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Lockout, new labor deal could keep foreign players overseas

Jul 26, 2011, 4:08 PM EST

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This year, foreign-born players filled up the NBA draft board like they haven’t in years — four of the top seven picks were foreign born, as were 13 selections overall (21.7 percent).

The ongoing lockout and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement could change that in the future.

That is particularly true if the owners get their way with a hard cap and reduced or eliminated exceptions (like the Bird exemption, that let teams go over the cap to re-sign their own free agents), suggests Jonathan Tjarks at RealGM (via TrueHoop).

In the name ofincreasing parity, the owners’ CBA proposal institutes a hard salary cap which would lower player salaries across the board. The removal of the Larry Bird and mid-level exceptions, in particular,would have a devastating effect on the salaries of the “middle-class” of players. Combine that with a reverse-order draft where poorly managed teams in small markets can gain complete control over international players for at least four years, and we’re likely to see more foreign players following the path of Fran Vazquez.

Vazquez was selected #11 by the Orlando Magic in 2005. But instead of joining Dwight Howard in the Magic’s front-court rotation, Vazquez spurned the NBA and signed a lucrative deal in Spain. Even though he wouldn’t have been an All-Star, theopportunity cost of a lost lottery pick haunts Orlando to this day. Andwith the scarcity of talented big men in the league, askilled and athletic 6’10 230 forwardcapable of playing in the paint would have easily carved out a 10-year NBA career.

Zach Harper at True Hoop also points to Dimitris Diamantidis, a guard who certainly could have played here but shunned the NBA to stay in Europe. Right now Vazquez and Diamantidis are the exceptions, but that could change.

There will always be an allure for the NBA — it is the best league on the planet. If you want to test your game against the best, you come here. Also, even with the restrictions, a star in the NBA can make more money than in Europe.

But the NBA has a rookie salary cap — someone like Ricky Rubio had to take a pay cut to come to the NBA, what he is banking on is making bigger money in his second contract (four to five years down the line). There’s a risk there, particularly if you a middle class player in the NBA who may never see that big payday. And the NBA owners seem intent on cutting back what any player can make. If a player can make similar money and get more minutes overseas, what is the incentive to come here and play?

To highlight this situation, Tjarks uses a case from this past draft.

This year, Nikola Mirotic, a 20-year old 6’10 sharp-shooter, signed a two-year extension that will keep him under contract with Real Madrid until 2015. His exorbitant ($3.6 million) bailout caused his draft stock to plummet, and he slipped from the lottery to the No. 23 selection (of the Chicago Bulls)…

Currently, the plan is to wait at least two to three years until his buyout becomes less onerous. But at that point, the Bulls, one of the most promising young teams in the NBA, will likely be locked into long-term deals with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson. They certainly won’t have the cap room to offer Mirotic a big contract, and if he continues his upward path, he’ll likely be worth more to a European team than the mid-level exception the Spurs used to sign (Tiago) Splitter, if it even exists after the lockout.

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