Overseas option far from sure thing for NBA stars

Deron Williams’ decision to play in Turkey if the lockout

remains could open the door for other NBA stars.

Unless FIBA shuts it.

Basketball’s governing body has to sign off on these deals for

players under contract, and the NBA Players’ Association expects

that it will.

But what if it doesn’t?

”I don’t think that’s going to be an easy transaction, to be

honest with you,” said agent Roger Montgomery, whose client Sonny

Weems signed in Lithuania last week after playing last season with

the Toronto Raptors.

Weems, whose contract had expired, agreed to a one-year contract

without an opt-out clause, meaning he’s actually committed to

spending the season in Europe. But the deal that Williams would get

from Besiktas of Turkey – and that any top-level NBA player would

demand – would allow him to run right back to the NBA once the

lockout ends.

So in approving the deals, FIBA would potentially be giving away

valued jobs to players who have no intention of keeping them,

diminishing the overseas product for the sake of perhaps a few

games with bigger names.

The NBA union’s belief is that FIBA would not stand in the way

of players whose contracts have been suspended because of the

lockout seeking employment elsewhere.

But FIBA needs a little more time to determine that. A spokesman

for the organization said it is working on a statement to be sent

to its membership and clubs to clarify the legal situation, which

will likely be ready early this week.

If FIBA says it will offer letters of clearance, the Williams

route becomes available for any other NBA players who want to play,

not stay, in Europe. Kobe Bryant, Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony

and Dwyane Wade were among the players who reportedly would be open

to playing overseas.

But don’t plan on that exodus just yet. One agent said he

”wouldn’t be shocked” if FIBA rejects the kind of contract they’d

be seeking and wondered if many European teams would even offer

them.

Of course, it’s unclear how many teams could even afford to.

With the risk of injury that could threaten their NBA earnings, few

top players would consider the move without the guarantee of top

dollars. And in a weakened European economy that likely rules out

the elite Greek clubs, and a history of headaches with certain

teams when it comes to actually receiving payment, top talent may

not have many places to go.

”There’s not a lot of teams over there that could pay the

salary of what a rotational NBA player would earn,” agent Mark

Bartelstein said last week. ”I wouldn’t say it’s a vibrant market

for NBA rotational-caliber players.”

While seeing its players getting jobs overseas could potentially

threaten owners at the bargaining table, the NBA has shaken off the

European challenge before and likely would again.

Many U.S. Olympians were asked if they would consider the option

in 2008 after Josh Childress left the Atlanta Hawks for Greek club

Olympiakos and other lesser players followed, agreeing they would

have to listen for a deal that would offer them $40 million a year,

tax free. But NBA Commissioner David Stern quickly played down the

idea, saying ”the system will not support it,” and that was

before the economy tumbled.

So while the Williams deal was interesting, deals for ones like

Weems are far more likely.

”That’s going to be difficult at best, especially for your

A-tier player,” Montgomery said.

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