Some of these players go on to be stars, such as Manu Ginobili, Ricky Rubio and Marc Gasol. Others, such as Milos Vujanic and Frederic Weis, never even smell the league.
We are 48 hours away from the NBA trade deadline. Deals are being discussed, deals are going to happen, and deals are going to fall through.
Happens every year.
What makes this year different is the new collective bargaining agreement, with harsher luxury tax penalties on the horizon beginning with the 2013-14 season. The luxury tax line is going to act as a hard cap for all but the wealthiest owners – like guys who own gold mines in Siberia.
So expect to hear a lot of financial gobbledygook on Thursday night and Friday morning as NBA executives explain the moves they made.
Rajon Rondo thinks the 2013 Boston Celtics can be better than the 2008 championship version. And last week, Fenerbahce Ulker beat the 2013 Boston Celtics by six.
“They have a really good basketball team,” Paul Pierce said after the game had wrapped up in Istanbul, Turkey. ”My hat’s off to them. They really played a good game.”
Hold onto your hat, Paul. At least until mid-May.
While any win–certainly any win against a storied club like the Boston Celtics—is better than any loss, Fenerbahce Ulker understands how exhibitions work. Bo McCalebb’s 21 points didn’t roll over into the Euroleague opener, just like the Celtics will still take an unblemished record, along with their talents, to South Beach for their October 30 NBA opener despite the 97-91 loss in Turkey.
Fenerbahce Ulker Coach Simone Pianigiani knows it.
“Honestly, I don’t prefer to talk about the game,” Pianigiani said, right after the game. “It’s because both teams were not ready for the season and this was not the real face of both sides.”
So beating Rondo, Pierce and Garnett of the mighty Boston Celtics is a fun story to tell the grandkids around the fireplace, but little more.
But it’s what McCalebb and Co. did against Khimki Moscow’s Zoran Planinic, Vitaly Fridzon and Alexey Zhukanenko in a 92-80 win in Friday’s Euroleague opener that showed me these Turks are ready to contend for—and win—a Euroleague title.
And it’s not just because they opened their wallets—Hell, they do that every summer. It’s because this time, that wallet was opened judiciously, with some semblance of a plan.
At this time last season, the Euroleague narrative included a couple dozen new characters that had been locked out of their league at home. Forced to seek refuge in faraway lands, NBA rentals like Danilo Gallinari (Milano), Nikola Pekovic (Partizan) and Nicolas Batum (SLUC Nancy) ignited a fuse underneath the Euroleague’s popularity balloon, but it flickered, faded and popped almost as abruptly as it had been lit.
By the time David Stern ordered the motorcade to bring home his stars, it was hard to argue that many of those “stars” had been anything more than disruptive in the grand scheme of things.
Even those who played well and then returned to the States—Gallo, Pek, Batum, Jordan Farmar, Rudy Fernandez (sometimes) — left huge, empty European-sized shoes behind.
Any rhythm their teams had developed under their leadership was whittled down to the nub.
Then there were the stints that were almost purely negative. Like Ty Lawson cooking up some Twitter beef with his hometown Zalgiris fans in Lithuania, or Alonzo Gee texting Prokom’s head coach that he was leaving Poland on a plane and would not be coming back, or Siena prematurely releasing DaJuan Summers from a contract that never should have been written, printed or signed to begin with.
Fenerbahce Ulker bit into the apple as well, and came away with Thabo Sefolosha of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
It paid off brilliantly in the beginning. Sefolosha played well a little closer to his Swiss home, putting up 11 points per game and living up to his reputation as a crack defender with 15 steals through seven Euroleague games.
But by week eight, Sefolosha was gone. Fenerbahce qualified two weeks later for the Top 16, but it’s nothing they couldn’t have done without outside help.
They lost four of six in the Top 16 and missed the playoffs. Thabo could only—but probably didn’t—watch from Oklahoma City.
Pair that failure with a lifeless showing against Besiktas—whose rafters feature the retired jersey of one Deron Williams—in the Turkish League playoffs, and it was time for Fenerbahce to assemble something more substantial.
To be Europe’s best team, it helps to have Europe’s best player. Welcome aboard, Bo McCalebb.
A New Orleans Privateer in college, McCalebb averaged 13, 22.6, 25 and 23.2 between 2003-08 (he sat out all but four games in 2005-06 with a medical redshirt). After helping Partizan to an unlikely Final Four berth and picking up All-Euroleague honors in 2010, he went to Siena in 2011 and last season, he led the Euroleague in scoring at 16.9 ppg.
