Part two of our top overseas free agents article will talk about players whose rights are already owned by NBA franchises through being drafted in years past. They aren't really free agents in the traditional sense, but bear with us.
Teams are increasingly using the method of stashing European players overseas as a way of saving valuable roster spots and having their draftees develop on someone elses coin. Weve discussed this method of acquiring assets repeatedly on DraftExpress through the years, in articles such as Waiting for Manu by Heather Allen and Paul Gearan, and The Secondary Market in Draft Rights by Robert Windrem. Some of the best examples of this strategy include names like Arvydas Sabonis, Peja Stojakovic, Nenad Krstic, Andrei Kirilenko and of course Manu Ginobili. Will any impact players be joining this impressive list of players this summer? From what we are hearing, the answer to that is YES.
An afternoon meeting today between Barcelonas president Joan Laporta and his homegrown superstar Juan Carlos Navarro yielded a surprising result for Spanish and international basketball fans everywhere. What seemed like a once impossible buyout sum of 10 million Euros (13.6 million dollars) has been lowered in principle by as much as 85%-- to the much more manageable sum of 2-3 million dollars depending on what kind of deal Navarro can negotiate with the Washington Wizards, or any other team that can somehow get a hold of his rights.
And negotiate he will, as sources close to the situation have told us that hes only looking for a contract similar to what Sarunas Jasikevicius signed with Indiana when he came over back in 20053 years and around 12million dollars. The 26-year old Navarro will then likely work out the exact buyout details with the team hes played for his since 1996, and now requests that he only give them a fair amount of money to go along with firm assurances that he will play just for them should he decide to return to Europe one day. Navarro already told us as much (I would play for no other club in Europe) in an exclusive interview he conducted with us back in March, which seemingly set the stage for Barcelonas announcement today.
Its rumored that Barcelona will turn around and use those 3 million dollars or so to buy Rudy Fernandez out of his contract with Joventut and try to get him in a blue-maroon uniform.
Navarro will be giving up some money to leave for the NBAhe reportedly was given a blank check with his name on it to name his price for to rest of his careerbut hes made the decision that its now or never and thats he basically accomplished everything he can at the international level, so its time to move on. He indeed spoke about looking for new challenges in the interview he conducted with DraftExpress.
Our sources in Spain tell us that the Washington Wizards have scouted him extensively this past season, even sending Ernie Grunfeld over on more than one occasion to make contact with him. They consider him a perfect fit for their system, so it shouldnt be a surprise at all to see him end up in Washington DC.
If that cant be worked out, though, then there will surely be other suitors. The Memphis Grizzlies for one, are already looking at Navarro as the perfect companion to keep Pau Gasol happy with the direction the franchise is headed. The two are close friends and play extremely well with each other as weve all seen with the defending World Champion Spanish National Team over the years. If the Wizards opt to keep Deshawn Stevenson over Navarro (they cannot feasibly sign both) then look for Gasol to put pressure on Chris Wallace and the Memphis front office to do whatever it takes to get him in a Grizzlies uniform.
Is he worth all the fuss? Read his scouting report and decide for yourself.
Besides Navarro, there are other players who have been drafted by NBA teams in years past and still have yet to come over. Heres a short run down
Alex Acker, Detroit Pistons- Acker took a fairly strange route to making this list, being drafted in 2005 and playing a year for the Pistons before deciding to leave their qualifying offer on the table to sign with Euroleague powerhouse Olimpiacos in Greece. His rights are therefore owned by Detroit still, and the qualifying offer they made last year is still in effect as long as they still want him. Acker initially signed a two-year deal with Olimpiacos with a team option on the second year. The team decided that they do not want him back next year and already decided not to opt-in. Acker reportedly had some issues with the coaching staff last year and was close to not returning to Greece at one point after taking a short vacation back to the States. He was spectacular at times this season (flirting with an unprecedented Euroleague triple double against Prokom for example) and very average in others, showing the deficiencies he has in his game in regards to his maturity level and defensive ability. Still, with Carlos Delfino being shipped out and only Arron Afflalo competing with him for playing time at the swing position, the Pistons could very well decide to keep Acker if he shows progress during Summer League.
