Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why Justin Harper in France isn't the Best Idea



The 32nd Draft choice in the 2011 NBA Draft, 6'9" forward Justin Harper, is officially signing with SIG Strasbourg. The 4-year Richmond senior becomes a 22-year-old on August 30th. Don't worry Magic fans, there's an outclause for Justin to come back to Orlando as soon as the Lockout ends (whenever that may be). Supposedly he's getting paid $14,000 per month. That doesn't seem like much, but he's not paying taxes on it and he's also being provided a home residence and a car. It still seems like pennies but Corey Maggette, who is a very high profile NBAer, if he signs with PAOK Thessaloniki will be making 15,000 Euros (around $20,000) a month with his outclause installed for him to return to his new team the Charlotte Bobcats immediately after the work stoppage ends.

It's clear this is a purely monetary move for Harper since just weeks ago he stated that there weren't any plans on playing overseas. But with the very sluggish (let's be honest, nonexistent) negotiation process between the team owners and NBA Player Association, it's clear that there won't be a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in the coming weeks (and probably months). Rookies need to get paid, nothing wrong with that.

I'm usually more than fine with all of these young guys heading overseas to get their money and some playing experience, but in this instance I'm not sure Harper can learn much by playing in France. Rookies normally get burned out going from an NCAA season, to an NBA preseason, regular season, and postseason. That can go well over 100 games in a calendar year. No matter how good and in shape they are, rookies hit a mental and/or physical wall at some point during a season. In Europe, it's more along the lines of 40 to 50 contests.

So that's definitely an improved transition to a professional schedule for an amateur. Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel wrote out a pro-cons comparison of playing overseas. I'd like to pick that apart (Not in order of the article). I don't think Josh, nor anyone else knows the specifics of the French league or even Strasbourg, which is why that pro-cons thing is fairly generic. This I commend, since you don't want to write anything you know little or nothing about (I'm looking at you, Mike Bianchi).




As you can see, Strasbourg is very close to the German border. Anyway, it's not like Harper knows French or German. That's what translators get paid money for. Though I am curious how well Justin's Spanish is since apparently he studied the language. At Richmond, Harper was playing in front of 9,000 people. SIG's arena holds about 6,000 spectators.

Let's take a bit of a closer look at SIG Strasbourg. The club was founded in 1928 and reached the top league of French basketball in 1938. Strasbourg has only won the title once, in 2005 by beating Nancy (A good club this year). This means nothing because I don't consider the French Pro A league a decent professional basketball league, as a whole, by even European standards. In fact, the last time SIG seemed to be competitive was in 2007 when they reached the French Cup semifinals. Strasbourg isn't even good enough for the ULEB Cup, let alone EuroLeague or EuroCup play.

The country of France (and their African colonization) has indeed produced some great players. Their national team constantly underachieves in international play, but that's a post for another day. I just don't view the French Pro A as a good place to develop an NBA rookie. Just examining the teams, I see mostly French nobodies, a good chunk of American stiffs and outcasts, with few gems. Most of the great French players are playing away from their home nation.

I see former/current NBA guys like Hilton ArmstrongPops Mensah-BonsuMustafa Shakur, and that's about it really. Not many noticeable French guys either in Pro A. Nicolas Batum just signed a 1-year contract (with the outclause to return to Portland) with current French champion SLUC Nancy, who is the only French representative currently in EuroLeague.

Other than learning to bang around, I doubt Harper will improve on his defense and rebounding, or grow his basketball IQ. He's an intelligent kid with a level head on his shoulders already, and I hope he'll at least show off his pristine shooting ability and great handles for a man of his size. He's going up against mediocre talented teams for the most part and I hope he can assert himself to excel quickly. I really hope that SIG's new additions will prove me wrong and Harper will have a decent cast to work with.

Unlike most young American-born guys going overseas, I'm not worried about Harper going through the very common 'culture shock' some guys experience. In August 2008, Harper and the Richmond Spiders were in Spain for a few weeks on a basketball tour. Any little bit of international familiarity is a great thing. Plus he's not spoiled by the NBA lifestyle, so he should be used to strenuous practices and long bus trips to get to a game. He's very fit, but like most NBA rookies needs to build some muscle (without ruining his great shooter's touch). The Magic basically need him to be groomed into a potentially better Rashard Lewis.

I think the main reason (other than showing him the money) Justin picked Strasbourg as his team of choice is because his former Richmond teammate Kevin Anderson is also playing for Strasbourg (signed in July) after not getting drafted this summer. Anderson is a great point guard who was A-10 Player of the Year in the 2009-2010 season. It's always a smart move to take the European plunge with a familiar face (unless you play the same position). Lavoy Allen out of Temple, drafted 50th this summer by the Philadelphia 76ers, has also just signed with Strasbourg. Just like Justin, Allen as well has the opt-out clause. So SIG has some young guns to help rejuvenate a bad roster should the NBA Lockout continue.

Although he doesn't have that guaranteed 1st round pick contract, I believe that Otis Smith and the rest of the Magic front office views Justin as a first rounder and that he may very well get paid like one as well once the lockout concludes. After all, we traded Cleveland our second round picks in not just 2013, but also 2014. There's going to be some pressure on this guy come training camp. With that said, he can screw himself pretty badly if he gets injured. Which is why I think he could have gone to a better team, in a better league, and gotten equal or more money back.

Even if he wanted to play in France badly, he would have been better off with Cholet, BCM Gravelines, or even ASVEL Lyon since those 3 teams have a shot at qualifying into EuroLeague. Instead, Justin is missing out on a few great non-domestic matches. Then again, I'm not his agent, Lance Young is. September 2nd is when training camp starts for Strasbourg. Then after a bunch of practices and exhibitions, October 8th is their first regular season game against Cholet. Best of luck to you Justin, myself and hopefully a lot of other Magic fans and associates will try to keep an eye on you.


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