ESPN3. The arenas are smaller (the league actually had to install a rule stipulating that by 2013 all arenas are able to hold at least 5,000 people), but the competition is still good.
It is a younger league, so it’s hard to really say which teams are the real “powerhouses,’ but Lietuvos Rytas and Valencia both have won two championships already, and teams like Real Madrid and DKV Joventut Badalona have seen some publicized success, as well. Besiktas, the team that Deron Williams recently agreed to sign with, is a member of the Turkish Basketball League, which eventually sends its top teams to the Eurocup.
EuroChallenge – This is the third tier of European basketball, and while there isn’t anywhere near as much hullaballoo about the teams in this league, there are still draft prospects scouted from this group, and American players do often end up playing for one of EuroChallenge’s 32 teams.
Because winners of EuroChallenge tournaments get bumped up to Eurocup the next year, there aren’t often a whole lot of perennial favorites. Like a lot of other European hoops, the field of teams featured each year is fluid, but these clubs are still definitely an option for players looking to make some cash overseas during the lockout.
Adriatic League – With fourteen teams based out of the Adriatic region in Europe, there aren’t a whole lot of options for players to jump on with teams from countries like Croatia, Israel, Montenegro, and Serbia; it’s more a league where NBA teams scout potential talent for the draft. Some American players do latch on (the 2010 league MVP was American Chester Mason), but the overwhelming majority of the players in this smaller league are actually from the regions for whom they’re playing. Partizan has won the championship of that league in each of the last five seasons, and were runner-ups for the two seasons before that streak started.
Baltic League – This league features players from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia (among others), and features 24 teams split into two divisions. Just like with the Adriatic League, many players are from that region, but each team does allow roster space for a few American players. Sonny Weems recently signed with BC Zalgris of the Baltic League, so that’s one less open roster spot in that particular league. That signing does prove, however, that NBA players can find a place in the Baltic, as well.
Chinese Basketball Association – China is another option for NBA players, with 17 pro teams available for players to potentially sign with. This is the league from whence Yao Ming came, but the Guangdong Southern Tigers are pretty clearly the best team in the league, having appeared in every championship series since 2003 and winning all of them except two. Lester Hudson, Macrus Haislip, and David Harrison are the three Americans currently on that roster.
Stern Says Market Sharing Inevitable
We think that this lockout is all about players versus owners, but before this thing gets resolved, there’s going to be a pretty epic battle that doesn’t involve any players at all. That battle is the one about market sharing, a suggested solution for how the 22 teams that lost money in the last year can make sure their businesses can actually be profitable.
“We had a great year in terms of the appreciation of the fans for our game,” NBA commissioner David Stern said. “It just wasn’t a profitable one for our owners. And it wasn’t one that many of the small-market teams particularly enjoyed. Or felt included in.”
The league’s reason behind calling for more market sharing is two-fold. The first is the obvious one, that teams like the Bulls, Knicks, and Lakers haul in cash hand over fist because of where their teams are located, while so many less marketable small market teams are losing money. The other is a competitive issue; teams that haul in all that extra dough have no problem overpaying players. What’s a luxury tax to someone making as much money as the Los Angeles Lakers?
The last five NBA champions were luxury tax payers, which means teams absolutely have to spend money in order to be truly competitive (at least under the current CBA, which obviously will be changing), and that means teams who couldn’t afford to pay the tax would have no chance at a championship.
While the competitive aspect of this problem could probably be fleshed out without having to mess with market sharing at all, the issue of poor profit margins is what has the strong majority of owners clamoring for this change. It doesn’t seem fair that an entrepreneur could either purchase or inherit a team in a top market, make tons of money because of it, then be asked to share with a team like Atlanta, who paid so much bad money when they couldn’t even fill their arena on a nightly basis.
Teams like Oklahoma City and San Antonio have proven that drafting well and being frugal with cap space can lead to on-court success, which leads to fans coming to games, which leads to owners making money. But not all owners and front offices are as shrewd as those, and the problem then still remains.
It’s a huge issue that has to get resolved between the owners before anything with the players can actually be resolved, and that’s just one more thing that could hold up this entire process. As if one-on-one wasn’t hard enough already.