There's a good chance the NBA will not play a single game in the 2011-12 season. There's a more than solid chance the current lockout that 30 NBA teams enforced in July could last deep into fall of 2012. There's also a better chance that this lockout could worm its way into the snowier winter months of the impending winter, and that the players and the owners could come to an agreement in January, as was the case during the 1998 stalemate that came to a close during the first week of January in 1999.
Until then, as was the case 13 years ago, NBA players are attempting to field and/or sign deals with international teams in hopes of both earning income during this lockout and staying in game-ready shape. There aren't that many spots open, much less teams open to signing NBA players, despite the advantage that NBA-level players would have against international counterparts. And myriad complications would get in the way of both NBA-types agreeing to an overseas deal and international teams taking on NBA-types for either a full or truncated contract.
With that in place, there are five NBA veterans who we think would be expertly suited for a stint overseas. And by "expertly suited," we mean "in bad, bad need" -- whether this current lockout costs the NBA one or 82 games.
This list follows the jump.
Jamal Crawford, free agent
He's worked with enough teams, so the sample size is large enough. Ask any beat writer, in any format: Jamal Crawford is the nicest guy you'll ever meet. Which pains us to point out that his deserved free-agent payday -- which should have seen some middling team massively overpay him during some Wednesday last month -- has likely been shot to hell by the current lockout.
Jamal is 31, now, and every team thinks they need a scoring hybrid guard who can't dribble to come off the bench and drop 12 in a quarter that they'll notice without realizing that he shot 1 for 12 in the four fourth quarters that preceded that quarter. I say this again, as someone who likes Jamal Crawford a lot. He's the streakiest guy in the NBA, and more than deserving of an average contract. He probably won't get one, though, when the new collective bargaining agreement reveals itself.
[Related: Only free agents eligible to play in China]
He also shot 43 percent from the field and 34 percent (the league average is a tick below 36 percent) from long range last season. His career mark from the 3-point line is 35 percent, but it hardly matters. Have you ever seen Jamal Crawford shoot a free throw? Seriously? Ask your younger brother. Ask your former roommate who used to live in New York. Name one guy that can emulate Jamal Crawford's stroke from the free-throw line. I dare thee. Name one point in your life that you can recall seeing Jamal Crawford set up for a free throw. This isn't a good thing, mind you.
Again, we love Jamal. Which is why we think that he's best served working overseas. Not because his isolation-heavy ways will in any way fit in with any sort of international league. No, it's because he's the sort of "we have $7 million open this summer, let's give it all to him and toss him 120 percent raises over the course of a five-year deal" signee that has gotten teams in trouble for over a decade.
Nothing against Jamal; he's more or less worked the same routine since 2000. He just happened to end his run at the worst possible time. The NBA's old financial landscape died a death on July 1, and while it won't affect the league's stars or its minimum players, potentially overpaid average blokes like Jamal will feel the biggest hit.
So go east, (NBA-level) middle-aged man. Or west. Go west to go east. Either way, the Wizards aren't calling anytime soon.
Andris Biedrins needs saving. You know this.
If you're reading an NBA blog in August of an offseason, lockout or otherwise, you're probably the sort who watched Biedrins destroy teams on your satellite hookup during inconsequential early spring games over the last few years. His massive hops and 6-foot-11ish frame made it so the Warriors were more than happy with signing the lefty to a six-year, $54 million contract during the summer of 2008.
Of course, this 2008 deal was heavily dependent on a then-22-year-old acting as if he was into basketball, into improving upon his basketball craft and into the idea of his coach actually utilizing a defensive-minded big man who could move his feet, block shots, rebound on the defensive end and help to eliminate the endless mistakes made by a tiny and offensive-minded lineup. Also, Don Nelson was coaching. If you made it past this paragraph without wheezing, you're aware that there are many caveats with this cat.
Biedrins actually enjoyed a career year in 2008-09 following his contract extension, averaging about 12 points and 11 boards with two assists (!) and a block and a half in 30 minutes per game. Confidence, minutes, free-throw percentage and production have fallen off significantly in the two seasons since. No matter whose fault it is, this is clearly a talented player in need of a re-start.
So, with four years and $36 million left on his deal, it would seem that Andris would keep the re-starts in-house, as he gets frustrated with Bowser and re-starts his Nintendo before striking it up again. After all, Super Mario Brothers isn't going to finish itself. Still, why can't he try another kind of re-start away from Golden State?
Rumors abound that the 25-year-old Biedrins could work for a Latvian team during the lockout, and that can't be anything but good news for this guy. He has to get away from the NBA grind, the Don Nelson-inspired millstone of roster mates and develop some sort of confidence away from this mess of a league that we might not see until November 2012.
