With the NBA lockout expected to last months and even eat into next season, Nets point guard Deron Williams has decided to explore his options in Europe. The All-Star is in talks with Turkish club Besiktas (the same team for which Allen Iverson briefly played last season), and according to coach Ergin Ataman, an agreement has been reached.
Such a move would be ground-breaking for a star currently under contract to an NBA team. Williams, whom the Nets acquired from Utah at the trade deadline last season, is set to earn $16.4 million with New Jersey next season and has a $17 million player option for 2011-12. If the lockout is lifted before or during his time with Beiktas, he is free to return to the NBA.
Williams' first few months with New Jersey was hindered by a wrist injury late in the season that required surgery in mid-April. It's unclear how his NBA contract would be affected should he get hurt with another team.
The Nets are not able to comment on Williams' reported negotiations with Besiktas because of the lockout, but Ataman spoke at length with SI.com about the proposed deal. Here's how the talks unfolded:
SI.com: There's some skepticism in America about this deal. Are you confident he'll actually play for you if the NBA lockout isn't lifted?
Ataman: We are very excited now, all clubs and all Turkish fans. We're excited but hope he will compete and maybe he'll make the All-Star team in Besiktas.
SI.com: How did you convince Williams?
Ataman: The first thing is the lockout. We discussed this idea two or three weeks ago with the agents and many people in Europe and the United States, and we prepared an offer. We know these guys know Besiktas because we had the Allen Iverson experience [in October]. But unfortunately, [Iverson] got injured and came back to the United States. And then we went and made an offer to [Williams'] agents -- first his European agent, he's my very good friend, and then we spoke with his American agent and made a conference call and made an agreement. I think it's a very good situation for both sides.
SI.com: It was reported by Yahoo! Sports that Williams would be paid around $200,000 a month. Is that accurate?
Ataman: I don't know where this amount somebody announced, but we are not announcing any money, because my friend told me don't say anything about the budget. This is between our president (Yildirim Demiroren) and the agents. For this I can't comment.
SI.com: What about the idea that Williams might not ever play for you, though? Because of the risk involved with his current NBA contract, how confident you are this will happen if the lockout is prolonged?
Ataman: We are confident, but of course this agreement will be during the lockout period. If tomorrow the lockout finished, of course he can't play with us. But the people in the United States feel this lockout will be six to eight months. So we take this risk. We are ready. If he comes to Turkey and after one month the lockout finishes, OK. He can play with us one or two games. This is the only way in this situation to take him to our team. ...We are a very serious club, and we are talking with a very serious player, very serious agents. I think everything is clear about this situation.
SI.com: It was also reported you have interest in Kobe Bryant? Is that the case?
Ataman: People ask me, 'After Deron Williams, are you thinking to sign other star players, NBA star players?' My answer is, 'Of course. If we get interest from Deron, and also Kobe, we appreciate this and would discuss [the possibility of signing] him. If in this period he likes to play basketball in one of the biggest clubs in Europe, if he wants to live in one of the best cities in Istanbul, and play with Deron, we are ready to discuss it with him. Also our president, next week I think, will go to the United States to meet with Deron and hold a press conference. Maybe he'll meet with Kobe and discuss this. Why not?
SI.com: Is money not an issue for your team? There have been instances in the past where players weren't paid by your club and FIBA had to get involved.
Ataman: That is completely some speculation about this. Of course during the years with some agents, there was some problem about some situations, but in Besiktas club, also in football (soccer), we have a good team. We have Guti (Jose Maria Gutierrez Hernandez), we have Quaresma (Ricardo Andrade Quaresma Bernardo), we have Fernandes (Manuel Henriques Tavares Fernandes), they are the biggest names in the European soccer market. This is the same president, the same management. It's not separated from Besiktas football and basketball. We don't have any problems.
Last year on our team ... maybe sometimes there are some [checks] late -- maybe one week, 10 days, maybe one month, only one time. But now, everybody can take his money. And in this situation, this is also completely different for Deron Williams because we have a special sponsor -- a separate sponsor from the team. This is a different situation. This is not included in the club budget. This is a special situation, and also will be for Kobe and other star players if they come to play for Besiktas.
SI.com: Do you care to say who the sponsor is for Deron?
Ataman: The president has many companies, and is one of the biggest industry [men] in Turkey, so he will decide which of these companies will sponsor for these players.
SI.com: How much of this is a p.r. stunt?
Ataman: The contract is ready, so we'll sign the contract in 24 hours, and once it's signed we'll show we're not making [any p.r. stunt]. Of course, Deron Williams playing in Besiktas is public [relations], for Turkish sports, for Turkish basketball. But that's [how it is] for everybody. That's one of the things, like Kobe playing for the Lakers.
SI.com: So is it safe to say you're rooting for this lockout to go on as long as possible?
Ataman: Of course (laughs). In that situation, of course. We will see. But this is not in our hands. This is a big situation for the NBA and its players.