Childress weighing offer from Greek team

LAS VEGAS – In a potentially stunning move that reflects the growing challenge Europe’s basketball leagues pose to the NBA, Atlanta Hawks free-agent forward Josh Childress is strongly considering a three-year, $20 million offer from Greek powerhouse Olympiakos, several league sources said Sunday night.

Childress flew to Greece late Sunday and is scheduled to meet with Olympiakos officials on Monday. Childress, 25, is so flustered with the Hawks’ refusal to make a sign-and-trade deal to another team, one source familiar with his thinking believes there’s “better than a 50-50 chance” he’ll sign with Olympiakos. The team also will cover the Greek taxes for Childress, making the offer even more lucrative.

“Unless he just gets there and doesn’t like it at all, I think he’s going to go,” one league source said.

Childress is a restricted free agent, but the Hawks would have no matching rights with a FIBA contract. Olympiakos’ offer also would allow Childress the opportunity to return to the NBA over the next two summers. The Hawks would maintain his restricted free-agent rights provided they make him a qualifying offer.

Childress’ talks with the Hawks have yet to gain traction because Atlanta officials have made it clear their first priority is to resolve negotiations with forward Josh Smith, their other restricted free agent. Privately, Childress has expressed little enthusiasm in returning to play for the organization, sources said.

The Memphis Grizzlies are the only remaining team with enough salary-cap room to make an offer exceeding the $5.6 million mid-level exception, and they so far seem content on saving their money for next summer. Several NBA GMs interested in Childress said they wouldn’t make a mid-level offer to him because they believe the Hawks would match.

Childress’ agent, Lon Babby, has instead looked to Europe to create leverage for his client, a unique approach that would have seemed unlikely as recently as three years ago. The U.S. dollar’s declining value compared to the Euro, coupled with the influx of money from Russian owners into the Euroleague, has now made Europe a much more attractive option for players.

Already this summer, the San Antonio Spurs’ 2007 first-round draft pick, Tiago Splitter, rejected an offer to join the NBA franchise because he can make more money by remaining in Spain. Toronto Raptors free agent Carlos Delfino signed a three-year, $13.5 million deal with Khimiki of Moscow. Juan Carlos Navarro of the Grizzlies returned to Spain for a reported five-year contract with FC Barcelona that could pay more than $20 million.

Even so, Childress, who averaged 11.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game last season, would send far greater waves through the NBA should he leave for the Euroleague. He would be the kind of coveted, young American talent who hadn’t previously left the NBA for Europe. Childress, 6-foot-8, played his college ball at Stanford, and is believed to have the international curiosity and maturity it might take to leave the NBA behind for a year.

If Childress joins Olympiakos then chooses to return to the NBA in either of the next two summers, he’ll likely be entering a more lucrative free-agent market than the current one.

– NBA editor Johnny Ludden contributed to this story.