Thursday, July 24, 2008 | 5:29 p.m.
Al Horford spoke with Josh Childress last week and knew something was up – Childress was in Greece.
“It was kind of obvious he was leaning to a team there,” Horford said. “He was visiting with teams, seeing facilities, trying to get a feel for everything. I don’t know where he was, but he said there was a lot of love over there.”
A lot of money, too.
Horford, who has been training with a select team of young players against the U.S. national basketball team this week here in Las Vegas at Valley High, was on the Atlanta Hawks with Childress this past season.
Childress, who went to Stanford, made about $11.7 million in four seasons at Atlanta. He recently signed a three-year pact with Olympiakos in Greece for $20 million. He can opt out of the deal after each season.
This summer, Childress told teammates about his intention to play overseas.
“I didn’t know if he’d go through with it,” Horford said. “He talked about getting a nice, solid contract. I just wish him the best. It’s unfortunate, because I really liked having him as a teammate.”
So will there be a mass exodus of players in America jetting to Greece, Italy, France, Spain and Russia? Will one of those leagues start rivaling the NBA in elite players and competition?
Jerry Colangelo, the executive director for Team USA, believes the world is getting smaller and smaller.
“The competition for player services will increase,” he said. “You can’t blame a player for using an offer as leverage or accepting an offer, if the money is that huge. It’s a player’s market.”
However, he doesn’t believe that any league will soon challenge the the NBA in global supremacy.
“There might be a few each year, but you’re only talking about a couple,” Colangelo said. “It creates a certain market for certain players who fall into a certain category.”
Horford will not be packing his bags anytime soon for such an adventure.
First, he has two years left on a three-year contract worth $12 million. Second, he’s visited France, Italy and Spain and enjoyed those trips.
But he likes playing ball in the States.
“It’s the best league in the world,” Horford said. “I love Europe, but it’s not the same as living here. I think I would sacrifice some of that stuff. I’ll stay here and do my thing.”
He doesn’t see it becoming a trend. This week, players from the national team and select squad joked about it. Hey, for that much money I’d go to Europe, some said.
Horford pressed them.
“When I really asked them, they all kind of backed off a little bit,” he said. “They’re not going to do it.”
James walking well
Word has seeped out of practice that LeBron James was very concerned about the right ankle he rolled Tuesday on Kevin Durant’s foot.
For the second consecutive day, James only participated in warm-up drills Thursday. He did not practice with the national team against the select squad.
Trainer Keith Jones said James, who seemed to walk around Thursday without pain or favoring his right ankle, could play against Canada on Friday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.
However, coach Mike Krzyzewski and his staff, and James, might opt to keep him out of action.
The U.S. plays two games in Macao and two in Shanghai before starting the Olympics against China in Beijing on Aug. 10.
All tuned up
Defending the pick-and-roll from both sides of the court and running a smooth offense against zone defenses have been some of the priorities for Team USA this week.
After a timid start, the select team tested the national team.
“We were intimidated at first,” Horford said. “But after we played that first game, it was out the window. We started competing. We won some games. They won the most, but we won our fair share.”
Team USA guard Deron Williams predicted a victory over Canada on Friday. He declined to name a point spread.
He seemed agitated and distracted, like someone had just run off with his favorite pair of sneakers.
“We have to come out and dominate, play with a lot of energy,” Williams said. “We have to play with a defensive purpose. That’s the main thing for us. Defense. We won’t have a problem scoring the ball.
“We just have to focus on shutting teams down.”