Josh Childress, After Unusual Term in Greece, Relishes Home
Josh Childress had to use his athleticism in Greece for more than driving to the hoop. Try dodging projectiles.
Childress, a Phoenix forward, returned to the NBA this season after two years playing for Olympiakos, located just outside Athens in Piraeus. And you wonder why he says he became anxious to get back to the States.
"You name it,'' Childress said in an interview with FanHouse about how fans would throws objects at games throughout Greece. "Pieces of marble to ceramic, M-80s, lighters, cameras, cell phones, coins, bottles of urine, feces. Everything.''
Wait a minute? Bottles of urine?
"Actually, some of my buddies got hit with them,'' Childress said. "I don't even know why you would think to do that.''
"It's as bad as it sounds,'' Childress said.
Childress is an athletic guy. So he was able to do a good job of dodging, saying that an M-80 (yes, it was lit) once landed not all that far away and scared the heck out of him.
"I got hit a couple of times by, like some coins or something,'' he said. "Nothing like bottles of urine. ... There was a rule. They told all the players never to pick anything up. Never. (Fans would) would wrap something in paper. Never pick up anything because I guess in the past some some guy got his finger blown off.''
After four years with Atlanta, Childress made headlines as a restricted free agent in the summer of 2008 when he signed a three-year, $20 million deal with Olympiakos, with the ability to opt out after each season. It was thought at the time it could lead to an exodus of some pretty good NBA players to Europe.
NBA guards Jannero Pargo and Earl Boykins also went overseas in the summer of 2008 but they weren't exactly candidates for big American deals. And Denver restricted free agent Linas Kleiza followed Childress to Olympiakos for the 2009-10 season before returning to the NBA this season with Toronto. Overall, though, the NBA hasn't had a lot to worry about with Europe.
"Honestly, I didn't think it would as much as people kind of expected,'' Childress said of his voyage overseas creating a trend. "It's not your first option and not every team is as financially blessed as Olympiakos was with that ownership. But I think that this next year you're going to obviously see a lot more just with the lockout looming.''
Of course, that would be a different story since there might not be an NBA to play in next season.
As for Childress, the stories he tells about the fans in Greece probably aren't going to get NBA players to line up as much to get on the next plane. He said that played a role in his decision to opt out of his contract after two seasons and return to the NBA.
"That definitely added to that,'' said Childress, who said he also just missed America. "It's one thing to be a competitor but to kind of have to fear for your safety where you're playing, it's a little different.''
Childress' struggles since returning to the NBA also might make some players think twice about bolting overseas. It's understandable one might lose his edge playing just two games a week as opposed to three or four a week in the NBA.
After averaging 11.1 points in his four Hawks seasons, Childress is averaging just 6.0 this season for the Suns. After signing a five-year, $33 million contract in a sign-and-trade between Atlanta and Phoenix, Childress is averaging just 18.2 minutes per game, down from the 31.3 he averaged in his Hawks tenure.
"Heck, yeah,'' Childress, who averaged 15.2 points last season for Olympiakos, admitted about it being an adjustment back to the NBA. "This travel schedule and these back-to-backs, it really has taken its toll on my body right now since I've been out of it for two years... (But) I'm not going to make excuses for myself. I just have to play better. It's not on anybody else.''
Childress said it has taken some time to find his role in Phoenix's up-tempo style and Suns coach Alvin Gentry said a fractured index finger suffered in the preseason on his right (shooting) hand has affected Childress' play, although he hasn't missed any games. But Nuggets coach George Karl, who has coached in Spain, said having gone to Europe could be a factor in Childress slowly adjusting back to the NBA.
"NBA players who practice and play so many games, it speeds up improvement for guys who are going to improve or are committed to improve,'' Karl said. "In Europe, it seems that guys who go to Europe don't seem to improve drastically, and some people might argue it might go down a little bit. I don't think Childress has dropped. He just has to, I think, he's got to regoup his confidence. I do think somewhere along the way this year, he'll get back on a better plane.''
Childress was a solid three-pointer marksman with Atlanta, where he shot 36.0 percent (93-of-258), but that shot has been a non-factor in Phoenix's spread-the-floor game. He's 0-of-4 on the season. Gentry said he's trying to put the 6-foot-8, 210-pound Childress in better scoring spots.
"I need to play him more in positions where he can be closer to the basket, and we might even try him at (power forward rather than small forward) some,'' said Gentry, whose Suns have an overload of skinny forwards. "We've just got to find a way to get him on the court more. That's the big thing for us.''
Despite his struggles, Childress said he has no regrets about going to Greece. With a deal that included his taxes being paid and getting the use of a house and a car, he was asked if he simply went for the money.
"It wasn't really the money,'' Childress said.
That prompted Suns guard Jason Richardson, who was nearby in the locker room, to yell out, "Bull(bleep).'' So Childress was asked to respond to what Richardson said.
"Honestly, I make a good living and whether that was here or there, I'm still making a really good living doing what I love to do,'' said Childress, earning $6.5 million this season. "It was more about really just trying to take care of Josh Childress the business, and as athletes that's what each individual is. We're our own business. Just doing what's best for myself.''
Childress said he was willing to return to Atlanta in the summer of 2008 but that the Hawks, who could have retained him by matching an offer by any NBA team, never offered him a contract. Actually, though, Childress had told Atlanta radio station WQXI-AM 790 shortly after signing in Greece that the Hawks did offer a 5-year, $33 million deal.
Childress remained a restricted free agent when he sought to return last summer to the NBA. But after signing Joe Johnson to a maximum contract, the Hawks were cash-strapped and didn't want to pay Childress. So they worked out a deal with Phoenix to at least get a second-round pick and a $3.63 million trade exception for him.
"Yeah, I was willing,'' Childress said about returning to the Hawks in the summer of 2008 and then giving a different story from when he had said the Hawks did offer a deal. "Atlanta, honestly, they never offered me a contract. I took a lot of heat (for leaving), but they never offered a contract. When I went back to the game, when we played there (Nov. 7), I got booed up and down. People called me a 'traitor,' but I never got offered of a contract. Traitor or not, if I don't have a deal on the table, how is that a traitor?''
Regardless, some might consider being called a "traitor'' by a sparse crowd in Atlanta a heck of a lot better than dodging M-80s in Greece.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson