Let’s get one thing straight. Josh Childress didn’t sign with Olympiacos of Greece because he wants to get away from the Hawks, because he wants more playing time, or because he thinks his game might be a better fit with a European league. A
ll of those aspects might be valid—the Hawks are dysfunctional, Childress is a sixth man who wants to start, and he’s just the kind of finesse player with a good outside shot who thrives in Europe. But in this case, it’s all about the dollars—or should I say, the Euros.
Childress is a classic tweener. He’s 6’8”, but he only weighs 210 pounds. He isn’t strong enough to take advantage of his height on the inside, nor is he fast enough to play with the guards. He’s just the kind of player who, back in the 90s, washed out of the NBA in a few years—remember Ed O’Bannon, anyone?
But in today’s game, with limits on the handchecking rules, increasing numbers of finesse players from Europe, and very few true centers, tweeners actually have some value. They still don’t usually make it as starters, but they can definitely have value off the bench as sixth mem.
That’s where Childress has made a niche for the past four years, averaging between 10-13 points and 4.9-6.2 rebounds per game every year. He is a very efficient offensive player—57.1 shooting percentage this year—both inside and outside, even though he isn’t a commanding offensive presence. All in all, it’s a great package for a sixth man.
Thing is, when teams are looking at career sixth men as free agents, they really aren’t going to break the bank. The Hawks were offering Childress a five-year, $33 million deal as a restricted free agent, and that was more than fair. You won’t find sixth men making more than that, unless they are players on the back end of deals signed back when they were starters.
In the old days, that would have been the best offer Childress could see. But this time, it isn’t—Olympiacos reportedly is offering Childress a three-year deal worth over $20 million, even after taxes. The Hawks losing Childress is the first American basketball victim of the weakening US dollar against the Euro.
There is nothing intrinsic about American leagues that makes them pre-eminent in every sport. Players from other nations have flocked to American leagues because American owners paid the best, and the highest salaries have led to the highest levels of competition. The dollar was the best currency in the world, and everyone wanted to be paid with it.
Now the dollar is in a freefall, and other options seem just as good. Athletes have returned to Europe (Juan Carlos Navarro, Carlos Delfino), others decided to never come to America in the first place (Tiago Splitter, Fran Vazquez), and players who couldn’t make it in the NBA have opted to play in Europe (Trajan Langdon). What is entirely new is that now even American players in their primes who are valuable players in the States are being lured by the Almighty Euro.
I’m not trying to give a doom and gloom speech here based strictly on the loss of Josh Childress. There are plenty of Josh Childresses available for NBA teams right now, and the NBA isn’t going to collapse because a few players decide not to grace it with their presence.
But the Childress signing is symbolic of a shift in the international attitude toward the NBA. Where once going to Europe was a threat that was made by free agents for leverage, but never actually taken, now it is a real possibility.
WNBA players have been supplementing their income by playing in Europe for years. Childress and prep hoopster Brandon Jennings are simply the first male American basketball players to follow the money.
In the future, there is the very real possibility that the NBA will not automatically get access to all the best players in every league—it’s rejoining the pond of basketball leagues.
For the past 20 years since Sabonis and Petrovic, we have assumed that any player of any ability would try coming to the United States, whether from Europe, South America, or even China. Everywhere else was for those who weren’t good enough. There was the NBA, and there was everybody else.
That is no longer true.