Gibson: Eurostash trade assets (Western Conference)

BARCELONA — Between the NBA and the Euroleague lies an ocean. Over here, we may have some of the best NBA trade deadline assets that you might hear about by Thursday afternoon. More and more, teams are pushing their shopping carts across the Atlantic in hopes of stumbling upon a Gary Neal or Gustavo Ayon.  Other teams did their legwork early, drafting and stowing Europeans whom they hoped would mature into NBA caliber players. Some of them have.  Here are the 10 best players in Europe whose rights are currently held by Western Conference teams.  Next, we’ll hit the East.

1. Joel Freeland, PF, Portland

European Club: Unicaja (Spain) Odds He’ll Defect: 70 percent. Those murmurs of discontent have matured into agitated roars in Freeland’s third year with Unicaja, as the team has made a habit of blowing its beefy budget on shoot-first, pass-third mostly American guards who rarely make it through a full season.  Let me throw you some names: Zabian Dowdell, Taquan Dean, Juan Dixon, Pooh Jeter, a had-been Shammond Williams, an erratic Omar Cook and the shell of a man who was once Terrell McIntyre. This year, Earl Rowland, Gerald Fitch and Kristaps Valters (Latvia) kept tradition alive, guiding Unicaja into the Euroleague’s statistical cellar for turnovers (15.2 per game; 16th out of 16 in Euroleague’s second phase) and assists (11.8; 14th out of 16). Add a swift dismissal in the Copa del Rey, and Unicaja’s winless Euroleague Top 16 to his teammates’ lack of deference and yes, Joel Freeland is frustrated. This summer, however, Freeland’s a free man.  With his contract up at season’s end, he will choose one of three paths: Option A: Re-sign with Unicaja. Option B: Sign with Portland (or whoever holds his rights if they are traded) Option C:Sign with another Spanish Euroleague team such as Barcelona, Real Madrid or Caja Laboral. Freeland’s clipping his own wings with Option A. With Option C, he guarantees himself a fat chunk of Euros, but also relinquishes a great deal of offensive freedom if he lands with Barcelona, the club most frequently rumored to have interest in the British power forward. That leaves Option B as the logical leader in the clubhouse.  Unfortunately, Portland cycles through general managers like Unicaja does inoperative point guards, and it’s uncertain whether acting GM Chad Buchanan wants to bring the uber athletic Freeland into the fold just yet.

2. Sofoklis Schortsanitis, C, LA Clippers

European Club: Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel) Odds He’ll Defect: 65 percent Priest Lauderdale, Shaquille O’Neal, Eddy Curry.  Too slow, too dominant, too dreadful. Jonathan Ogden, Orlando Pace, Joe Thomas.  Ah, yes.  Left tackles. That’s more like it when describing Big Sofo. Baby Shaq’s mammoth frame and feathery footwork might have been born in the wrong country and drafted by the wrong league, but he’s carved out a home—a very large, round, cavernous home—as Europe’s most lovable wrecking ball in his time with Olympiacos, Maccabi Tel Aviv and the Greek national team. Aside from the conspicuously apparent reasons (Hint: He’s a gigantic human being), Sofo’s most intriguing quality to an NBA team is his propensity to dominate for small spurts while willingly sitting during others.  Last season with Maccabi, the 370-pound (give or take a couple dozen pounds) Sofo needed only 19 minutes per game to lock up the first All-Euroleague nod of his career. Sofo’s job in Los Angeles would likely be the same as it is in Tel Aviv: check in, be large, grab boards and back your way into other centers’ nightmares. Lob City, get ready for Blob City if he goes to the NBA.

3. Erazem Lorbek, PF, San Antonio

European Club: Regal Barcelona (Spain) Odds He’ll Defect:  25 percent. Erazem Lorbek is having the best season of any power forward in the Euroleague, his unassuming genius populating box scores with big numbers before you even realize he’s taken a shot. When he does shoot, he usually makes it: 63 percent of his 2-pointers and 44 percent from 3 in the Euroleague this season. So of course the Spurs got the Pacers to toss him in the George Hill-for-Kawhi Leonard deal last June.  If the Spurs offered him a deal this summer, would Lorbek take it?  I asked him that very question at the 2:20 mark of the video below.

