One lockout's about to end. Another's just beginning.
The NFL is making steady progress toward ending its work stoppage, with owners and players horse-trading, meeting each other halfway and on the whole behaving like adults in order to get the league up and running in time for the preseason. Which is great, because it means we'll have something to watch on Sundays in November. Usually that's when we pop a coldie and admire the Lakers in their Sunday home whites, but at this point there's no reason to believe NBA owners will have come around and taken the league out of deep freeze by then.
Granted, there's plenty of time to work out a deal before NBA games get wiped off the calendar. We're still just 16 days into the lockout. In those 16 days, however, there's been zero progress toward crafting a compromise that could lead to a new collective-bargaining agreement. The big news this past week ("big" and "news" should probably be in sarcasti-quotes) is that mid-level staffers from the league and the players' union were to meet in New York yesterday to discuss "various housekeeping issues," including whether to schedule a formal negotiating session. No word yet on whether that exceedingly modest aim was achieved.
Meanwhile, the players' association is fighting its corner in front of the National Labor Relations Board, the federal body that oversees labor unions and collective bargaining. The union has complained to the NLRB that the owners are not negotiating in good faith and that they've withheld information "needed by the union to understand, test and analyze the NBA's bargaining proposals as well as its asserted justification, based on financial weakness, for its grossly regressive contract demands." In an interview with Sports Illustrated, attorney Lawrence Katz, who represents the players' union in front of the NLRB, spelled out what they've been asking for: information on how franchises are valued, prospectuses used when teams are put up for sale and information on entities affiliated with NBA franchises, such as those used by NBA owners to house parking lots, arena restaurants and the like.
And just in case his Montgomery Burns impression wasn't convincing enough, David Stern laid off 114 league employees this week.
The movement of players to foreign clubs continues, albeit slowly. On Tuesday Billy Hunter, the executive director of the union, sent a memo to all players endorsing the overseas option:
This lockout is intended to economically pressure our players to agree to an unfavorable collective bargaining agreement. It is important for the owners to understand that there may be significant consequences to their decision to put their own players in these difficult economic circumstances. If the owners will not give our players a forum in which to play basketball here in the United States, they risk losing the greatest players in the world to the international basketball federations that are more than willing to employ them.
Preach it, Billy! Yesterday our old friend Sasha Vujacic became the latest to sign overseas. He'll play for Anadolu Efes, a Turkish club based in Istanbul (not Constantinople). In a public statement, Sasha explained the move:
The reasoning behind my decision to join Efes, is that besides being the most successful team in Turkish Basketball history, Efes also competes in the Euroleague against the top teams in Europe. With the uncertainty of the NBA lockout, I couldn't imagine myself not competing and taking a break from basketball, which is what I do and live for. I hope the NBA and NBPA reach an agreement soon and I also hope that I will have the chance to play in the NBA again. However, right now I can't wait to touch down in Istanbul and help my new team reach the best results possible.
This underscores what I suspect will be an important motivation for guys who choose to go abroad, which is that a lot of them just don't know what to do with themselves when they're not playing ball. As we've talked about, there's injury risk, which translates into financial risk. If you shred your ACL in a Euroleague game, not only would that allow your NBA employer to void your contract, but it also impairs your value as a free agent. There's a real and potentially huge downside to this gamble.
What we need to remember, though, is a lot of guys will take this gamble whether or not they play abroad. Basketball is what these guys do. In many cases, it's all they do. You and I might think they should take every conceivable step to avoid injury until the lockout wraps up, but that's not how most NBA players are wired. In one place or another, they'll seek out and find basketball games to play in. It could be pro-am leagues like The Drew, pickup games at Rucker Park or, in the case of Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul, exhibition games in the Philippines. All these options carry the same injury risk but with no offsetting financial rewards. So if you'll be playing ball and putting your body on the line anyway, why not head to Europe, face the best competition around and hammer checks while you're at it?
In some instances, the part about getting paid could be a bit tricky. European clubs have a well-earned reputation for not always making payroll, and the situation facing Deron Williams has taken an early turn in that direction. As you'll recall, D Will has signed on to play with the Turkish club Besiktas. Unfortunately, according to Jonathon Givony of Draft Express, Besiktas has had its accounts frozen in connection with a soccer match-fixing scandal. Bad timing, bro!
In fact, Jonathan says that before this piece of bad news hit, Besiktas was getting close to signing Kobe to a contract that would have paid him $450,000 a month. I'm skeptical about this aspect of the report. Jonathan is quite well connected in international basketball circles, so I trust that he's accurately conveying information given to him by Besiktas sources, but Kobe's camp might have a different take on how close a deal really was. When it comes to Kobe, the Los Angeles Times is the best way to filter news from noise, so I wouldn't get worked up about these rumors until the Times starts running with them.
Also, keep in mind that FIBA has yet to weigh in the prospect of NBA players jumping the pond. As mentioned last week, typically a player who seeks to switch leagues needs a letter of certification, assuring his destination league that the transfer doesn't violate any of the player's existing contractual obligations. According to Chris Sheridan of ESPN, FIBA will not decide whether to clear Deron's move to Turkey until next week at the earliest.
Thanks for reading all the way to the end. Since lockout crap is super boring, here's a video of some hungry, hungry kittens.
Stuff to Read
How will D-Will's decision impact NBA? (ESPN, 7/8/11)
Billy Hunter sends memo to players (Ric Bucher, ESPN, 7/13/11)
Union lawyer talks NBA's missing records (Sports Illustrated, 7/15/11)
NFL Players, Owners Warn Lockout May Be Over In Time For Exhibition Games (The Onion, 7/16/11)
Follow Dex on Twitter @dexterfishmore.