For the first time in many years, or maybe for the first time ever (at least since the fall of the Berlin Wall), Europe has gained more, sports wise, than it has to give up. There is a rising appeal to the Euroleague for some NBA vets. Even though the NBA is destination numero uno, the Euroleague has been able to land players with significant NBA careers behind them. There is more money in the league now and the contracts are becoming bigger. A new rule in the Chinese Basketball Association has helped with retention of players and attracting new ones as well. In China, teams are now able to change their foreign players every two months. With this new rule, the appeal of signing in the CBA is not as high due to instability with contracts. If not the NBA, the Euroleague is the next best option for players who want to continue their NBA careers or, potentially, impress enough to get to or back to the NBA.
Nikola Mirotic started this new trend. A solid five year NBA veteran who averaged 15.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game last season was taken away by a revamped FC Barcelona. Niko explained his decision.
“Life in the United States is hard for my family. I was traded twice in five years and they probably would have traded me again this summer. I was looking for stability for me and my family, being in a place where I aspired to lead a team and win titles. I didn’t want to come back to Europe as a 34 year-old player”.
The Montenegrin-born forward made some serious buzz in Europe with this historic deal. First rumors pointed to a six-year, 70-million deal gross – crazy numbers for European standards. The latest report from the Spanish sports newspaper Mundo Deportivo cited a four-year (first three guaranteed), 27-million gross contract. These enormous numbers made him the highest-paid player in Europe, for about three weeks (more on that in a second). Mirotic is now way ahead of Alexey Shved who’s garnering four million per year and on the same level with Josh Childress’ historic deal (20 million net for three years with Olympiacos).
Nikola Mirotic is not signing a six-year, €70 million contract with Barcelona.
Mirotic will sign a four-year contract with the Catalan powerhouse, as reported by @chemadelucas
— Emiliano Carchia (@Carchia) June 30, 2019
Per source: Nikola Mirotic will sign a 3+1 deal with FCBarcelona, the player will receive 4m ? net the 1st year and the contract raises by 0.5m per year, no outs til year 3, fourth year would be a +1/option
— Dave DuFour (@DaveDuFourNBA) June 30, 2019
The arrival of Mirotic in Catalonia came after the signatures of Michael Jordan’s godson, two-time Euroleague champion Cory Higgins and the All-Euroleague 1st team center Brandon Davies. Oh, but Barcelona wasn’t done just yet.
Catalans tried to complete the evocative comeback of Pau Gasol who later signed with the Blazers and then closed its campaign with acquiring of another comeback kid, Alex Abrines. Abrines made his name with Barcelona. Now it’s all about basketball rehab at the Catalan shore for him. All the moves are clearly screaming about Barca’s ambitions. Get the title. Get back the European throne.
Now, don’t forget to mark the 14th of November on your calendar: Mirotic’s first return to Madrid after he had left Real, promising eternal love for the Blancos. Let’s hope it doesn’t end up like in football with Luis Figo.
Fenerbahce & Real: no panic
Other European powerhouses quickly responded with their own answers. Fenerbahce had to deal with Nicolò Melli and Marko Guduric’s departures. Both players found their new home in the NBA with New Orleans and Memphis respectively. But they probably couldn’t do a better job convincing two of Europe’s best players, Nando De Colo (The 2016 Euroleague MVP) and Derrick Williams (fresh off the great season for Bayern), to choose Europe over possible NBA offers. Gherardini & Obradovic did it, again.
Real Madrid had to take Mirotic’s blow and the fact that for the first time in many years, the prime destination for notable free agents has moved to Barcelona. The Blancos decided to change things as little as possible. However, they were able to complete two interesting transfers: acquiring last Liga ACB’s MVP, Nico Laprovittola, and Jordan Mickey who made a big splash in his first European season with Khimki. The Former Miami and Boston forward will replace a slightly confused Gustavo Ayon. The Mexican first announced his intentions to stay closer to his family, hunting for a contract in the NBA or in the Mexican league. However, he ultimately chose a different path signing with Zenit St. Petersburg.
