When the news broke of Nolan Smith and Luke Babbitt heading overseas to play in Croatia and Russia, respectively, an interesting point of debate was brought up. Which option is better for a young, fringe NBA player: the D-League, or an overseas team?
The differences are vast. In the D-League, players make between $12,000 and $24,000 for a season. Teams often have long rides in between games and don't always stay in first-class hotels.
In Europe, most players make a starting salary between $65,000 and $100,000, often untaxed. Many teams provide accommodations for players, including an apartment and a car. Depending on the level of the league, the travel is less hectic than the D-League as most teams play fewer games over a longer period of time.
Staying in the D-league does have its perks, though, money aside. Every team has an affiliation with at least one of the 30 NBA teams, so there's always the opportunity to be seen by NBA scouts. Players can also be called up from the D-League to the NBA. A 10-day contract can be worth as much as $60,000. For the 2012-2013 NBA season, 31 players were called up 36 times. Even if players don't stick on an NBA roster, that's not a bad payday for ten days of work.
On the flip side, players overseas usually must stick with the team they signed with for the duration of their contract. NBA exposure may not be as prevalent for many foreign teams, but if a player stands out in another country, it's unlikely the NBA scouting community would overlook them, considering the global reach of the game.
Also consider how difficult it might be to make the transition from NBA basketball to the international game, all while (most likely) dealing with a language and cultural barrier. Teams in the D-League often run sets from their NBA affiliates, so the play resembles the American pro game in style, if not talent level. Foreign leagues play shorter games, have a closer three-point line and different court dimensions, which could all make for somewhat of a difficult transition. Sometimes the weather in other countries can be a bit unbearable; Luke Babbitt's new employer, BC Nizhny Novgorod, plays in a city where the average temperature in January is 16 degrees Fahrenheit. Yikes.
Cold weather aside, Babbitt and Smith wanted to see more playing time. Both may be better suited for the international game, as well. Plenty of American players who were end-of-the-bench guys for an NBA team have had long careers overseas while making much more money than their American minor league counterparts. Also consider that many foreign clubs garner much more fan support than D-League teams. Playing in front of more people has to do something for a player's psyche, right?
Babbitt, Smith and their agents seem to have done what they thought was best for them, and neither player appears to have given up on the NBA dream. They both signed one-year deals and can be back on an NBA Summer League roster in 2014. This may be just a detour for both players, or they may stick overseas and have productive careers playing the international game.
So what would you do as a fringe NBA player, given both options? Would you sign a contract with the D-League and stay close to home while most likely making a fraction of what you could make overseas? Or would you head to a foreign country and (possibly) bear a harsher climate while trying to handle a cultural and language barrier for a bigger paycheck?