NBA Free Agents Deciding to Play in Europe; Change is to Come

By: Sean Speirs

            Money is everything.

            Professional European basketball teams have started to show up on the doorstep of some free-agent NBA athletes this off-season, offering them better contracts and overall salaries that just simply cannot be comparable to any offers the NBA could have proposed to a restricted free agent.

            And money is all it took to convince these athletes to move.

            Although Europe has always been a contender in past NBA off-seasons, premier European teams have started to realize this summer that they can offer better contracts to restricted free agents who may not have the same economic opportunity with an NBA career.

            The biggest transition deal so far has been from the Greek basketball club Olympiacos, who has signed Atlanta Hawks Forward Josh Childress for a three-year $20 million contract after taxes.  This deal also marked the biggest contract in Euroleague history.   

            25-year-old Childress, who averaged 11.8 points and 4.9 rebounds last season, was the Hawks main force off the bench all throughout the 2007-2008 season.  As his contract expired this summer, the Hawks GM Rick Sund was able to match any offer from any NBA team.  However, due to the collective bargaining agreement, the Hawks could not match an offer from any international club.

            It has not been known yet how much the Hawks tried to offer Childress back, but due to the salary cap in the NBA, it was impossible to match Greece’s overall proposal.

            In the midst of Childress’ transaction, other NBA players who were restricted free agents this summer have been following the trend.  Such players include:

            -Earl Boykins:  The 5’5” guard is headed to Italy’s Virtus Bologna for a one-year, $3.5 million contract, making him Italy’s highest-paid player.

            -Nenad Krstic:  The once New Jersey Net center signed a two-year contract with Triumph Moscow worth $9 million.

            -Jannero Pargo:  The 28-year-old guard has signed a one-year deal with Dynamo Moscow worth $3.5 million.

            So far, these players who have decided to transition over to Europe may seem like mere role-players (not even) to any typical NBA team.  An NBA fan might even go to say “go ahead, there is no reason to keep these non-producing players in the NBA anyway.” 

            Unfortunately, for such a case, the bigger picture is not being seen. 

            When dealt in Europe, the Childress’ and Boykins’ of the NBA will have and probably continue to be treated as stars both publically and financially.  They will receive countryside recognition that may possibly be equal to that of any NBA athlete superstar here in the United States.

            Which brings about the main problem that is bound to hit the NBA. 

            What if the superstar’s in the NBA, come their restricted free-agency time in the league, want to not only receive a better salary the NBA cannot offer, but also a greater fan-base that extends worldwide?

            NBA superstars such as Lebron James and Kobe Bryant, whose contracts expire in 2010 and 2011 respectively, have jokingly pondered about the thought of relocating. 

            But when the joke becomes a serious matter, how will it affect the NBA?

            There have already been written articles that compare possible future contract moves (that may send a Bryant, James, or Wade to Europe) with the move that brought European soccer sensation David Beckham to the Los Angeles Galaxy.  An NBA superstar outcome to Europe would be just as big as Beckham’s, at least for American’s, since we seem to follow the NBA and its players more closely. 

            Although most of the NBA’s superstars are already somewhat big names in Europe, the experience of playing against new forms of competition and living in a different country could be something worthwhile and appealing to the athlete.

            When the chips are set, the overall outcome will always come down to money.  It ultimately did for the restricted free agents this summer, and probably will for one of the NBA’s super-stars in off-seasons to come. 

            At least the NBA has time to think of a way to keep their game-selling stars in the league, or else a possible Bryant-less and James-less future is in sight.  And without them or other superstar moneymakers, then there will be no money, sales, or profit driving the NBA.

            And money…is everything.

BY: Sean Speirs

IMAGE COURTESY OF YAHOOSPORTS.COM

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Instead of dedicating a column to just the finals, as I’m sure one of my colleagues will, I’ve decided to talk about a few things.

First, I just want to bask in the glory of the Celtics winning it all.  I believe my analysis was One-Hundred Percent correct, and Paul Pierce as my Finals MVP was a no-brainer.  Thank You very much. 

The two things I did not expect was to Ray Allen find his shooting stroke and become the most consistent player on either team offensively and then for Ray Allen and Paul Pierce to effectively render the Lakers useless because Kobe was taking 25 shots and only scoring 25 points.  By keeping him from the line, it forced Kobe to take more shots than he wanted, limiting the touches for the other players around him.  There is a reason that the Lakers did not score as much in this series than they did in any other.  Everybody’s scoring was down and that is the great team defense that the Celtics played.  The same as Football, Defense Wins.  Period.

