The upcoming Olympic Games have taken on new meaning for the United States men's basketball team.
All of a sudden, Josh Childress of the Atlantic Hawks bolted to play professionally in Greece.
Then went another player. And another.
And ... oh ... I just looked at the bottom line, and Orlando backup point guard Carlos Arroyo is making an exodus as well. He'll play in Israel now.
This isn't something that happens every summer, folks. This is a new phenomenon.
Bottom line: For players who aren't the centerpieces of their franchises, the NBA no longer holds the appeal it used to. Just playing in the world's best basketball league isn't enough any more.
I don't have Childress' phone number in my Fave Five. Actually, to be completely honest, I don't even have T-Mobile. But to get to my point, I can understand what Childress, Arroyo and many others — such as former Nets big man Nenad Krstic — are thinking.
Consider the lifestyle of a sixth man in the NBA. Sure, you're still earning more than people like me will make in four lifetimes. Sure, you're still living the dream. But you're on a team full of other stars who get all the attention. You're simply expected to do the dirty work, wash the dishes.
Now consider the life Childress will enjoy in Greece, playing for Olympiakos. First of all, I've heard from trusted sources that living in Greece isn't bad. Secondly, thirdly, fourthly and fifthly, Childress will earn more money (about $20 million after taxes for three years guaranteed); he can opt out of the contract after each season and still make the full $20 million!; his housing will be provided and he'll be given a car; and, as if that's not enough, he'll be a star. Fans will love him. He won't simply be considered Atlanta's sixth man.
Now tell me how that's not better than his situation in Atlanta. As long as a player is comfortable with living overseas, it's a no-brainer.
And I didn't mention the style of play. No offense to the NBA, but foreign basketball is more team-oriented. It's not all about the stars and one-on-one basketball. All five players on the court are involved in the offense.
Granted, a reason for this is that you won't find any LeBrons or Kobes in Turkey or Russia. There aren't players that dominant, guys who you can simply give the ball to and get out of the way.
And part of what makes most of the U.S. stars so great is their ability to create easy shots for their teammates, for guys like Childress. Outside of the money he got, Kobe Bryant, I'm sure, is a reason why bench player Sasha Vujacic decided not to join the exodus and stay with the Lakers. Bot only so many players are privileged enough to play on teams like the Lakers and Celtics.
Childress was on a team — the Hawks — with an aging point guard ( Mike Bibby) and a star ( Joe Johnson) who knows how to do one thing: shoot. Staying with the Hawks was an invitation to stay the player he was without much room for becoming a mainstream-type guy. With a few signatures, he changed all that and became much richer.
Sounds like a tasty deal to me.
This is just the beginning, basketball fans. As we've seen in international competition the last five years, the level of play around the globe is only getting better each year. Don't expect this trend to end. The quality of play in the NBA, however, hasn't improved. And there's no reason, really, to expect it to.
When high-schooler Brandon Jennings chose to play in Europe for a year instead of college, American players suddenly noticed the overseas option. Playing abroad is no longer some abstract idea to U.S. hoopsters. It is a legitimate option.
Even for players not seriously considering playing overseas, it could be used as leverage against an NBA team. A player in contract negotiations with his team could use a better offer from a European outfit to garner an increased offer to stay in the States.
None of this can be considered good for the NBA. Only a couple years ago, the focus was on the hordes of international players coming to the U.S. to join the NBA. Italian Andrea Bargnani was taken with the No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft.
Now, could a player of Bargnani's caliber decide to stay in Italy instead? I doubt it — the allure of being drafted in the top five of the NBA draft and becoming a franchise-type player is still very strong. But for lower-rung guys — potential second-round draft picks — a career in Europe could be much more satisfactory. A guaranteed contract (something second-round picks don't get); a spot in the starting lineup right away — players could decide not to come to U.S. in the first place.
All of this is speculation, of course, but what can't be doubted is that international basketball is dunks and jumpers better than it was a decade ago. And, just as important, international teams have plenty of cash to dole out to talented players (foreign or American).
Will the NBA miss Josh Childress, Carlos Arroyo and Nenad Krstic next season? No, don't think so. Their jerseys weren't exactly big sellers (I think). But their respective teams might miss them. And from now on, teams better pay attention to their players who are looking for new contracts — if, of course, they covet the players.
Because otherwise, such players might be gone in the snap of a finger. Headed for more money, better cuisine and stardom in a foreign land.