Posted on: February 5, 2012 4:20 pm
Posted by Royce Young
The NBA sets up its Super Bowl Sunday schedule the way it is for a reason. A small slate of games, all played in the early afternoon. Why? For one, because who is going to watch or go to the games, but two, because like everyone other person in the world, players want to have their own Super Bowl parties.
And it sounds like if you're going to go to one, Nicolas Batum's is the place to be. Via the Basketball Jones:
Posted on: January 31, 2012 2:15 am
Edited on: January 31, 2012 5:26 pm
Posted by Ben Golliver
Update (Tuesday): The Portland Trail Blazers announced on Tuesday that Batum's MRI revealed a left bone contusion. Batum is listed as out for Wednesday's home game against the Charlotte Bobcats and he will be re-evaluated later this week. Batum is currently listed as day-to-day.
Portland Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum suffered a left knee injury during the fourth quarter of a loss to the Utah Jazz at Energy Solutions Arena on Monday night. In the game's closing minute, Batum, who was defended by Jazz forward C.J. Miles, drove to his right towards the basket when his left knee appeared to give out, causing him to fall to the court in evident pain.
Batum was helped to the locker room by the team's trainer, Jay Jensen, and will undergo an MRI on his left knee upon his return to Portland on Tuesday.
The Oregonian reported that Batum said after the game that he felt pain "in his left knee, on the outside, near his kneecap" and that he said he "[didn't] think it will be too bad."
The Blazers next play on Wednesday night, when they will host the Charlotte Bobcats at the Rose Garden.
Batum, a 23-year-old small forward from France, is averaging 11.2 points and 4.2 rebounds in 24.9 minutes per game off of Portland's bench this season.
Last week, the Blazers were unable to agree on a contract extension with Batum, a first round pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, and he is on track to become a restricted free agent this summer.
Here's the video of Blazers forward Nicolas Batum's left knee injury.
Posted on: January 26, 2012 4:18 pm
Edited on: January 27, 2012 12:27 am
Posted by Ben Golliver
The deadline for teams to sign extensions with 2008 NBA Draft picks passed at midnight on Wednesday. Only a handful of deals were reached, with a number of fairly big names left to head towards restricted free agency next summer. Let's take a look at the major deals and non-deals one-by-one.
This year’s largest deal was handed out to the class’s No. 1 overall pick and it was an absolute no-brainer, a long-term commitment that binds hometown star and league MVP Derrick Rose to the Bulls for the next half-decade. With the Eastern Conference-leading Bulls clearly in the middle of what should be a lengthy championship window and with Rose more than comfortable both on and off the court in Chi-town, this deal amounted to calculating the highest legal financial offer and delivering it as quickly as possible. That Rose elected not to demand a player option on the deal’s final year is a nice bonus for Chicago, who will be paying a premium to their 2-time All-Star under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement. Rose will almost certainly be a Bull for the next decade but it’s comforting to know that there won’t be any distracting sideshows and rumors for years to come.
Westbrook, the No. 4 overall pick, was really just Rose-light. The 2011 All-Star and All-NBA second team performer commanded every penny available to him under a standard max extension, and the fact that he reportedly passed on the potential for some extra dollars under the new CBA while also passing on requesting a player option means this deal couldn’t be sweeter for the Thunder. Their second All-Star piece is now cast in long-term, locked-in stone next to Kevin Durant, and the deal left OKC with as much flexibility as possible going forward even if the books are now necessarily tight with two max players in place. Even Westbrook’s biggest critics – those who question his personality, turnovers, mentality and shot selection – realize that he still represents an extraordinary value, even at $16 million a year. Need convincing? Imagine how different the NBA would be if Miami or Memphis had selected him at No. 2 or No. 3. Or, imagine if the Thunder had opted for one of the Draft’s other top point guard prospects, D.J. Augustin or Jerryd Bayless.
This is a classic case of a good idea in theory being far, far less valuable than a good idea in practice. Love, the No. 5 overall pick, has been leaps and bounds better than every other big man in this class and is already in the "power forward in basketball" discussion. A ridiculously productive and consistent rebounder, Love has improved his offensive game, extended his range, overhauled his body and stuck with a team that went through a toxic stretch under former coach Kurt Rambis. He’s a franchise guy, period. He’s in the same “no-brainer” category as Rose and Westbrook.
The problem facing Minnesota, that differentiates them from Chicago and Oklahoma City, is that they face multiple potential top-tier future stars in Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams who could request a 5-year extension after they complete their rookie deals. The idea here was to avoid offering a 5-year deal to Love using the new "designated player" tag so that it could be saved for later use. That flexibility would have some value to the Timberwolves, assuming Love was on board with the concept. It’s a good idea in theory: superstar sacrifices one year of a contract to help his franchise keep his future star teammates happy.
In practice, it didn’t work out quite like that. In exchange for agreeing to a deal shorter than five years, Love requested and received an early termination option on the last year of his 4-year agreement. That will create endless speculation and questions about his future and every franchise misstep over the next two to three years will be looked at under the prism of, “Will that make Love want to leave?” LeBron James and Chris Bosh both left their original teams after signing similar deals.
