It’s no secret that sports, and specifically basketball, are a young man’s game. Perhaps no other sport relies on athleticism, young legs, hops, so on and so forth more so than the game of basketball. The NBA consists of the best basketball players in the world, but once you hit your late 20s, you are considered over the hill and “on the back nine” of your career.
However, basketball leagues outside of the NBA often welcome these players who are…seasoned. It’s sort of like the inverse of Major League Soccer which welcomes foreign players who are on the downsides of their careers. In basketball, foreign leagues welcome many NBA players who are on the downsides of their careers. It’s a big reason why many people consider foreign basketball leagues as akin to the “designated hitter” as they extend a player’s career a couple of extra years.
However, it’s not just over-the-hill players who often head overseas, as many players in their theoretical primes head elsewhere. Of course, that is usually do to them not being able to cut it in the world’s best basketball league and they need to go up against lesser competition. A good example is Jimmer Fredette who was named the College Player of the Year at 22 years old. By the age of 26, he was already finished in the NBA after bombing out with four teams. Fredette headed over to China and all he did was win the CBA MVP award in his first season, so there is hope across the pond! Here are 15 current NBA players who will leave North America next year.
15. Tony Parker
This is Parker’s 17th NBA season and he said his goal is to play 20 seasons. He should be able to attain that goal…in his native France. Parker is coming off a ruptured quadriceps tendon and the first major injury of his career couldn’t come at a worse time. For the first time in his career, Parker is in a contract year and will be a free agent after this season for the first time. The Spurs have already invested heavily at the point guard position with each of their past two first round picks playing that position (Dejounte Murray, Derrick White).
Additionally, the team signed Patty Mills to a four-year contract this past offseason so they are set for the present and the future at the position. Manu Ginobili is expected to retire after this season so it would be fitting that he and Parker leave the Spurs at the same time.
14. Nick Young
It’s hard to believe based on the way he acts (and his surname), but Nick Young is actually 32 years old and is one of the oldest players on the Warriors. He’s playing for a great team but is on a one-year deal and is playing the fewest minutes per game in his career. Would Swaggy P want out after one season in The Bay? I would lean towards “Yes” as Young’s ego isn’t suited for the Warriors and I’m not sure how long he can tolerate being the 11th man on an NBA team.
Young is the type of player who needs to be the focal point of an offense and the focal point of a team. However, there isn’t a team in the NBA that will acquiesce to the Swaggy P Show. Thus, he should take his talents overseas where he would be the main attraction for virtually any team. Why not a place like Australia?
13. Mario Hezonja
Super Mario hasn’t found any mushrooms in Orlando after being the fifth overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Before being drafted, he was hyped as someone with the talent to win both the Dunk Contest and the 3P Contest but he’s struggled in both regards. Orlando tried to trade him away before the season but found no takers so they decided to not pick up his 2018-19 option; thus, Hezonja will be a free agent after the season. Let me remind you that before being drafted, Super Mario had this quote about Lionel Messi:
Maybe my favorite quote ever. Likely lottery pick Mario Hezonja, asked if he'd been to see Messi play. "Let him come see me."
— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneyNBA) June 22, 2015
If Messi is a fan of second-tier basketball leagues, then he may get a chance to see Hezonja play next year. Super Mario will likely head back to Spain where he started his career and competed for FC Barcelona’s basketball team.
12. Dante Exum
There was so much hype when Exum entered the NBA in 2014 even though many scouts had never even seen him play. After three years, and two big injuries, it’s safe to say that Exum’s hype easily surpasses his abilities. He struggled immensely as a 19-year-old point guard in 2014-15 and didn’t show much as a combo guard in 2016-17. A torn ACL knocked him out one season and now shoulder instability has kept him out of this season. At 22 years old, Exum is still young enough to go overseas, gain some experience (and get healthy), and then return to the United States.
In the last year of his contract, it’s hard to imagine an NBA team investing in Exum when he has the health of Joel Embiid but 1/100th of the talent. Exum’s father carved out a nice career in Australia where Dante was born, and perhaps the younger Exum could head back to his birthplace.
