Let's go global 🏀
The NBA's annual free agency frenzy every July doesn't leave much time for tracking the comings and goings in the international game. Thanks to my pals at HoopsHype, though, it's easier than you think
When done well, adorned with the splashes of color found in flags and team logos, I absolutely love a good list.
I’ve also been a loyal HoopsHype reader since the website’s inception in March 2002. I can still remember my two boys when they were little, before NBA Twitter took over our lives, asking Dad why he was always looking at “that HoopsHype” on his phone.
That’s some of the background to explain why, essentially one month into NBA free agency, I wanted to go international on this Newsletter Tuesday and highlight the handiwork of my Spanish colleague Alberto de Roa, who has compiled this beautiful running file to keep track of where former NBA players — and those who have not yet played in the league but whose draft rights belong to an NBA franchise — have signed in leagues outside the NBA.
I urge you to scroll through the names yourself, but allow me to highlight some of the standouts on here:
🏀 Mike Tobey, Luka Dončić’s naturalized teammate on the Slovenian national team, has moved from Valencia to mighty FC Barcelona in Spain’s Liga ACB and will team up with fellow Barca newcomers Jan Veselý and Tomáš Satoranský.
🏀 Yuta Tabuse, who turns 42 in October, is still playing in his native Japan and has extended his stay with Utsunomiya Brex.
🏀 Gabriel “Iffe” Lundberg, after becoming just the second Danish-born player to play in the NBA last season with Phoenix, has returned to Europe to join Italy’s Virtus Bologna.
🏀 Big man Chinanu Onuaku, after auditioning for various NBA teams in recent weeks, will be shooting his underhanded free throws next season for Dinamo Sassari in Italy.
🏀 Veteran guard Yogi Ferrell has landed in Slovenia with KK Cedevita Olimpija and will team up with Zoran Dragić, younger brother of Chicago’s Goran Dragić.
🏀 Former NBAers are rarely seen in Romania, birthplace of both my parents, but Darius Johnson-Odom (who has seven games’ worth of NBA experience with the Lakers and 76ers) has signed with Rapid Bucharest.
🏀 11-year NBA veteran Kosta Koufos, as I reported earlier this month, has joined the London Lions in one of the most notable signings in British basketball history.
🏀 Mike James, Kevin Durant’s close friend, has re-signed with AS Monaco alongside former NBAers Donta Hall and Jordan Loyd.
🏀 Dante Exum, selected by Utah with the fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft, recently signed with perennial Serbian power Partizan Belgrade and will be joined there by former Big West Conference sharpshooter James Nunnally.
🏀 There is nothing more eyebrow-raising in this realm, given these tense times worldwide, than seeing Americans sign with Russian teams. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began Feb. 24 and has lasted more than five months. In March we devoted an entire column to the uncomfortable questions American players must ask themselves about playing there, from the moral quandary it presents to work in a country that has declared war on a smaller neighboring nation to the obvious safety concerns stemming from the February arrest of WNBA star Brittney Griner and how she has been “wrongfully detained,” as officially classified by the American government, for 159 days. Four Americans with NBA experience appear on the HoopsHype list: Daryl Macon and Vince Hunter have signed with UNICS Kazan, Trey Thompson has joined Zenit Saint Petersburg and Casper Ware is back with CSKA Moscow. Russian teams are currently barred from FIBA competitions like the EuroLeague, so Americans who play for clubs there will be restricted to domestic league play. Just getting to Russia from the States these days typically requires an initial flight to Turkey or Dubai, but the financial rewards — in a profession with a very short window for peak earning years — can be significant. I’m told, for example, that former Xavier star Jalen Reynolds, who has played exclusively overseas as a pro apart from a short G League stint with the Stockton Kings, earned a seven-figure salary to sign with UNICS Kazan for the coming season after playing for Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2021-22.
We close with one more note from the world of international basketball:
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My general approach to living in Texas after a quarter-century since leaving Los Angeles is to spend as little time here as possible in July, August and September. The summer heat and humidity are simply withering.
Tuesday was the 31st day already this year that topped 100 degrees in my home city of Dallas. Going to Las Vegas for a few days of summer league, believe it or not, actually brings the slightest bit of relief because the desert is so much drier.
No joke, friends: Climate conditions are legitimately more favorable in Vegas than Big D in July.
I nonetheless managed to enjoy some very good times last week without leaving the state. Summers like that are scarce around here, but it really happened thanks to two life forces with the heft to overcome the smothering weather:
International Soccer and Italian Beef.
As teased in this cyberspace last week, I had the privilege of taking my youngest son to Houston for 2½ days to embed ourselves with Manchester City on the first leg of City's U.S. summer tour. Not sure how I failed to run into the Rockets' Jae'Sean Tate, who was at the match, but the visit to Clutch City also enabled us to dine at two of my favorite restaurants on the NBA circuit: Doris Metropolitan steakhouse and the recently opened Hamsa, which serves some of the most scrumptious Israeli food you can find in the United States.
