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Utah Jazz: Across the pond, NBA Europe a great debate

NBA sees Europe as a possible area of expansion

LONDON — Friday night, the Utah Jazz open their NBA season against the Knicks in New York.

Saturday night, they face the Foghorns in London.

Flash forward a few years and that very well could be the news.

No plans have been announced. No new franchises have been awarded. No nickname contests are under way.

But the NBA has long discussed possible overseas expansion, and — with the Jazz actually playing a preseason game today against the Chicago Bulls at The O2 Arena in London, part of the league's annual EuropeLive tour — it's an issue forward and center on basketball brains.

"I think we're doing good in America," two-time U.S. Olympian Carlos Boozer of the Jazz said before practice Monday at O2, the very same venue that will host basketball during the 2012 Summer Games.

"But I think that's something (commissioner) David Stern and the NBA want to try to do," Boozer added, "is expand our league to two teams over in Europe — and I think London is probably one of the first places they would look at it, I'm sure."

Whether adding just one or two international clubs to a league already 30 strong across North America makes sense, however, is a matter for great debate.

But as far as many players, coaches and front-office personnel seem to be concerned, the argument is mostly one-sided.

"It would be exciting for all of us to come over here and play four, five games — not to come all the way to London and play one game or two games, and then fly back home," Boozer said. "If they have four or five teams in Europe that we can go around to, I think it would be exciting for guys."

"I could see where it could work, if you have a division over here with, whatever, five teams," Bulls general manager Gar Forman said.

"The travel would be tough, especially coming from the West (U.S.), but I could see it happening at some point."

Would it work well, though?

Would fans in London flock to see the imaginary Foghorns facing aging Allen Iverson and the struggling Memphis Grizzlies on a night Chelsea is playing Liverpool in a key Premier League game, and every pub owner in his right mind has the football match on his big-screen?

Would anyone in Spain — where Thursday the Jazz play an exhibition game against Spanish League power Real Madrid — interrupt a perfectly good siesta to watch the Matadors play the lowly Los Angeles Clippers?

Or would the fine folks in Milan or Rome actually be tempted to blow off a savory three-hour, five-course dinner and instead grab a hot dog and Pinot Grigio and watch Kobe Bryant, LeBron James or Deron Williams destroy the expansion Leaning Towers?

"I guess we wouldn't know unless they did it," Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said.

"With a day in between (games)," Jazz swingman C.J. Miles added, "I don't think it would be all that bad. … And it would be great to come over here. I think it would be fun."

It may some day be work, too.

"I guess it's always a possibility, but if you played one game it looks to me like you need a couple days to get your feet back on the ground," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "I could see two or three games, if you came a couple days before you played."

Logistics really are problematic, though.

"We've been here (in London) two days and I still feel the jet lag," Hinrich said. "So, I definitely think it would be tough on the players."

The Jazz once played four regular-season games over five nights in four different time zones, and that was brutal.

Just imagine on the flip side, then, how hard it would be for those on the European NBA teams — however many — to play the majority of their games in the United States.

"And they'd play 82 games against us? No. Because they'd have to travel a lot more, so it's not really fair," Jazz point guard Williams said. "The time difference would mess everybody up. Maybe have (an) NBA Europe. I don't know. I don't how you'd do it. Leave that up to David Stern."

Stern, you can bet your deflated American dollar, is concocting a plan.

When to implement it, however, depends largely on factors outside control of even the powerful commissioner.

"Everything seems to be on hold these days waiting to see how the economy does," Stern said during the NBA Finals in June. "When (German chancellor) Angela Merkel was criticizing the Central Bank and the Spanish real estate market is going down and the English banking system is in trouble, prudence says let's wait and watch and do things slowly.

"We very much want to keep testing the European markets, and we've opened up offices now in Milan and Madrid and Istanbul to go with our Paris and London offices, but we're not going to be making any bold projections or predictions about the location of franchises in Europe at this time."

Yet even Stern, who's likely to address the matter again at today's exhibition game, can't help but ponder possibilities.

He even bit when asked during the Finals about exposing the league in India, dropping then news of plans for an NBA Web site produced in English and Hindi.

"We are looking at it," he said then, "as a very important growth opportunity.

"And what India tells us is that when you have a nation that is that large … (it) offers an enormous opportunity, geographically diverse, for us to do it."

Still, growing the game produces a host of concerns.

"Planes are getting faster and everything else, but there is that travel issue," Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said. "There's the time issue, too.

"When you're playing a good team (from Europe), I don't think people are going to want to turn on the TV and watch it at 12:30 in the afternoon."

Then there's the day when a GM like O'Connor has to tell some kid whose only passport stamp is Canada that he's been traded to Turkey.

Pack your bags, kiss your loved ones and prepare to join the Fighting Camels.

Some might not mind: "I hope soon we're going to have a team in Europe," said Andrei Kirilenko, a Russian who's played eight years in Utah.

Suddenly, though, expanding abroad doesn't sound so amusing to some.

"Coming and playing over here is one thing, but being traded over here — that's different," Miles said. "You think about that, that's crazy."

"I wouldn't mind living in a city like (London)," Williams added rather more diplomatically. "But I prefer being in the States."

Sloan, for one, doesn't worry about having to tell a 20-year-old he's been dealt to Dusseldorf.

"I don't think that's going to happen in my lifetime in the NBA," he said.

Some time soon, though, there may be a dozen more Americans living in Paris.

"It would be hard, but anything can happen," Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said.

"David Stern is making everything possible just trying to get this global basketball thing going."

e-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com