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Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010

HOOP SCOOP

Expansion should bring more NBA veterans to play in Japan


NBA Players Association executive director Billy Hunter has been quoted as saying he's "99 percent sure" a lockout will take place after the collective bargain agreement expires on June 30.

Ed Odeven

Longtime commissioner David Stern insists the league's finances have reached the point of critical mass, and that there's no turning back in his and the owners' desire to drastically reduce player salaries by as much as $800 million, according to published reports.

In fact, the league has stated it wants to cut salaries by up to 38 percent.

There's no way the players will be willing to agree to that, though they have voiced support for giving the owners a larger chunk of league revenue. (In the current CBA, the players get 57 percent of all league revenue.)

Still, the owners seem adamant about "taking a stand" and wanting to dramatically reshape the league's financial structure. Of course, no one is forcing owners to give players $100 million contracts.

That could opens the door for players to seek employment elsewhere, especially if the lockout becomes a long, drawn-out affair.

Various European team head honchos will be drooling over the possibility of adding NBA veterans to their lineups next season.

And remember this: The same could be true in Asia and, to a lesser extent, Japan, where Kyoto's Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Saitama's Kenny Satterfield and Tokyo's Robert Swift give the 16-team bj-league a trio of former NBA players on current rosters for the first time in its six-year history.

With four new clubs joining the bj-league next season, more roster spots will open up for imports, too, including those who have spent quality time in the NBA Development League, which a growing number of current bj-league stars have played in.

"If Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Kenny Satterfield and Robert Swift continue to play well, of course there will eventually be more former NBA players coming here," a league insider told The Japan Times last week.

"It's just that now they will first try the NBADL, Europe, other leagues, and then when their value drops to a certain point, they will join the bj-league. But to get guys recently released or available in the case of a lockout is a long shot. Very, very long shot."

"Right now the bj-league isn't even in the same discussion with the JBL and the KBL, much less the CBA in China, which has been aggressively pursuing and signing former NBA players (including Stephon Marbury last season)."

The source's analysis paints this vivid picture of the bj-league: It's still a very young league, but as an up-and-coming league it provides increased opportunities for foreign players.

Exhibit A: Abdul-Rauf, 41, is still playing at a high level (he had 21- and 28-point games last weekend).

Exhibit B: Swift, whose NBA career suffered major setbacks due to knee problems, is back in the spotlight on the other side of the world.

How would a lockout affect the movement of NBA-caliber players around the world?

"Anything like a lockout that suddenly makes NBA-type guys suddenly available really just sends them in greater numbers to Europe, etc.," the hoop insider said.

"There is always a kind of trickle-down effect. If an NBA player (like Josh Childress did in Greece) signs with a team, then the player they would normally have signed moves down to a different team, and so on, until someone who thought they were signing in the JBL or KBL is left out there looking for a job and signs with the bj-league."

That doesn't mean, however, that the bj-league is a bad option. But the level of competition hasn't reached the point where it is recognized by many people around the world.

"On the plus side, the bj-league rules (three imports on the court), do help us in getting some very talented players," the source noted. "Leagues like the JBL or KBL that only allow one import player (at a time) need to get guys that are all-around players. Some guys in the JBL can do almost everything well. But with three on the court, we can take specialists. And that's what much of the NBA is, a league of specialists: guys who defend, shoot the corner 3, rebound, give up their six fouls to defend the post."

"So we have rebounders, shot blockers, point guards, shooting guards, etc., etc., guys with specialties that you don't see in the JBL or KBL."

In other words, the bj-league has a more varied mix of players than the JBL or South Korea's pro circuit.

Satterfield, who leads the bj-league in assists (7.3 per game), appeared in 75 NBA games from 2001-03 with the Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers. Since then, he has played in several leagues around the world.

Abdul-Rauf has also been out of the NBA for a long time — since 2001 to be precise. His specialty, of course, is shooting. He was a career 90.5 percent free-throw shooter in the NBA.

Swift, a 216-cm center, played in 26 games for the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008-09 and briefly in the D-League last season. The 25-year-old may be an exception to the rule, though — that is, future bj-league players with NBA backgrounds on their resumes from many years before.

"I don't see salaries going up fast enough, if at all, in the near future to attract recent NBA players," the source predicted, without needing to talk about the specifics of the bj-league's salary cap. "But there will be more. Certainly. Our league is actually built to attract them if the money is right.

"It's just that the money is going to be for guys at the end of their careers, or like Robert Swift, guys whose careers just kind of stalled."



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