There was value to be had in flexibility and it could have been a coup if Love had jumped on board with the idea. But he simply didn't see it that way. Instead, he stressed Wednesday that he was ready to commit for five years and the team wasn't, making it clear where the responsibility lies in the future if the player/team relationship goes south, or, in a worst case scenario, if the relationship ends in a trade demand or a departure to a different market in free agency. Sure, he can always make up the money on the next deal. But star players, like everyone else in the world, prefer up-front certainty to future promises. They certainly prefer to be valued rather than leveraged.
Weighing all the available risks should have led to a simple conclusion: securing Love for as long as possible as quickly as possible, to ensure good will and a rock-solid future, was the best way to continue the team's recent positive momentum and the most expedient method for reducing outside noise. Maxing out Love would also have sent a message to Rubio and Williams that this was an organization that properly valued and rewarded its stars. Future flexibility is a great idea; two extra locked in years of Love would have been a much, much better reality.
This deal will go under the radar because it seems like the Nuggets, currently the West’s No. 2 seed, always go under the radar and because Gallinari, the No. 6 pick in his class, is somehow still his class’s most underrated player. Denver gets a well-rounded, good-natured player, who produces at an elite efficiency level and is putting up career-highs across the board. Gallinari pairs nicely with Denver’s point guard of the present and future, Ty Lawson, and will deliver value on his salary as long as he is able to keep his back problems in the rearview mirror. Denver is the only team ranked in the top-4 in either conference without a sure-fire All-Star but his salary number isn’t so large that it boxes the Nuggets into a corner down the road. The Nene/Gallinari/Afflalo/Lawson quartet should be the solid base of an above-average team for the life of Gallinari’s deal. Why not get this done with now?
Kosta Koufos signs 3-year, $9 million extension with a team option with the Denver Nuggets
Another piece to Denver’s puzzle, albeit a minor one, is Koufos, the No. 23 pick originally taken by the Utah Jazz. Koufos is Denver’s fifth big man and his career ceiling is probably as a fourth big man, at best. Finding reserve bigs can be a chore and the churn involved in locating and holding the right skillset to complement the frontline players isn’t as easy as it seems. Denver locks up Koufos at a small cap number and holds flexibility in the last year if they end up wanting to go a different direction. The 7-footer, meanwhile, knows he’s getting at least 6 million no matter what over the next two years, not bad for someone who has never played more than 50 games in a season or more than 11 minutes per game. This is really just a footnote deal, but it’s another sign of effective, well-intentioned management by Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri, who pro-actively resolved multiples questions for his club at thisextension deadline and can now focus his energy elsewhere at the trade deadline and next summer.
Conventional wisdom dictated that a league-owned team that technically didn’t need to agree to an 8-figure per year extension to Gordon, the No. 7 pick who is currently out for an extended period of time with a knee injury, wouldn’t get it done. That's exactly what happened. An offer was reportedly made to Gordon and rejected, leaving his future up in the air until next summer, when he will become a restricted free agent. Gordon’s value as a second-tier player in his class is clear. He’s likely headed for the type of deal given to Al Horford and Joakim Noah, and there’s a possibility someone reaches in free agency to throw him something even closer to a max, which his injury history and overall production levels don’t quite warrant. Regardless of where the numbers eventually come in, as the only star on an endlessly sinking ship, Gordon will be a scorching hot commodity. It’s well past time the Hornets got sold to a new owner so they can get on with the business of being a real basketball franchise.
The up and down Blazers don’t know whether they are coming or going. Are they a fringe contender or is it time for a rebuild? The team’s front office readily admits that, in lieu of making that determination, they will procrastinate until next summer when contracts will be up for Raymond Felton and Marcus Camby, player options could be exercised by Jamal Crawford and Gerald Wallace, and a decision on the future of Greg Oden will need to be made. A casualty of all of this uncertainty is Batum, the No. 25 pick in 2008, who has seen his playing time cut this year in favor of Wallace this season despite hearing for months how the team considers him an important piece of its future.
A promising two-way player who can shoot the three well and defend multiple positions, a strong argument could be made that the Blazers should have went all out to reach an extension. His price will likely go up in the summer, the Blazers only have two definitive pieces locked in for the future (LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews) and Batum’s price should have been fairly clearly set by comparable players like Trevor Ariza and Marvin Williams. It’s difficult to imagine that Batum, who has expressed his desire repeatedly to stay in Portland, was looking to break the bank. His play in limited minutes this season has been uneven and he's admitted the contract situation has been a distraction. Had there been a fair offer it seems more than reasonable to assume that he would have taken it. Instead, he waits, and watches Wallace play the starter's minutes. That's got to be excruciating and frustrating.
Failing to reach an extension isn’t a crisis for the Blazers, who continue to say they want to retain him long-term, but it extends the uncertainty when a little stability is needed. Portland remains stuck in the mud, spinning its wheels and still without a full-time GM. How much extra money will the "We can always handle this later" mentality cost them come summer time? How many other roster decisions will be impacted? It’s those difficult-to-quantify questions that the Nuggets avoided in inking Gallinari.
