My Big Fat Greek WTF

Well, it looks like he wasn't bluffing.

ESPN is reporting that Josh Childress has agreed to terms with Olympiakos to become the first, as far as I know, US-born NBA player in the prime of his career to turn down a guaranteed long term NBA contract in order to play in Europe. 

We discussed some of the implications of this trend on a FanPost earlier this week.  But let me just say that I'm stunned. 

It's a fascinating decision, at once narrow-minded (he wants the most money possible) and open-minded (he's open to living in Europe, experiencing a life other than the NBA, perhaps blazing a trail for others). 

One factor not to be overlooked in all of this is the chilling impact of the salary cap on very, very good players like Childress.  With only four teams having any money to spend this summer, and one of those (the Grizzlies) unwilling to do so, the options for everyone else dried up when Brand went to the Sixers, Maggette to the Warriors, and Davis and Camby to the Clippers.  Knowing full well that it was mathematically impossible for him to get a better deal in the NBA, the Hawks offered a smidge over the MLE, at a reported 5 years and $36M.  By contrast, his Olympiakos will probably pay him more for only 3 years, when you consider that it's being called $20M after taxes.  Just so you know, that's probably close to what Brand signed for in terms of after tax money.  Other RFA's like Andre Iguodala and Luol Deng and Josh Smith and Emeka Okafor now may have just a bit more leverage than they did before in negotiating their new teams, even in the absence of NBA teams bidding for their services.

It's pretty clear that the 'offer sheet' approach is badly broken.  Whether it's due to the one week waiting period, or possibly a subtle form of collusion, there really is no market for the restricteds at this point.  Who will be the highest paid restricted to change teams this summer?  Rony Turiaf?  Kelenna Azubuike?  It ain't working - not for the best players.

Of course, it was working great for the teams.  But Childress just upset the proverbial apple cart.  Since the CBA only governs the behavior of NBA teams, Atlanta just lost a coveted player without even having the option of matching, an outcome that seemed impossible a week ago.  A world league, and or a world club championship, or whatever may not happen for a very long time if ever, but there's one thing that's going to happen sooner rather than later - the NBA and the EuroLeague and FIBA are going to have discuss transfer fees similar to those in international soccer (or something similar) to keep these leagues from poaching players from each other.

I admire Childress for taking this bold step.  He's certainly striking a blow for other players like himself in the future.  Let's not overstate the case - this isn't Norma Rae in the sweat shop.  He turned down over $6M per season, which is more money than most of us will earn in a lifetime.  But the teams clearly were wielding more power in this one situation than was intended in the spirit of the CBA.  His decision will help correct that imbalance. 

By the way, I've been to Athens and I've been to Atlanta.  The city might have played a part in his decision also.

UPDATE 2:40 PM - Henry Abbott's take on TrueHoop.  Really, really good post.  He says it's ultimately good for the NBA.

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