4. Nick Calathes, PG, Dallas

European Club: Panathinaikos (Greece) Odds He’ll Defect: 65 percent. Calathes left Florida as a guard with size, tools and questionable judgment.  Under the tutelage of Panathinaikos head coach Zeljko Obradovic and his backcourt mate, Dimitris Diamantidis, Calathes has blasted up the learning curve and left most of his silly turnovers in the dust. There’s still a contingent who doesn’t understand the extent of Obradovic’s faith in Calathes. I’m of the mind that it’s Obradovic’s trust itself which has infused the 6-foot-5 Calathes with the confidence necessary to reach his full potential. He’s not quite there, but he is close. Close enough to lead Greece into Olympic qualifiers this summer and definitely close enough to run an NBA offense for 20 minutes on game nights.

5. Donatas Motiejunas, PF, Houston

European Club: Asseco Prokom (Poland) Odds He’ll Defect: 90 percent. It came a season later than we’d hoped, but Motiejunas finally flexed his muscles this season in Poland, knocking down 1.4 3-pointers per game and setting a single-game Euroleague record for defensive rebounds with 18. Motiejunas has chiseled some of that boyish lank into grown man muscle and shed the softtag, ranking second in rebounding in a VTB United League which includes guys like Andrei Kirilenko, Nenad Krstic and former SEC Player of the Year Lawrence Roberts. (Toronto Raptors draft pick, Jonas Valanciunas, is first in the boards category. More on him when we look at the East.) With production and hype finally in lockstep, I’d expect Daryl Morey to offer Motiejunas a jersey as soon as this summer.

6. Sergio Llull, G, Houston

European Club: Real Madrid (Spain)  Odds He’ll Defect: 15 percent. The man’s a pure delight with the rock in his hands and empty space ahead of him. When defenses tighten up, however, so does he. Running has never been the problem. Running a team has proven more difficult. With Kyle Lowry playing out of his gourd, Goran Dragic showing us what a more refined version of Llull looks like and Jonny Flynn in the background, trying to figure out where it all went wrong, I doubt Sergio has any immediate future with the Rockets.

7. Latavious Williams, PF, Oklahoma City

European Club: FIATC Joventut (Spain) Odds He’ll Defect: 90 percent. The man from Mississippi is putting up some crooked numbers in the rebounding column for FIATC Joventut in Badalona, Spain, and he says he won’t quit until he’s made it to the NBA. At 6-foot-8 with arms that could hug a redwood, I’d be astounded if he’s not with the Thunder (or some NBA team) before the 2013-14 season begins, if not sooner.

8. Victor Claver, SF, Portland

European Club: Valencia (Spain) Odds He’ll Defect: 55 percent. Injuries have grounded Spain’s highest flyer intermittently, since just before the Blazers drafted him in 2009.  Claver was supposed to have locked up the starting small forward role for the Spanish national team by now, but his on again, off again relationship with health has made it difficult to gauge his progress. With two strong legs beneath him, he’s a monster.

9. Adam Hanga, G/F, San Antonio

European Club: Manresa (Spain) Odds He’ll Defect: 30 percent. Hanga’s a decent looking deep ball away from NBA material on the offensive end (just 19 percent on 3s this season), but he’s already figured out how to disrupt just about everything on defense.  Luckily, Hanga hails from basketball bereft Hungary and has entire summers to dominate the ball, hone his skills and generally freewheel his way through qualifying tournaments that Hungary never wins. If he does make it to the Association, he’d be only the second Hungarian ever to have his name on an NBA jersey. If you remembered that the other was Kornel David, who split 109 games between Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Toronto between 1998 and 2001, you’re a better man than me. (Eds note: I disagree. We’re just older and remember some of Jerry Krause’s post-Jordan fiascoes-CS.)

