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Saturday, October 2, 2010
Artest knocks leagues' U.S. player limit

By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com

LONDON -- The Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves are putting the NBA on display in one of the most populated cities in Europe this weekend as they prepare for a sold-out preseason game Monday in London's O2 Arena.

But when Lakers forward Ron Artest walked off the practice floor of the Crystal Palace in the Bromley section of London on Saturday, he wanted to talk about what he perceives to be a limited population of American players in European and international basketball leagues.

Artest
Artest

"They need to let more Americans play in the European leagues," Artest said. "There are only like two [Americans] to a team while Europeans can come to America [and play in the NBA] like the whole San Antonio Spurs team -- a whole American team can be full of Europeans. Europe has to be a little more fair to the American players.

"You see a lot of foreign players come over to America to play in the NBA. It's not fair that a lot of American players can't come to China or can't come to Europe to play with as many players as they want, so there's no balance ... They should just make it more even."

The Lakers currently have two foreign players on their roster -- Pau Gasol (Spain) and Sasha Vujacic (Slovenia) -- but have had several other international players on their team in recent seasons (D.J. Mbenga from the Democratic Republic of Congo; Vladimir Radmanovic from Serbia; Ronny Turiaf from France).

Some countries such as Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria have no limits on the number of non-European players allowed on each team, but the major leagues in Spain and Greece allow a maximum of two non-Europeans per squad. In the United Kingdom, the maximum is three.

A recent trend has shown American-born players who are able to acquire dual citizenship because of their ancestry -- such as former Florida Gators guard and 2009 Timberwolves second-round draft pick Nick Calathes -- becoming more valuable to executives looking to fill out a European roster because they do not count against the non-European player limit. Calathes plays for Panathinaikos Athens, a perennial Euroleague champion, and has a Greek passport.

Ever since it became popular for NBA general managers to open their doors to Eastern Europeans in the late 1980s, the league has become a melting pot for players from all nationalities.

The NBA ended the 2009-10 season with 79 players from 35 countries on its rosters. The Milwaukee Bucks had the most international players of any team last season with six, comprising nearly half of their 14-man roster.

It is unlikely that the rule Artest called into question will have a direct affect on many of the Lakers players, who will make enough money in the NBA and not need to continue their careers chasing a paycheck overseas.

However, for Los Angeles training camp signee Trey Johnson, the rule has a tremendous impact on his livelihood.

Because he wasn't able to secure a steady spot in the NBA with the New Orleans Hornets or the Cleveland Cavaliers, Johnson has played in Serbia, France and Italy since exhausting his NCAA eligibility at Jackson State University in 2007.

"A lot of us growing up in America, our dream is to play in the NBA and now you're competing against guys that growing up, you didn't think you would have to compete against these guys for jobs," said Johnson, who is not expected to make the Lakers' regular-season roster and thus likely to explore playing overseas again.

"Essentially they are protecting their market by saying you can only sign two or three Americans to a team, they're protecting their guys and giving them job opportunities," Johnson added.

Artest made it clear that he was criticizing the rule, but complimenting the level of basketball being played overseas, citing friends and college teammates who have played in Europe. Artest's younger brother, Daniel Artest, played professionally in Germany.

"A lot of leagues outside the NBA are great -- the Euroleague, the China league, there are leagues in Puerto Rico and Japan, Korea -- there are a lot of great leagues out there," Artest said.

When asked if he would consider playing basketball overseas when he finishes his tenure in the NBA, Artest replied: "I don't know. It depends. I think I want to play football after my career is over ... [as a] tight end."

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.