The battle of Moscow: Khimki assaults CSKA’s kingdom
For a few weeks, the reigning Euroleague champions seemed to feel disarmed while their rivals were making major moves. The Russians lost De Colo, Higgins, Othello Hunter, and Alec Peters. Itoudis’ team seemed to be heading towards a significant budget cut. Minor purchases of players like Janis Strelnieks and Johannes Voigtmann, Euroleague vets that are certainly can’t be considered top-notch players, was confirming this pattern. The Red Army picked up the tempo in the last few weeks though. First, they signed Kosta Koufos who will make his European debut while receiving the most lucrative deal for an American in the upcoming season. CSKA has also landed two notable guards. Ron Baker will make his European debut with the Russian powerhouse while former Suns’ guard Mike James will try to defend his Euroleague scoring title.
NBA veteran center Kosta Koufos has reached an agreement with EuroLeague Russian powerhouse CSKA Moscow that will make him the highest paid American in Europe next season, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) July 19, 2019
Khimki put big money on the table and it seems they almost leveled with CSKA. Their star player, Alexey Shved, is still there, but now he has a top notch supporting cast. The flagship of their summer campaign (and the biggest question mark due to his knee’s conditions) is Timofey Mozgov who left NBA after nine seasons to come back to the team where he blossomed years ago. Mozgov will not be in as good of shape as the solid Devin Booker (no, not the Suns’ one). Another familiar face with the club is Jeremy Evans. The 2012 NBA Slam Dunk Contest champion can still fly way above European standards for athleticism. Moreover, there will be many hot guns on the perimeter with a Latvian sharpshooter from New Orleans Dairis Bertans and an elite Russian scorer Sergey Karasev. Big names are set. Now it’s all in coach Kurtinaitis’ hands.
— EuroLeague (@EuroLeague) July 31, 2019
PitinOut: it’s Jimmer-mania in Athens!
The love story between Rick Pitino and Panathinaikos lasted six months. Despite the will of the emphatic president Giannakopoulos, the former NCAA legend preferred to return home hoping for NBA comeback. But the Greens did not lose their heart. The backcourt for the «new» old coach Pedoulakis will be composed of Nick Calathes and Jimmer Fredette. The BYU legend rolled the dice and decided to try his luck in Europe after three seasons in China. Brave move. The demanding Pana’s fan base is always ready to raise its champions on Olympus Mountain or drop them in Hades when things go wrong. Another marquee newcomer, Wesley Johnson, on the other hand, has been in the NBA for almost a decade but with clearly visible decline ended up in the same place as Fredette.
— Panathinaikos BC (@paobcgr) July 15, 2019
The curious case of Olympiacos
The other Greek powerhouse, Olympiacos, will be the first team ever to play the Euroleague without participating in any domestic league. David Blatt’s team has been relegated from the Greek League after it clamorously deserted Game-1 of the playoffs against Panathinaikos protesting referee’s designations. A case that has raised controversy produced one of the brightest PR stunts. The Greens offered the fans of the Oly the chance to purchase season tickets at half price “to give them the chance to see the best Greek basketball”. Greek basketball is that weird.
However, the Reds didn’t break down completely after suffering a major loss of Nigel Williams-Goss who signed with the Utah Jazz. They brought the former San Antonio Spur Brandon Paul back and then recruited Wade Baldwin IV, who has been unsuccessfully fighting for a roster spot in the NBA for three years. Mindaugas Kuzminskas signing should also help Blatt in the short term.
Messina and the Milano Spurs
Nikola Mirotic wasn’t the only one to shock the NBA world to some degree with a European move. One of the most respected European coaches has decided to leave America too. Ettore Messina, Greg Popovich’s right hand man for years in San Antonio, said it was time for him to head back home as well. So he decided to guide ambitious Giorgio Armani’s Olimpia Milano project. Messina will not only be the coach but also the president of basketball operations. What’s the motive behind this move? To restore Milano’s prominence on the biggest European stage after years of disappointment.