And while I’m confident he would make any NBA team and could start for more than half of them, Bo decided to return to the Euroleague, drawn by bigger money and a bigger role in a city nearly 20 million deep.
Bo brought his coach, Pianigiani, with him from Siena, along with Aussie Olympian and former Rocket and Raptor, David Andersen. Ex-Xavier Musketeet Romain Sato and Mike Batiste both defected from perennial powers Panathinaikos, who have tightened their belts during Greece’s financial roller-coaster ride.
And Brooklyn Nets fans will want to keep an eye on Bojan Bogdanovic and Ilkan Karaman, the team’s second-round draft picks in 2011 and 2012, respectively. I put Bogdanovic on my preseason All-Euroleague team over at ELA, while the 22-year-old Karaman could come up huge if his prowess swells as quickly as his collection of tattoos.
Omer Onan provides the savvy and defense off the bench while 6’9″ guard Emir Preldzic scored 20 during his best Euroleague outing in six seasons with Fenerbahce. If Emir—property of the Washington Wizards—can inject Fenerbahce with just the right amount of glue, the team from Istanbul’s Asian shores just might lift the Continental Trophy this May in London.
Unfortunately for Fenerbahce, they’re not the only team that spent wisely this offseason.
Rudy Fernandez is back with Real Madrid, but it’s his teammate, Bulls draft pick Nikola Mirotic, that has the best chance at challenging for the Euroleague MVP at the age of 21. With those two, plus Sergio Llull and the arrival of Marcus Slaughter (San Diego State) in the post, Madrid’s offense should lead the Euroleague in scoring for a second straight year.
Madrid beat Panathinaikos 85-78 in their Euroleague opener behind 23 from Fernandez, 18 from Mirotic and 15 from Llull.
Then there’s Mikhail Prokhorov’s old toy, CSKA Moscow, which will try to shake the Ghost of Giorgios Printezis, whose floater over MVP Andrei Kirilenko capped a torrid comeback by Olympiacos and sealed the deal for a Euroleague championship last May.
Kirilenko has moved to Minnesota, but Nenad Krstic and point guard Milos Teodosic are still there along with Sonny Weems, who proved last season in Lithuania that he can stick it in Europe.
Ettore Messina left Mike Brown and the Lakers bench to return to Russia. The idea: to win another Euroleague title. He and CSKA got off to a frightening start, just squeaking by the overmatched Lietuvos Rytas side by merely two at home, 75-73.
Last season, CSKA Moscow didn’t lose until week 14.
And what about Printezis and those Reds? Well, while everyone scrambled to fill holes and sign bodies, Olympiacos looked at their roster, then at the championship banner from 2012, and decided to stand pat.
NCAA legends Joey Dorsey and Acie Law resigned with the club after excellent second halves, and Vassilis Spanoulis will be back to seek out the MVP trophy that should’ve been his last season.
And that guy the Knicks drafted? Kostas Papa Nicky…uh…Papadapa…yeah. That guy. He’ll be playing for the Reds again this season, too.
Olympiacos started their title defense admirably, beating a difficult, Andres Nocioni-led Caja Laboral squad 85-81 in the ironically named Peace and Friendship Stadium.
Printezis had 17, Spanoulis had 16 and KOS-TAS PA-PA-NIK-O-LAOU chipped in five. (Now you
Knicks Blazers fans are stoked, huh? Thought you might be.)
Last season, everyone pondered aloud how wild it would be if one of the Turkish teams made the Final Four. Not only did Istanbul host the 2012 Final Four, but Turkish Airlines is also the Euroleague’s title sponsor.
Alas, neither Fenerbahce Ulker nor Anadolu Efes could pull it off.
This year, the Euroleague trophy will be handed out in London; but I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that it will end up on the next flight back to Istanbul.
Right in Bo McCalebb’s lap.
With the 2013 Eurobasket qualifiers coming to an end, the table is set for the highest level international competition in European basketball next summer.
European stars Marcin Gortat, Mirza Teletovic and Marcin Gortat led their teams to successful campaigns, where they now will have the opportunity to challenge the likes of Spain, France, Russia, Greece and Lithuania in next summer’s tournament.
The teams that successfully qualified included Montenegro, Israel, Serbia, Germany, Sweden, Croatia, Ukraine, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Latvia, Poland, Finland, Belgium , Italy, Turkey and the Czech Republic . Those who missed the boat: Estonia, Iceland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Luxembourg, Austria, Hungary, Cypress, Holland, Romania, Switzerland, Albania, Belarus, Portugal.