Oleksiy Pecherov, Washington Wizards- The #18 pick in last years draft had just an OK season after returning to the Ukraine to play for BC Kyiv. He will be joining the Wizards once again in summer league and will almost certainly be signed.
Joel Freeland, Portland Trailblazers- The #30 pick in 2006, could barely manage to get off the bench in the ACB league besides playing garbage time minutes. He obviously is a few years away and Portland fans shouldnt be holding their breath at this point.
Kosta Perovic, Golden State Warriors- Sources in Europe tell DraftExpress that Perovic has signed a contract with Golden State and will be on their roster next year. Perovic will have to pay a hefty buyout (even in addition to the $500,000 the Warriors can contribute) to get out of his contract with Partizan. He was actually close to signing a deal with Euroleague Final Four participants Unicaja Malaga, but was swayed to sign in the NBA once the Warriors caught wind of that. He does not seem to fit Don Nelsons system in the least bit, and will likely be joining Patrick OBryant and Adonal Foyle on the end of his bench.
Lior Eliyahu, Houston Rockets- After an impressive season playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv at the top of the Euroleague, Eliyahu is currently in Houston showing off his skills for the Rockets before he joins them for summer league. They might not have a roster spot for him right now, but theres a possibility he could change their mind with the way he plays in Las Vegas. Either way he seems to be developing very nicely.
Erazem Lorbek, Indiana Pacers- Lorbeks (a 2nd round pick in 2005) agent David Bauman told DraftExpress in May that he expects to negotiate a good deal for Erazem Lorbek with Indiana this summer. According to him, all it takes is for Indiana to commit playing time and the right mix of money and years. Lorbek had a very strong finish to the season playing for Rome after bouncing around between Málaga and Treviso.
Axel Hervelle, Denver Nuggets- Hervelle is coming off winning a historic double with Real Madrid after conquering the ULEB Cup and Spanish ACB, and is now in the States with Denver getting ready for summer league. The roster looks a bit crowded with Eddie Najera and Linas Kleiza being similar style players under contract for next year already.
Marcin Gortat, Orlando Magic- Gortat continues to show improvement each and every year, averaging 10.4 points and 5.6 rebounds in the Euroleague playing for RheinEnergie Köln. Hes made some serious strides since we first saw him show off nice physical tools but very few skills at the Orlando pre-draft camp in 2005. Gortat has been training in Orlando for over a week now in preparation for their summer league, according to his agent Guy Zucker, and has every intention of making the Magic squad this year.
Cenk Akyol, Atlanta Hawks- Akyol is also in the States right now, working out with renowned trainer Tim Grover in Chicago. Grover seems to like him a lot from the conversation we had with him earlier today, talking extensively about how well he shoots the ball, but also about his toughness, coachability, and the fact that hes a lot more athletic than people give him credit for. Grover told us that he thinks Akyol should be able to make Atlantas roster and be effective for them, reminding us that hes only 20 years old at the moment. The Hawks will be going to watch Akyol play later this week before he heads back to Turkey to join the national team in preparation for the European Championship in Spain starting in September. Hes reportedly only looking for a minimum contract, and would be amenable to being sent down to the D-League as well if he was asked to. From what weve seen of Akyol with the Turkish National team and Efes Pilsen before he surprisingly fell out of his teams rotation, he looks like he would have been a very intriguing prospect had he not kept his name in the draft back in 2005. They very well could have gotten a steal with the recommendation their international scout Mark Crow made in the late 2nd round.
Mario Austin, Chicago Bulls- The lone American player on this list might also be the highest paid player of anyone here besides Navarro. Austin made close to a million dollars net with Hapoel Jerusalem, and is now a free agent drawing fantastic offers from Euroleague teams. Pini Gershon, the Israeli head coach of Olimpiacos, reportedly offered him 1.5 million dollars net (the equivalent of a 3 million dollar NBA offer) already, which he has not accepted at this point. Austin has developed into one of the best low-post threats in all of Europe over the past few years, and is seemingly exactly the inside offensive presence Chicago is lacking at this point, even if his defensive skills leave a lot to be desired. The problem is its going to cost them in a big way, and their focus seems to be more on resigning Andres Nocioni at the moment. Austins agent Doug Neustadt did not want to say much besides the fact that his clients value in Europe is extremely high. Austin will not be playing summer league for Chicago again, but he will work out privately for them.