On the surface, the NFL and NBA lockouts are the same thing -- owners are closing the doors on their own leagues so they can negotiate a more beneficial collective bargaining agreement with the respective players unions.
However, as most sports fans know, the NFL is thriving economically and everyone thinks it's just a matter of time before the owners and players figure out how to divide up the multibillion dollar pie that the league generates. The NBA, on the other hand, supposedly has 22 (of 30) teams that are bleeding cash, who are better off with doors closed than doors open.
Not a very good business model right about now.
If history tells us anything (history meaning the Lockout of 1998-99), the NBA owners will just wait for the players to blow through whatever "war chest" they've saved and eventually a big enough faction of players will need a paycheck to pay mortgages, child support, car notes, child support, credit card bills and child support.
Billionaires smoking out millionaires. It's really that simple.
The players have hopefully learned a few things from a decade or so ago. In 1999, careers were virtually ended by inactivity. Shawn Kemp, most notably, ballooned to about 260 pounds and was never the same player. (An informal poll of my listeners has Zach Randolph as the 2011 Kemp Award winner for "player most likely to eat himself out of the league during the lockout." Round physique, history of character issues, recently signed guaranteed $70 million contract. Not a bad guess.)
More importantly, though, perhaps the players learned a thing or two about finances. Reportedly, over 200 players decided to take year-round paychecks rather than higher (and fewer) in-season checks. The year-round checks still only run until October, but it is at least a sign of some sort of awareness of fiscal responsibility, I guess.
The owners being in worse shape (allegedly) than the last lockout, and the players being smarter (allegedly, in size-72 font), is a formula for a much longer standoff than 1998-99, if indeed the players are not buying into the dire financial straits of the owners.
Now add in the following variable -- players heading overseas to play this fall.
And I'm not talking about the already drafted potential NBA rookies already overseas (Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesely, Donatas Montiejunas) staying there. I'm not even talking about NBA Euros going home to play. I'm talking about frontline NBA players going to other countries to play.
That option is in the mix, and the first shot may have been fired today when New Jersey Nets All-Star point guard Deron Williams agreed to a deal reportedly in the "low seven figures" with a team in Turkey. From the Associated Press:
Williams' newly hired agent, Jeff Schwartz, on Thursday confirmed a report from the Turkey-based sports outlet NTV Spor that the All-Star point guard has struck an agreement in principal to play for Besiktas, which is the club that briefly employed Allen Iverson last season.
Williams's deal would kick in later this summer and would allow him to immediately return to the United States as soon as the NBA lockout ends. Williams has two years left on his deal with New Jersey (for around $34 million), but is expected to opt out and become a free agent in 2012.
So there you go. An NBA All-Star in his prime formulating a contingency plan to play some ball and, more importantly, make some money while the NBA doors are locked. And they may not be done, according to Besitkas coach Ergin Ataman:
"If there's a possibility, we'll talk with Kobe (Bryant) if he'd like to play in Europe with Deron and with other guys to play we can talk with him," Ataman said. "If Kobe would like to play with us, we will also contact his agent and maybe with him."
As a basketball fan, I never thought I'd want to see our stars go overseas, but I'm now hoping for a mass exodus for two reasons: 1. A slew of major NBA stars seeking employment elsewhere will give the players some semblance of leverage (not a ton, but a little) and will get us closer to the truth on the owners' collective financial situation. If it's as bad as they say, Williams and others playing elsewhere will mean practically nothing. If it's not, and players have another outlet to earn subsistence money, this will allow the players to dig in for a longer haul. How much longer depends on how many players go overseas and how much money teams there have.
(There has also been talk of NBA players doing barnstorming tours around the world, which could draw big money in countries not used to seeing NBA stars up close, assuming the star power on top of the games is of the LeBron/Kobe/Wade/Howard variety. This, in a way, reminds me of WWE where, even when business domestically is down, they can go to Australia, Europe or South Africa and pull monster crowds because there's a "newness" in the product for those fans.)
2. In the "potential train wreck" category, let's pretend for a second that Williams is the first of several really good NBA players to dot the rosters of the Turkish league. I know nothing about Turkish basketball leagues, but immediately those NBA players become the best players on those teams, right? Like, by FAR, correct? I mean, Williams is by far the best player on the Nets, so I'm assuming that he is light years ahead of the next best player on Besitkas, right? I know none of you are around to answer my rhetorical questions, so let's assume that the NBA players (All-Star or near All-Star caliber players) are easily the best on their teams.
So now what happens if the NBA opens its doors halfway through the Turkish league season? Or even better, just as the playoffs are beginning (or even WAY better, during the playoffs!)? The biggest difference-making players during the season leaving the league during the playoffs! In terms of the integrity of the playoffs matching the results of the regular season, it completely shuffles the deck, right?
How awesome would it be to have an entire league lose all of their best players right before the playoffs? As long as it's not a league in my country, I say VERY awesome.
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(Sidebar: Do they allow season wagering on the Turkish league? If so, how do you even account for the variable of the best players on teams up and leaving during the season if the NBA resumes play? Fascinating stuff.)
So kudos to Deron Williams. He is one of a handful of players who are going to make next summer exciting with his pending free agency (Dwight Howard, Chris Paul also). But he's already made this boring summer without the NBA a tad more exciting by going to Turkey to practice his vocation.
Now start working the phones, Europe. Lots of players available. Come and get 'em!
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game and Sporting News Radio (Sirius 94 and XM 208) from noon to 3 p.m. weekdays and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.