Here is a look at the top performers, the rising stars, and the disappointments of the qualifying round. You will please excuse the six-member first team. More than five were deserving.
G – Petteri Kaponen, Finland (Dallas owns draft rights)
Finland finished first in its group behind the brilliant play of the former first-rounder. Kaponen has developed into an excellent shooter and decision-maker, and he looks prepared to burst onto the Euroleague scene this year with Khimki Moscow. He has all the prototype qualities of a Euroleague star, and he appears to be in prime position to succeed. Strength may be an issue down the road as an NBA prospect, but look for him to continue climbing up the European food chain in the short term.
G/F - Danilo Gallinari, Italy (Denver Nuggets)
Gallo proved he could lead a team to an undefeated campaign at a high level. One of the better young talents in the NBA, Gallinari should be the alpha dog on Team Italy next summer that will attempt to go back to the main stages of international hoops. With Andrea Bargnani and Marco Belinelli set to join Gallinari next summer, Italy should be a very tough out in Eurobasket. With the Nuggets moving on from the ‘Melo era, it is important for Gallinari to step up and show some leadership, and he did a great job of that this summer.
F – Omri Casspi, Israel (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Last year was a down year for Casspi, after he added a significant amount of muscle to deal with the NBA grind but struggled to adapt his mechanics to his stronger frame. Casspi showed the last few weeks that this may not be his final NBA campaign, and that he may be poised to have a good enough year to keep him stateside for at least a couple more years. Casspi will never be the scorer in the NBA that he is for the Israeli national team, but his feel for game, willingness to do the dirty work, and confidence in the heat of the moment, will keep him firmly in Cleveland’s rotation this season.
F – Mirza Teletovic, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Brooklyn Nets)
While Kris Humphries has been sorting out his divorce with Kim Kardashian and picking out a new wardrobe this summer, Teletovic has been getting ready to introduce himself to the NBA family. Over the past 10 months, Teletovic has proven to be too good a shot maker not to have a quality role with the Nets. While not a freak athlete, Teletovic is deceptively quick and strong, and lineups with him at the four will be deadly in transition. On a surprisingly loaded Nets squad, Teletovic may not put up eye-popping numbers, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him end up on an All-Rookie team.
F – Jonas Jerebko, Sweden (Detroit Pistons)
Jerebko had to do everything for Sweden for them to have a chance to qualify, and he did that and more, putting in 20.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists, to go along with solid D. NBA circles have cooled off on him since his rookie year after he struggled with injuries, but he appears ready to take on a larger role on a Pistons team looking to make some progress this season. He won’t ever be a star, but he is a guy who can and will do whatever a team asks of him.
C – Marcin Gortat, Poland (Phoenix Suns)
Overall, the most dominant player in this competition, finishing fourth in points (21.1), second in rebounds (11.6), and second in blocks (2.3). Ever since the trade to Phoenix, Gortat has established himself as one of the few true top-level centers in the NBA today. He is a dangerous threat on deep catches, with excellent ability to get position, long arms, and a nice touch around the rim. He may not have the court awareness of a Marc Gasol, but in an era with about 1/5th of the number of quality centers they had in the 90’s, he is a valuable chip and probably will be one of the main factors for Phoenix to have a prayer at making the postseason.
G – Yogev Ohayon, Israel (Lokomotiv Kuban – Russia)
While Casspi may have been Israel’s best player in this tournament, Ohayon was the main difference- maker, changing the momentum in Israel’s favor in all the big moments. In an era when small guards who can get into the paint at will have become invaluable, Ohayon is quietly developing into one of the top guards overseas. While his rebounding ability, defense, and ability to see the floor make him an intriguing prospect, it’s his spirit and overall will to win that have driven him to success. If he can develop a consistent jumper, he may have a chance to leap to the other side of the pond in the next few years.
G – Anton Gavel, Slovakia, Brose Baskets (Germany)
While Gavel was unable to get Slovakia into next season’s Eurobasket, as his team finished 1-9, he played with a ton of heart in this tournament. Pouring in 25.9 points and 5.1 assists on 60% shooting from 2PT, and 47.8% from 3PT, he was clearly the competition’s most productive and efficient offensive threat, despite being the only serious threat on his team. While he was a scoring machine, he didn’t slack on defense either, frequently taking on tough assignments and putting in a nearly All-Defensive type effort. He may not be a star player at the highest levels, but he showed in this competition why he has been a very valuable contributor for the German champions the last few years.