Anderson, the No. 21 pick, was far and away this class’s steal. He’s putting up 16.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game now that he’s starting full-time for the Magic and he’s pumping in threes at a 42.2 percent clip. Catching him with an extension just as he is making the upswing would have been an ideal situation, outside any external forces. His is a rising stock. The ground floor was two years ago, when Orlando first acquired him, but the ascent could be quite rapid and expensive from here going forward. Of course, removing external forces is impossible given Orlando’s cap situation and center Dwight Howard’s expressed desire to be traded. The Magic appear to be in “Hold on tight, let’s gun for a championship and see what happens” mode right now, and given how well they’ve played for stretches this season, you can’t really fault them.
From a dollars standpoint, Anderson can’t be too broken up about not getting a deal now. Given his big minutes role on a playoff team, he’s in the situation Batum wishes he could be in: the spotlight. This will end with a massive pay day, one way or another. After getting picked away from the New Jersey Nets via trade, it’s difficult to imagine his future is with anyone but Orlando. The only unknown is how many other moves -- including Howard, most of all -- it takes to make that happen.
Posted on: January 18, 2012 10:20 pm
Edited on: January 18, 2012 11:16 pm
Posted by Ben Golliver
Portland Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum got poked in the eye by Atlanta Hawks forward Tracy McGrady and he wound up in the hospital.
McGrady swiped at Batum's left eye while contesting a pass with roughly 9 minutes remaining in the second quarter of Wednesday night's game at Philips arena. No foul was called on the play and Batum remained on the court for the ensuing defensive possession. At the next dead ball he requested out of the game and immediately departed for the locker room with team staff. Batum left with 0 points, 1 rebound and 1 assist on 0-for-2 shooting in 9 minutes.
The Blazers reported that Batum would not return to the game during halftime and later noted that he was taken to an Atlanta-area hospital for precautionary X-rays. X-rays were negative for an orbital fracture and the team is listing him as day-to-day. CSNNW.com reported that Batum said he will play in Portland's next game against the Raptors in Toronto on Friday.
Batum, 23, is averaging 12.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game this season.
Here's video of Nicolas Batum getting poked in the eye by Tracy McGrady.
Posted on: January 18, 2012 11:50 am
Edited on: January 18, 2012 12:18 pm
Posted by Royce Young
The clock is ticking for a lot of players in the 2008 draft class. Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Danilo Gallinari, Eric Gordon and Nicolas Batum are all looking for extensions, while Derrick Rose is the only guy to have signed one out of that group.
Blame the new collective bargaining agreement, I guess. I don't think it's any coincidence that the one guy that has his extension plays in Chicago, while the three that are still waiting play in Oklahoma City, Portland and Minnesota.
The deadline for extensions is Jan. 25 and with that just a week away, there isn't a whole lot of time to hammer something out. Don't get a deal done and those guys will become restricted free agents on July 1, which opens up a lot of possibilities. And less money, most likely.
Love reportedly will be getting an offer of four years, $60 million, which he almost surely will turn down. Batum wants an extension but with his role being complicated behind Gerald Wallace, he's up in the air. Gallinari might be getting closer and Gordon has himself quite the awkward situation in New Orleans.
But what about Westbrook? He was an All-Star last season, second-team All-NBA and a rising star in the league. It should be a no-brainer for him to have an extension in his pocket and five more years in Oklahoma City. Shouldn't he have had his done a long time ago?
Except that situation is complicated and there are a number of reasons that Westbrook very well may not get extended before the Jan. 25 deadline. Why hasn't he been extended? The new CBA certainly has a hand in it, as well as Westbrook's teammates.
Westbrook and the Thunder are "dug in right now," according to Yahoo! Sports, but indications are the two sides will find a common ground between five years $80 million which is reportedly what OKC is offering and the max, which could potentially be five years and $94 million if Westbrook qualifies for the Rose Rule.
Which is exactly what's holding back the Thunder.
Based on observations, instinct and a few conversations with people in the know around and in the organization, the Rose Rule is what’s making the Thunder are bit more conservative than they otherwise would’ve been. Because if you extend Westbrook for the max right now and then he goes on to make an All-NBA team, he’d retroactively get a big pay bump.
What's the Rose Rule and why does it matter? It was added to the new collective bargaining agreement as something to help franchises keep their young stars. If a player is named MVP -- hence "Rose Rule" -- is voted twice a starter in the All-Star Game or makes two All-NBA teams, he qualifies for an extra five percent salary bump. So instead of getting a max extension, which is normally 25 percent of a teams cap, the player would get 30 percent. The rule has good intentions but for a team like Oklahoma City, it could be devastating because it has two players that could be eligible. Which would mean the Thunder could be paying out 60 percent of their cap to just two players.
For instance, Kevin Durant had his contract affected by the new Rose Rule and will make almost $15 million more over the life of his deal because of it. That prospect is something that the Thunder are leery of, especially considering James Harden and Serge Ibaka will be eligible for extensions next season.