Biedrins, of the major hops and middling basketball skill, has long been regarded as the perfect sort of international center to try and ply his trade at the NBA level. He isn't a shooter, he likes banging, and he can't be pushed around. Andrea Bargnani, Biedrins ain't. Still, for whatever reasons, it hasn't worked for Andris at the NBA level.
Though insurance issues might get in the way ($36 million, even if the U.S. doesn't exist in four years, is nothing to sneeze at), this is a prime example of someone who should make the jump. This is especially the sort of player who needs a new outlook.
Confidence, reps, minutes played, actual defensive rotations and competent teammates? These are things that have been in short supply during Biedrins' time with three different coaches in Golden State. Andris has been at fault for slipping in terms of his development and effort, but an actual role and inherent responsibility might be the best thing for him at this point.
Patterson's NBA resume isn't much to warm yourself with. He started six games in his rookie year last season, but he played a total of only 868 minutes.
Worse, the 6-9 (yeah, right) big forward fits squarely in an NBA world that hasn't existed for two decades. The Kentucky product can spin and square away and either hook or fall into point after point after point in the low post, but what's the point in a 2011-era NBA that won't allow any sort of post play that doesn't involve 12 double-teams and 13 NFL-level defensive sets meant to turn the next Elvin Hayes into the next Brad Sellers?
This is where Patterson can learn.
International hoops? It's even tougher in the low block. There really isn't a low block, if we're honest, which is what would serve Patterson so well. Even in limited minutes, the big forward with touch managed a 16.7 PER, but a spell (if only, hopefully, for a week or so) spent in a quick-moving international league could do wonders for his anticipation, his hands, his footwork and his aptitude down "low." Even if there isn't much "low" down low in international hoops.
For scoring big men, international hoops can feel like an incessant game of Whack-a-Mole worked with two hands tied behind their back, with four fouls already on the scoreboard.
Seems perfect enough for Patterson, who seems more than willing and able to make this happen. It isn't as if he'd be a big man working amongst the giants. He'd actually be according to scale. But they aren't obsessed with block and charge calls over there, Patrick. Seek it out, my man.
As is the case with Biedrins, insurance issues may get in the way of an NBA player who makes around eight figures a year plying his trade away from the league that pays his significant rent. We cannot blame cats like these for deciding to keep things local, while staying in shape and saving himself from a potentially career-altering knee injury. Even if, in the case of Biedrins and Gordon, "local" is a fluid term. After all, both Biedrins and Ben were born outside the United States.
Ben Gordon needs a re-start, though.
Ben Gordon was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 2004, and spent the next five years playing in some of the worst offenses we've ever seen. The defense was sound, through no fault of Ben's (read: ZING), but at times B.G. was the crux of those teams' offenses. The spacing was poor, the big men offered no relief, and Gordon was left time and time again to bail his teammates out with a miserable long-range attempt. Usually with a hand in his face. Disproportionate blame and iffy shooting percentages resulted.
Even with those mitigating factors, Gordon somewhat thrived. He shot over 40 percent from behind the arc in each of his five seasons with Chicago. Taking to the Pistons as the cap-conscious Bulls declined to re-sign him in 2009, Gordon fell off significantly. He managed just 32 percent from long range in 2009-10, and while he rebounded to above 40 percent in 2010-11, my League Pass-heavy and first-hand accounts left him looking as dispassionate in Detroit as he did potent in Chicago. Ben, in front of those 10,000 fans (announced, at least) at night, just didn't seem to care.
With that Pistons roster, we couldn't blame him.
Which is why a bit of international burn could do him good. As is the case with Crawford, Ben's screen-roll and/or isolation game could be a disservice in international play, but a new jersey and shooting guards his size (Gordon is a relatively diminutive 6-3) could do wonders for our man's wonderfully arching jump shot.
Mike Conley Jr., Memphis Grizzlies
Nothing is going wrong with Mike Conley at this point. His jump shot may have deserted him during his team's inspiring playoff run last spring, but beyond that, the Grizzlies' point guard more than overwhelmed the jerks among us (including I, King Jerk) that assumed him unworthy of his massive contract extension that set to paper nine months ago.
He's still not worth it; a smaller-market team like the Grizzlies should have waited until the summer (or whenever the "offseason" starts) to see what contract it had to match for his services -- and it's dubious to assume that his on-court improvements came only because Conley felt like he had to live up to his unexpected deal.
The guy still played his tail off in 2010-11. And this is the sort of guy you want to see keep improving. After all, sound and smart point guards are rare in the NBA realm and relative overseas. Ball-dominating lead guards don't work in international play, and Conley has no incentive to try and ape his NBA act with any other team during the lockout because of his big contract extension, but he'd be a mensch if he tried.
Of course, the NBA and its players would be complete and total menschs if they attempted to settle this stalemate like sound-thinking compatriots.
Instead, they're acting like … well, something that rhymes with the latter half of the word "compatriots."
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- Jamal Crawford