NBL Woos Locked Out NBA Players

NBL Canada logo and NBA LogoThe National Basketball League of Canada is extending an invitation to locked out NBA players to come North and play professionally, should the NBA season not start as many are predicting.

“What a great opportunity for NBA players,” says Andre Levingston. “NBL Canada can provide them with highly competitive play in professional arenas with great fan bases, while still being relatively close to home.”

It will be interesting to see what sort of response the NBL GMs get from locked out NBA players. Guaranteed we will not be seeing any of the big names like Kobe, LeBron or D-Wade gracing the courts of the North, but we can dream. I will be very be surprised if we see big name talent up here, but there could be some for sure.

Appearing on Rogers Sportsnet’s The Fan 590, Levingston indicated that they had already been approached by NBA player agents seeking more information about the league.

Higher salaries and competiton level could push some players to the Euro Leagues. Some of the Euro league are able to pay individual players way more than the team cap of $150,000 in the NBL.

Of course there are not enough jobs for everyone, and one big advantage will be that most of the Euro league teams are limited to by the number of imports allowed on rosters. The NBL has a quota of 2 Canadians per roster, but leaves up to 10 spots open to any player. With seven teams in the league that means up to 70 jobs. Some 450 NBA players could be looking for work and certainly they can’t all go to Europe.

There certainly could be a trickle down effect, even if NBA talent does come directly to Canada. If large numbers of players sign contracts overseas, it could push other talented players to have to seek new opportunities.

Depending on how long the lockout lasts, a promising area to explore could be Canadian players, either from the NBA or more likely international leagues, that see playing in Canada as a far more attractive option than other players. These players may have had some interest regardless of an NBA work stoppage, but greater competition as mentioned above could force them to take it more seriously.

Of course the prized jewel could be luring one of the two Canadians selected in the first round of this year’s NBA draft. Tristan Thompson (Cleveland Cavaliers) or Cory Joseph (San Antonio Spurs) will likely have a number of options, but this being their first pro experience the competition for jobs and the lure of home cooking could weigh into their decision. The door may be open a crack, but that’s all.

It would be a big boost to the league in its inaugural season if they were able to lure to higher talented players either unwilling to travel to Europe or getting pushed out.

Locally, I wonder if we could see a talented player such as Saint Mary’s Huskies Joey Haywood consider the NBL. He had made some indications that he was considering European options, but of course could also return to SMU for his final year. An influx of NBA players couldlimit his choice, but with his talent, anything is possible.

Despite its $150,000 team salary cap, the NBL will still make its pitch to NBA players.

Two of the founding NBL Canada teams sport head coaches with NBA experience. Mike Evans, the head coach of the Halifax Rainmen was formerly the head coach of the Denver Nuggets, and has also served as an assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors. The Saint John Mill Rats head coach Jaren Jackson won an NBA World Championship as a key contributor on the 1999 San Antonio Spurs.

“I am confident that NBL Canada can give NBA players an environment that will help keep their skills sharp and maintain their physical conditioning until the NBA resumes play,” stated Coach Evans.

Three of the NBL Canada teams suited up former NBA players last season in a prior league.

The Saint John Mill Rats featured 6’11 former Toronto Raptor centre, Toree Morris, while the Quebec Kebs had former Portland Trailblazer, Erick Barkley, running the point. The Halifax Rainmen dressed another former Trailblazer, 6’7 sniper shooting guard, Desmond Ferguson, as well as former Houston Rocket and Utah Jazz forward, Kirk Snyder.

NBL Canada held their first league owners meeting this past week in Toronto and is currently working towards releasing the 2011-12 season schedule. The league is set to tip off in November 2011 with a 36 game regular season schedule ending in March.


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