Harden could be complicating that as much as anyone because of his rise as a high-caliber player. Harden has been compared often to Manu Ginobili, but that’s exactly the kind of dollar situation OKC wants to place Harden in. In 2010, Ginobili signed a three-year, $38 million extension with the Spurs. It paid him $11.8 million last season, $12.9M this season and $14.1M next season. The Thunder would love for that to be a five-year deal, but the dollar range is similar. Have Harden on the books for around $12 million a year, Durant at $17 million and Westbrook in the $15-16 million range.
That’s about $46 million which leaves room for a potential extension for Ibaka and role players like Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison, Daequan Cook and others. Remember, the luxury tax line was set at $70 million last season and that’s the number the Thunder want to stay away from. Right now though, because of the Rose Rule bumping Durant’s deal, OKC is actually over the cap. Which isn’t helping things.
There has been a good amount of chatter about “choosing” between Westbrook or Harden and Ibaka, but that’s not the thinking of the Thunder’s front office. Multiple sources have told me that the Thunder’s preference is to keep the entire core. That might sound painfully obvious, but in the team’s mind, they don’t want to be choosing between anything. They want this group to stay intact for a long run together where they grow, mature and develop. It might not be possible, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to try. That’s been the plan all along. These guys weren’t drafted just to develop over the life of a rookie deal and then move on. They were drafted to be part of a long-term vision.
That’s the plan. And that’s why there’s a hold-up. It’s a negotiation though. Westbrook and more important, Westbrook’s agent, obviously see Westbrook as a max player. While he probably is, or at least very close to it, in the best interest of the Thunder, he isn’t. I’m not saying it would be good for Westbrook to not play well enough to make All-NBA again, but if he didn’t, it wouldn’t be all bad.
Westbrook wants to remain a part of the Thunder and obviously the Thunder want to keep him. But it’s about dollars and cents lining up for the long-term sustainability of the team. I can’t say with any large amount of confidence that Westbrook gets an extension before Jan. 25, but I do believe he will be in OKC for the next few years.
But I guess we’ll get a better idea of that in about a week.
Posted on: November 27, 2011 12:19 pm
Edited on: November 27, 2011 1:55 pm
Posted by Ben Golliver.
It's over. The 2011 NBA lockout is finally, mercifully over. Let's hail the victors and pity the vanquished in this rundown of the NBA lockout's winners and losers.
Over the next six years, the owners succeeded in shifting more than 1 billion dollars into their pockets by negotiating their share of the Basketball-Related Income split from 43 percent in the old deal to a 49 percent to 51 percent band in the new deal. That number could grow to more than 2 billion if both parties agree to continue the deal through to its full 10-year length.
In addition to the players' 10-figure financial give-back, the owners received major concessions on virtually every important issue governed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Contract lengths are getting shorter from a maximum of six years to a maximum of five years for players who are re-signing and four years for other free agents, meaningfully reducing the level of financial security players feel while also reducing the burden of bad contracts on a team. The mid-level exception system is shrinking, which hits the middle class free agents hardest while helping to keep owners from overpaying for mediocre talent. The luxury tax system is getting tougher, which limits the very highest-spending teams’ ability to compete and/or set the market for free agents while theoretically creating a slightly more level playing field between large and small market teams.
Whether or not you agree with the logic behind these major changes, their collective impact combined with the clear financial victory makes this negotiation a strong-arm highway robbery. And all it cost: less than 20 percent of the games in one season (and some hurt feelings among die-hard fans).
Losers: NBA Players
Any time you leave a negotiation thinking, “Well, this is bad, but it could have been worse,” you lost that negotiation. National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter even admitted that a recent NBA offer was “not the greatest proposal in the world", yet he and the players tentatively agreed to a deal very similar to the one he bashed publicly. This happened because the players never had real leverage or good alternatives. They were squeezed and had no escape route.
But, it could have been worse. The mid-level system in the agreement provides more spending power for teams (and thus more money for free agents) than in previous proposals. The luxury tax system is significantly tougher than the one in the previous CBA, but not as draconian as a hard cap – something that the owners maintained that they wanted for the longest time – and not as punitive as earlier reports indicated it might be. The NBA also increased its spending floor for all of its teams, providing additional suitors for free agents and theoretically helping to prevent players from getting stuck on teams that totally slash-and-burn their rosters with no intention of actually competing.
Losers: Miami Heat
Despite the salary cap good news, the Heat are also short-term losers. The 2011-2012 season now officially bears the historical taint associated with an abridged schedule. The 2012 Finals winner, no matter who it is, will bear the asterisk of being “lockout champions.” That’s fine if you are the Dallas Mavericks defending your 2011 title or the Los Angeles Lakers adding to your stockpile, but if you’re James, Wade, Bosh and company, your first title needs to be clean or critics will mercilessly work to invalidate it. Winning in 2012 will require Miami to win future titles to prove that their triumph wasn’t a short season fluke. In other words, James and company will carry a burden into the 2012-2013 season even if he finally wins his first ring.
Until a recent minor knee tweak by Fernandez, all four NBA players made it through their international excursions in good health. No NBA player made more money playing hoops during the lockout than Williams, who took a risk in broadening his family’s horizons and staying active that paid off in game checks and lack of boredom. Parker and Batum returned home to France, garnering a hero’s welcome, while Fernandez did the same in Spain, where he is extraordinarily popular. All three put up big numbers and gave their fans a chance to see them during their peak years rather just a victory lap when their NBA careers are through. That’s got to be an incredibly fulfilling feeling.