? "E' un nuovo capitolo, sono motivatissimo": l'Olimpia annuncia Shelvin Mack! ? https://t.co/R2VJ7XUIZN
? "Excited by this new chapter": Shelvin Mack is coming to Olimpia Milan! ? https://t.co/sQHU9HhKvR
— Olimpia Milano (@OlimpiaMI1936) July 25, 2019
Messina started with noble moves, signing experienced players such as Iowa’s product Aaron White and former UCLA general Michael Roll. Then things escalated. Milano picked up Sergio Rodriguez, a player perhaps past his prime, but still one of the most creative players on the continent. Then comes another shocker. Shelvin Mack, who left the NBA for the first time in his career to experience European basketball. Exactly the type of player needed for Spurs-like team after years of iso and pick and roll. But there were losses too. Both Mike James and James Nunnally entered buyout negotiations. James’ case was pretty ugly. Euroleague’s reigning top scorer had 1.5 million left on his contract but was forced to leave the club.
From Monroe to Mirotic
However, the two most surprising “American” newcomers of the summer were probably Greg Monroe (signed with Bayern Munich) and Milos Teodosic (signed with Virtus Bologna).
Bayern made noise last October, bringing to Europe the 2nd overall pick of the 2011 Draft Derrick Williams. The former Arizona Wildcat had a productive year with Bayern that earned him a spot on Fenerbahce’s roster. Evidently, the move has made Munich an attractive destination for American players, given that Bayern’s GM Daniele Baiesi first managed to convince American Josh Huestis to come as well. Monroe followed next. A potentially game-changing performer if ready both physically and mentally. Balesi was more than satisfied with the Monroe addition.
“I hope no one expects a Derrick-Williams-Story part 2 here because Greg is a very different player and plays a totally different position not just his basketball IQ is extraordinary but also his character will fit nicely to our club”.
Bayern fans should be pleased with the financial side of the deal too. Monroe reportedly will only make 750 thousand U.S. dollars. Once again the German powerhouse will try to make Euroleague playoffs from the back door.
„Sein enormes Talent & seine #NBA-Erfahrung werden unseren Klub voranbringen. Wir sind sehr stolz, dass Greg zu uns stößt.” ? Sportdirektor Baiesi.
— FC Bayern Basketball (@fcb_basketball) July 25, 2019
Maccabi was another classic destination for former NBA players this summer. Johnny O’Bryant had a good Euroleague campaign (10.6 points with a season-high of 32 and 5.9 rebounds per game), but the Israeli team replaced him with Quincy Acy who had spent seven seasons in the NBA before landing a contract in China. He will team up with former Laker Tarik Black in the paint for the Yellows. And don’t forget to watch out for two potential future European stars: Yovel Zoosman and Deni Avdija.
Baskonia continues to build around its star, the former Nets and Bulls forward Toko Shengelia. He will have good help from Nik Stauskas this upcoming season. The Michigan star didn’t find his way in his five years in the NBA but in Europe, his shooting abilities could be devastating. But can he become more than just a great shooter? That is the question for coach Perasovic.
Another former Cavalier that will taste European basketball for the first time in his career is Sam Dekker. The big man won’t play in Euroleague but still will be a part of a big club. Lokomotiv-Kuban is traditionally one of the strongest Russian teams that challenge CSKA and Khimki every year. Lokomotiv is also known for a notorious interest in former NBA players. Dorrell Wright, Isaiah Whitehead, and JaJuan Johnson are just the most recent ones.
NBA champions are a rarity. Even if they played modest roles on championship squads. And that’s exactly why Jordan Loyd’s move to Valencia is a pretty big deal. Lorenzo Brown could’ve received his ring too but he was waived by the Raptors during the season and ended up in China. Nevertheless, his presence will be felt with the Adriatic champion, Crvena Zvezda.
Serbian star Milos Teodosic (new player of Virtus Bologna) just arrived to Italy ???
— EuroBBallVideos (@EuroBBallVideos) July 15, 2019
Milos Teodosic’s choice surprised even more European fans. A Serbian point guard with a legendary status in Europe decided to complete a comeback after two forgetful years with the Clippers. His choice seems unconventional because Virtus Bologna is not a Euroleague club. Italian team wants to revive the glorious years when Manu Ginobili, Sasha Danilovic and Marko Jaric were rocking V Nere jersey. Teodosic will receive some nice compensation for not playing in Euroleague right away with a three-year contract worth 5.1 million dollars. It will make him the highest-paid player in Europe outside the Euroleague. Virtus does not want to stop here though. The former Atlanta Hawks point guard Malcolm Delaney is still on their radar.
What a great time to be a European basketball junkie.