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What if the NBA's elite took a European vacation?

Mar 10, 2010, 2:12 PM EST

Now starting at forward for your FC Barcelona… LeBron James.

Fans of Olympiakos, welcome… Kobe Bryant

Sound far-fetched? Yes. Why would the NBA’s elite go play in Europe? Because crazy, crazy things are coming. Because their contracts expired at the same time as the Collective Bargaining Agreement (if they play them out), and the players may well be locked out. What if those players used European leagues as leverage in the negotiations?

NBA salary cap guru Larry Coon explains over at the New York Times basketball blog.

These players (or at least many of them) play out the remainder of their contracts and enter free agency in 2011, just as the current agreement expires. They are joined by other players whose deals end that year, like (Carmelo) Anthony, Kevin Durant and even Tim Duncan. They present a united front to the league: “If there’s a lockout, we’re heading overseas.”

Think that will get the league’s attention?

Remember, these aren’t rank-and-file players we’re talking about here, like Josh Childress (who left the N.B.A. for Europe in 2008). These are the guys who fill the seats and sell the shoes. Would the threat of a defection of this magnitude – even for one season – be sufficient to dissuade the owners from initiating a lockout?

Let’s be honest, this is not going to happen. It’s got about the same shot as LeBron going to the Knicks.

But right now it seems the owners have the leverage in the talks, they have an economy that has thrashed their business model. The players are admitting they need to give some concessions.

But the players do have options, particularly the elite players. There are things they can do to create leverage in the talks. And the European leagues are one of them.

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