Losers: Anyone that gets stuck in China
The Chinese Basketball Association insisted on preventing NBA opt-out provisions in its contracts, theoretically tying any player who signed with a team in that league through March, when the regular season ends. Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith, Yi Jianlian, Aaron Brooks, Patty Mills and others agreed to play in China and now their future is uncertain. Best case: their Chinese team agrees to release them so they can return to the United States. Worst case: they remain stuck until March, when finding a good NBA landing spot, not to mention salary number, could be significantly more difficult. The major consolation here is that Chinese teams were reportedly offering seven-figure deals, so guys that are trapped until March won’t be leaving empty-handed.
Saving The Season
We’ve been saying for months and months that no player needs a 2011-2012 season more than Kobe Bryant. At 33, losing a year of his career would have been a disaster, and not just because he would have lost more than $25 million in salary. Bryant is embarking on dual epic quests: passing Michael Jordan in total number of championships and passing Michael Jordan on the all-time points list. Salvaging a season gives him a much better chance at both goals.
Loser: Greg Oden
The Portland Trail Blazers center has not appeared in an NBA game since Dec. 2009 and is now a full year removed from his most recent microfracture surgery. Even so, The Oregonian reports that Oden still doesn't have a firm timetable on an expected return to the court and hasn't yet been cleared for basketball activities. Oden is a restricted free agent and now must enter contract negotiations without the ability to prove he can play again. Contract aside, a lost season would have helped delay the return of the enormous pressure he faces as a former No. 1 overall pick; now, Oden will likely come back to Portland, where expectations are still gigantic, after hiding out for most of the lockout, only to face another round of jokes and barbs about his health.
The best way for a player to improve his standing with basketball die-hards is to show off his own unrequited love of the game. James, Durant and Jennings stood above the crowd in their dedication to playing in organized events across the country, connecting directly with fans and providing hope even when the lockout turned ugliest. Twitter and savvy sneaker campaigns – “Basketball Never Stops” and “Are You From Here?” – helped keep the positive momentum going. There’s no question all three guys made lifelong fans with their actions over the last six months.
Loser: Michael Beasley
Beasley got busted for marijuana, threw an "All-Star Classic" charity game in which all the All-Stars bailed, shoved a fan in the face during a New York City exhibition, and sued his former agent and AAU coach – his surrogate father during high school – alleging major NCAA rules violations. He also hired and was then dropped by a PR firm that was working to help improve his image. To top it all off, he spoke out against his players union, saying that it was "kind of retarded" for the players to be fighting over a few BRI percentage points. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Timberwolves now bring to camp the No. 2 overall draft pick, Derrick Williams, who will be an instant fan favorite and figures to compete for his minutes.
HoopMixTape.com and other highlight-reel videographers saw major upticks in traffic and interest during the summer pro-am and fall charity league circuits. Their ability to take high quality, professional footage and cut it together seamlessly in a matter of hours feeding the hoops need for basketball's year-round global audience in nearly real-time.
Losers: NBA Online
The NBA’s decision to strip its websites of references to players and to start a Twitter account to aggressively push its labor message to media members, and even players, came off petty, heavy-handed and way too Big Brother in an arena that is supposed to be about fun, not business. The league has some serious fence-mending to do, especially with its core audience. It’s unclear whether the league knows that or not.
Posted on: September 3, 2011 2:14 pm
Edited on: September 3, 2011 3:50 pm
Posted by Ben Golliver.
University of Oregon football coach Chip Kelly recently was asked whether he felt it was a risky move to schedule his team's opener against perennial power LSU rather than a directional school doormat.
"There's risk waking up and getting out of bed in the morning," Kelly replied. "It's all about how you look at life."
Kelly's defense of his aggressive schedule-making shouldn't be read as reckless. Certainly, there's risk in getting out of bed in the morning and there's risk in standing in front of a locomotive. Those risks clearly aren't equivalent and, in turn, the decision-making behind each shouldn't be viewed in the same light. Kelly, one of college football's most notorious gamblers, might view an early season test as a net-positive for his team, even if it results in a loss, but he surely wouldn't schedule a full 12-game slate of top competition if he intended on cashing in on the incentives in his contract and winning a national title. An early, tough test can be great preparation and won't sink a season; a four-month long gauntlet of tough tests would be foolish and, ultimately, suicidal.
As self-protecting creatures, humans are remarkably good at assessing risk on the fly. We know danger when we see it, we can process the presence of warning signs in advance, we can coach ourselves to be patient and, if all else fails, our "flight" instincts kick in and we run the other way as fast as possible.
We've learned this summer that professional basketball players possess those very same skills. Indeed, in more than two months since the NBA lockout went into effect, RidiculousUpside.com has tracked more than 50 NBA players, free agents and draft picks who have agreed to play overseas should there be a work stoppage or cancellation of the 2011-12 NBA season. Yet when you survey the list of names, you realize that it's a carefully self-selected group.
