Locked-out NBA players find a home overseas

By Jake Appleman

New York Times News Service

Published: Friday, Nov. 25 2011 12:12 a.m. MST

ASVEL's Tony Parker of France, right, drives against Nancy's Victor Smanick, left, during their French ProA basketball match in Villeurbanne, near Lyon, central France, Sunday, Nov. 6, 2011. Parker will play with the ASVEL team during the NBA lockout.

Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

MADRID — Last Sunday, the day Spain held elections, thousands in the Spanish capital chose to watch live professional basketball, something still unavailable in the United States. Rampant politicking between the NBA owners and players mirrored the bickering between Spain's left-wing and right-wing political parties. At the end of the day, the conservative Mariano Rajoy was elected Spain's new prime minister in part because economic turbulence was cause for systemic change.

Sound familiar? There are issues with the system in the NBA, too, which is why the two sides have been unable to resolve a lockout that, as of Thanksgiving, has lasted 147 days. The union has dissolved itself. Players have filed antitrust lawsuits. Games are already canceled through Dec. 15.

For the first time ever an NBA season could be completely lost, although talks quietly resumed on Tuesday, with a Christmas Day opener still the lure to get a deal done somehow, some way, by the end of the weekend.

For the moment, though, migration, mostly to Europe and China, has been the answer for a chunk of out-of-work players. According to a comprehensive but frequently-in-flux list on HoopsHype.com, 63 players who had NBA contracts last season are currently abroad or have agreed to play abroad. "I talk to my American agent, and everyone wants a job, wants to try and come over and play," said Real Madrid's American sharpshooter Jaycee Carroll, a Wyoming native who has risen through the ranks of the Spanish League after starring at Utah State. "A lot of them don't have any idea what they're getting into, but that's part of coming over."

And what are they getting into? Carroll elaborated. "I'll call my family from home and I'll be like: 'Hey, I'm in Serbia. What am I doing out here in Serbia?' Whoever thought coming from Evanston, Wyo., I'd ever be in Belgium, Serbia or Spain, for that matter."

Then again, whoever thought that instead of an NBA season, Kevin Love and Luol Deng would entertain the idea of joining Deron Williams on the Besiktas team in Turkey (Love ended up rejecting an offer) or that Dirk Nowitzki, according to ESPN, would weigh several offers in his native Germany while pondering the idea of playing for a big Spanish team like Real Madrid.

Pau and Marc Gasol have said they would like to play for their former club, Barcelona, if the season is canceled, and recent rumors had Kevin Durant considering playing in Spain, Israel or Germany. Even Dwyane Wade appears interested in playing overseas.

Asked if more players would be trickling over to Europe if the lockout cannot be resolved, Joey Dorsey, one of four players to spend all of last season in the NBA and play in last Sunday's Madrid doubleheader, responded emphatically.

"Of course," he said. "Of course."

Players still interested in moving to Europe — assuming the NBA lockout cannot be overcome in the weeks ahead — will have to try to find spots on rosters that have already been set, and on teams where finances are often tight. It may not be easy, although clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona, thanks to their soccer prowess, see themselves as global brands and might be receptive to midseason big-name acquisitions even if they would cause some recalibrating of team chemistry.

Meanwhile, some players who have already moved overseas are finding their way.

Williams of the New Jersey Nets, the only NBA superstar currently playing in Europe, has adjusted, overcoming a rough start. His Besiktas team had a 12-game winning streak snapped last weekend, and Williams responded with a 50-point performance on Tuesday as Besiktas got back in the victory column.

Andrei Kirilenko of the Utah Jazz and CSKA Moscow has the highest player rating in the prestigious Euroleague, a competition between Europe's best teams. In fact, in each of the first five weeks of the Euroleague, the weekly most valuable player has been a locked-out NBA player. Kirilenko and Nicolas Batum of the Portland Trail Blazers have won the award twice, while Jordan Farmar, who played with the Nets last year, has won it once.

Kyle Singler, the Detroit Pistons' rookie-in-waiting, is 11th in the Spanish league in scoring for Lucentum Alicante.

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