Williams' newly hired agent, Jeff Schwartz, on Thursday confirmed a report from the Turkey-based sports outlet NTV Spor that the All-Star point guard has struck an agreement in principal to play for Besiktas, which is the club that briefly employed Allen Iverson last season.
Schwartz confirmed Williams' intentions to ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher but would not disclose contract terms. One source told Bucher that Williams has agreed to a one-year deal in the "low seven figures."
"If they try to stop him," one source said of Williams, "the union will fight it."
In case you didn't realize, this is huge. When someone who could arguably be considered the NBA's best point guard goes to Europe while still under contract for peanut money this early in the off-season, it could be considered a bad sign. Deron Williams doesn't have any European ties, which says even more about the severity of the move.
Of course, I'm sure there's an out clause should the NBA come to an agreement before next season starts. But, just to put this in perspective, the best player to sign in Europe in his prime before Deron Williams would have to be either Nenad Krstic or Josh Childress. I'm not saying that European talent is bad, but if the Euroleague season started today, Deron Williams would far and away be the best player in the league.
But if you think that Deron Williams is a lone wolf in his trek to Europe, don't. Sonny Weems has already signed with Zalgiris Kunas, a Lithuanian team. Additionally, other NBA stars have expressed interest in going overseas, such as Kobe Bryant (who has ties with Italy), Pau Gasol (who wants to play in Spain), and Andrei Kirilenko (who wants to play in Russia). Of course, it's all speculative at this point, but if I woke up tomorrow and saw that Kobe was headed to Benetton Treviso, I wouldn't be surprised.
What does this mean for the lockout? It means the players have more bargaining power. Even though they'll be making only a fraction of their NBA salaries while playing in other countries, they have other places to go during negotiations, which wasn't the case in 1998-1999. You could take the stance that these signings are only insurance policies, and that the NBA players are hell-bent on getting a deal done. But even then, the owners still have all the time in the world, and if their teams are really making losses, they want to do whatever they can to make their assets profitable. All in all, it means more waiting time for NBA fans.
What does this mean for the Thunder? Well, the most obvious candidates for jetting to Europe are Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha. Ibaka has already stated that he'd like to go back to Spain should he play overseas, and Thabo Sefolosha spends a good deal of his off-season time in Switzerland, where he is hosting a basketball camp right now. Kevin Durant is currently spending time in China (according to his Twitter), but he's mostly there to promote his shoe line. All of the other players have remains tight-lipped about potential off-season destinations, even those who keep a large internet presence. But I could see some of them jumping ship if things got too extreme.