11. Jason Terry
Terry has to be the acting president of the “Keep getting’ dem checks” club and he can thank his former teammate, and current coach, Jason Kidd for his roster spot. Terry, 40, is the third-oldest player in the NBA after Manu Ginobili and Vince Carter. Terry seemingly had one foot out of the door last season when he interviewed for a college head coaching job, but he couldn’t turn down an NBA paycheck and came back for more. However, this should be his last NBA paycheck and Terry may be faced with a similar dilemma next year. Turn to coaching or go overseas to continue his playing career?
In a perfect world, Terry would get to play for as long as it takes for his native Seattle to get another NBA team. Then he could play a final season for the city and head off into retirement. With no Seattle NBA team on the near-horizon, Terry will likely have to live out that dream through one of the younger Seattle natives like Avery Bradley or Zach Lavine.
10. Lance Stephenson
In 2014 the Pacers offered Stephenson a five-year $44 million contract that he declined. He then bounced around the league for five different teams before rejoining Indiana in the spring. All in all, Stephenson will have left about $17 million on the table by passing up on that deal. The Pacers seem to be the only team that can maximize his abilities even though his abilities are a bit outdated. The league has no place for shooting guards who can’t shoot and Indiana, smartly, made the 2018-19 season a team option on Stephenson’s contract. After this season, where does Stephenson go?
Orlando may be the only other NBA possibility if Frank Vogel doesn’t get canned, but outside of them, Stephenson doesn’t have many friends in the league. I’m calling it right now: Stephenson will be the 2018-19 CBA scoring champion, All-Star Game MVP, and Foreign MVP.
9. Damien Wilkins
Wilkins is the embodiment of perseverance as the nephew of Dominique (and son of Gerald) spent the last four seasons playing in China, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the G-League before returning to the NBA at the age of 37! He is the fifth oldest player in the NBA but the four older than him have a combined 23 All-Star appearances while Wilkins is a journeyman on his sixth team. Wilkins can certainly thank coach Nate McMillian for bringing him back into the fold as McMillian also coached Wilkins in his rookie year in Seattle in 2004-05.
Wilkins’ next move seems likely to be about five seats over on the Indiana bench and as an assistant coach to McMillian, but he’ll have options if he wants to play again next year. Unfortunately, that option likely won’t be in the NBA unless Uncle Dominique becomes the Hawks coach. Wilkins didn’t hesitate to go overseas in his mid-30s so what will stop him from doing it in his late-30s?
8. Marco Belinelli
Belinelli is one of those guys who always seems to pop up in those “15 Guys You Didn’t Know Were Still In The NBA” lists. He’s been the definition of a journeyman since winning an NBA championship with the Spurs in 2014 as he’s on his fourth team over the last four years. He’s now playing for arguably the worst team in the league with the Atlanta Hawks so his next “demotion” would be to a foreign league. Belinelli is one of three Italian-born players in the NBA along with Danilo Gallinari and Reggie Jackson, obviously, so the NBA will maintain its footprint in the country even if he exits the league.
“Belly” may head back to Italy which is where his pro career started before he joined the NBA. Belinelli may have had a journeyman career but you can never take away two things from him: his NBA ring and the fact that he was traded for a future Hall of Famer in Dwight Howard.
7. Andrew Bogut
Bogut had offers from numerous offers from contenders this offseason including the Celtics but signed with the Lakers. With a ring under his belt from his tie with the Warriors, Bogut clearly prefers a bigger paycheck instead of the opportunity to compete for an NBA championship. Well, both of those things will likely be out of window next year as the man’s body has simply broken down. Besides the injuries, it doesn’t help Bogut that he has a reputation as a surly guy and those don’t play well in locker rooms. However, Bogut is still a hero in his native Australia and could spend his final playing days as a player/coach or player/owner.
Bogut will never go down as the greatest Australian NBA player ever thanks to Ben Simmons (and in a way, Kyrie Irving), but he paved the way for Australian natives who want to play another sport besides cricket or Australian rules football.
6. Raymond Felton
For the first eight years of his career, Felton was an above-average point guard who had a single chin. Then, for whatever reason, he became lazy and got out of shape, thus making him a fringe NBA backup. Would you have even known that he played for OKC without the above photo? Felton seems to be eating himself out of the league and could have an inglorious exit similar to Stephon Marbury (for different reasons). And like Starbury, Felton may head to China to reinvent himself against lesser competition. Felton has made over $50 million in his NBA career so he obviously doesn’t need the NBA paycheck, and it’s becoming harder to find teams that need a malcontent with a rap sheet as a backup point guard. Check that, there is one team that would likely be interested in Felton’s services next year as the Charlotte Hornets have become a refuge for former UNC Tar Heels.
