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Deron Williams Agrees to Play in Turkey

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

The Nets point guard will play overseas if the lockout is still in place by September.

Deron Williams Agrees to Play in Turkey

In this article…

Deron Williams of the New Jersey Nets has agreed in principal on a contract to play for Turkish basketball club Besiktas if the lockout is still in effect after summer's end.  Via Mark Stein at ESPN:

Sources Thursday confirmed a report from the Turkey-based sports outlet NTV Spor that Williams has struck an agreement in principal to play for Besiktas, which is the club that briefly employed Allen Iverson last season.

Sources say Williams will not be required to report to the Turkish club before the end of August or early September and that his deal with them will include an immediate out that allows him to return to the NBA as soon as the work stoppage ends.

Howard Beck of the New York Times was able to get confirmation from Besiktas' head coach:

"We confirm" the contract of Williams, said Ergin Ataman, the coach of the Turkish team Besiktas, in a telephone interview Thursday.

Ataman said the deal should become official in the next 24 hours and that Besiktas's president, Seref Yalcin, would join Williams for a news conference in the United States next week.

Williams would also be joined by Atlanta Hawks center Zaza Pachulia on the Turkish team, but the main piece is Williams.  Along with Chris Paul, Williams is considered to be on of the top point guards in the NBA.  At just 27 years of age, a player of this caliber playing overseas is a major development.

Because of the lockout, the New Jersey Nets can't talk to Williams or prevent him from signing this contract.  As Zach Lowe at SI.com writes, there are still some complications surrounding Williams being able to play in Europe:

[Players under contract] need a special approval from FIBA to sign in Europe, and as Stein reported a few months ago, FIBA has generally been very reluctant to grant approvals to players under valid NBA contracts.  The next fight, of course, could come over whether NBA contracts are actually valid during a lockout.  Stein and others have reported that the players' union might argue on a player's behalf that such contracts are invalid.

If the deal goes through and Williams is cleared to play, is it a good move?  Henry Abbott thinks it is

Now there's real pressure on Mikhail Prokhorov, and implied pressure on every other owner with valued stars, to get the NBA season started on time.  There's nothing like watching the future of your franchise take the floor every night in a chippy overseas league.  If Williams gets injured in Turkey, it's bad for Williams, but it's dreadful for the Nets, who are hoping to use Williams to lure fans to a new arena in Brooklyn a year from now, not to mention a big free agent like Dwight Howard.  Without Williams, the Nets' roster is pretty sad, and Prokhorov's investment in basketball endures a major setback.

So what is the driving force behind Williams deciding to potentially play in Europe and risk injury?  It may be the start of a statement by star players to their owners to come to an agreement quickly, as Abbott alluded to.  If more players agreed to similar deals, owners would feel heat to end the lockout as promptly as possible.  

It also could be motivated by money, though Williams isn't in dire need of it.  Williams' new agent, Jeff Schwartz of Excel Sports Management, represents a lot of top veteran talent in the NBA.  His agency also represents several American players overseas in Europe and Asia, including recognizable names like Ricky Davis (China).  This could be a concerted effort by the agency to get more money for their clients (and themselves) by getting their players to go to Europe.  Williams' contract, which would only be for one season, is reportedly in the low seven figures.

No matter what the motivations, this is an ambitious move by Deron Williams.  If that "out" clause is indeed in the contract, he really doesn't have much to lose by going abroad if the league is still locked out.  He can play and then come over right when it ends.  The only real risk is injury, but players risk injury during the NBA season.  Lowe stated in his post that the Nets want to keep Williams in Brooklyn at all costs and would not be likely to void his contract if something did actually happen to him while he was playing.  If anything, this move adds more intrigue to this already interesting summer.

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