SBJ/July 18-22, 2011/Labor and Agents

NBA agents expect overseas signings to become standard

Liz Mullen
As the NBA lockout continues, expect more players to sign deals with European and, perhaps, Asian professional basketball teams, as player agents said last week they were actively talking to teams.

Whether any other stars the likes of New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams go overseas — Williams agreed to a deal earlier this month with a team in Turkey — may depend on whether European or Asian clubs agree to let the players opt out when and if the lockout ends. The lockout began July 1.

“We are having a lot of conversations with [European] teams,” said Mark Bartelstein, president of Priority Sports & Entertainment, which represents about 45 NBA players and recently negotiated a one-year, $1.5 million deal for former Philadelphia 76ers forward Darius Songaila to play for Turkish team Galatasaray.

“The European market is in full force right now,” Bartelstein said, “and I would think [signings] will be an everyday occurrence.”

Bartelstein added that Priority representatives are talking to teams in China and Japan, as well. “There are teams all over the world we are talking to,” he said.

According to website HoopsHype.com, several players in addition to Williams and Songaila had signed with European teams as of early last week. Still other NBA players are reportedly at least considering overseas deals. While Williams’ deal includes an opt-out in case the NBA lockout ends, Songaila’s does not. Bartelstein said NBA players are convinced there will be a long lockout.

Boston Celtics center Nenad Krstic had every intention of exploring the NBA free agent market if not for the lockout, said his agent, Marc Cornstein, president of Pinnacle Management Corp. But when CSKA Moscow came calling, “he got offered a tremendous contract by Moscow,” Cornstein said.

“Every day we are having what I would consider fairly serious talks,” added Cornstein, about NBA players taking jobs in Europe. “This gives [European teams] a chance to bring in players they would not ordinarily have an opportunity to sign.”

Greg Lawrence, an NBA player agent at Wasserman Media Group, which has a large NBA player practice, said, “We haven’t had any current NBA players sign over there yet, but I think it will happen soon.” Lawrence said all 15 player clients that he personally deals with have asked him about opportunities in Europe. “If teams make good offers,” he said, “I think there will be guys that go over there that will surprise you.”

The European or Asian option is of particular interest to players who were selected in the second round of this year’s NBA draft, he said. “There is no shoe money,” Lawrence said. “There is little endorsement money. If we lose the season, and you are a second-round pick or even a first-round pick, you are not getting paid for a year and a half.”

Lawrence agreed with Bartelstein’s assessment of NBA players’ feelings about how long the NBA lockout will last. “The way the league has positioned itself,” he said, “the players think this will go on for a long time.”

SPORTSTRUST SIGNS NFL PLAYERS: SportsTrust Advisors has signed San Diego Chargers running back Darren Sproles, Dallas Cowboys defensive end Stephen Bowen, Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Wallace Gilberry and Tennessee Titans linebacker Rennie Curran. Agents Jimmy Sexton, Pat Dye Jr., Bill Johnson and Michael Perrett will represent the players.

ATHLETES FIRST SIGNS NFL PLAYERS: Athletes First has signed Baltimore Ravens rookie defensive tackle Terrence Cody and veteran quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan. Agents David Dunn and Joby Branion will represent the players.

MAXX SIGNS OLSEN FOR MARKETING: Maxx Sports Entertainment has signed Chicago Bears tight end Greg Olsen for off-the-field endeavors, including marketing and broadcasting. Maxx President Mark Lepselter will represent him. New York-based Maxx also recently negotiated a deal for former NFL cornerback Ty Law to work as a studio analyst for Comcast SportsNet New England. Maxx also negotiated deals for broadcasters Kevin Dunn (to be a studio host) and Samantha Steele (to be a studio host and reporter) for the new Longhorn Network.

DBA SIGNS AHMAD RASHAD: Don Buchwald & Associates has signed former NFL player and sports broadcaster Ahmad Rashad for representation. Agent Tony Burton will be handling his broadcast work and Christian Gesue will rep him for commercials and marketing work.

Liz Mullen can be reached at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.

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