The great escape

The great escape

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The great escape

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Stephon Marbury has been hinting around for a year or so that it would be him, an NBA All-Star, to flee to Europe because it pays better than the NBA. But Marbury no longer is a star, assuming he ever really was. Perhaps Allen Iverson, who is a star, arguably one of the most popular NBA players in the world. After his contract expires at the end of next season at age 34, is he going to be offered anywhere near the $20.8 million he’ll make in 2008-09? Not likely.

So how do you say, “Bubba Chuck” in Russian?

“Ultimately, someone big is going to (leave the NBA for) Europe,” predicts attorney Herb Rudoy, perhaps the premier European representative among NBA agents along with partner Luciano Capicchioni. “I think one NBA player in the next couple of years will get a significant offer and go. There are maybe a dozen teams with big money now. Someone will go.”

No, not Josh Childress, who is said to be going to Greece in a $20 million/three year deal. Not Carlos Delfino or Jorge Garbajosa, taking European deals after playing with some success in the NBA. It’s not like there’s some raid of talent reminiscent of the old ABA-NBA battles of the 1970’s.

But with the decline in the value of the U.S. dollar and some hints of a recession even feeling its way around the NBA in the form of more teams cutting back big spending or declining to use their salary cap exceptions to avoid paying the luxury tax, NBA players are beginning to take a serious look at playing in Europe as a legitimate alternative.

Mostly it’s European players, who are finding the NBA not as hospitable and welcoming as they’d hoped and who enjoy substantial income tax advantages that Americans don’t when they play in Europe.

Viktor Khryapa left the Chicago Bulls for Russia, Juan Carlos Navarro couldn’t wait to leave the Memphis Grizzlies (no surprise there) and New Jersey Nets players Bostjan Nachbar and Nenad Krstic are said to considering joining the likes of Garbajosa and Delfino in an NBA exodus.

The reason is money, and it’s manifesting itself in various forms.

Forget the bosa nova. Blame it on the euro.

One factor is the U.S. is at or near recession ā€“ with the euro growing more valuable in comparison, making it more lucrative in earnings than the dollar.

More so has been an economic explosion in European sports with money pouring in from a variety of sources. There is no European league like the NBA, so teams used to be run like operations for civic pride and responsibility. Now, in addition to rich owners buying teams in several places, they are being run more like businesses with substantial naming rights deals, signage and advertising.

The result is perhaps a dozen teams with budgets to compete with NBA teams, the main ones in Russia, Greece, Spain and Italy.

It once was that American star players, still limited to a pair per team, came at the end of their careers, like Bob McAdoo or Dominique Wilkins or because of problems in the NBA, like Micheal Ray Richardson and Roy Tarpley.

Rookie Danny Ferry bolted the Clippers in 1989 to force a trade, but that was rare.

But now Rudoy says his client, Tiago Splitter, a first-round draft pick of the Spurs, wanted to come to the NBA but could not afford to turn down his European offer.

“Splitter was 100 percent committed,” said Rudoy. “He wanted to come. But his team made him an offer (equal to $5 million annually) that he couldn’t say no to. All his intentions were to come to the NBA. So I also think you may see NBA teams not taking European players in the middle or late in the first round (with guaranteed salaries less than $2 million annually).”

Of course, it’s not like the NBA is about to lose its best talent.

There are risks leaving the U.S., terrorism aside. American players tend not to be the most adaptable people to different cultures, and all have heard horror stories of players not being paid or dumped after a bad game. And try collecting in Moscow. FIBA doesn’t exactly stand behind players to guarantee salaries like the NBA does.

And, especially with top players, European teams cannot compete with the large second contracts many NBA players can get after their rookie deals.

But Europe is now starting to see billionaire owners who might like an ego player or two. And the NBA isn’t exactly in boom times. Restricted free agents, like Childress, have trouble getting offers and so few teams are below the salary cap. Many more are close to the luxury tax and refusing to spend anywhere close. Previous wild spenders like the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks are cutting back. The Denver Nuggets, another big luxury tax payer, recently have Marcus Camby, arguably the league’s top defensive player, to the Clippers for, effectively, nothing to save money. Free agents like the Bulls’ Ben Gordon and Luol Deng are getting no offers.

There’s also been rumors that even teams like the champion Boston Celtics are not offering their rookies the full scale (teams can pay 80 to 120 percent) in some additional cost cutting moves more and more teams are employing.

It’s not exactly a trickle down from the subprime financial crisis. But some NBA players, other than the top stars, are starting to feel the financial pinch as well.

And maybe soon for some top NBA player or players a trip to Venice won’t automatically mean an afternoon at the quirky Los Angeles beach community.

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