Europe offers more than vacation to players

LAS VEGAS – The prospects of an NBA superstar making a leap of faith and fortune to the burgeoning European basketball market isn't close, but it no longer seems such an outrageous possibility. As models for the perfect pioneer go, Jason Kidd does believe that his talents at 35 years old are suited to the Euro game, where size, strength and smarts are a tonic for declining speed and explosiveness.

Yes, Kidd is relentlessly committed to chasing an NBA title with Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks. Still, nothing is forever for him at 35. When delivered a premise about the possibility of someday following the Atlanta Hawks' Josh Childress to Europe, Kidd confessed that no longer is it possible to consider your future in a context limited to the NBA.

"In the next four or five years, could I end up playing over there?" Kidd wondered. "Hey, why wouldn't I play in Italy or somewhere (else)? That might be a great experience.

"It's a legitimate option now with Childress going over there."

As he prepares for the Beijing Olympics with Team USA, Kidd is under contract with Dallas through next season. He has his eyes on an extension past 2008-09, but who knows anymore?

"Why not?" Kidd said. "We saw the Euro players coming here, and now it's kind of flip-flopping."

Through the years, a lot of terrific NBA players left for Europe in the twilight of their careers. Some rookies used it as leverage in contract disputes. Even a high school player, Brandon Jennings, signed with Virtus Roma this month. Now, the next step has come with a young American-born NBA sixth man, Childress, choosing Olympiakos of Greece for a contract that could net him up to $20 million over three years after taxes. He passed on a five-year, $34 million deal with the Atlanta Hawks, as much of a statement on the growing worth of European franchises as it was an indictment of a shoddy Atlanta operation.

Make no mistake: A threshold has been crossed in the sport. Suddenly, Europe is evolving into a true rival in free agency.

Childress is no superstar, but he was a desired restricted free agent in the NBA. As the American dollar shrinks to the Euro and European operations increase in prestige and resources, so starts the irreversible wave of change.

"David Stern and the NBA have been promoting the globalization of the sport for years," agent Lon Babby said by phone on Wednesday. "It's only natural it would begin to flow both ways. It's something players and agents now have to look at."

Babby represents Childress, and never hesitated to push his client toward the favorable financial arrangements of the Euroleague. Some insist this is such a risky move for a young NBA player, but is it that much more of a gamble to leave one of these forsaken NBA franchises with such horrible ownership, such suspect direction and commitment?

When Billy Knight resigned as Hawks GM this spring, ownership was unprepared to conduct a search. Atlanta floundered around, unsure of whom to recruit, who should be on their list. One owner called Sacramento's GM Geoff Petrie, and Petrie quickly rejected them.

Atlanta should have made well-regarded Cleveland assistant GM Chris Grant a more credible offer, but it was determined to do everything on the cheap. In the end, the Hawks hired unemployed journeyman Rick Sund. Give Sund this: The opening salvo on his watch – losing Childress to Greece – is a disaster for the Hawks.

As long as franchises like Atlanta and Memphis have such poor ownership, such little commitment and competency, no one should be surprised that players like Childress and Juan Carlos Navarro, who recently signed a reported five-year, $20 million contract with FC Barcelona, will find Europe a suitable destination.

So, how long until those rich franchises in Russia, Spain and Greece are players for the biggest stars in the sport?

Well, Miami's Dwyane Wade laughed as he delivered a baseline bid to leave the NBA in the summer of 2010. "Thirty million a season, non-taxable?" Wade said. "I might have to think about it."

The NBA's salary cap and the declining American dollar leaves open the possibility that a European team eventually will be able to make the kind of Monopoly money bid to lure one of the NBA's superstars. It won't be this year. Nor next. The summer of 2010, when Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh could be available, is too soon also. What if Europe decides that it doesn't need to pay outlandish entrance fees to get teams in Stern's league and it figures out a way to pool its resources to make itself more of a competitor?

However it goes, there will be a better and better parade of players leaving the NBA for Europe, and better Euros who never feel the need to come here.

"With the money being said that guys can get over there, it's unbelievable," Wade said. Not only do you have international players coming to America, you've got American players going international. And you've got big-time players doing it now. It's interesting.

"If they offer me $40 million a year and no taxes, I might have to go over there. I'll have to see you guys later."

For now, Dwyane Wade was laughing. For how long, though?