Posted Dec 16 2010 6:49PM
Amid the silence, there is the increasing volume of unavoidable conflict.
Mostly behind closed doors, mostly draped in different versions of "no comment" to conceal strategy in negotiations on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the question of whether players can and will take the risky step of working overseas in a lockout has become an increasing topic from the locker room to the front office.
It's much more than Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings, who started his pro career in Italy in a pioneering move, saying he would strongly consider a return during a work stoppage. The National Basketball Players Association is devising a strategy to address the obvious conflicts and possible legal hurdles. Players know they are going to get more questions from reporters as the topic moves to the forefront and teams are getting anxious waiting for direction from the league office on what to expect going forward.
Said one general manager of wanting NBA brass to send word to front offices:
"They need to clarify. And they need to take a hard line."
"There are questions that have to be answered."
And this is 6 ½ months away from the lockout beginning if no agreement is reached, and probably another three months away from becoming an actual issue for teams since a summer work stoppage almost certainly would not be enough to push a player into the drastic move. But in some corners of the NBA, it is feeling closer. Executives who plot their roster out years in advance want to know what to expect and players facing the real possibility of no pay checks want to know their options.
The public stance from the league is that there is no public stance -- officials say they will not "speculate" on the increasing debate while all their efforts are focused on getting a new deal with players. Union leaders likewise decline to offer a stated position. Behind the scenes, though, the same NBPA is known to be looking hard at the topic in preparation of the inevitable questions, legal and otherwise, from its membership.
Teams, meanwhile, are stuck. Unable to set their own front-office policy, unable to give players offseason marching orders, they wait for others to sort through the many-layered conflict.
Foremost is the issue of a player's right to work facing off against the contract among the league and FIBA that prohibits a team overseas from signing someone under contract to an NBA club, and vice versa. Rudy Fernandez cannot walk away from the Trail Blazers to return to Europe, as desired, and an international standout cannot ignore a foreign agreement to instantly come to North America after the draft.
Do contracts dissolve during a lockout, only to be reinstated after? The league and the union will likely have opposing viewpoints. The teams will definitely have an interest in the ruling, though the executives interviewed see little hope in indefinitely barring players from earning a living. It's what happens while they are gone, and when the time comes to return, that creates as much concern.
• A player taking the international route, with Europe as the most common destination, would be making money but exposing himself in countless ways. If he suffers a serious injury, his NBA team may be able to void his contract, and teams here would almost surely think harder about the doomsday outcome in that scenario than if a player gets hurt in summer workouts or pickup games away from the club. And, if a player does get hurt, the NBA club is prohibited from contact during a lockout. Officially, the team doctor and trainer would not be allowed to examine him or discuss a rehab plan, though back-channel conversations would undoubtedly take place.
• Players may find offers with serious money that require serious commitments. They may, for example, sign overseas and have two or three windows to get out of the deal to return to the NBA when the lockout is settled. But it's fair to expect that European clubs are going to want a stable operation. They're not going to draw up a contract with daily opt-out clauses, unless it's for the kind of superstar that can set his own demands. Would a player take the paycheck of an international deal knowing he might have to stay for a month after the NBA is back in business?
"As soon as the lockout ends, that's when the dilemma happens," one team executive said. "Who's to say our contract is more enforceable than one in Europe?"
• Could a player get out of his NBA deal to stay in Europe after a lockout? If the major salary rollback comes to fruition here, a player could have lost enough money that he would be making more overseas. It's not an obvious outcome, but it is one that teams have started to consider.
They're trying to consider all the possibilities, of course, with three-fourths of the NBA regular season and the playoffs still to come before any of this starts to officially matter. But it's getting closer by the increasingly anxious moment.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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