5. Josh Smith
Smith was out of the NBA last season and was in Israel when NBA training camps opened this season. He was just signed by the Pelicans after they suffered numerous injuries and he may be back on the street by the time you are reading this. Despite a solid NBA career, Smith never lived up to his potential and never realized that he shouldn’t be shooting outside of five feet from the hoop. Once the Pelicans get their healthy players back, then they will have to release a player and Smith seems to be the odd man out.
He played in China last season and that seems to be the go-to spot for exiled NBA players. If he wants to stay stateside, the G-League would certainly welcome him but J-Smoove doesn’t seem like the humble type that would settle for a minor league even if it would give him quicker access to the NBA. Forget next year, Smith could be back overseas by the end of this year.
4. Marreese Speights
A player’s trajectory tells us a lot about his future plans. Mo’ Buckets has gone from playing for the NBA champion Warriors to a playoff team in the Clippers to a cellar-dweller with the Orlando Magic. Where can Speights go from here? He is from Central Florida so he did return home, but that is usually the last NBA stop on a player’s career so they can play in front of their friends and family one last time. In Speights’ defense, he has adapted his game to the modern NBA and developed a three-point shot simply from hanging around the Splash Brothers in The Bay.
Speights could probably stick around in the NBA for another year or two, or he could head overseas and play another five years. Side note: Who would have imagined that Speights would be a more productive player than Joakim Noah a decade after they won a national title as teammates at the University of Florida?
3. Michael Beasley
It’s hard to believe that Beasley is just 28 years old but it’s easy to believe that he’s on his sixth team in seven years (and that’s not even counting his time in China). Beasley is one of those guys who could either be the 11th man on an NBA team or a superstar overseas. He played in China in 2015-16 and made two All-Stars, was a two-time All-Star Game MVP and was the CBA Foreign MVP. Beasley put up Shaq-like numbers in China but I’m guessing that paycheck doesn’t have quite as many zeros as an NBA one does. Thus, he seems content with being a benchwarmer for bad NBA teams like the Knicks. But how long will his content last, especially behind a star like Kristaps Porzingis?
Every NBA player has ego in him and the urge to be The Man on a team. Ten years removed from his dominance in college, it’s safe to say that Beasley won’t experience that same success in the NBA so he could be headed back to China in the near future.
2. Monta Ellis
As of writing, Ellis is the only player on this list not currently signed to an NBA team. He played for the Pacers last season but was cut this offseason shortly after being hit with a five-game suspension. No matter which NBA team Ellis signs with (if he signs with one), he will have to serve that suspension with them. The only way to avoid an NBA suspension is to avoid the NBA! Say hello to Europe, Monta!! It’s hard to believe that someone who averaged at least 19 PPG ever year from 2007-2015 would already be out of the league, but Ellis failed to adapt to the NBA. He never developed an outside shot so once his athleticism and ability to get to the basket waned, so did virtually his only NBA skill. At 32
Ellis still has plenty of basketball in his future but it likely won’t be in North America. Stephon Marbury made the move overseas at the same age so Ellis could become rejuvenated in a foreign league like Marbury did in 2010.
1. Timofey Mozgov
A couple of years ago, Russian Andrei Kirilenko joined the Nets (and Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov) on a below-market deal. The NBA even looked into the transaction among conspiracies that Prokhorov was paying AK-47 “under the table” to circumvent the NBA salary cap.
What does that have to do with Mozgov?
Well, Mozgov happens to be the only Russian player in the NBA and he now happens to be playing for the only Russian owner in the NBA. Mozgov was just traded to the Nets and has two years left on his contract, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Ti-Mo “suddenly” wants to go back to Russia after the season and leave $32 million on the table. I’m also sure that his current boss would “take care” of Mozgov if he helped the Nets out by taking that money off their salary cap. Paying a player “under the table” is illegal by NBA standards, but it’s not illegal if Mozgov is no longer an NBA player. Don’t be surprised if Mozgov is living in a Russian penthouse and playing in the top Russian league next season while getting monthly payments from Prokhorov.
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