While it’s considered gaudy in the States to slap ads on unis, those names on the front of European basketball jerseys keep the lights on, and the players paid. They are the official sponsors, and often take over the club’s name entirely.
The Blazers Joel Freeland came over from Unicaja, a basketball team in Malaga, Spain. But Unicaja is also a bank that has branches in Malaga, Spain. And when current Knick Pablo Prigioni played for Caja Laboral in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain, the front of his jersey doubled as a bank’s billboard, as well.
To start the year without a sponsor in Europe is to flip your franchise’s hourglass on its head and watch the hopes for another season seep right out. So Fuenlabrada had a choice to make between retaining Ayon or obtaining solvency.
By February of 2012, Mad-Croc—energy drink with a bite—waddled in to fill that orange void with euros and a picture of, yes, a crocodile that appears angry. But Ayon would never play for Mad-Croc Fuenlabrada, as he was already in Louisiana by then.
Fuenlabrada had made their decision, reportedly to the tune of $1.5 million.
It’s true that the language in Ayon’s contract was exceptional—not that he could be bought out, but that he could be bought out at any point during the season—but it was Fuenlabrada’s position as a “seller” in the marketplace that was ultimately responsible for Gustavo’s departure.
SheridanHoops spoke with a member of an NBA front office who said he’s not aware of any Ayon-esque contracts currently floating around in Europe, as they’re anything but the norm. Still, that doesn’t mean you couldn’t negotiate a buyout for nearly any player for the right price, provided that the club in question was interested in selling.
For both NBA teams and well-off European clubs in a position to compete, finding a team with its hand out can be as crucial to striking a deal as identifying the target himself.
ProTalent is an Italian-based agency that represents Erazem Lorbek, Sarunas Jasikevicius, Jonas Maciulis and more of Europe’s best. Matteo Zuretti works at ProTalent, and says that there are several factors to consider when determining a team’s status within the market.
“If teams are out of European competition [Euroleague, EuroCup, or EuroChallenge], it’s of course easier, but you always have to verify what expectations that team has to succeed in the local league, and what its financial situation is when they are proposed to ‘sell’ a player,” Zuretti said.
Zuretti also notes that as Europe tightens its belt, the continental hoops marketplace favors the buyers, as many teams find themselves neither pleased with their offseason acquisitions, nor financially able to make the necessary changes to compete at their desired level.
But given the economic climate overseas, there aren’t too many buyers left, even among the better clubs.
“If you count the in-season transfers in 2011-12, you can see they were very limited for mid-to-high level teams,” Zuretti told Sheridan Hoops in an email.
And he doesn’t expect this season to be any different, calling it a “natural consequence of the European financial crisis,” and that “teams who made mistakes during the summer have very little room to make improvements during the season with significant, season-lasting agreements” on the books.
So with the Euroleague’s regular season recently completed and the collection of European buyers dwindling, NBA teams should think between the dotted lines and look for help abroad instead of just recycling the same old Tom, Dick and Jerry Stackhouses.
Ask the Hornets if the $525,000 they contributed to Ayon’s buyout wasn’t worth every penny. Or if bringing in Brian Roberts from Bamberg, Germany to play for $473,000 is a move they’d like to have back. Given that Ayon turned in efficient production before turning into Ryan Anderson, and that Roberts has had a better rookie year than Austin Rivers to this point makes me think New Orleans will dip their toes into European arenas again before too long.
And so should other NBA teams, because this is Europe: where there are dozens of players that could help an NBA team tomorrow, and everything is negotiable.