REGENSBURG (David Hein's Eye on the Future) - Dario Saric has a tough decision to make in the next two weeks - will he or won't he keep his name in the 2013 NBA Draft?
The decision has massive financial implications and could also impact the 19-year-old Croatian star's long-term chances of winning titles in the NBA.
A 2.06m playmaking forward, Saric is widely considered one of the top talents in the 1994-born age group. After a success-filled summer in 2012, during which he guided Croatia to the U18 European Championship crown and helped the senior team qualify for EuroBasket 2013, Saric had a rocky 2012-13 season.
There was the contract issue, which was finally cleared up in late November, resulting in Saric scoring a four-year deal with Croatian side Cibona Zagreb - with a 1.2 million euro buyout. The Sibelnik native also had to deal with a DUI incident and a fine for violating team rules and breaking curfew.
On the court, Saric dusted off the rust of not playing and then averaged 7.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.0 steals in 15 Adriatic League contests, including five games in double digit scoring. Altogether Saric had an up and down season in 2012-13, but he finished strong.
In five playoff games - four wins for Cibona - Saric averaged 15.4 points, 9.2 rebounds (3 double-doubles), 3.0 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.2 steals while shooting 53 percent from the field and 88 percent from the free throw line. His final two games were two double-doubles – 19 and 10; and 19 and 12.
Saric just finished his season this week - winning the Croatian title - and will now head to the Croatian U19 national team to prepare for the FIBA U19 World Championship, where he hopes to lead the 2012 U18 European champs to the world title.
But a crucial day for Saric will be June 17, by which time international players can withdraw their names from the 2013 NBA Draft, which takes place on June 27.
Saric has gone back and forth all season about whether he will keep his name in the draft. But he recently said he would definitely come back to Europe next season regardless of where he is drafted - to continue to work and develop his game.
Right now, mock drafts show Saric being picked as early as 10th by the Portland Trailblazers with other draft experts saying Oklahoma City (12th), Dallas (13th), Milwaukee (15th), Boston (16th), Utah (21st) and Brooklyn (22nd) could all select him.
Therein lies a major financial question for Saric.
According to the 2013-14 rookie pay scale, if Saric were picked 10th, he would earn 6.05 million dollars over his first three years in the NBA. The 22nd spot would pay out 3.393 million dollars over the same period.
If Saric were to pull out of the draft and try to improve his game and draft stock, he could certainly make a much bigger paycheck. Say an NBA team then picks him fifth in the 2014 NBA Draft, Saric would be due to make upwards of 9.124 million dollars over three seasons - that’s pay scale for the five spot in the 2013 draft.
So, if Saric were picked earlier, he would definitely earn more money. But of course, there's the matter of winning.
Portland, Utah and Dallas all missed the playoffs this season but all of them are post-season viable clubs and while Oklahoma City, Boston and Brooklyn have title aspirations, some more realistic than others.
But the Phoenix Suns are picking fifth in this year's draft and have made the playoffs just once since losing in the first round to San Antonio in 2007-08. And it could expected that struggling franchises such as Charlotte, New Orleans or Washington could take Saric that high in 2014.
All that is a longer way of saying…if Saric wants a better chance of winning in the NBA, he may actually be better served to stay in this year's draft and get picked by a better team.
Regardless of what he does with the draft, he definitely will have a chance to develop his game against a solid level of competition.
But one issue in that regard is that Cibona winning the Croatian league title has no meaning on their chances of playing in the Euroleague or Eurocup next season, since those qualifying spots are awarded through the Adriatic League, where Cibona finished 10th last season.
Saric will of course have Adriatic League games to play but he would have to hope Euroleague basketball gives Cibona a wild card - at least for the Eurocup.
But Saric has a bigger issue to weigh than where Cibona will play next season. And he has less than two weeks to decide.
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