Not all NBA players will have chance to head overseas like Deron Williams to play

By Jeff Zillgitt

USA TODAY

Published: Monday, July 11 2011 11:32 p.m. MDT

For DaJuan Summers, signing with Italian team Siena was a smart move. The Detroit Pistons didn't extend a qualifying offer and playing for one of Europe's top teams will be beneficial.

For Sonny Weems, agreeing to a deal in Lithuania is a proactive move, with the uncertainty of the NBA lockout clouding his future with the Toronto Raptors.

For New Jersey Nets point guard Deron Williams, it's a chance to play abroad with minimal commitment or risks.

Playing overseas is the intriguing topic of the moment in the early stages of the NBA lockout, but the idea is not for anybody and everybody.

"From a functional standpoint, it might not be a situation that's beneficial to both sides," said agent Bernie Lee, who had 19 clients overseas last season.

For starters, spots are limited. It's not as if 400 or so NBA players can find a willing team.

Some of the top European leagues (Spain, Russia, Italy) also have limits on the number of U.S. players on a roster.

Money is limited, too. European leagues with roster limits pay the best; leagues with no restrictions on U.S. players don't pay as well.

"What you're going to see is guys with maybe one foot on either side of the fence, Lee said.

Players such as Williams and Atlanta Hawks center Zaza Pachulia, who are planning to play for Turkish team Besiktas if the lockout costs them NBA games next season, are the exception.

In general, European teams are not interested in signing players with the caveat of returning to the NBA when the lockout ends. Many teams prefer long-term stability.

"In the eyes of coaches, general managers and owners, European professional basketball is not lesser or subservient to the NBA in any way," Lee said. "Just because there's this opportunity of having what would appear to be an available pool of NBA players, it's not going to make them jump up and down."

Playing internationally also means dealing with cultural and language barriers. "It's not easy, trust me," Pachulia said. "It's not always how good of a player you are. It's a different lifestyle, language, traveling, training camp. Everything is different."

Weems' agent, Roger Montgomery, said his client took into account those factors and said, "Where, when and how much?"

"It's not going to be a difficult transition for those who want to go overseas," Montgomery said. "That difficult part will be for those who don't really want to go but have determined the (NBA) season is going to be lost."

Most European jobs will fill up in the next few weeks. Agent Lance Young of Octagon, whose clients include Memphis Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay and Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, said some of his players will take a wait-and-see approach.

"If a lockout keeps going, a guy like Stephen might go over for a little while," Young said.

Lee and Young agree on a burgeoning basketball market that will be attractive in a long lockout: China.

"The biggest money is China, hands down," Young said. "You can make almost double in China what you can in Europe. The Chinese league isn't as good of a league, but if it's all about money you might as well go over there and make as much money as you can."

The Chinese season doesn't start until December, and teams recruit in September and October, Lee said. Players by then will know if NBA games are lost.

"I can see a number of NBA guys getting attractive offers from Chinese teams that will have those walk-away outs," Lee said.

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