Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Updated: August 10, 2:52 PM ET
Agent: Kevin Durant in negotiations
By Marc Stein
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant is in the early stages of contract negotiations with the same Turkish team that has signed Deron Williams and has been pursuing Kobe Bryant, according to Durant's agent.
Agent Aaron Goodwin told ESPN.com on Tuesday night that he has met with officials from Turkish club Besiktas and has likewise begun exploring opportunities for Durant in Spain and Russia. Goodwin added that playing in China is not something Durant is considering at this time.
"The Turkish option is very intriguing," Goodwin said. "We're looking at other countries as well. Kevin hasn't agreed to play anywhere yet, but we're looking for the best fit."
The Turkish newspaper VATAN has reported that Besiktas, if ultimately rejected by Bryant after weeks of trying to get the Los Angeles Lakers' star swingman to commit to join New Jersey's Williams at the Istanbul club, would then shift its focus to trying to sign Durant to play with Williams in the event of an extended lockout.
Goodwin said that another one of his clients, Atlanta Hawks guard Jamal Crawford, has also attracted interest from teams in Turkey.
"The Turkish teams," Goodwin said, "have been real aggressive."
Two weeks ago at a WNBA game in Tulsa, Durant told the Associated Press that he's "about 50-50" on playing overseas if the lockout, as expected, delays the start of the season.
ESPN.com reported last week that Nike hopes its top endorsers, such as Bryant and Durant, will play in China if they play anywhere else this season because of the vast marketing potential NBA stars generally command in Asia. Bryant's longstanding ambivalence about Besiktas' courtship has been widely interpreted as a signal that he'd prefer China to Turkey, but Durant has apparently adopted the opposite stance, focusing on teams in Europe.
Yet the challenge for any NBA player seeking employment overseas during the lockout, no matter where they're looking or what their stature, is overcoming the recent declaration from FIBA (basketball's governing body) that any player with an existing NBA contract must make a signed declaration upon signing with a foreign team to return to the NBA as soon as the lockout ends. Throughout Europe and in China, top teams have expressed dismay with FIBA's stance, worried that the disruption of bringing in even big names who could be summoned back to the United States at any time would create disruptions that outweigh the short-term pluses attached to signing well-known American stars.
Jordi Bertomeu, president and CEO of the Euroleague, told Sports Illustrated's web site on Tuesday that he doesn't expect the majority of teams in the Euroleague (Europe's highest level of team competition) to hand out contracts with the FIBA-mandated NBA release clause, not even for NBA All-Stars. The Chinese Basketball Association is likewise considering the implementation of a rule that would outright forbid its teams from offering contracts with NBA opt-outs.
"Our clubs need to have stable rosters," Bertomeu told SI.com. "They need to know how long they will be able to employ the player. No team will sign a player for only two or three months, or for an uncertain period of time."
Besiktas, however, did not qualify for the Euroleague this season and has no qualms about letting the likes of Williams return to the NBA as soon as the lockout ends. The same holds for perennial Euroleague power Maccabi Tel-Aviv with New Jersey Nets guard Jordan Farmar and the Cheshire Jets of the unheralded British Basketball League, who on Tuesday secured a commitment from Los Angeles Lakers forward Ron Artest to play in England during the lockout.
Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade and San Antonio's Tony Parker are among the top-level players who have publicly stated their intent to find somewhere to play abroad if the entire 2011-12 NBA season is ultimately canceled.
"I've always said I'm too old to sit around for a whole year," Nowitzki told ESPN.com last week, saying that he plans to wait until October before he starts to look seriously at where specifically to play if necessary.
"I still can't see this being a long lockout, but if it is, I'm going to find somewhere to play."
Wade told the Associated Press this week: "I'm going to play basketball this year. I don't know where, but I love the game so much that I will play it. And we will figure that out."
NBA training camps are scheduled to open Oct. 3 but Wednesday marks the 41st day of the lockout, with no end in sight and growing pessimism around the league about the owners' and players' ability to bridge a gap of hundreds of millions of dollars in their long-fruitless and increasingly contentious labor talks.
Securing insurance to protect existing guaranteed contracts and future earning potential against serious injury abroad is another key hurdle contracted NBA players must clear if they want to play overseas. Durant, 22, has more than $80 million left on a contract extension he received from the Thunder last summer.
Yet it would seem that Durant is willing to take such risks, judging by his recent impromptu appearances at famed Rucker Park and Baruch College in Manhattan for cameos on the New York summer circuit against largely inferior opposition.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.