10. Nando de Colo, G, San Antonio

European Club: Valencia (Spain) Odds He’ll Defect: 35 percent. Here’s another guy who could benefit from the decongested NBA lanes and a hastier offense, but as long as Nando’s a defensive liability (which he irrefutably is), I can’t see Gregg Popovich getting too psyched about seeing him in silver and black. Nick Gibson, editor of, covers Euroleague and other European basketball developments for His columns appear each Friday. Click here to follow him on Twitter.


  1. RT says

    I read it again, and realized you meant just for the Western Conference. Sorry. I will wait to assess until after you make your list for the Eastern Conference also.

  2. RT says

    How can you not have Erazem Lorbek at #1? Lorbek is probably the second best PF in Europe, behind only Mirza Teletovic, and you do not have him at #1? Lorbek is for example, a better player than Ersan Ilyasova is. Did you think about that when you formulated this list? You should know this, because you follow Euroleague and you should know that he is better than Ilyasova, and people call him a “beast” in NBA.

    I know that Joel Freeland is very athletic and he has nice size, at about 6-11, I would say. But he is limited to basically being a dunker for the most part, although he does have a nice hook shot. You can’t really think he is better than Lorbek though, who is completely skilled on offense.

    Calathes? How about another Greek player named Georgios Printezis? Mavs have his rights and he is certainly better than Calathes is. Calathes has proven consistently that he cannot properly run an offense and has no clue how to handle anything related to half court point guard play, and he can’t shoot at all – I mean not even at the level Ricky Rubio shoots. You say he led Greece……….well, actually, it was guys like Ioannis Bourousis, Antonis Fotsis, and Nikos Zisis that actually led Greece. To be perfectly honest about it, I don’t even think that Calathes is as good as Kostas Sloukas is.

    I am sure that there are a whole bunch of other players that some NBA team has the rights to that are also better than some of the players on this list.

    Where is Fran Vazquez, or Sani Becirovic, or any number of several others? Do you really think that Hanga is better than such players? What about Jonas Valanciunas? Do you really think that he is not as good as Hanga or Williams?

    What about Loukas Mavrokefalidis? He is one of the best low post scorers in Europe, and would be able to abuse most NBA PF’s in the low post. He’s not better than some players in this list?

    Yotam Halperin? You really think Hanga or De Colo are better than Halperin?

    What about Sergey Lishouk? He is about 6-11, great defender and shot blocker, athletic…

    Viktor Sanikidze? Spurs have his rights and he is right now better than Hanga, who is also secured by the Spurs and in this list.

    You know, even Edin Bavcic and Vladimir Veremeenko are probably better than some guys in this list.

    Would you take Williams over Veremeenko?

    Stanko Barac? Certainly he is better than some players on this list.

    Renaldas Sebuitis? You think Hanga is better than Sebuitis?

    No Ante Tomic? Come on now……….he is bad at defense for sure, but come on now. You know he is better than some players on your list.

    What about Sasha Kaun? He is big and athletic and plays defense, blocks shots. He would seem to fit quite well to the NBA. He’s something like a smaller version of Mozgov maybe.

    I think I might even consider Patrick Beverly. But I can see why you would omit him, because he isn’t European. But remember that he said that he would play for Russia in the Olympics, so then he would count as “European” then. Wouldn’t he? He’s certainly not very good on offense, but he defends very well and is very good at rebounding for a point guard.

    Emir Preldzic? Personally, I will take him over De Colo or Hanga, and maybe even over Calathes.

    I am not even sure that Williams is really necessarily better than someone like Tibor Pleiss. Certainly better at defense, but then again, Pleiss is a pretty nice big man on offense around the basket.

    Nick, this is a nice article, and I appreciate your European basketball knowledge and interest, and your effort to spread it to USA, but I don’t think you spent too much time really thinking about the list you selected. Just my opinion.

    • says

      Thanks for reading, Bob. Motiejunas has had the most encouraging year of any player on this list, bar none. However, I made this list based on a sole criterion: what could this player offer an NBA team right now? So does Motiejunas have the potential to have a much better NBA career than Sofo or Lorbek? Certainly does. But if you plopped all three down on courts in the States (or Toronto), the elder statesmen would adapt a little easier and slide more naturally into their roles. Hope that explanation helps, and thanks again.


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