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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — When the lockout stretches for five months and takes as many dramatic twists and cynical turns as the recently ended 149-day odyssey we’ve all lived through since July 1, trying to designate “winners and losers” is a trivial pursuit we’d normally pass on around here.
But there’s more than just a new collective bargaining agreement rising from the ashes of the lockout. There’s a true winner in all of this, a man that blazed his own trail and gave his doubters the index finger over the lips sign for questioning his actions all those months ago.
You remember Nets point guard Deron Williams announced in July that he was headed to Turkey if the lockout stretched into the start of the NBA season. Folks chuckled at the idea of one of the league’s biggest stars scurrying halfway around the world to play for a team they’d barely heard of (Besiktas made headlines here in the states last season when they signed Allen Iverson to a contract) in a league they’d never heard of.
Comments blasting Williams for what appeared to be at the time a perplexing, panic move by an A-list player in the prime of his career turned out to be a masterstroke for Williams. Not only did he dazzle in his 15 games with Besiktas, averaging 21.8 points and 6.5 rebounds, he left Istanbul a hero, one with his No. 8 Besiktas jersey retired (check him out in the video above) and with a coach who speaks of him in a way usually reserved for a Hall of Famer:
“European basketball had a thrill during the NBA lockout,” Besiktas coach Ergin Ataman told the Hurriyet Daily News. “A star player like Deron wore the Besiktas jersey; many children came to love basketball thanks to him. Now, everything will be back the way it used to be.”
Williams also left with some nice pocket change (his reported salary in Turkey was $200,000 every four weeks) to make up for the NBA checks missed during the month and a half’s worth of NBA games missed due to the labor negotiations.
Williams returns just in time for the Christmas Day start to the NBA season, richer, wiser and in an even better position than he might have been if he decided not to play the role of trailblazer in this instance. So if there’s a player in better game shape heading into the NBA’s abbreviated training camps around the league, we want to see him. And if there’s a player with better leverage going into this season, he needs to show himself.
Williams chose not to sign a contract extension with the Nets and instead will resume his role as one of the two or three most coveted free agents in the game after this season. By opting out and becoming a free agent after the season, Williams could re-sign with the Nets for five years and $100 million or he could receive a four-year, $70 million deal from another team, per the new rules of the collective bargaining agreement to be.
That’s a budget boost of roughly $30 million for the guy crazy enough to assume that the lockout might actually take a little while to get solved and he needed a lucrative alternative that allowed him to train and compete at a high level while he waited.
(Keep in mind, this is the same man who pleaded the case all along that had the union threatened decertification right away the lockout might have ended even sooner.)
Now that he’s back home, the Nets are reportedly pursuing the likes of Dwight Howard (via some blockbuster trade) and free agent bigs Tyson Chandler and Nene, in an effort to entice Williams to stick around for the move to the Brooklyn in 2012-13.
Any way you slice it, Williams emerges from the lockout WINNING!