By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen

It’s August 17th and there are still a decent amount of European roster spots open.  There’s a lot of reasons for this and there are only so many good players.  And good teams want good players so when there are less options they are forced to wait.  There is also the NBA factor with many players choosing to go to NBA training camp to fight for a spot or with an agreement to end up with that NBA team’s affiliate D-League team.  Here are some thoughts and notes from observing the late market.

Steals vs. Settling

Late in the summer teams can get nervous and end up settling for a player they think might be a bit below their talent level.  Or reach for a player who doesn’t quite fit the profile they are looking for.  Players and agents get antsy too. They want to make sure they are making money and potentially could sign at a level they wouldn’t have had a month ago but are available now.  So there is a very thin line in the late market between getting a steal and settling for a player.

Travis Leslie who played Eurocup and LKL with Lietuvos Rytas last year on a fairly big contract was available late because he under-performed.  He’s a freak athletically and still has a high ceiling being only 25 years old.  Medi Bayreuth had a very down year last season, but still a decent budget for the BBL, were able to get Leslie late, a player earlier in the summer they probably had little chance of signing.

Taurean Green, the long range playmaking bomber, has played in France and Eurocup (just with Asvel) the last two seasons with two of the better teams in the league: Limoges and Asvel.  He even won the Pro A Championship with Limoges helping propel them to the Euroleague.  At 28, Green moves to Avellino in Italy, and will just be playing domestically but will have a chance to contend for the Playoffs.  Earlier in the summer Green was surely looking to play twice a week, but with a decent situation of domestic play late in the summer, he had to grab the opportunity.

Waiting For NBA Cuts

NBA teams can bring up to 20 players to training camp, with close to 15 players getting fully guaranteed contracts, a few more getting partial guarantees (usually 25K, 50K, or 100K) and the last few not getting any guaranteed money.  That’s around 600 players in NBA training camp. 600!  Talk about controlling the market. Many of those players are rookies and second year players trying to grind out their dream of playing in the NBA.  The non-guaranteed players are almost surely going to the D-League and hopefully have signed to a club with a good affiliate.

The two situations players usually get into are:

– Getting partial money but have little or no chance to make the roster

– Getting partial or no money but having a semi-reasonable chance to make the roster or be in a good call-up situation during the season.

Many players will take the partial money no matter what, but with so many partials being handed out this summer, it may be even better to take no money over a small partial if the opportunity to make the roster or be called up is much better.

Dez Wells is one of the top 2015 seniors for Europe and probably could have landed a deal in Europe for around 80-100K depending upon the league and situation.  But he passed that up and just signed an non-guaranteed deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder.  The Thunder already has 15 guaranteed contracts meaning Wells has basically no chance to make the team.  But OKC has a good D-League program and the team is right in town.  So the chance of getting called up is decent compared to a lot of situations.

Most NBA teams have a handshake agreement with a player that if they don’t make the team they will be on the team’s D-League affiliate.  But when the player is cut or assigned he does have the option to jump overseas.  So around mid to late October, a few weeks into the Euro regular season, there is a chance for a European team to make what could be a talented pick up.

The question is for a team, is it worth it for a player to miss all of training camp, pre-season, and the first few weeks of the season  just to bring in someone more of an NBA camp talent?  It all depends on the situation, team, and aspirations.  If the team needs a home run swing move on their roster, it might be worth it to wait for a fringe NBA talent to get cut.  But if you just want to be a solid team and start the season off well, it’s probably not worth the wait.

Last season James Nunnally didn’t make an NBA roster so he jumped overseas for the first time.  Nunnally jumped over a little earlier, in mid-September after he must have surmised the NBA wasn’t happening and an ACB spot opened up.  He was able to catch the last couple weeks of pre-season.  He started off the season slowly, was never a fit in Madrid and was cut after seven games.  But he did end up in Israel on an Ashdod team that couldn’t get anything going.  Nunnally finally found his groove in the BSL and helped Ashdod escape relegation while averaging 17 points a game.  So even though Nunnally had a productive European season, it was at a much lower level than he originally signed for and it took a while (and a second team) to get comfortable in Europe.

*Nunnally is in Yellow and #21 in the Video

Non/Partial-Guaranteed NBA Rookie Contracts Messing Up Euro Market

This year 13 drafted seniors were either signed or have decided to go to NBA training camp.  Of my top seniors ranked, another 16 decided to go to training camp, and 11 took contracts overseas.  The only drafted seniors (Olivier Hanlan was a junior who got drafted but signed with Zalgiris Kaunsa) to go overseas are Aaron White (Telekom Baskets Bonn) and Marcus Thornton (SG, Sydney Kings).  So of the top 40 seniors, 29 are staying in the states.  Many players are turning down 60-100K contracts abroad to take non-guaranteed NBA camp deals.

Those with real roster spot possibilities or really good D-League opportunities (there’s only a few) make sense.  But those that are turning down good money and opportunities in Europe for what might amount to a whole, non-call up season in the D-League, it’s probably a risk not worth taking.  Every American player has a dream of making the NBA but for the ones that will very likely have a career mainly abroad, there is a certain aura (though both good and bad) around rookies that can be taken advantage of.  Coming off of a good college season, you can have higher stock abroad because no one knows your pro faults yet.  Rookies are risky inherently to European teams because they have never been Pro’s but many rookies get good deals based off college production.

The problem for European teams is that they play a game of cat and mouse with rookies and their agents for a couple weeks.  And then if that game leads to the player signing a no money NBA camp deal, it really hurts the European team.  Beyond the wasted time and effort, there are tons of spots in Europe that would be a good fit for players and teams. The void left by these rookies going to NBA camp creates a lot of late market openings with Euro teams scrambling for players.

Whether it’s Wesley Saunders with the New York Knicks or JJ O’Brien with the Utah Jazz, both got partial money and want to follow their dream.  But they are smart wings who would fit very well in Europe and will probably end up there eventually.

Corey Walden had a contract with Antwerp Giants and left for a partial with the Boston Celtics and will (very likely) start the year with their D-League team.  Melvin Ejim had a contract with Medi Bayreuth and left for the Orlando Magic, where he will fight out for a roster spot. The Magic does not have a D-League team so he could go back to Europe or find another team’s D-League team to play with if he doesn’t make their roster. The Magic do have a D-League team and Ejim will play there if he doesn’t make the Magic roster. Both players are in pretty good situations that were possibly worth leaving Euro contracts for (although their situations in Europe were good too).   But this just shows two players who were already signed in Europe, left for NBA training camp and most likely the D-League, with an opportunity to be called up.

As one European GM said to me this summer,

“We’re in contact with a lot of rookies but most of them are thinking NBA. I think they’ll have to make a second NBA league :).”

Also some decent but not perfect NBA Depth Charts to check for Training Camp.