That self-selection process boils down to risk-assessment. The guys on the list, by and large, fit a number of key criteria. They don't have a lot of guaranteed money remaining on their NBA contracts, assuming they have league contracts in place. The majority do not have a major role in their team's rotation. Almost all are young and have not reached the prime of their careers. Just about everyone is in good health too.
This is no accident. The three biggest risks for a professional basketball player involved in a move overseas are: 1) a catastrophic injury that causes the loss of guaranteed money already owed 2) an injury of any magnitude that prevents or limits future earnings 3) the loss of NBA opportunities by virtue of being "off the map." The type of players most subject to these risks -- stars, veterans in their prime, fringe veterans with injury histories, up-and-coming players with the potential to be stars, first round draft picks in 2011 waiting on guaranteed rookie deals -- by and large have opted to wait out the lockout. They've spied the railroad tracks, heard a whistle out in the distance and opted to stand clear. It's a bit of a bummer for the viewing public who would prefer to watch these guys perform, but if your brother or son made the same decision, you wouldn't just approve, you would be proud of his common sense.
Not everyone has been completely careful, though. It's fair to say that no NBA player has yet made a reckless decision with their career, but there are a few who have more at stake and are risking more in agreeing to play overseas. Here's a look at the top five riskiest overseas signings of the summer so far.
5. Nicolas Batum, F Portland Trail Blazers
There aren't many budding stars among the group that has committed to play overseas next season, and some would dispute whether Batum, 22, has star potential. With that said, he started on a playoff team at age 20, has established a reputation as an above-average defender, has developed his offensive game each year in the pros (despite a relatively cold shooting year from outside in 2010-11) and is viewed as a core building block piece. He complements the team's franchise player, forward LaMarcus Aldridge, nicely and has an upbeat attitude that is endearing to fans and a solid work ethic that appeals to coach Nate McMillan.
The risk in the move overseas for Batum isn't his current contract, as he's still tied into a rookie deal through next season. Instead it's all about the threat of injury, as Batum missed more than half of his second season in the NBA with a shoulder injury that required surgery. Batum is clearly thinking with his heart as much as his head in signing with SLUC Nancy of France; he wants a chance to play in front of his home country's fans and is a gym rat who has played year-round for years, thanks to his participation with Team France. Batum plays a hard, two-way, high-flying game and isn't afraid to lay his body out. The Blazers figure to offer Batum a long-term, big-dollar extension in the future. Risking that by playing overseas this year isn't an insane proposition.
4. Ty Lawson, G, Denver Nuggets
Lawson, like Batum, is still locked into a rookie deal that pays him below what he would be worth on the open market. Even though he's only played two years in the NBA, Lawson has done well to establish a very high earnings potential. An excellent outside shooter and one of the league's fastest players, Lawson transitioned into a starting role last season and watched as Denver traded his competition for the job -- Raymond Felton -- to Portland for veteran Andre Miller, who probably makes more sense as a backup at this point in his career. In other words, Lawson was handed the keys to the Nuggets' car at an early age and, given how many players they are likely to lose in free agency, he should have all the touches and shots he wants to start building a track record that will mean a big payday down the road.
Foot and ankle injuries have limited Lawson during his UNC days and as a Nugget, but he's coming off a season in which he appeared in all but two games. The risk here is simply future earning potential. It's possible that his time with Zalgiris in Lithuania will help him improve -- or at least maintain -- his skills. But the uncertainty in adjusting to a new country, team, style of play and everything else looms over a young man already tasked with helping rebuild an NBA team in transition.
3. Nikola Pekovic, F, Minnesota Timberwolves
Would you believe that Pekovic in second only to Deron Williams on the list of players who have the most guaranteed money coming to them on NBA deals who have committed to playing overseas? It's amazing what a terrible David Kahn contract is capable of! Pekovic, a plodding 25 year old big man who played just 13.6 minutes per game in his rookie season, has $4.5 million coming to him in 2011-12 and another $4.9 million coming to him in 2012-2013. When you look at those numbers compared to his production, your first thought is, "Don't blow it by getting injured! You'll never sucker another GM into giving you those numbers!"
Pekovic's risk is mitigated here because he's familiar with the overseas game, having played professionally there since 2003. He's set to return to one of his old clubs -- Partizan Belgrade in Serbia -- next season. Those familiar surroundings plus the ground-bound, tough-guy nature of his game limit his exposure. Plus, the worst case scenario is that Minnesota is able to void his contract. Given that assistant GM Tony Ronzone simply walked off the job this week, maybe that's not so bad after all.
2. Wilson Chandler, F, Denver Nuggets
Maybe the most curious move of the summer was Chandler's decision to sign a one-year deal in China, a contract that prevents him from returning to the NBA in the event that the labor situation is resolved. In other words, Chandler has already sacrificed the difference in money between the $3.1 million he would have made next season with the Nuggets and the reported roughly $2 million that he will make with Zhejiang Guangsha.
