These days, performing triage on the NBA is a tricky endeavor. The most treacherous issue facing the Association is the still-developing Tim Donaghy scandal, but one that’s close behind, albeit in more of a long-range fashion, is the loss of talent to Europe.
First, there’s the Brandon Jennings saga. To recap: Jennings, rather than spend one year playing for the University of Arizona for free, opted instead to sign a multi-year contract (including NBA release provisions) with an Italian professional team.
Much hand-wringing followed Jennings’ pioneering decision, but it’s a problem of the NBA’s making. Commissioner David Stern’s minimum-age requirement for the NBA draft means players can no longer enter the draft directly from high school. The rule came about because Stern believed the on-court rawness and social immaturity of high-school draftees was hurting the brand. So, bolstered by the assumption that the players in question would spend the idle year in college (thereby giving the NBA a year of free development time), Stern and his associates decreed that no more 18-year-olds would be making the leap.
But Jennings proved to be smarter than Stern. Almost certainly, Jennings’ maneuvering will start a trend, and that trend will ultimately unravel the minimum-age requirement. But here’s another worry for Stern and the Association: the global economy.
Bostjan Nachbar, formerly of the New Jersey Nets, just inked a $14.3-million contract with Dynamo Moscow, and he had a few choice parting words for his old league:
“The NBA had better be careful,” Nachbar said. “European teams are offering a lot of money. It’s much more, considering there are no taxes, than what I could make signing for the midlevel exception.”
As Nachbar says, many European players pay no taxes, and, with one Euro trading at more than $1.50, the exchange rates make the U.S.-to-Europe jump all the more alluring–whether you’re Brandon Jennings or Bostjan Nachbar. Furthermore, as Hoops World observes, Nachbar’s exodus is not an anomaly, and the European leagues know this. Heck, Josh Childress could be next.
In any event, I see a couple of eventual consequences. One, the NBA’s structural salary restrictions may be necessarily rolled back. After all, the League will tolerate only so much talent drain before they institute the reforms needed to attract players back to the States. Two, the emigration in tandem with the NBA’s zeal for international expansion makes me wonder whether we’ll eventually wind up with a system similar to that of international soccer. You know, one in which major leagues (i.e., hoops analogs for the Premiership, Serie A, etc.) are competing for the same players and are also taking on one another in international tournaments. In other words, are we soon going to see the UEFA of basketball?
However you envision the future of the NBA, sweeping changes are on the way. And the best part is that they’re asking for it.