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NBA Players Looking Overseas Face Great Risks

It’ll be a long summer of He Said, She Said in the NBA. They’ll be rumors, confirmations, denials and breaking news, all of it centered around the viability of NBA players (superstars and role players) playing overseas. We’ll have players like Derrick Rose, who has already put to rest any question that he won’t be playing anywhere but the NBA. We’ll have players like Amar’e Stoudemire, who seems to change his mind nearly every day, while leaving his Twitter followers in his wake. And we’ll probably have some like Deron Williams, who will see an opportunity and go get it.

The average fan only sees the positives: it’s money, it’s basketball, the NBA can’t stop them because of the lockout, it’s a way to stay fit and see the world. But the risks go much deeper.

Ric Bucher of ESPN writes:

But don’t take my word for it. Phoenix Suns swingman Josh Childress returned to the NBA this season after spending the previous two playing for the Grecian version of the Boston Celtics, Olympiacos. Now that he’s back in the NBA, I asked if he’d consider returning to Europe to play during the lockout and jeopardize the last four years of his five-year, $33 million deal.

“No, I wouldn’t,” he says. “And I don’t know why guys would. I understand that guys really want to play. But you sometimes have to look at what you have and treat this as a business. The only way I could see it making sense is if you’re a player from a particular country going back. But for an American player with a good-sized guaranteed deal here, I can’t see why you’d do it.”

One great misnomer is that a player is just as at risk of a contract-voiding injury playing at Pauley Pavilion or in some other offseason pick-up game as playing overseas.

“Couldn’t be further from the truth,” says agent Mark Bartlestein, whose agency, Priority Sports & Entertainment, has nearly 40 NBA clients and two dozen players overseas, including Songaila. “Every NBA player contract that I’m aware of has language in it that allows them to play pick-up basketball. But you’re not protected if you’re playing in a summer league, charity game or for a team in Europe. For a player who is in a big-time lucrative contract, there’s tremendous risk.”

Not only is there the risk with injury – in a fashion that wouldn’t be insured – but players would be basically signing non-guaranteed contracts (European teams are notorious for never paying players if expectations aren’t met) and living/traveling in conditions that aren’t up to the NBA’s standards. Not only that, but I think it’s safe to say most NBA players aren’t big fans of international rules. Well if they went somewhere, not only would they be playing by those rules, as Childress says, but might also be pawns in a bigger game where the coaches, other players and even referees could be pitted against them.

“They definitely have a high opinion of how they play the game and view NBA basketball as street ball,” Childress told ESPN. “You go over there, you’re playing against everyone — other players, fans, referees, everyone. You don’t get calls because you’re stronger, faster and more athletic, so they think you should be able to take it.”

In the case of Williams, I’ve heard people argue that if something does happen, he can just opt out of his contract (or have the contract with New Jersey voided) and then voila, get another team to sign him. But giving away millions of guaranteed dollars is never good business. Never.

Just as last summer was one of the great, and most unique offseason spectacles we’ve ever seen in a professional sport, much of this summer will be similar. Never before have so many NBA stars sought out the competition in other leagues. But before they start making decisions, maybe they should first heed advice from someone who’s actually done it.

What do you think? Are the risks too great?

Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.

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