That's not the only money that was at stake for Chandler, though. Chandler was set to become a restricted free agent in a weak crop, meaning there would have been some fairly good-sized dollars available to him. Denver, of course, would have been highly motivated to match any offers given their newfound weakness at wing following the team's trade of Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks. One way or another, he was getting paid and the amount would have been significantly higher than what he's receiving in China. The only potential reason for taking the Chinese money and running is if Chandler simply doesn't want to play in Denver long-term. The most likely result for most coveted restricted free agents is they sign multi-year deals with their current team. If Chandler didn't like his new, post-Knicks digs, the move makes a little bit more sense, as he can potentially return to the NBA waters down the road as an unrestricted free agent. But will an NBA absence affect his perceived value?
1. Deron Williams, G, New Jersey Nets
This one shouldn't come as a surprise. Williams bucked convention by becoming the only current NBA All-Star to agree to play overseas, signing a much-ballyhooed deal with Besiktas of Turkey. Name a risk and it applies to Williams. He has $16.4 million coming to him in 2011-2012 and could pick up a player option for $17.8 million more if he wants, or he could enter free agency next summer and be a no-brainer candidate for a max contract. He has a lingering wrist injury that required surgery and is reportedly still giving him problems. He's 27 years old and primed to enter his peak NBA years. Put all of that together and Williams has -- by far -- the most to lose of anyone on this list. Sure, he's already made more than $43 million in career earnings, but he's got far more than that coming to him over the next 5-7 years.
Even considering all of those negative warning signs, his decision is defensible. The Nets mortgaged their entire franchise to trade for him and they could not be more motivated to retain him. At some point, it's more than likely they will literally beg him to sign a max extension. They have no choice; the rest of the roster has proven it's not competitive and the team is not a desireable free agent destination, at least until the move to Brooklyn is completed. In other words, Williams has New Jersey over a barrel and he knows it. He's in a position where he can cash checks from Besitkas while staying in shape and pull the "injured wrist" card and come back to the United States if he isn't comfortable with the team, the country or his accomodations overseas.
When you look at it like that, even the riskiest overseas signing starts to seem like a bit of a no-brainer.
Posted on: August 30, 2011 3:11 pm
Edited on: August 30, 2011 4:03 pm
Posted by Royce Young
Actual competitive basketball being played in an actual arena with actual NBA players! No, this isn't another Drew League versus Goodman League showdown -- it's better. It's Eurobasket 2011 and if you're completely starved for some quality hoops, then welcome your all-you-can-eat buffet of basketball.
You're probably sick of people trying to convince you how quality the European game has become, and while no, it's not the NBA, it is about as good of basketball as you're going to get. And with the labor negotiations going about as well as Charles Barkley in a marathon, this might be one of your last chances to get competitive basketball.
The EuroBasket tournament features 24 countries all with the opportunity to put away an automatic bid to the 2012 Olympics in London. The top two finishers get an automatic bid while four bids to the Pre-Olympic qualifying tournament (for third through sixth) are at stake as well. But it's not only about the Olympic bids. It's about taking home a title for your country against the top competition in Europe. It's a big deal.
It starts up Aug. 31 and runs through Sept. 18. It's going to be a frantic few weeks of hoops with big names like Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Luol Deng and Tony Parker. Let's take a look at the field.
Group A: Britain, Lithuania, Poland, Spain, Turkey, Portugal
Group B: France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Serbia
Group C: Bosnia, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro, Finland
Group D: Belgium, Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, Slovenia, Ukraine
(A heads up: Every game of EuroBasket can be watched free on ESPN3.com.)
Spain -- Pau Gasol. Serge Ibaka. Ricky Rubio. Jose Calderon. Rudy Fernandez. Marc Gasol. If you're looking for your NBA fix, the Spaniards are your team to watch. They're going to play the most fluid, flashy game of anything and with players like Ibaka, Gasol and Rubio, will blend athleticism and skill together nicely.
It's really Spain's tournament to lose. There's just so much talent on the team, not even including the big names. Sergio Llull, recent first round draft pick Nikola Mirotic and the irresistible Juan Carlos Navarro make Spain the can't-miss team and clear-cut favorite.
NBA players: Pau Gasol (Lakers), Serge Ibaka (Thunder), Ricky Rubio (Timberwolves), Jose Calderon (Raptors), Rudy Fernandez (Mavericks), Marc Gasol (Grizzlies)
Lithuania -- The Lithuanians are sort of a borderline favorite, but they are playing the tournament in their home country, so that's an advantage. Plus, there's talent scattered throughout the team with players like lottery pick Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas and Sarunas Jasikevicius.
NBA players: Jonas Valanciunas (Raptors), Donatas Motiejunas (Timberwolves)
France -- Quietly, the French have assembled a pretty stellar team. Most aren't listing them as a top tier favorite, but it's hard to ignore the talent. A core of Nicolas Batum, Joakim Noah and Tony Parker make them a squad strong enough to consider. Add in Rodrigue Beaubois (if he's healthy), Kevin Seraphin, Mickael Pietrus and Kevin Seraphin and that's a quality rotation of players.
They don't have the same level of talent as Spain, but if Batum can emerge as a go-to scorer to supplement Parker, the French team could make noise in the knockout rounds.
