Kobe willing to hear foreign offers

From across the world, preening over the improbable signing of All-Star point guard Deron Williams(notes), Turkish basketball coach Ergin Ataman was polishing the pitch of his life.

“We want Kobe Bryant(notes) now,” Ataman told Yahoo! Sports by phone on Thursday.

Ataman is the coach of Besiktas of Istanbul, and his basketball club sees the NBA’s owner lockout of players as a once-in-a-forever chance to transform this fledgling franchise’s global image. Once Besiktas was able to convince Williams to make the leap, the team is now determined to make the boldest play of all for Bryant.

Kobe Bryant signed a major endorsement deal with Turkish Airlines last season.
(Getty Images)

Bryant is willing to listen to overseas offers, sources close to him told Yahoo! Sports on Thursday. Those could come out of Europe or the Far East, and, yes, even Istanbul, the gateway bridging Europe and Asia.

It isn’t lost on Besiktas that Bryant spent much of his youth living in Italy, that his marketing machine is strong in Europe where he’s afforded an unparalleled popularity among basketball stars. The organization knows this too: Turkish Airlines, who signed Bryant to a global endorsement deal this year, might want to play a part in bringing the team and star together. As Ataman said, a sponsor – not the organization – would be paying Williams’ contract. Perhaps Turkish Airlines could be Besiktas’ benefactor for Bryant?

For a month, Besiktas had been quietly talking with Williams’ representatives, and finally they closed on an agreement for the Nets guard to play in Turkey for the length of the lockout. For a franchise still smarting over last season’s failed investment with the washed-up Allen Iverson(notes), the signing of Williams alone is an immense coup for the franchise. Yet it also sets up a puncher’s chance to sell Bryant, the biggest basketball star in Europe, on a lockout-long odyssey with Besiktas.

[Ball Don’t Lie: Deron Williams’ surprise deal with Turkey is risky]

The coach promises his franchise will be seeking an audience with Bryant and Bryant’s agent, Rob Pelinka, in the near future. To make this happen, they had better bring a thick checkbook to sign the Los Angeles Lakers star.

“If Kobe doesn’t want to miss a whole season if there’s a lockout, and likes to live in one of Europe’s greatest cities, in Istanbul, and wants to play with Deron Williams, why not?” Ataman said.

Bryant loves the European game, loves the culture, and is far more inclined to explore signing overseas than most of the NBA’s superstars. Bryant has his arthritic knees of a soon-to-be 33-year-old body to deal with, but he planned to work hard in the gym this summer, and the fairly sparse schedule of a EuroCup League team could hold its appeal. Nevertheless, Bryant won’t simply swoon over the signing of Williams, nor Atlanta’s Zaza Pachulia(notes).

No one should consider Williams’ leap of faith, nor Bryant’s consideration, the beginning of a movement that’ll change the momentum of the NBA lockout. With a salary of approximately $200,000 per month, plus living perks, this is a plumb Euro deal for Williams. And it’s a rare payday overseas now. The economic climate in Europe has changed dramatically in the past two years, and there just aren’t enough good jobs for a mass union exodus to Europe. Overseas, franchises have learned lessons about overpaying American role players, and have mostly corrected them over time.

Williams could take a job as a fire-eater in the circus, and the New Jersey Nets probably wouldn’t blink. Unless Williams somehow had a career-ending injury, the Nets would never move to void the remaining two years, $34 million on his contract. Williams plans to opt-out of his deal in the summer of 2012, and the Nets are determined to partner Williams with Orlando’s Dwight Howard(notes) in free agency.

The players know this: The lockout could go the distance, eliminate the 2011-12 season, and they have to decide whether they’re willing to run the risk of their NBA teams voiding their contracts should a catastrophic injury happen there? Bryant has three years and $83 million left on his deal, but he’s never been afraid to play the game, never babied his body. He still plans to play for the United States in the 2012 Olympics in London, and has considered a barnstorming tour through the Far East this summer.

“We cannot give him the same money as he gets from the NBA, but if the money isn’t everything in this…” Ataman said. Well then, who knows? Kobe Bryant is willing to listen, and Besiktas and the rest of Europe and the Far East is undoubtedly willing to sell.

It’s still July, the lockout has a long way to go, but the game’s biggest basketball star is thinking about global possibilities. This could yet still be a wild, fascinating season – wherever in the world David Stern’s shunned stars are playing basketball.

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Adrian Wojnarowski is the NBA columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Adrian a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Jul 7, 2011