The question everyone now wants to know during this lockout — aside from when it will end — is how many NBA players are strongly considering a European career?
When news broke last week of New Jersey's Deron Williams' decision to take his talents to Turkey, the first two words most observers could form following ‘Wow' was ‘Who's next?' If one of the three best point guards in the league is willing to sign overseas, what's stopping hundreds of other NBA players from following suit?
The answer could be the NBA.
That's why the question we should be asking is what can/will the NBA do?
On the surface, the league's hands appear to be tied.
In Article XXX, Section 4 of the NBA's now-expired Collective Bargaining Agreement is a clause prohibiting players or their union from allowing players under contract to play for another professional basketball team. Under normal circumstances, that one section could hold up in a court of law and block players under contract from signing overseas. But that language is worthless now that the labor agreement is expired.
During this work stoppage, all player contracts are suspended, meaning they technically don't exist at the moment. Players aren't getting compensated. There are no rules. And with all contact and communication with players having been banned, league and front office executives can neither discourage nor discipline a player who chooses to play elsewhere.
But there is gray area.
There is no telling the extent of litigation the league might be willing to engage to prevent a mass exodus. And there is no way to be sure whether a legion of lawsuits would work.
The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) also has to issue a letter of clearance to approve players under contract with other professional leagues to compete in its leagues. And there is no guarantee that FIBA will grant that clearance, especially not when you consider how the NBA — which has spent decades building up basketball internationally — might frown upon FIBA for now raiding its talent. FIBA is expected to address the situation with its clubs this week, according to the Associated Press.
There is so much uncertainty that the possibility of NBA teams voiding contracts of any player who makes the jump has been raised. While that option might be a long shot, teams certainly can terminate contracts of players who sustain severe injuries while overseas. It would be viewed no differently than a player sustaining injury while riding a motorcycle, for example.
Williams, who signed a one-year deal worth a reported $5 million with the Turkish club Besiktas, would be tied with Chris Paul as the league's 13th highest paid player next season, earning more than $16.3 million. Though he reportedly already has started the process of securing insurance in the event of injury, Williams risks forfeiting the final $34 million of his guaranteed money with the Nets over the next two seasons.
Still, Williams says other players are genuinely interested in following in his footsteps.
“I've talked to a lot of players, you would be surprised,” Williams told ESPN.com. “I talked to a few before and I knew some guys were considering it as well. But since it came out, it was just like a snowball of guys calling me (saying), ‘What are you doing? When are you leaving?' And guys want to go too. They want to do it.”
Thunder forward Serge Ibaka recently said if the lockout drags on he would like to return to Spain, where he played for two seasons and resides in the off-season. Former Thunder center Nenad Krstic has already signed to play in Russia. Many more NBA players, including stars as big as Kobe Bryant, have reportedly expressed an interest as well.
“It's more about the experience,” Williams told ESPN.com. “Experience and being able to compete and play basketball.
“I don't want to sit around. That's what the NBA wants us to do right now. They locked us out of our gyms. They locked us out of facilities. We got to find somewhere on our own to go hoop, to put games together. I don't have to do that. I've got a team. I'm going to go through organized practices. I'm going to be in game situations. So if the lockout is lifted, I'm going to be ready to play.”
Section 4. Best efforts of Players Association
The Players Association will use its best efforts: (a) to prevent each player from rendering, or threatening to render, services as a professional basketball player for another professional basketball team during the term of a Player Contract between such player and the Team for which he plays (except as said Player Contract may be assigned, sold, or transferred in accordance with the provisions of such Player Contract or this Agreement)...
Source: 2005 Collective Bargaining Agreement