New York Times, NBA Players Association executive director Billy Hunter has sent a letter to 450 players, fully blessing any athlete who explores the option of playing abroad during the league's lockout.
In the letter, Hunter said that the lockout's purpose was to "economically pressure our players to agree to an unfavorable collective bargaining agreement." He also added, "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."
In the wake of New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams' agreement to play for the Turkish club Besiktas this fall, nearly every other star player in the league has had to face questions about his own plans for a protracted lockout. Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire tweeted that he had decided against Europe as a viable option, but backpedaled from that stance on ESPN Radio this week.
Stoudemire's reversal seems telling, especially in the wake of Hunter's letter, the published excerpts of which read like labor-leader posturing from word one. The letter's stance seems likely to inform responses from every player who gets lockout questions from now until Dealday.
Williams claims to have talked to many players highly interested in playing for European clubs. Stars like Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, and Kevin Durant aren't ruling anything out. Their waffling rings hollow, though.
According to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Williams' Besiktas contract will pay him $200,000 per month. His Nets contract is set to pay him $199,509 per game for the 2011-12 season. Players like Williams and the others mentioned above don't need the money one bit. At least they shouldn't, but you never know. Antoine Walker never seemed to need the extra cash, either.
Players like Sonny Weems are a different story. The Toronto Raptors' forward, slated to make $850,000 this year, signed with a club in Lithuania. Philadelphia forward Darius Songaila is headed to Turkey for $1.5 million, not much less than Williams.
The risk of contract-voiding injury is likely too great for guys like Wade or Durant to entertain traveling to a different country to play for what amounts to pocket change. Especially when there's a likelihood that they may not even see said pocket change.
Phoenix Suns swingman Josh Childress told ESPN's Ric Bucher (Insider piece) that "If a guy isn't playing well or a team is out of the playoffs, they'll just stop paying you. I know tons and tons of players who just walked away because they didn't want to go through the hassle of going to court to get their money."
Childress, who spent two years playing for the Greek club Olympiacos, doesn't understand why any player with a large guaranteed contract would go to Europe and put it all in jeopardy. Players like Weems, Songaila, and Thunder center Nenad Krstic, who's bound for Russia, don't fall into that category. They're also not the kinds of names that will move the needle stateside, for fans or the league.
Kobe and Wade understand the politics of the labor negotiations well enough to know that ruling out options takes pressure off the owners to move on their proposals. Amar'e needed a little reminder after getting carried away on Twitter.
If David Stern thought for a moment that all of his owners' high-priced superstars were ready to throw it all away to play for clubs whose names are only familiar to dedicated soccer fans, there might be a bit more urgency in negotiations. Guys like Sonny Weems and Darius Songaila, however, may just be written off as collateral damage.
Unfortunately for Billy Hunter, it's guys like Weems and Songaila who are the only ones who really have any motivation to make this move.