Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"I get Euros, that's right, plural." Sounds like Jay-Z is on to something

When former Stanford standout and Atlanta Hawks swingman Josh Childress went into his off-season of free-agency, he wanted what all free-agents want: a contract to secure his family's financial future, and the chance to play for an up-and-coming team committed to winning. Well, Childress got what he was looking for, but not in San Antonio or Detroit. Hey Josh, do you know how to say, "don't forget to rotate on defense" in Greek?

Childress decided to sign with Olympiakos, one of the premier professional teams in Greece (remeber Lynn Greer from Temple?). The team, based in Athens, finished second in the Greek league last year, and has made major moves in the off-season to improve their chances of recapturing the title. They recently signed Theodoros Papaloukas from a Russian team, and by adding Childress, a dynamic scorer on the wing, Olympiakos is poised to dominate the competition.

But Childress' decision to defect has much larger implications for American basketball. In recent history, European professional basketball has been looked at like Euro-league football (before it collapsed) or Latin American baseball leagues: a place where marginal American players go to try and improve their game or where injury-riddled veterans try to will a few more paychecks out of their aching knees. Good competition, yes, but it was assumed that if you could play in the NBA, you wouldn't think twice.

Not so fast. Childress was far from an NBA afterthought last year. He averaged 30 minutes and almost 12 points a game for the Hawks, and played a big role in their surprising first-round series with the Boston Celtics, when they pushed the eventual champions to seven games. Childress is a dynamic athlete that attacks the rim, makes open jump shots, and can guard a variety of positions. Solid contributors like him, especially ones that don't mind coming off then bench, are hard to find.

And Childress is not alone. A number of other quality NBA players have made the jump across the Atlantic. Former New Jersey Net Bostjan Nachbar, former Grizzlies point guard Juan Carlos Navarro, and former Raptor forwards Primo Brezec, Jorge Garbajosa and Carlos Delfino (Ed. Note - is this proof Canada sucks?) are also taking their services to Europe next season. The difference, of course, is that they are originally from Europe. Childress is the first successful American-born NBA player to willingly take his game to Europe.

The rationale behind his move seems to be mostly financial. His contract is worth more than $20 million after taxes, much more than he would have received from any NBA team, according to his agent. Apparently, the Hawks offered him a 5 year, $36 million contract, which, at face value, appears to be more than what he was offered to play in Greece. But in Europe, the club you play for pays for your taxes ON TOP of the money you make (meaning that Childress pockets $6.7 million a year in Europe). He also only signed a three year deal, which is important when you consider his next contract. He is 25 now, so he will be 28 when he is eligible for his next contract, as opposed to being 30 after the contract the Hawks offered. Those two years are the difference between starting on the downside of one's career, and being smack in the middle of one's prime. It should also be noted that he has opt-out clauses in the contract which would allow him to return to the NBA at the end of each season without having to buy the contract out.

There is more to it than just money, however. European basketball is improving (witness the ever-increasing number of imports in the NBA and the recent lack of success by USA Basketball in international competition). By simply signing his name, Childress went from a decent player in the NBA to the most-famous and highest-paid basketball player in Europe. He was a medium sized fish in a big pond. Now he is a huge fish in a slightly-less-big pond.

By this rationale, his decision doesn't seem so crazy. So will we see more American players jump to Europe? It's certainly possible. Brandon Jennings, the one-time Arizona recruit, will play next year in Europe as he readies for the NBA. However, given the limitations on NBA rookie contracts, who is to say he will come back? And given the strength of the Euro with relation to the dollar these days (it's trading at about 1.4 to 1), we may see more NBA and future-NBA players decide to bring their games to one-time basketball backwaters. The NBA is in no danger of losing it's place as the premier basketball league in the world, but league offices should take notice. Europe isn't just for wanna-bes and hangers-on anymore.

Better learn how to say "sweet no-look pass" in Greek. And French, Spanish, German....

4 comments:

Nik said...

Haha Ross and Rob you have finally entered my domain :P

Let me tell you you think the Childress contract was nuts? It's just the beginning, Olympiakos' has the best soccer team in Greece and for a period they had 9 straight league championships, count em 9... now Panathinaikos (their biggest rivals) have dominated basketball, the Olymp directors board & fans dont want that so money has POURED in... Their trades this season, including Zoran Erceg and a few more unknowns in the states are crazy...

BUT! Even that doesn't match Panathinaikos' off season... The added Walter Hermann from Detroit and then Pekovic and Kecman from Partizan (both voted by eurobasket.com as the some of the best players in the euroleauge) and 4 more national team players. They have a 25million Euro budget which for Europe is unheard of, add to that the fact they already have 4 ex-NBA players on the roster and its nuts....

But its not just them, Spain is going crazy too Barcelona, Unicaja and Real Madrid all made huge transfers, Russia even more so (Russia has the most cash by the way... just look at Nachbar he signed what a $17million contract?)... the entire place is going crazy... there's a full list over on this site http://www.ballineurope.com/european-basketball/euroleague/euroleague-transfers-table/

Now if you don't follow Euro basketball all this still seems like a joke, but it isn't its extremely serious, and it is only the start. Remember guys Euro teams don't need to operate at a profit, they survive from contributions and earnings. So if one team starts increasing its budget the likely scenario is others will find new sources of income to do the same and what happens is this sort exponential growth...

Panathinaikos, CSKA,REAL and Barcelona all have rosters now that can match NBA teams. Sure they wouldn't beat LA or Boston, but they would put up just as much if not more of a fight than say Seattle, Charlotte, even Chicago did...
This is a whole different ball game where little changes in talent base make huge differences... Point in case Dominique Wilkins going to greece to finish his career. Dom's decision created such a buzz for basetball it single handedly inspired a generation of kids to play...

This is a crazy change, and people need to start paying attention...

p.s. Theo Papaloukas isn't baby shaq, he's a point guard... Baby Shaq is the name of another Olympiakos player called Sofocles Skortsianides. :P

(sorry for how long at rambly this reply is..)

Nik said...

Oh p.p.s here is a fun little clip of what Childress will face next season....

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3n_ZjBNElE&feature=related

god help in the euroleague and in serbia though where laws aren't as "stringent" as in Greece...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2ti2LsVe7c&feature=related

Ross Weingarten said...

All good points nik (and thanks for your correction on baby shaq). It's true, Americans need to take Euro basketball seriously. Owners and general managers over there seem to be making a serious push to make the level of competition comparable to the NBA. So what's the answer? A few years ago, when the Chicago White Sox won the World Series, they were challenged to a true "world series" by the winner of the Japanese baseball league, then coached by Bobby Valentine. Of course, the White Sox said no for fear of losing. Does basketball need something similar? Should the Celtics go to Barcelona or Moscow for a seven game series before the start of the NBA season? You're right, I think the NBA teams would win easily, but it's clear the gap is closing. Fast.

SAM said...

(Ed. Note - You should fact check before your next lame blog)Delfino is from Argentina not Europe. Primo Brezec is garbage no N.B.A team wanted him. Juan Carlos Navarro and Jorge Garbajosa couldn't cut it. Unlike their fellow Spaniards,(Jose Calderon & Pau Gasol). Delfino left for more playing time,Childress left for more cash. No one in their right mind is going to pay Josh 6.6 a season maybe in three years when he bulks up and develops a proper form for that sorry excuse for a jump shot. Grows up and gets a freaking hair cut.