I also have to give props to Doc Rivers on a masterful coaching job (did I just really say that?).  He stuck to what he knows, and that is motivation.  I don’t believe I saw the Celtics run an offense except for the high screen and roll (that the Lakers could not defend) and Ray Allen running around 50 screens.  I think he showed that he is not as bad of a coach as I and others make him out to be, but actually a middling coach who can rise up to the occasion and outcoach lucky bastards who have the two greatest players of their generation playing for them (Shaq and MJ, there is a reason that Kobe has not won without Shaq and Shaq has won without Kobe.  Why doesn’t anyone give Shaq the props he deserves and proclaim him the player of the period of time after MJ?  Kobe just isn’t good enough to win it without him, and he never will, the same with Phil…he is never going to win another championship with Kobe).  Doc just flat out bent Phil over and said, “I am your daddy!”  Memo to Phil: it’s ok to make in-game adjustments like taking out Lamar Odom because he can’t stretch the floor and playing a line-up that consists of Fisher, Vujacic/Radmonovic, Kobe, Farmar/Walton, and Gasol/Turiaf.  That is what I would’ve done.

Yet, the real reason that the Celtics won (last point about this game, I promise) was not because of the play on the court, but the comraderie off the court.  The difference in the desire can be seen in the bench players and those in street clothes.  Every possession, the Celtics bench was standing, cheering, and into the game, as if they were playing.  I can’t count the times I saw Brian Scalabrine or Eddie House jumping up and down and cheering on their teammates.  The same goes for Sam Cassel.  Everybody bled for each other and represented what it truly means to be a team.  I can only hope this continues because it was a treat to see it and all high-school and younger kids should take notice.

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In addition to the Celtics taking the NBA Championship, the second team in New York fired its coach.  By second team, I mean the Mets.  And I just gotta say I think this is one of the biggest mistakes that the Mets could have made.  I can understand maybe firing Rick Peterson because the pitching staff, mainly the bullpen is not performing up to par, but the Mets were just beginning to get on a roll by winning 3 out of 4 and get some positive momentum.  They had something to play for (Randolph’s Job) and were motivated to make sure that he kept it.  Now they have nothing to play for and if last nights game was any indication of things to come, it does not look good.  I was actually discussing this with my father the other day and we both came to the conclusion that Mets are going to struggle to finish .500.  I just don’t seem them being competitive unless they turn the switch on now.  I can only hope I am dead wrong.

Also, what a classless way to handle the entire situation.  Sometimes, I wish it were possible to fire an ownership group.  The Wilpons seem to be just as clueless as Jimmy Dolan over at MSG on the correct tact and timing to fire coaches.  The Wilpons jumped the gun way too early and have a history of leaking things to the press.  This became such a bad situation that I feel happy for Willie that he finally has this monkey off his back and can now focus on getting a job with an organization that will value his class and great baseball mind.  I only hope he does not land in the NL East.

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The other major sports event of the past week or so was the PGA US Open that was an instant classic.  I’m gonna be honest, I’ve become so inundated with Tiger Woods that I hope he loses every tournament, but I know he is going to win if he is within one or two strokes on the last nine holes.  Yet, while I enjoyed watching Rocco Mediate, Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood, and a few others battle it out over the five days, I almost wanted to punch my computer screen on Monday while I watched the playoff at work (by the way…kudos to IBM, NBC, and ESPN for putting the stream up for free and in wonderful quality.  Why can’t all sports do that?  Was that so hard?).  The reason: the fabulous announcers that NBC employed kept telling me how much of a classic this was, how great Rocco Mediate was, and how even greater Tiger Woods was (in addition to how mentally tough he was…give me a break.  Yeah I’m sure he learned mental toughness on the links as a child.  I think that was dumbest thing I have ever heard…even if it was said by his dead father – no disrespect to Earl Woods).  Broadcasters, and this happens in every sport, please learn to shut up and stop ramming the same 3 talking points down my throat.  SILENCE IS GOLDEN!  Learn from that proverb.  Its not awkward unless you make it that way.

By the way…Rocco Mediate, where have you been all my life and why isn’t mic’d up all the time when he is playing.  He was so funny and insightful…much more so than those so called “expert” broadcasters.

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And finally, some things to watch this week now that the Never Ending Basketball Playoffs are over:

Euro 2008: Jump on the Netherlands Train and watch them take the tourament by storm.  They are so dominant offensively that it doesn’t matter that there goalkeeper is really old and that their defense is middling.  I see them beating Portugal in the finals (really, I just want to make fun of Ronaldo again)Watch them and the rest of the tournament this week on the ESPN Channels and ABC.