G/F – Bojan Bogdanovic, Croatia (Brooklyn owns draft rights)
Bogdanovic may not be an all-around player right now, but boy can he shoot the rock! While taking over five attempts per game, he managed to shoot an impressive 48.9% from downtown. His game may need some seasoning, which he surely will get with another year of Euroleague experience, but at 6’8”, his outside shot will pretty much guarantee him some minutes when he gets to the league.
F – Vladimir Dasic, Montenegro (Besiktas – Turkey)
Undrafted in 2010, Dasic led Montenegro to an undefeated campaign, where they finished ahead of Serbia, despite the absence of Nikola Pekovic. While Dasic was amazing in this tournament, and will be a solid player in Euroleague this year, he doesn’t seem to have a defined skill or position to carve out an NBA career. He has a lot of the versatility that NBA personnel like in theory, but when it comes down to it, it’s hard to really point out one thing he does at an exceptional level that should get him put into an NBA game.
C – Tibor Pleiss, Germany (Thunder own draft rights)
In only 23.6 minutes a game, Pleiss poured in 12.5 points on 63.9% shooting, and pulled in 8.3 rebounds, 3.9 being on the offensive glass. This kind of efficient production was a major factor behind an undefeated campaign for Germany as they enter the post-Dirk era. While he will never be more than a 25 minutes-per-game player, he will be a valuable player in the Euroleague this season, and could carve out a nice role as a fourth big in the league with some more seasoning.
The Rising Stars Squad
G – Tomas Satoransky, Czech Republic (Wizards own draft rights)
While Satoransky has a lot of room for improvement with his jump shot and his ability to finish, he showed a lot of promise in this competition. As a big guard who can see over the defense, he displays great court vision, and has impressive rebounding and defense for a point guard. As a second-round Eurostash pick, he should provide some nice long-term value for the Wizards.
G – Adam Hanga, Hungary (Spurs own draft rights)
While Hungary did not qualify for next summer’s Eurobasket, Hanga showed a marked improvement in his offensive game and his overall leadership. It’s no secret that Spain is among the best places for NBA teams to let their talent flourish, and it is apparent that Hanga has learned a lot in his first year at Manresa. With the Spurs in no hurry to rush his development, Hanga should have plenty of time to work his way up the European food chain before starting to think about the NBA. However, it looks like Hanga will be an elite European player within the next five years, and is definitely someone to keep an eye on.
F – Tornike Shengelia, Georgia (Brooklyn Nets)
Shengelia broke out in the second half of the tournament to show he is one of the most rapidly improving young players. Toko has the athleticism to be a factor in transition, and he has proven to be a great disrupter, although he will need to improve his shooting to stay on the floor at the next level. He probably won’t get many chances to play this year, outside of a few stints in the D-League, since the Nets look like they will have some solid depth, but he seems poised to be an impact player two or three years from now.
F – Ilkan Karaman, Turkey (Brooklyn owns NBA draft rights)
In just 22.6 minutes, Karaman put up a respectable 10.5 points and 5.8 rebounds on 72.5% from 2 and 38.5% from 3. He was a major factor as Turkey avoided the embarrassment they would have faced had they failed to qualify. With an opportunity to play with Fenerbahce Ulker this year, Karaman will get a chance to show he can do something at a high level. While he has a lot of natural ability and a good feel around the rim, the opportunity to play in Euroleague for a top team will be an invaluable experience for him, and will no doubt increase his NBA potential.
C – Viacheslav Kravtsov, Ukraine (Detroit Pistons)
While Krastov may be limited offensively, he is a shot blocking machine who swatted away 2.5 shots in a mere 22.4 minutes. He is by no means the center of the future in Motown, but for a city so fond of defense, he should fit right in as a defense-oriented backup center.
The All Disappointment Team
G – Milos Teodosic, Serbia (CSKA Moscow)
Serbia should never finish behind Israel in a basketball tournament, period. It’s embarrassing enough that they lost twice to a Montenegro squad without Nikola Pekovic, but to finish third behind Israel is a pretty big disgrace for the former MVP, who played under Dusan Ivkovic, who many touted as arguably the best coach in Europe after he took a Greek and Euroleague title this season with an Olympiacos team that was seemingly thrown together at the last minute. Teodosic was still one of the more solid performers in the competition, but when you’re a former Euroleague MVP, you are expected to take home first place, no questions asked. While Teodosic is easily capable of being a 20+ minute player in the NBA right now, he surely will be taking some time to reflect on what went wrong this summer.
