Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Storm is Coming

Von Wafer signed a 2-year, $10 million contract with the Greek basketball team Olympikos yesterday. That contract is probably double the amount he was likely to receive from any NBA team. Besides the money, Wafer has plenty to be excited about. Olympikos' roster already includes former NBA players Josh Childress and Linas Kleiza.

Sure, a lineup of Wafer, Childress, and Kleiza would fail to scare even the Los Angeles Clippers. But, what if Kobe Bryant was added to the mix? He's previously expressed interest in testing the global market. Lebron James you ask? Yup, him too - in fact Olympikos has contacted him. As more and more American players consider heading overseas the NBA is slowly losing it's stranglehold on the world's best players.

Is it a longshot that an elite NBA player heads overseas? Absolutely. The NBA is easily the best and most recognizable league in the world. But, the league no longer has a monopoly on the game's best players. I could argue that 10 years ago the NBA had perhaps 95 percent of the best basketball players in the world. Now the league may not even have 95 percent of the top American players in the world.

There are two main reasons why players are considering fleeing the US. First, a lot of young talent can get paid early because, unlike the NBA, foreign leagues can offer contracts to 17-year old kids. Young players who don't want to attend college for a year can go overseas and start their career early.

Second, many foreign leagues and teams don't have a salary cap. Many teams in Europe can offer Von Wafer a $10 million contract while most NBA teams don't have that luxury because of the cap. (It's also been rumored that foreign teams/countries are offering up American players dual-citizenship.)

This isn't an indictment on the NBA. The salary cap keeps the league competitive but perhaps it can be tweaked. David Stern has made it his mission to expand the game of basketball globally and he's accoplished his mission. Perhaps too well.

Maybe there is no reason for concern. Competition from overseas should make the NBA stronger in the long-run. But with young players such as Brandon Jennings and Jeremy Tyler heading overseas in droves and foreign teams offering huge contracts to mediocre NBA players it seems as if the NBA is staring right into the perfect storm.

The good news for the NBA is that Kobe Bryant and LeBron James will most likely sign an NBA contract. The elite players aren't heading overseas and the NBA is the still the most dominant basketball league in the world. As an NBA fan I hope it stays that way.

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