Reports surfaced last week that the 25-year-old British power forward and Trail Blazers draftee (30th overall in 2006) had signed an extension with Unicaja Malaga of Spain, lending serious doubt to his NBA future. After a 75-65 loss to Banca Civica Sevilla in the Copa del Rey, Joel Freeland said those reports were untrue.
“We’ve always been talking since day one but there’s no agreement at this point,” said Freeland.
When another reporter asked Freeland if Portland could do anything to sway him, Freeland went on the defensive.
“I’ve never said that I didn’t want to be [in Portland]. I never have said that,” he responded.
“If the situation’s right and I feel like I’m ready, then I’ll make that step obviously. But you know, I’m here, I’m focusing on [Unicaja] at the moment.”
The situation looks like it will be right from Portland’s point of view; with Marcus Camby, Greg Oden, Kurt Thomas and Craig Smith all coming off the books this summer, Portland is currently only scheduled to return two bigs: LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace.
As for readiness, anyone that’s seen Freeland play basketball over the past two seasons could tell you this guy’s a contributor at power forward on a contending NBA team with starter upside. When coaches use him correctly (his current boss, Chus Mateo, does not), Freeland’s an inside-out 4 who’s a deadly finisher on the pick-and-roll and a smart, if imperfect, defender.
If Blazers acting General Manager Chad Buchanan is still around by summer—a very big if—the smart move is also the obvious one: You ask Freeland, very politely, to accept a large sum of money to be your sixth man. And if you or Buchanan still need proof that Freeland’s the real deal then—well, the Olympics start July 27. Playing for Great Britain in his own backyard, we might get a glimpse of the most motivated Freeland yet.
Joel talked about the Olympics, the Copa del Rey and, of course, his contract situation in the full interview below.
The Andy Rautins “Flu Game”
On Michael Jordan’s birthday, the lights were lit and the stage was set for an ill Andy Rautins to channel his inner MJ and overachieve while under the weather. The former New York Knick was so sick, in fact, that he had to receive a shot at halftime just so he could drag himself to the finish line.
Oh, the drama. Andy Rautins Flu Game, here we come.
Barcelona’s Euroleague-best defense wouldn’t hear of any such heroics, and the reigning Copa champs crushed Andy’s Alicante side 75-54. Whereas Jordan managed 38 in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals in spite of the flu, Rautins finished with just five.
“If you play in these games, it’s no type of excuse,” Rautins said afterward, his face jaundiced and his voice tired.
A dead-eye shooter who also sucked down steals in Jim Boeheim’s famous 2-3 zone defense while at Syracuse University, Rautins’ career as a Knickerbocker never really got off the ground. Drafted with the 38th overall pick in 2010 (one spot above current starter and YouTube buddy Landry Fields), injuries limited the 6-foot-4 guard to just five games in his rookie year.
Once the NBA opened for business post-lockout, the Knicks sent Rautins to Dallas as a pawn in the trade which brought Tyson Chandler to New York. The Mavericks released him, and boom; here he is playing in the Spanish ACB League for Lucentum Alicante.
Now he’s on a mission to prove he’s more than just a jump shooter, as he’s platooning at the point with Spaniard Pedro Llompart.
“If I play well here, I go back to the NBA next year. Or maybe I stay here, stay with this club,” Rautins said when we spoke in January after only his third game in Spain.
Over his last three, he’s put up 10.6 ppg in only 15 minutes per game. Hyper-efficient numbers like those have been known to slap some extra Euros on contract offers when the Spanish offseason rolls around, but it’s unclear at the moment whether he’ll hold out for another shot in the states or look for that second European deal.
Draft Prospect Tomas Satoransky Needs Some Space
Four of the first seven players taken in the 2011 draft were non-NCAA internationals. Six had gone by the end of the first round, and the Spurs took Hungarian Adam Hanga with the second-to-last pick (59th overall), making him the 13th and final foreigner off the board.
It was a dream year for overseas prospects.
This June, don’t be surprised if David Stern lists Tomas Satoransky when calling out the names of first rounders.
If there is one prospect that could sneak into the first 30, the smart money might be on a 21-year-old 6-foot-6 point guard from the Czech Republic (French wing Evan Fournier and Turkish center Furkan Aldemir have also generated some buzz). Instead of plopping Satoransky down in some lesser league to pad his stats and look pretty for the scouts, his agency signed him up for a challenge: Spain.
So far it’s looking like the right choice, even though Satorasnky hasn’t taken the leap everyone was anticipating after his strong finish to 2011 with Sevilla and his impressive showcase at the Treviso Eurocamp last June. But in Spain, where statistical variance is rarely an indication of growth or regression, his 6 ppg and 2 apg should not come as a serious concern.
The whispers around Satoransky’s play are similar to those surrounding Ricky Rubio’s in his second season with Barcelona: with so much natural ability at his fingertips, why isn’t this guy attacking more often?
After the game, I asked Satoransky this very question. It seems as though the Czech youngster would welcome both a boost in tempo and, more than anything, some space to operate. (Scroll to the 2:00 mark to hear his thoughts on the matter.)
“I like a little space, then you can attack you know, one-on-one,” said Satoransky after Banca Civica Sevilla’s 75-65 win over Joel Freeland’s Unicaja squad.
“European basket is pretty difficult, and they prepare a lot of defense on the pick and roll. So, you know, you gotta play first for the team, and after if I have a little space I will try to attack for sure.”
Sevilla’s got a date with Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey semifinals on Saturday night, and nobody likes to push the ball more than Madrid’s head coach, Pablo Laso.
Does this mean we’ll get to see Satoransky let his hair down and slice to the cup more often? Maybe, but nothing too crazy. If Sevilla signs up for a track meet against Sergio Rodrguez, Nikola Mirotic and Real Madrid then they’ll be left in the dust. Satoransky’s more Shaun Livingston than he is Jan Vesely anyways, and despite his affinity for wide open basketball, I think he’s got more than enough poise and polis to successfully run a European offense.
Now if we can just get Tomas thinking the same way.
Huertas vs. Prigioni In Possible Olympic Preview
Bo McCalebb is the best guard going right now in Europe, but as far as passing in concerned, nobody outshines Barcelona’s Marcelinho Huertas. One man who’s been a constant thorn in the Brazilian’s side is Caja Laboral’s Pablo Prigioni, the sneaky old veteran from Argentina.
Between FIBA play and the Spanish League, these South American floor generals have gotten far too familiar with one another. After another heated exchange in this Summer’s FIBA Americas earned both Brazil and Argentina Olympic bids for London 2012, this is officially a rivalry of which we haven’t seen the last.
Huertas talked to me about how the pesky 34-year-old fools the refs, gets under his skin and how he plans on bottling Pablo up in the Copa del Rey semifinals Saturday night.