I've employed some great discipline to enclose only a few snaps from the dining outings (love you, Sash Kurgan!) and just three pictures my son took from the soccer-watching. The captions contain the important details for interested parties.
City wound up winning both of their matches last week, posting a 2-1 triumph over Club América of Liga MX at our game and then hanging on to prevail in a tight 1-nil against Bayern Munich at storied Lambeau Field.
July friendlies featuring European powers, so early in their preparations for the coming season, tend to be muted affairs, with numerous players ill-prepared to deal with the aforementioned American heat and humidity, big-name stars occasionally held out of games for precautionary reasons ... and both sets of supporters thrown together all over the stadium to limit singing and atmosphere. Houston, however, was a glorious exception to the norm, despite some suspect grass installed at NRG Stadium.
Club América is already playing real games this season and was predictably backed in the neighboring Lone Star State by a strong contingent of noisy fans. Within the game's first half-hour, meanwhile, City's Jack Grealish had upset the América supporters to such an extent with his, er, penchant for drawing contact and an exchange of shoves with legendary Mexican goalkeeper Memo Ochoa that suddenly Grealish was getting booed every time he touched the ball. Hardly the norm in a game that doesn't count.
All those factors combined to inject the occasion with an uncommon spice. Despite the disappointing fact that Erling Haaland's City debut would be delayed until the trip to Green Bay, Kevin De Bruyne made sure that the evening would be eternally memorable for my kid with two classy goals.
(KDB! Simply the best player I've ever seen play in City blue since my first trip to England in 1996!)
The only problem: How on Earth do you follow up a short-but-sweet excursion that tasty when you get back home? The answer, I was grateful to learn, could be found Friday afternoon in a Dallas suburb called The Colony, which later this year is scheduled to welcome the Chicago-based hot dog haven Portillo's to the area.
To hype the locals up for the venerable Windy City institution's arrival, Portillo's dispatched its Beef Bus to Dallas/Fort Worth for the past two weeks to bring a sampling of charred delights to a handful of stops in the area. The line I waited in Friday for my sampling took more than two hours, but I happily filled the three-sandwich quota granted to every patron with two helpings of Italian Beef and a Maxwell Street Polish. Even off a truck, some 900 miles away from the actual Windy City, every bite was scrumptious. As a bonus, there was just enough shade from trees and umbrellas in line to make the wait palatable.
Can't believe that, by the end of 2022, we'll have numerous In-N-Out locations in town to give me a taste of my Southern California years whenever necessary, plus a Portillo's within a 25-minute drive from the American Airlines Center. By this time next year, I might have to start saying nice things about The 214 come July.
Next season will be my 30th in a row for full-time NBA coverage. Crazy stat that came to my attention during the assembly of Monday’s Reader Mailbag: Only 12 franchises have won championships in my first 29 seasons. Twelve! Is there a harder championship to win in major North American team sports?
The Lakers have won six of those 29 championships. San Antonio (five) and Golden State (four) are next in line, with Chicago and Miami (three) tied for fourth and trailed by Houston (two). Detroit, Boston, Dallas, Cleveland, Toronto and Milwaukee are the teams that have won one title during my run as an NBA scribe.
No less amazing when you say it out loud: Eleven current franchises have never won an NBA championship. They are: Brooklyn, Charlotte, Denver, Indiana, Memphis, Minnesota, New Orleans, Orlando, Phoenix, Utah and the LA Clippers. (The Nets and Pacers, of course, won ABA titles.)
ESPN delivered a statistical thunderbolt of its own last week with this graphic revealing that no current NBA players have faced Sacramento in a playoff game thanks to the Kings’ record postseason drought of 16 seasons and counting.
James Harden, who just signed a two-year deal with Philadelphia worth nearly $70 million, shot 41.0% from the field last season and a career-low 33.0% from 3-point range. Harden’s overall conversion rate was the second-lowest in his 13 seasons, behind only 40.3% shooting as a rookie with Oklahoma City in 2009-10.
On the free agency front, spending money is scarce. Only two teams — Indiana and San Antonio — have significant salary cap space available. Cleveland restricted free agent guard Collin Sexton is the most notable name available … with the sides said to be far apart in negotiations.
Quite a payout that more than two-thirds of the NBA’s 30 teams are scheduled to receive today:
The announced attendance for the Manchester City/Club América game that I attended last week with my son was one of five crowds this month for exhibition games in the United States featuring top European teams to exceed 60,000. No. 1 was the Manchester City/Bayern Munich friendly Saturday that drew a crowd of 78,128 at Green Bay’s famed Lambeau Field, which Aaron and I regrettably had to skip in a trade we negotiated with Mom for our next adventure (to be revealed soon).