NBA players: Tony Parker (Spurs), Nicolas Batum (Trail Blazers), Mickael Pietrus (Suns), Joakim Noah (Bulls), Rodrigue Beaubois (Mavericks), Kevin Seraphin (Wizards), Ronny Turiaf, injured though (Knicks), Ian Mahinmi (Mavericks), Boris Diaw (Bobcats)
Serbia -- One of Europe's most consistent powers, Serbia features a smooth balance of interior scorers and outside shooters. Nenad Krstic is the anchor but don't underestimate players like Milos Teodosic and Milenko Tepic. Serbia doesn't have anything all that flashy, but it's a team that's stayed together for a while and knows how to play extremely well with each other.
NBA players: None
THE DARK HORSES
Germany -- They have Dirk. That's enough to at least warrant consideration. Now after that it doesn't look extremely strong, but it's Dirk and if we learned anything, the dude can play in big moments. He can carry a team that otherwise looks like a batch of just mid-level players to a higher place and win with them. So I'm not doubting him one bit in this tournament.
Plus there's Chris Kaman and Thunder property Tibor Pleiss there with him, which gives Germany a pretty formidable front court.
NBA players: Dirk Nowitzki (Mavericks), Chris Kaman (Clippers)
Russia -- One thing that constantly intrigues me with the Russian team is coach David Blatt. He's an American coach that played for Pete Carril at Princeton and has been extremely successful overseas with major clubs. The team has some talent, but nothing to get too excited about. It would take a breakout tournament from Timofey Mozgov or swingman Victor Khryapa a huge showing from Andrei Kirilenko for them to truly contend, but they could be medal contenders.
NBA players: Timofey Mozgov (Nuggets), Andrei Kirilenko (Jazz)
Slovenia -- Slovenia's the Atlanta Hawks of Europe. Always solid, never good enough to win. They have some quality players, but lack enough quality size to compete with Spain, Lithuania or France.
NBA players: Goran Dragic (Rockets)
Turkey -- Last year's World Championship runners-up to the United States, Turkey has most of that team back. It's a good group and one that could certainly get hot and make a run again, but the World Championship run came largely because of a huge bump from a home court advantage. Not happening again in Lithuania.
NBA players: Semih Erden (Celtics), Omer Asik (Bulls), Ersan Ilyasova (Bucks), Enes Kanter (Jazz), Hedo Turkoglu (Magic)
THE MIDDLE GROUND
Greece -- When their fluid passing is leading to open 3s (which they make), the Greeks are a problem for people. But when they're missing, they're a team easy to run over. They're scrappy and will claw on each possession, but reality is, they just don't have enough talent to hang with the bigger clubs. They do have one of the funner players to watch in Dimitrios Diamantidis, so keep an eye on him.
NBA players: Kostas Koufos (Nuggets)
Croatia -- Much like Slovenia, Croatia is a squad that is always in the conversation, but lacks the firepower to truly contend. Hard to figure where the points will come from for them in big spots. They'll be good enough to likely win Group C, but after that, it'll be a tough road to advance.
NBA players: Bojan Bogdanovic (Nets)
Great Britain -- I'm intrigued by this British team despite it not having any depth whatsoever. Had Ben Gordon been cleared to play, the Brits would've had a dark horse caliber team. Instead, they'll have to fight to get out of group play. Luol Deng is good enough to carry them some with Joel Freeland and Ryan Richards potentially adding some scoring pop from inside.
Don't worry though: They've already qualified for the 2012 Olympics. Because, you know, they're hosting it.
NBA players: Luol Deng (Bulls)
Italy -- There's a little something to the Italian team. Danillo Gallinari, Marco Belinelli and Andrea Bargnani give them some scoring. Problem is, can they stop anyone? It's a decent team and one that can probably make the knockout round, but not much after that.
NBA players: Danillo Gallinari (Nuggets), Marco Belinelli (Hornets), Andrea Bargnani (Raptors)
Montenegro -- Not a powerful team but one with some consistent shooters and a couple decent interior players. Montenegro could very well be every bit as good as Slovenia or Croatia, but their roster doesn't strike you as anything special.
NBA players: Nikola Vucevic (76ers), Nikola Pekovic (Timberwolves)
THE NO CHANCES
NBA players: None
NBA players: Omri Casspi (Cavaliers) -- Casspi's unlikely though because of injury
NBA players: None
NBA players: None
NBA players: Zaza Pachulia (Hawks)
NBA players: Kyrylo Fesenko (Jazz),
THE BLOWOUT FODDER
NBA players: None
NBA players: None
NBA players: None
NBA players: None
NBA players: None
PREDICTION: If Spain doesn't reach the final, it's a massive disappointment and a massive shock. It's really just a matter of who will challenge the loaded Spaniards. I see the final four teams being Spain, France, Lithuania and a dark horse in Germany. A lot of people aren't necessarily on the French bandwagon, but I see a team with a bunch of talent that could possibly put together a little run. The safe bet is to go with a Spain-Lithuania final (this of course assuming the teams match up correctly in the knockout round), but I'm looking at France to fall to Spain in the gold medal game but still earn that automatic bid to London in 2012.