With the anticipated return of injured stars, the Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers are expected to get better next season. It's obvious the San Antonio Spurs are going to need to beef up their roster.
Unfortunately for San Antonio, it appears one of its prospects is following the trend of foreigners shunning the NBA. Brazilian power forward Tiago Splitter, a first-round draft pick by the Spurs last year, is strongly considering staying in Spain, according to ESPN.com. The Spurs can thank the league's rookie salary scale for that.
Teams used to draft international players with the intention of letting them develop overseas before bringing them to the NBA. But if a player gets too good overseas, it's to his financial advantage to stay abroad because an NBA rookie's salary is limited by where he's drafted, provided he's a first-round pick.
Splitter was taken No. 28 overall last June. He averaged 14 points and five rebounds for Tau Ceramica this season, which could earn him a much larger free-agent payday than the $771,000 maximum he could make with the Spurs next season. What's more, Splitter would have to play for at least two years under the scale, four if the Spurs pick up both options. ESPN.com. reported that Splitter is on the verge of signing with Tau Ceramica for two more years, a deal that doesn't have a buyout until 2010.
Fran Vasquez, selected No. 11 by Orlando in 2005, never reported to the Magic, opting for more money with FC Barcelona in Spain. Spanish point guard Rudy Fernandez was acquired by Portland on draft day after the Phoenix Suns selected him No. 24 overall last year. A month later, Fernandez's contract was extended by Spain's Joventut Badalona. He has yet to play with Portland
Center Ante Tomic of Croatia, who pulled out of last year's draft, and Serbian center Nikola Pekovic have signed big contracts overseas, according to ESPN.com.
That the Euro is superior to the dollar makes the monetary gap even larger. The $771,000 Splitter would make in his first year with the Spurs is currently less than 500,000 Euro.
A smaller salary is not the only disadvantage of coming to the NBA. Higher expectations, diminished celebrity status and a decrease in playing time often greet Euroleague defectors in the NBA.
Greek star Vassilis Spanoulis was drafted by Dallas in the second round of the 2004 draft and traded to the Houston Rockets on draft day. He didn't play for the Rockets until the 2006-07 season, in which he averaged 8.8 minutes in 31 games, occasionally expressing his frustration publicly about lack of playing time. He was traded to the Spurs before this season but opted to re-sign with Panathinaikos in Greece, reportedly receiving a three-year deal worth 5 million Euro.
All of these factors are making it increasingly difficult to lure international studs to America. The risk of the player staying overseas makes spending a first-round draft pick perhaps too risky, especially when you throw in buyout negotiations.
Perhaps the most famous situation was that of Argentinian star Luis Scola, who was drafted by the Spurs with the 56th pick in the 2002 draft. Scola didn't make it to the NBA until 2007 and not with the Spurs. In the Spanoulis deal, San Antonio traded Scola's rights to Houston, where Scola is now a starter.
Some of the top international players may fall into the second round. The rookie salary scale applies only to first-round picks. Contracts for second-round picks are negotiated. NBA teams can even use their midlevel exception ($5.3 million last season) to sign a second-rounder.
J-O ON THE MOVE?: In a radio interview Thursday, Indiana All-Star power forward Jermaine O'Neal dropped somewhat of a bombshell regarding his future with the Pacers.
"I really believe if it comes down to them totally rebuilding, I believe that they will move me," O'Neal told "The Monty Show" on Sporting News Radio. "That's pretty much the consensus thought I got from the ownership and management before I left Indianapolis. I don't think it's going to come down to a situation where we've got to go back and forth, back and forth, for me to be moved on, because they've just totally (overhauled) the team. I think if they're going to (overhaul) the team, then they will move me, and move me to another team that has a chance of winning a championship."
Or maybe O'Neal is just hoping out loud.
FLOPPING FINES: Come next season, the likes of L akers point guard Derek Fisher and Spurs swingman Manu Ginobili may have to pay for their thespian defense. Apparently, NBA commissioner David Stern is so tired of players flopping that he's going to become the flop sheriff.
According to New York Newsday, citing an unidentified source, Stern culminated a how-to-deal-with-flopping debate among the NBA's competition committee by saying he would handle the culprits personally. Fines will come from the commissioner early and often, starting with the preseason, with hopes that players will be conditioned against flopping by midseason.
It was suggested the league allow the referees to issue on-the-spot technical fouls. Another idea was to create a point system similar to the one dealing with technical fouls, where points would be given based on game reviews by the league, with a designated number of points leading to suspension. But Stern chose to handle the discipline himself instead of putting it in the hands of officials or Stu Jackson, the NBA executive vice president of basketball operations, who handles flagrant fouls and tracks technicals.
If fines don't work, here are some other penalties Stern could impose: a) force habitual floppers to participate in a defense camp held by Detroit Pistons guard Lindsey Hunter; b) make repeat offenders spend two weeks as an assistant coach in the NBA Development League; c) place the most notorious offenders in a dispersal draft with New York, Memphis, Milwaukee, Minnesota and Seattle "... rather, Oklahoma City ... the participants.
Contact Marcus Thompson II at firstname.lastname@example.org