We all know that the Lockout has been different things to different players. For some, like Adam Morrison, it's an opportunity to stage a comeback. For others, like Kevin Durant, it's an opportunity to pursue charitable endeavors. And for others, it's an opportunity to earn some easy money. I'm not pointing fingers at who is who, but you should have a good idea of which J.R. Smith is after reading the following. Via Sportando.net:
An insider from the Golden Bulls reveals that the team was planning to waive Smith, who has been too demanding. According to Zhao Bing, the club had provided Smith with a presidential suite at a cost of 6,880 yuan per day, arranged a special chef and spent 700,000 yuan in insurance as he requested. However, he wanted another villa in Shanghai or Hangzhou with a chauffeured car to commute for training in Yiwu. Ding Wei, the team's head coach, also disclosed that Smith has missed training three times with illness excuses. And the team discovered that once he was actually shopping in Shanghai.
For those of you who don't know the yuan to dollar exchange rate, the suite costs approximately 1,000 dollars per day, and the insurance cost approximately $110,000. This may seem like peanuts to a NBA player who makes millions, but it's a heck of a lot for a small Chinese team.
To add complications to the matter, J.R. Smith recently injured his knee, and is awaiting the result of an MRI on his knee. Smith said he was willing to stay, depending in the result of the test. But Zhejiang's general manager thinks the injury was faked (via IamaGM.com and Niubball.com):
Just three days after leaving the court with what appeared to be a serious knee injury, J.R. Smith suited up tonight for the Zhejiang Chouzhou Golden Bulls in their home opener against the DongGuan New Century Leopards.
But early yesterday morning, team general manager, Zhao Bing, received a surprising bit of news: Smith was not going back with the team to Yiwu visit with team doctors like he had originally agreed to. Instead, he had already boarded a plane to Beijing.
Everyone saw the pain on Smith’s face after he got hurt. Compare that to the results of his exam. We’re all intelligent people, we should all know what’s going on here. When you compare his performance on the court with the game’s final result, you'll realize. When he was injured, would he have had that big of a reaction [if the score was closer]?
Definitely take a look at Niubball's article for the full story, but just from these excerpts, you can tell that J.R. Smith probably isn't taking this as seriously as he should.
As another example, though not necessarily in the same vein, take Ty Lawson's twitter explosion. It all started with an off-hand comment criticizing the practice of Zalgiris Kaunas:
I coulda sat home and played NBA 2k12 and got the same thing accomplished that we did in practice smh
This resulted in a myriad of comebacks from rabid Lithuanian fans. If you want a blow-by-blow account of the event, you can head over to Ballin' Europe for some perspective. But it basically resulted in Ty Lawson defending himself, backing down, and then turning in an average performance that night.
Some players have actually been cut from their teams. The most notable of them is DeJuan Blair, who was officially "released" and got a good review (via Sportando.net):
"DeJuan helped us to to get to the main draw of VTB League. It was the most important goal for us for the first part of the season. We thank him for the brilliant performances he had in these games" said GM of Samara Sergey Timofeyev.
But what that review doesn't tell you is that Blair actually struggled in the EuroChallenge qualifying round games, which are the games that should matter the most to Krasnye Krylia. In order to qualify for the EuroChallenge (Europe's third tier of competition), they had to win a two game series against Triumph Lybertsy on aggregate score. In the game they lost, Blair played only 23 minutes and was outshined by Jarvis Hayes. In the game they won, Blair only played 12 minutes, with a measly 2 points.
Another player to be cut is the Pistons' DaJuan Summers. Though his NBA career hasn't been the most storied of all time, he was signed to Montepaschi Siena for two years, and then unexpectedly cut on October 31st. He only played in one Euroleague game, getting 18 minutes and only scoring 4 points. He played in three Italian league games as well, averaging just four points. He was replaced by Omar Thomas, another former Georgetown player....though he's actually from Georgetown College.
So, what can you take from the above examples? If anything, it's that NBA players going overseas is really something that should be taken on a case-by-case basis. J.R. Smith has always had problems with the team's he's played on. He had a bit of drama with George Karl during the Nuggets' playoff run last season and declared that he probably wouldn't return. He was also a regular feature in Byron Scott's doghouse during his time with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets.
Ty Lawson is a different story. His numbers for Zalgiris Kaunas have been average at best, especially considering his NBA averages. A little bit of frustration is normal when entering a completely new environment, believe me, I know. But considering his lack of additional outbursts, it doesn't look like he's acting much out of the ordinary....it's really anyone's guess as to whether he's giving his all.
DeJuan Blair has recently been "slimming down", so I really don't know what the deal was with his poor Russian performances. DaJuan Summers probably isn't good enough to justify a two year Euroleague contract, so I can't really chalk that one up to poor overseas work ethic.
I know it's frustrating to have such a hazy conclusion, but it's the truth. You can't really make broad, sweeping statements about how hard all of the NBA players are going to try. And you can't truly know how hard they're trying without knowing what's going on in their head. For some, playing in the NBA was a dream, and playing for another league is just a way to pass the time by until that dream reasserts itself. For others, it's the opportunity of a lifetime. Everybody else falls somewhere in-between. Some are going to adjust well, and some aren't.
I suppose the only remaining question is: "Are these players' failures to adjust to international ball a reflection of how much foreign leagues have caught up to the NBA?" Well, as much as I'd like to say yes, the answer is not really. In China, for example, long-gone NBA Point Guard Stephon Marbury is still playing, and averaged 25 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals. Heck, even Wang Zhi Zhi, who failed to make it in the NBA, averaged 22 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, and 1 steal per game at the ripe old age of 32. The success of a Chinese team is often determined by foreign imports.
In Europe, the answer is less clear, but there are NBA players who have had success. For example, Andrei Kirilenko and Nenad Krstic are leading CSKA Moscow in points as the team leads their Euroleague group with a 5-0 record. In addition, Jordan Farmar has had some great games for Maccabi Tel-Aviv, who are also leading their Euroleague group with a 4-1 record. You can't forget Thabo Sefolosha, who has been a significant force for 3-2 Fenerbahce Ulker. Lastly, you'd have to be crazy to ignore Deron Williams, easily the best NBA player to venture overseas so far, completely dominating Europe's third tier league. In fact, he's coming off of a 50 point performance yesterday. Though I would argue Europe is kilometers ahead of where they were 10 years ago, they still have many miles to traverse if they are to be considered at the same talent level as the NBA.
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