NBA Draft: On June 26th, the world will finally have the answer to Beasley vs. Rose.  Watch the NBA draft…if you havn’t had enough yet.  Hopefully our draft expert J-Fense will come out with a final mock draft with the correct pick of Michael Beasley going to Bulls. 

MLB:  Interleague play is heating up.  This weekend features marquee match-ups like Philadelphia vs Texas (the two best offenses in Baseball) and the three best inter-city rivalries in Baseball: The Cubs vs the White Sox, the Angels vs the Dodgers, and the Subway Series aka the Mets vs the Yankees. 

Should be a great week or so of sports.  Enjoy!

Also, I’m going on vacation for the next two weeks so unfortunately this massive column is going to have to tide you over until I get back from relaxing.  Until then…

BEARD

 

Age Bound to Hurt San Antonio Spurs

By: Sean Speirs

 

     Some say that valuable experience comes with age.  Unfortunately, experience will not be enough to help the San Antonio Spurs as their old age begins to rust this off-season.

 

     After enduring a tough NBA post-season this year with series against the Phoenix Suns (4-1) and the New Orleans Hornets (4-3), the Spurs were hoping their road to another NBA championship would be less stressful.  However, MVP Kobe Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers had a different agenda, and overthrew the defending champs in the Western Conference Finals 4-1.

 

     With their season now over, the future of the Spurs does not appear that promising anymore, especially since their squad will be one year older come next season.  Typically, one would say big deal, it is only one year.  But to the Spurs, that year could mean the demise of their championship franchise.

 

     Currently, the average age of the Spurs is 31.2, a range of two to seven years older than the average age of the other NBA teams [youngest being the Chicago Bulls at 24.2].  11 players of the Spurs 15-man lineup are 30 years old or older.  Six of those 11 will become 35 years old or older during next season, including starters Bruce Bowen (36) and Michael Finley (35), role-players Brent Barry (36), Robert Horry (37), Damon Stoudamire (34) and Kurt Thomas (35).

 

     With such an older team developing in the league, how long will it take until they cannot keep up with other, mostly younger, opponents? 

 

     The answers to this question became evident throughout all of the Spurs playoff games.

 

     Bruce Bowen could not keep up his once stellar defense against Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan suffered a slow inside game due to Hornets big men Tyson Chandler and David West, Manu Ginobli was playing through constant injuries, and Michael Finley could not find his deadly outside shot.

 

     Although the Spurs had an overall good season, clinching second place (56-26) in the Southwest Division, the true test of an NBA team is always the playoffs, whose outcomes can change the face of teams who fail to produce. 

 

     The Spurs this year was one of those teams, as the first signs of rust started to show, officially setting an expiration date for their once effective bench.

 

 

     Enough is enough.  There is no reason for this team to hold on to older players any longer that make up most of their lineup.  The Spurs already have experience from their superstars Duncan, Parker, and Ginobli (all have won 3 or more titles with this team).  By keeping older players, the Spurs are carrying dead weight that is preventing their “Big Three” and overall team from becoming a dominant future contender.

 

     –Bottom line: changes need to be made and fresh legs are necessary in order to compliment the quick style of play from starting point guard Tony Parker (26), the true future of this franchise.  What is needed, more specifically, is an agile/aggressive shooting guard/forward that can drive the ball, finish in the middle, and settle with the occasional outside jumper.  Younger Spurs Matt Bonner ( 28 ), DeMarr Johnson ( 28 ) and Ian Mahinmi (21) will never fill those needs and assets at the pace they are going, all three of these players average between two to four points a game.

 

     For General Manager R.C. Buford and Head Coach Gregg Popovich, in order to accomplish this main goal of change, the best chance the Spurs have is to let go of some, if not all, of their veteran free agents (Horry, Finley, and Thomas) and invest in a younger player through NBA draft trades.  They could also depend on a massive off-season trade that can bring over some youth and adequate help from off the bench.  Either way, expect the Spurs to try to edge their way into trade offerings and draft picks this off-season.

 

     All in all, if the Spurs got anything out of the 2007-2008 playoffs, it was a wake-up call from the future, warning them of the downfall that is about to come. 

 

    This is truly a rude awakening that cannot be ignored any longer.  If serious moves are not administered this off-season, the Spurs are in for a rough season next year.

 

     At this point, it’s safe to say that it’s time to panic.

Sean Speirs

Images Courtesy of YAHOOSPORTS.COM