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Leagues courting locked-out NBA players

Ron Artest on runway

As the NBA lockout continues operating in a relative dead zone with no movement between players and the league, the inevitable look towards Europe and elsewhere is in full swing.

With Dwyane Wade reportedly looking at China and Deron Williams going to Turkey, players are clearly cognizant that a lost NBA season is a very real possibility. And like the NHL lockouts before it, going overseas gives guys a chance to play while collecting another income.

It’s worth noting however that the circumstances of superstars like the aforementioned two will differ greatly from a guy on the downswing or a tier-2 rank-and-file NBA player. Wade and Williams are far from being washed up like Steph Marbury, and this is only a temporary measure for the duration of the lockout.

Obviously, the biggest lure is the money. It’s a quick payday, not unlike a big-name comedian playing two nights in Coboconk, Ontario. The difference is, these international club teams are willing to throw crazy money with player-friendly out-clauses at these stars. While roundly denied by all, the Wade/China rumour was $2 million US a month. Williams could get $5 million for a maximum of 10 months in Istanbul. Before he shot down rumours of joining Williams with Turkish club Besiktas, reports said Kobe Bryant wanted $1 million a month — true or not, a figure he would certainly get.

Then as quickly as that rumour died, word comes that Kevin Durant is now in talks with the same club — with Ron Artest likely joining the Cheshire Jets in England.

While the fact exists that the European leagues have matured over the years, they are still a minor league in comparison to the NBA. Rumours have floated over the years about players waiting months to be paid — although you can bet a powerful agent would ensure this would not happen with an NBA superstar.

Most of the American and Canadian basketball players plying their trade in Europe every year aren’t superstars though.

“I never had any problem [being paid in Turkey]. You heard some of the stories, but I never had verification,” former Raptors coach Jay Triano said last week (people associated with the NBA discussing players going overseas is prohibited by the league given the lockout, and it should be prefaced that Triano, who is still with the Raptors organization, did not discuss with me anything about current players considering Europe or elsewhere, only his personal experience in the ’80s).

Triano did admit however he was “a little late getting some of our payments” when he played in Mexico for two years.

“It was one of the greatest things I did,” he said about playing in Europe, noting that as a guy who didn’t have a playing future in the NBA, it was instrumental in his development as a person, a player on Canada’s national team and later as a coach.

Yet aside from padding a superstar’s wallet or expanding a young man’s horizons, where does a non-star locked-out NBA player go these days?

‘Not a gimmick’

Andre Levingston, president of the upstart National Basketball League of Canada, hopes for some it will be north of the 49th parallel. Earlier this summer the NBL sent out a media release, suggesting locked-out NBAers consider one of soon-to-be seven Canadian franchises in places like Halifax and Quebec City.

“We’re realistic in our approach. It wasn’t a gimmick, we’re not getting LeBron James or Dirk Nowitzki,” Levingston told me last week. Canadian franchises in the NBL’s predecessor, the Premier Basketball League, already featured former NBA players like Erick Barkley and Kirk Snyder.

While Euro and Asian leagues signing superstars part-time is clearly as much a ticket-selling move as it is a basketball one, the presence of say for example, Leon Powe in Saint John, N.B., isn’t going to put a ton of butts in seats. But that’s not Levingston’s thinking here — it’s about giving locked out players a place to play while increasing the quality of play in the NBL.

“In terms of tier-3 players, this could be attractive to them,” said Levingston. “We want to give them an opportunity should they need a game.”

Levingston for one, figures any potential arrangement with an NBA player would be temporary, as he believes there will be some form of season. “I think they understand what they have to lose,” he said.

I’m not so sure Billy Hunter agrees with him.

Playground antics

If you already didn’t have enough evidence that Michael Beasley has a screw loose, revisit his “Heisman” on a fan last week in a playground game at Dyckman Park in Manhattan’s Washington Heights.

The clear difference between that and Matt Barnes punching another player the same day in a Pro-Am in California is the fact Barnes’ victim was a player. Trash talk is part of sports. If I’m a defensive end for instance, when I line up opposite Michael Oher of the Baltimore Ravens, I’m going to tell him how bad a movie I thought The Blind Side was. Extra-curriculars may ensue, yes, but it’s on the field of play.

Heckling by fans though? On the New York streetball circuit? Is water wet? Suck it up, Beasley.

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