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Pondering the LBJ-to-Greece Buzz

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Josh Childress' choice to take a lucrative offer to play overseas certainly sent some ripples through the NBA community.  The ensuing decisions of several fellow players of varying skill levels to follow suit -- and the considerations of others such as Ben Gordon and Carl Landry -- as well as the American dollar's weakness against the Euro has made the issue of defection from the Association one of the hot topics of the 2008 off-season.

But it all pales in comparison to the shock waves that would be in store if the possibilities brought forth in Ian Thomsen's Friday column prove to have any chance of coming to fruition.

Thomsen reported that Greece's Olympiakos team is planning to join the fray in the LeBron James sweepstakes come summer 2010.  That is the well-publicized year in which James hits unrestricted free agnecy, and word is that the cap-free Olympiakos ownership could be willing to offer upwards of $40 million annually, which would assuredly dwarf any max contract that James could receive under the NBA's salary restrictions.

Given the NBA's long-held perception of basketball supremacy, just the idea of the league's current icon leaving for parts abroad is stunning to consider.  It's certainly enough to make my (largely hollow) head spin.

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On the surface, the potential for LeBron James leaving the continent under any circumstances seems rather low.  This is a guy who spent most of his childhood being primed for future NBA dominance and for being the man who would bring back the Michael-esque appeal to the league (crucial to note that this is not a comparison of his game to Jordan's).  He has spent the first five years of his career in the NBA city closest to his home. 

The two prominent schools of thought about LBJ's desires in 2010 NBA-wise have been that he will either continue playing the homegrown hero in Cleveland, or that he will look to head to New York, either for the Knicks (in the unlikely event that they have extricated themselves from cap purgatory) or to Brooklyn to unite with his pal Jay-Z if the legendary rapper's Nets have made their long-awaited move by then.  With the options being to continue chasing an NBA championship (if he doesn't have one by that point) in a spot near his hometown or in the league's marquee city, it's hard to imagine Bron running away all too fast.

But then there's that phrase that the renowned Bill Simmons seemed to mention in every column while making his case that LeBron was mailing in the 2006-07 season prior to his epic fifth game in Detroit that year: global icon.  That has been Bron's stated goal for himself for some time now, and it can't hurt to wonder at this point if he may believe that playing overseas for a year would actually help his visibility.  The European game made strides this summer with its acquisitions of the NBA players discussed earlier, and how the landscape will look in two years is anyone's guess. 

While I'm not sure that playing in Greece will ever really allow for greater overall exposure than playing in America will, if LeBron and his financial and public relations people believe that it will permit him to gain greater favor in other parts of the world - or to expand his endorsement opportunities in those areas - the idea of him leaving might not be quite as implausible as it sounds today.  He has guaranteed an Olympic gold medal for Team USA this summer, and he certainly expects to have some NBA title-oriented jewelery when all is said and done.  A title abroad would truly make him a champion of all the worlds.

The money could also work out quite well for James.  As mentioned above, with no cap restrictions and billionaire owners (the Aggelopoulos brothers), there is a possibility of him receiving an offer close to $50 million annually -- and if so much as one other European team gets involved, there could be a full-scale bidding war, for which the ceiling would be virtually non-existent.  Combine that with the possibility for LeBron to expand his endorsement-making into a more international realm of companies, and he could be at greater financial success.  And if he only played a year or two and then returned, he would be an even bigger deal (if that's possible) once he came back.

Okay, Steve, snap out of it.  Back to the present reality.

The reality remains that it wouldn't be a shock if the suggested scenario above sounds ridiculous to you.  Because it does to me, too.   That's because chances are that LeBron is going absolutely nowhere (so far as changing continents is concerned), that he could still make more money all-told (with endorsements) and be more of an icon by staying in the Association, particularly if he moves to New York City.  

But the point here isnt just about what will happen with LeBron.  The LeBron situation is a catalyst for provoking thought on the directions in which the NBA and global basketball are heading.  In August 2008, I write the words in those middle three paragraphs above, and I fully expect you to shake your head when you read those words.  I'm doing the same thing right now.  But a year ago, I would have done that if someone told me that Euroleague ball would become the hot topic it has this off-season.

No, Josh Childress and a few others leaving doesn't translate to LeBron, and there is by no means a syllogism being drawn here.  But what's happened this summer has indicated for better or for worse that the climate of global basketball is changing.  It has been caused by a combination of factors that ranges from the NBA's free agency system's set-up to the contrasting salary cap restrictions (or lack thereof) on different continents to the different mentalities of owners in the NBA and elsewhere to the issue of exchange rate.

This summer alone, we have seen locations abroad become legitimately viable options for free agent mid-level NBA players, both American and foreign-born alike.  That certainly wasn't on this writer's radar a year ago.

Where will we be a year from now? 

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