x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

NBA stars may play in Europe next season

The possibility of Kobe Bryant at Besiktas in Turkey or LeBron James at Panathinaikos in Greece are possible scenarios with the expiring contract between the players¿ union and the league.

Brandon Jennings, of Milwaukee Bucks, has played in Italy and knows what it is like.
Brandon Jennings, of Milwaukee Bucks, has played in Italy and knows what it is like.

Imagine this: NBA players flooding international leagues next season. Superstars and their celestial brethren driving to the hoop in teams throughout Europe. Kobe Bryant at Besiktas in Turkey. LeBron James at Panathinaikos in Greece. Dwyane Wade at Barcelona in Spain.

Could it happen? Absolutely.

Will it happen? As they used to say before the commercial breaks on American television, stay tuned.

The scenario that makes it possible is the expiring contract between the players' union and the league. A new collective bargaining agreement must be reached before the NBA can play next season.

The league is taking a hard stance in negotiations: it wants salaries cut by as much as 40 per cent. No one is predicting an easy or quick settlement. And if there is no agreement before the start of next season, the NBA is expected to lock out players.

Which leaves them where? Possibly taking their talents overseas.

Brandon Jennings, the Milwaukee Bucks guard who played a season in Italy before he reached the NBA's minimum age of 19, told NBA.com he would not hesitate to return to Europe during a work stoppage.

"Oh yeah, of course I wouldn't mind going back overseas," he said. "I've been almost everywhere overseas and I lived in Italy for a year. I know what type of game it is and I know what it's about."

Jennings is not the only NBA player quietly considering the option of playing internationally in the event of a lockout. And the longer the lockout, the more cheques missed, the greater the likelihood that more NBA players will seek a European payday.

The NBA knows this, of course, but is not ready to publicly acknowledge the idea of its players fleeing for jobs across the oceans.

"No comments" rule the day. At the moment, every statement is another facet of negotiating strategy and, a potential lockout is, after all, more than six months away.

Yet the concern is growing and teams want direction from the league on how to handle questions on the possibility of their players heading across the Atlantic should arena gates be closed. They want to be able to plan beyond June.

It is all new, unsettled ground. The National Basketball Players Association is developing a plan to deal with the conflicts and legal issues.

What happens to existing players' contracts during a lockout? Are they nullified until a new agreement is reached? Are they suddenly in force again afterward?

Ultimately, it would seem legally difficult for the league to prevent a player from earning a living if the NBA is not offering one.

Other issues: Fiba, the international basketball federation, and the NBA have agreed not to sign a player under contract to the other. What happens to a player's contract if he is seriously injured overseas?

More questions than answers, yes. But they are intriguing questions.

sports@thenational.ae