Playing overseas is a heavy decision to make

July, 12, 2011
7/12/11
11:31
AM ET
Harper By Zach Harper
ESPN.com
Archive
When players come back from injuries, the idea of rehabbing and working out all the time not being able to equate to “in-game” shape is always confusing.

It makes sense for the most part. When you’re lifting weights, running on the treadmill, taking a spin class or even fighting for that last piece of bacon, you’re using a lot different muscles and using them in different intervals than when you’re on the basketball court. And being able to do that on back-to-back nights or four games in five nights at the NBA level has to take even longer to retrain your body how to recover.

Still it seems weird that the best athletes in the world would essentially be out of shape despite the copious amounts of training they do to get themselves back to being able to play.

If taking extended time off from playing NBA basketball is such a difficult task, are players like Deron Williams and Joakim Noah priming themselves for a big return if the NBA does indeed have another lockout-shortened regular season?

When the NBA returned from its brief absence in 1998, a lot of the players were, for lack of a better term, hefty. There are rumors that Vin Baker came back roughly 60 pounds heavier than before, and Shawn Kemp had certainly seen slimmer days (even though he actually had a very productive 1999 season compared to the previous year). Sure, there were a lot of players that stayed in shape and got themselves ready to go for the brutal grind of cramming 50 games into three months, but a lot of guys also left themselves susceptible to injury by not returning in top physical form.

But with Williams reportedly heading to Turkey as the heir apparent to Allen Iverson and Noah playing for Team France in the European Championships in Lithuania, should more players be taking their cues from these two players and try to stay active in organized basketball?

As of right now, the NBA is full of bored players who are lying down on the ground, taking pictures of themselves “planking” and then tweeting it out to their followers. Since it’s still just July and they have no promise of playing an NBA season this fall, it’s not really a big deal. Guys right now would usually be checking out the Summer League action in Las Vegas or going for a summer vacation to get away from everything.

But with no end in sight to the lockout and threats of owners sacrificing an entire season just to get their way, you have to wonder at what point these players will become motivated to stay in shape.

For a good chunk of August and September, Noah will be practicing with Team France and trying to help them qualify for the 2012 Olympics in London. If the lockout ends in time for training camp in September, he’ll be in better playing shape than most other peers around the NBA.

If the lockout extends beyond September and begins to consume preseason and regular season games, Williams will more than likely head to Turkey and play for Besiktas. Once again, he’ll be practicing with his stepteam and playing in real games. If the lockout ends and brings him back to the NBA for the rest of whatever is left of the 2011-12 season, he’s likely to have the upper hand with conditioning and play at the beginning of the season.

Granted, there are injury risks for going off to play outside of the NBA, just like there are for players coming back to a shortened season while out of shape. Unless you’re Carlos Boozer, it’s pretty hard to get injured just walking around your house, looking for the next hilarious place to plank from. But being rusty in the NBA isn’t just a potential detriment to your team; it’s also a risk to your health with injury.

Williams and Noah aren’t the only guys exploring their options. Andrei Kirilenko is reportedly offering his services to European teams for the low asking price of $5.8 million this winter. A few teams were courting Amar’e Stoudemire before he decided to stay loyal to the Knicks.

It’s one thing to consider going to play organized, professional basketball away from the NBA and another thing to actually commit to it.

Maybe Williams and Noah will get injured during this venture away from the NBA during the lockout. Maybe they are risking all of their guaranteed money waiting for them when the NBA opens its doors back up and invites us all in again.

But it’s a risk that will most likely keep these two ahead of the pack if we end up with another shortened season.

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