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Deron Williams talks Turkey; more stars on the go?

While the NBA welcomed Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Iman Shumpert and friends to the league last month, the players’ union and team owners remain on the clock. And while the two sides continue their debate (let’s hope they’re actively involved in discussion), some of the best talent are already counting on, at best, an abbreviated season.

Sasha Vujacic is the second Nets’ guard this week to sign a contract to play hoops in Turkey. Vujacic, who will play a full season with the Anadolu Efes club, joins All-Star point guard Deron Williams as the newest members of the Turkey professional league.

“The reasoning behind my decision… is that besides being the most successful team in Turkish Basketball history, Efes also competes in the Euroleague against the top teams in Europe. With the uncertainty of the NBA lockout, I couldn’t imagine myself not competing and taking a break from basketball, which is what I do and what I live for,” Vujacic said in a statement released on his website.

“I hope the NBA and NBPA reach an agreement soon…” he continued. “However, right now I can’t wait to touch down in Istanbul and help my new team reach the best results possible.”

D-Will announced to his fans via Twitter that he was headed overseas.

“Just made it official, headed to Turkey… signed with Besiktas & BJK_Basketbol,” he wrote, providing a link to an image of his signature on the contract.

Unlike Vujacic’s season-long commitment with Efes, D-Will, who inked a $5 million deal with Besiktas, will play in the Turkish league only in the NBA work stoppage continues. Williams is not required to report to his new team until late August or early September, sources told ESPN, and he is allowed to leave Besiktas as soon as the NBA lockout ends.

The signings of D-Will and Vujacic comes on the heels of a memo sent to all players by union director Billy Hunter, who said the NBA Players Association supports those who opt to play elsewhere and those “who are taking steps to continue to earn a living, stay in peak competitive shape, and play the game that we love while the unfortunate league-imposed lockout is in place.”

“If the owners will not give our players a forum in which to play basketball here in the United States, they risk losing the greatest players in the world to the international basketball federations that are more than willing to employ them,” Hunter continued.

Okay, so the idea of the best NBA players going overseas to play basketball, earn a paycheck and keep their games fresh sounds good in theory – there’s no reason for the guys to hang around and twiddle their thumbs in here in the States. But there are many risks involved, many of which are of major concern to NBA owners, the fans and the players themselves.

The players’ health is always on the top of the list of concern. As it stands now, D-Will, a perennial 20-point, 10-assist guy, is still recovering from a wrist injury and surgery that ended his 2010-11 NBA campaign prematurely. With the opening of Atlantic Yards just on the horizon, the Nets cannot afford to have Williams sustain another injury – pray that he doesn’t blow out a knee and hurt his shoulder. Imagine the team going into Brooklyn without a marquee name; it would be a disaster for the organization and likely the league.

On the same token, imagine if Kevin Durant (who’s been rumored to have expressed interest in an overseas league should the NBA lockout drag on) suffers a major injury and tries to come back when the NBA work stoppage is lifted. Durant might not be as effective in trying to lead the Thunder to a championship, or even worse for him, what happens when his contract is expiring. Teams might balk at the idea of investing in a player who underwent a serious medical procedure (see all the teams that passed on Amare Stoudemire last summer because of his microfracture knee surgery).

It’s easier said than done, but both the owners and the union have to settle this lockout. There’s a long way to go to reach an agreement, I understand that, but the sides must engage in continuous dialog. I feel weird saying it, but the NBA can take a page out of the NFL’s book and meet non-stop even during the weekend.

If the work stoppage continues, more and more stars will defect to other leagues, and more and more fans will become disenfranchised with the sport that is at the peak of popularity.

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