SBD/July 8, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NBA Lockout Watch, Day 8: Nets' Williams Agrees To Deal To Play In Turkey

Williams' contract with Turkish team includes escape clause in case NBA lockout ends

Nets G Deron Williams is "set to become the biggest NBA star to play in Europe -- a development that is bursting with intrigue, risks and caveats," according to Beck & Thamel of the N.Y. TIMES. Turkish Basketball League club Besiktas coach Ergin Ataman said that Williams "has agreed in principle to a one-year deal." His commitment "would begin Sept. 1 -- when the NBA’s lockout would be two months old -- and the deal includes an escape clause allowing him to return when the lockout ends." Ataman: "It’s the biggest signing in the history of European basketball." Beck & Thamel note reports "have pegged Williams’s salary between $200,000 and $350,000 a month, or $2 million to $3.5 million for the 10-month Turkish league season." Misko Raznatovic, a European agent who works with Williams' agent Jeff Schwartz, said that Williams "would get between $1 million and $5 million, plus a car, housing and the tax breaks associated with playing overseas." He will also be "provided with a security guard, driver and personal assistant, all of them available 24 hours a day." Ataman said that Hawks F Zaza Pachulia "also has an agreement to play for Besiktas." He added that the club is "not done recruiting locked-out NBA players" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/8). YAHOO SPORTS' Adrian Wojnarowski reported Ataman "will travel to the United States with Besiktas management officials next week to trumpet the signing of Williams." He said that he "wants to arrange a meeting" with Lakers G Kobe Bryant and his agent, Rob Pelinka. Sources said that Bryant, who signed an endorsement deal with Turkish Airlines last year, is "open to considering overseas offers for the duration of the NBA lockout" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/7). Ataman said that Williams "will be paid by a sponsor as opposed to the club itself" (SI.com, 7/7).

TAKING IT TO THE COURT: ESPN.com's Marc Stein, who initially reported the Williams signing, noted players under contract like Williams "would typically need a letter of clearance from FIBA -- the sport's world governing body -- to play anywhere else." But the NBPA "has privately maintained for months that it intends to legally challenge any attempt by the NBA or FIBA to block a player such as Williams from playing elsewhere while the NBA has imposed a work stoppage." A source said, "If they try to stop him, the union will fight it." Stein noted the "guaranteed NBA money Williams is owed by the Nets -- nearly $34 million if Williams does not opt out of the $17.8 million he's owed in 2012-13 -- would not be protected in the event of injury overseas." That means "either Williams or Besiktas will have to make insurance arrangements that protect him against long-term injury" (ESPN.com, 7/7). In Newark, Colin Stephenson notes because NBA teams are "not allowed to talk about the lockout, the Nets are forbidden to comment on the news" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 7/8). Multiple league sources predicted that the matter "will go to a judicial court before Williams ever steps on a Turkish basketball court" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 7/8). SI.com's Zach Lowe noted this would be a "ground-breaking move by a star still under contract to an NBA team, and one that would raise all sorts of thorny legal issues" (SI.com, 7/7).

EUROPEAN GETAWAY: Knicks G and NBPA VP Roger Mason Jr. said that teammates Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire "have contacted him about Williams' situation and inquired about the rules and insurance information." Mason Jr. said, "I can see anybody doing it. ... I've talked to a lot of the star players, Chris Paul, Amar'e, Melo, I think that those guys are open-minded to everything." However, Stoudemire's agent, Happy Walters, said his client "is not even considering something like this right now" (NEWSDAY.com, 7/7). SI.com's Sam Amick wrote Williams' "Turkish adventure is likely to be an aberration." Numerous agents said that they "weren't ready to deem Williams a trendsetter, with his deal considered unique because of an opt-out clause which allows him to return to the NBA when the lockout is lifted." Agent Marc Cornstein said, "I don't know that there's another team in Europe that can combine the financial wherewithal to provide an NBA-caliber salary with the opt-out where you can get out the moment the lockout ends. I think that will be a very unique situation." Agent Mark Bartelstein said, "There's not a lot of teams who can pay NBA-caliber salaries over there" (SI.com, 7/7). 

DOUBTFUL IT WILL BE A TREND: ESPN's J.A. Adande said players moving to Europe will not be a "developing trend." Adande: "We’ve never seen a cavalcade of NBA players going over to Europe afterwards, at least not guys basically still in the prime of their careers." He said of Williams, "How many more business opportunities will he get playing in Turkey? Kobe already has the Turkish Airways endorsement, so there’s one less endorsement that Deron Williams could get” ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 7/7). ESPN’s Michael Wilbon predicted “more than a handful” of players would play overseas, but “less than a bushel” ("PTI," ESPN, 7/7).

ADDING LEVERAGE TO THEIR POSITION: In N.Y., Bondy & Lawrence write Williams opting to play in Turkey is a "bold move that adds a new wrinkle to labor negotiations" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 7/8). FOX SPORTS' Sam Amico wrote for NBA Commissioner David Stern and team owners, it "complicates things considerably." Amico: "Last thing the owners want is for the players to have options. It costs the owners leverage" (FOXSPORTS.com, 7/7). ESPN's Wilbon: "Players here gain leverage. Not an advantage over the owners, but leverage they didn’t have in 1999." He added if he was NBPA Exec Dir Billy Hunter, “I am on the phone with teams in China, South America -- bring my guys” ("PTI," ESPN, 7/7). Bartelstein said of whether NBA players will actually play overseas or are just using it as leverage against the owners, “It’s a little bit of both." Bartelstein: "As a player, this is the way you earn your living, and right now you’re locked out and you’ve got to look at alternatives. ... But I think each situation has its own independent variables. It depends on where you are in your career, where you are in your contract, how much money you’re making, what you’re putting at risk by going and playing over there" ("Chicago Tribune Live," Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 7/7).  

PRESSURE ON THE OWNERS? ESPN.com's Stein said there is "still a healthy amount of skepticism among NBA team executives, in the league office and even in the agent community, about how many good, bankable jobs there really are abroad for players from the same talent zip code as Deron Williams." Stein: "If that’s proven incorrect and jobs materialize for three, four, five more All-Star players, then owners will suddenly face an undeniable and unexpected source of pressure at the bargaining table” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 7/7). TRUEHOOP's Henry Abbott wrote there is now "real pressure on Mikhail Prokhorov, and implied pressure on every owner with valued stars, to get the NBA season started on time." Abbott: "There's nothing like watching the future of your franchise take the floor night in and night out in a chippy overseas league" (ESPN.com, 7/7). CBSSPORTS.com's Moore & Golliver wrote Williams heading overseas would be the kind of "substantial move from an All-Star that could actually put the fear of God into ownership." If a "wide enough swath of players are able to make decent money overseas during the lockout, that kind of takes the bite out of the lockout" (CBSSPORTS.com, 7/7). 

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