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NBA talent to Europe: Trend, or just a trickle?

Luciana Chavez
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

BEIJING - On July 23, NBA player Josh Childress looked at an offer to play in Greece for three years and $20 million guaranteed, glanced back at the his bosses with the Atlanta Hawks to see how they'd respond, then plunged ahead.

Childress said yes and signed the deal to play for Greek professional team Olympiacos.

In the process he reversed the pipeline of NBA-level talent that had flowed from Europe to the NBA the past two decades.

Is it a fad or trend?

Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who'll lead Team USA against Greece Thursday, actually joked on Saturday that he'd take $40 million a year to go to Europe.

"The talk circulating from teams overseas, what they're willing to do, as athletes you have to listen," Bryant said more seriously later on in the conversation. "That's the least you can do."

Carlos Delfino, the Argentina national team star and former Toronto Raptor, thinks the idea is gathering steam. Delfino signed a three-year $30-million contract to play with Khimcki BC of Russia last month.

"I think, as a basketball level, there is not a great difference between Euroleague and the NBA," Delfino said after Argentina beat Greece on Tuesday night at the Beijing Olympic basketball Gymnasium.

"These Olympics are showing that."

Former Charlotte Bobcat Earl Boykins signed a one-year deal with Virtus Bologna in Italy for a reported $3.5 million a year. Former Orlando Magic guard Carlos Arroyo, signed with Maccabi Tel-Aviv for a reported $2.5 million a year.

And remember back in the day when people wondered if LeBron James would skip his senior year in high school and go play overseas to await a star's fate in the NBA?

California product Brandon Jennings, after failing to score high enough on college entrance exams to go to college at Arizona, signed with Pallacanestro Virtus Roma in Italy.

Foreign players welcome the influx of NBA talent.

"I think the Euroleague is going up every year," said Greek national team forward Andreas Glniadakis, a 2003 draft pick of the Detroit Pistons who never caught on in the U.S. "Having players like Josh Childress there makes it better."

The players who have taken the foreign money have something in common; they're good NBA players not superstars.

Leveraging an overseas adventure against NBA teams - they match offers from foreign teams because they don't fall under the NBA"s collective bargaining agreement - gives mid-level players options.

NBA players at that level, specifically restricted free agents, can gain leverage by leaving.

In Childress's case, Atlanta retains his NBA rights for two more seasons if they make a qualifying offer. If they don't give up those rights, the offer goes against their salary cap. If they do give them up, Childress becomes a free agent.

"When you have some teams moving faster than NBA teams and showing more interest and they offer you the possibility to be the main guy and have more playing time and have the ball in your hands, and at the same time, it's economics, that's a strong thing," Delfino said. "That's the situation for players like Childress and me and guys moving to Europe. We think it's a good situation right now."

Is the NBA worried?

"We're not terribly concerned," Joel Litvin, the NBA's president of league and basketball operations, told the Associated Press last week. "In fact, we see this as a positive indication of how popular the sport of basketball is on a global basis."

Portland TrailBlazers coach Nate McMillan, in Beijing as a USA assistant, believes the world's best should play in the NBA.

"The NBA is the best league in the world," McMillen said Wednesday. "Even with the money that some of these leagues and teams are offering, there's something about playing in the NBA.

"You can't be more visible. I don't know what was offered to those players but I'm sure our league will do whatever it takes to keep our stars in the league.

You're playing in the best league in the world. How much more money do you need?

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