Sunday, July 31, 2011
Nicolas Batum has deal to play in France
By Marc Stein
Portland Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum has committed to playing in France this season in the event of an extended lockout, according to his agent.
Bouna Ndiaye, who represents Batum, told ESPN.com on Sunday that a deal with SLUC Nancy in France's top league will be finalized in the coming week.
"They are playing in the Euroleague and Nicolas, as a young talent, needs to play to get better," Ndiaye said Sunday from France.
The France-based BasketSession.com was the first to report Saturday that Batum, who turns 23 in December, plans to play for Nancy in his native country if the NBA season doesn't start on time.
In his third season with the Blazers in 2010-11, Batum appeared in 80 games and averaged 12.5 points and 4.5 rebounds, while also generating persistent trade interest from teams such as San Antonio and Denver. The Nuggets tried for months to acquire Batum as part of various multi-team trade scenarios involving Carmelo Anthony, who was ultimately traded to New York in February.
FIBA, basketball's international governing body, announced Friday that locked-out players under contract to NBA teams will indeed receive clearance to play for foreign teams during the work stoppage as long as they make a signed declaration to immediately return to their NBA club when the lockout ends.
New Jersey Nets guard Deron Williams, who has an agreement to play with Turkish club Besiktas this fall if the NBA season doesn't start on time, is the highest-profile player so far to commit to play in Europe.
But San Antonio's Tony Parker, Batum's national-team teammate with France, has said that he plans to join the French League team he co-owns (ASVEL) in January or February if the entire 2011-12 NBA season is wiped out. And several top players, such as Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, have said that they would consider playing overseas if the 2011-12 season is ultimately canceled.
Players who go abroad will have to secure their own insurance to protect their current NBA contracts and future earnings against the prospect of serious injury. In announcing that contracted NBA players do have the right play in other leagues during an extended lockout, FIBA also made it clear that they would be doing so at their own risk.
"As the world governing body for basketball, we strongly hope that the labor dispute will be resolved as soon as possible and that the NBA season is able to begin as scheduled," FIBA secretary general Patrick Baumann said in a statement.
"In view of our role to promote basketball worldwide, we support any player wishing to play the game, wherever and whenever. We do so while obviously taking the interests, rights and obligations of all parties into account."
Players Association executive director Billy Hunter has urged NBA players to seek employment elsewhere during the lockout, convinced that multiple departures will put pressure on NBA owners to soften their hard-line bargaining stance if they see that top players have other places to play.
Yet there remains considerable skepticism around the league, even among NBA player agents, about the number of well-paying, quality jobs in Europe and Asia to tempt big-name players like Besiktas has with Williams.
"We have consistently advised our members that in the event of a lockout they would have the right to be compensated for playing basketball irrespective of whether they were under contract to an NBA team or not," Hunter said Friday. "We have encouraged all of our players to pursue such opportunities and will continue to do so."
Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant has said that he's about 50-50" on the idea of playing in a foreign league during a lockout, while fellow All-Stars Chris Paul and Anthony both said during a recent promotional tour in Hong Kong that they would consider playing in China.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.