F– Izzet Turkyilmaz, Turkey (Nuggets own NBA draft rights)
After making absolutely no impact for Team Turkey, it remains a major mystery what the Nuggets saw in Turkyilmaz to burn a draft pick on him. He moves very well for his size, and has very long arms, but he doesn’t have the skills or understanding of the game for a high level team in Europe to even consider him right now. While this may be a pick for 5 years down the road, it’s odd that a team would waste a draft pick on a player that won’t be an impact player in Europe for at least a couple of years, and doesn’t look to really have a position right now.
F – Furkan Aldemir, Turkey (LA Clippers own NBA draft rights)
Aldemir struggled to break into the regular rotation, and proved relatively ineffective in the small minutes he received. It’s a little odd that he was more effective in Euroleague play than he was in this competition, and this is an indicator that he will need a couple more years of seasoning until he has a chance to crack an NBA roster.
F – Francisco Elson, Holland, Free Agent (last season with the Philadelphia 76ers)
When you’re a nine-year NBA vet, you are expected to put up more than 4.9 points and 5.6 rebounds as long as you’re healthy enough to walk. While Elson is a very high character guy, this competition pretty much signaled that his time in the NBA may have run out.
C – Milan Macvan, Serbia (Cleveland owns draft rights)
Averaging just 7 points and 4.8 rebounds, Macvan failed to come through for the Serbians after playing like one of Europe’s rising stars for Partizan this past season. Regardless, Macvan doesn’t seem to have a body that fits into the NBA style of play, and seems to be more of the stereotypical Euroleague big man. He has an excellent shooting touch for a guy his size, and could possibly carve a niche for himself if he works on his body, but it’s looking increasingly like he has a future as a Euroleague stud more than an NBA bench player.
21. Dairis Bertans, Swingman, Latvia, (Spurs own NBA draft rights)
This versatile wing has been a leader for Latvia offensively, as a scorer and distributor. Bertans is a strong shooter, and can contribute in many ways, but it is tough to find a niche right now that could make him contribute right away in the league, and his defense certainly isn’t up to Pop’s standards just yet. With his natural skill set and athleticism, Bertans has the chance to make the NBA down the road if he can carve out an identity for himself.
22. Ilkan Karaman, Forward, Turkey, (Brooklyn owns NBA draft rights)
Karaman has been very efficient in this tournament, shooting 72.2% on 2-pointers and grabbing 6.3 rebounds in only 22 minutes a game. He needs to cut back on his turnovers (3.0 per game in EuroBasket qualifying) and gain more experience, but he seems to be another solid asset for a Nets franchise that is quietly developing a nice European stash.
23. Furkan Aldemir, Forward/Center, Turkey (LA Clippers own NBA draft rights)
Aldemir has fallen out of the rotation with the Turkish national team, which should come as a surprise after he was a contributor in the Euroleague this past season. Nevertheless, another year with Galatasaray should be crucial for his development, and he could have a future in El Lay in the next three years.
24. Izzet Turkiylmaz, Forward, Turkey, (Nuggets own NBA draft rights)
To put it simply, this kid needs a ton of seasoning before he has a chance to crack the NBA. He looked downright silly at times in the summer league, and he just does not yet have the muscle to compete against men. He has the size and feel for the game, but he will need some experience on the court, and in the weight room, before he can be effective in Europe, let alone a serious NBA prospect.
25. Cedric Simmons, Forward/Center, Bulgaria, (Enel Brindisi — Italy)
One of the bigger busts in recent draft history, Simmons has been very effective for Bulgaria when he can stay out of foul trouble. He still has the size that intrigued scouts when he was coming out of N.C. State, but his foot work and skill level haven’t progressed to the level needed to be an NBA player, or even an impact player in Spain. After a sub par year in the ACB, Simmons will be given another chance to redeem himself, playing alongside Scottie Reynolds with the Italian squad Enel Brindisi. He may never give the proper value a 15th overall draft pick should, but at 26, Simmons could find his way back in the league during his 30’s with the right attitude.
(A.J. Mitnick’s rankings of players 1-10 in EuroBasket ’13 Qualifying)
(A.J. Mitnick’s rankings of players 11-20 in EuroBasket ’13 Qualifying)
AJ Mitnick is an American currently living in Israel and working as an assistant coach for Maccabi Rishon Lezion of the Israeli Basketball Super League. A recent graduate of IDC Herzliya, Mitnick also maintains a basketball blog, http://mindlessdribble.net, and is pursuing a professional basketball coaching license from the Wingate Institute in Israel. Follow him on Twitter.