With the lockout now six days in the books, the world has waited for an NBA player to apply pressure by committing to an overseas squad. Sonny Weems fired the first warning shot, but was mostly met with responses along the lines of "Who is Sonny Weems?" On Thursday, however, things got a little more interesting.
ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher confirmed reports that All-Star point guard/theoretical Nets building block Deron Williams has agreed to play for Besiktas in the event of a prolonged lockout. (For those of you unfamiliar with the Turkish roundball circuit, this is the same team that briefly employed Allen Iverson.) With an agreement also in place with Hawks backup center -- and serial head butter -- Zaza Pachulia, Besiktas coach Ergin Ataman is apparently confident enough to shoot the moon:
"If there's a possibility, we'll talk with Kobe (Bryant) if he'd like to play in Europe with Deron and with other guys to play we can talk with him," Ataman said. "If Kobe would like to play with us, we will also contact his agent and maybe with him."
And with that bit of name dropping, let the rumor mill turn!!!
Ataman merely said he'd like to speak with Team Kobe, which is stating the patently obvious. For that matter, I'm sure he'd love to speak with Team LeBron, Team Rose and Team Dwight, too. That he chose to drop Kobe's name in particular feels more indicative of Kobe's worldwide popularity (bigger than any NBA player) and newly minted Turkish celebrity than the actual likelihood of something happening.
Yes, I realize Bryant has European roots and would easily attract individual sponsorship (which Ataman told SI's Sam Amick would provide bigger paydays for D.Will and, theoretically, Kobe.) And Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski has reported Kobe would be "open to considering overseas offers." But again, why not? Bryant would be silly not to take a phone call.
Still, that's a long way from actually uprooting his family or committing to a life away from them on the other side of the planet. (Frankly, we're a long way from Williams boarding a jet. He wouldn't report until late August or early September, when the lockout could either be over or close enough to a resolution to bow out.) When you factor the history of players experiencing problems getting paid overseas, the culture adjustment, and by Kobe's ginormous standards, the relative pittance he'd earn at this stage of his NBA championship window, a Turkish schlep feels like a major hassle.
It makes way more sense to lead a frivolous barnstorming tour in China (which, as ProBasketballTalk's Kurt Helin wisely notes, would probably enhance his brand than playing in Turkey, and at half the sweat.)
Naturally, everyone is curious about the next step. Will other players feel emboldened by a player of Williams' stature and follow suit? I'm guessing no, since I think the idea of going overseas doesn't appeal to most NBA baller and most clubs can't afford to sweeten the pot. But it's certainly less stigmatic than during the last work stoppage. And does Deron's move (and maybe a few others) really put the screws to the owners? Again, I don't think so, because they knew Europe loomed going into this lockout. Plus, if they're truly willing to sacrifice a season to "win," they're by definition thinking about a picture too big to cave over a few stars updating passports.
Mostly, this wrinkle adds spice to an already zesty story line. And perhaps a little more posturing in an endless series of bluffs. As I said before, Williams is a long way from truly committed to a season overseas. I've long felt these negotiations and verbal battles have featured a fair amount of mutual posturing, heels dug in because nothing truly substantive has been lost yet. In other words, because they can.
Once crunch time approaches, I expect both sides to work harder in earnest to find a resolution in lieu of missing half or more of a season. Call me naive, but I believed that yesterday and I believe it today.