Last year, Croatian forward Dario Saric flirted with entering his name into the NBA draft before deciding to return to his European team. A year later, it seems that a similar situation has played itself out, leaving doubt to when or if Saric will ever step on an NBA floor.
Though nothing has been made official, ESPN's Chad Ford (subscription required) reports Saric and Anadolu Efes Istanbul of the Turkish Basketball Association have agreed on a three-year, $8.27 million contract. Neither the team nor Saric's representatives have confirmed the contract, so no details are available on a potential NBA buyout.
The implication, however, is clear: Saric won't be coming over anytime soon, and it's "highly unlikely" he will enter the 2014 NBA Draft.
Saric, 19, was considered the 14th-best player on Ford's draft board before the news broke. A surefire lottery pick last season, Saric's stock has dropped a bit among NBA teams this season due to a lack of perceived growth and the overall strength of the 2014 class.
With Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid leading one of the strongest groups of young players in memory, teams are far more comfortable drafting players they've seen against known competition than an unproven commodity like Saric. A year ago, teams were worried simply about finding usable NBA players in the lottery—making Saric more valuable.
In that regard, his decision to hold off on the NBA makes the decision becomes unsurprising. The $8.27 million he stands to make with Anadolu Efes Istanbul is well more than a No. 14 pick, and Saric's third year is guaranteed. He would have to be drafted within the first six picks and have his third-year team option picked up to make in the NBA what he will in Turkey, per Larry Coon.
What's more, Saric was known to be torn about a potential NBA future. Anadolu Efes' offer has been on the table for some time now, and Saric received interest from high-powered Spanish clubs as well, per 24Sata (via Sportnando). Saric initially told the Croatian paper he was not planning on making a final decision on his draft status until later this year:
I will not decide anything until the end of the season. In the summer I will determine my future. For my development the best is to stay in Europe but we’ll see what happens. I don’t even have an agent right now. I will talk with my family but I will make the final decision.
It's still possible Saric enters his name into the draft, simply to get the process over with. In the past, plenty of high-profile European talents have entered their name early, with their rights-holding team knowing there was little chance of them coming over anytime soon.
What's more, if Saric stays overseas long enough, he is no longer beholden to the NBA's cap on rookie-scale contracts. The Bulls find themselves in a similar situation with Nikola Mirotic, the 23-year-old Spaniard who was drafted in 2011 but waited to come over until he could negotiate a fair NBA deal with Chicago. It's likely Mirotic will come over this summer.
Should Saric make such a move, his stock would probably fall into the late first-round range at best or probably into the second round. Saric is extremely gifted, but he's raw and teams are less likely now than ever to stash a player for multiple years. First-round picks have been commoditized as cheap labor under the new collective bargaining agreement, meaning general managers need production to dole out free-agent contracts.
Either way, this is a disappointing setback. Saric is a unique talent and someone whose NBA development would have been interesting to watch. He's a point-forward type who works best with the ball in his hands, with a slightly less athletic Lamar Odom coming to mind when watching his offensive game.
As NBADraft.net pointed out, though, Saric's lack of natural athletic gifts could make him a liability defensively and hinder an otherwise solid offensive game:
His quickness and elevation might be enough to finish in Europe, but without the ability to finish above the rim, things will likely prove more difficult for him in the NBA.
With odds pointing toward him waiting at least another year if not longer, we'll now get to see how he develops at a higher European level. Any luck, and he's back in the Top Five conversation for next season.
If not, it's possible Dario Saric never plays in the NBA at all.
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