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Old 05-09-05, 10:24 PM
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OT: Chad Ford on Sarunas Jasikevicius

MOSCOW – Pay dirt.

It took nine days, 14,587 miles, a strikeout in Turkey, a terrible case of food poisoning and tanks rolling down the streets in Moscow – but we finally found someone who belongs in the NBA.

He is not Russian. He's not particularly athletic. Doesn't play great defense. Isn't 7 feet tall. Passed his 19th birthday 10 years ago. His upside was used up years ago.

But if there's one player in Europe who could make a difference in the NBA next year, it's Maccabi's Sarunas Jasikevicius.

Jasikevicius led Maccabi to a second straight Euroleague title Sunday, and in the process, won the MVP of the Final Four. He scored 22 points on 7-for-12 shooting, shot 3-for-4 from beyond the arc, and had six rebounds and five assists. However, the stats aren't what makes him appealing.

Jasikevicius is a warrior. He has the soul of a champion. He's led his team to three straight Euroleague titles (his first was with Barcelona in 2003) and shows no signs of slowing down.

He's lapped the competition in Europe.

"I was finding it tough to practice this year for the first time," Jasikevicius told Insider. "I had trouble motivating myself. I love the competition and it really took the Final Four to begin to bring it out in me again."

Obviously, NBA scouts and European basketball fans have known about Jasikevicius for years. He's no secret. NBA teams have flirted with bringing him over in free agency for the past two summers. His asking price last year, $1.6 million, wasn't too high. But general managers, as they are wont to do, always focused on what he couldn't do.

He's too slow. He's not a great athlete. He doesn't play defense. His passion can make him out of control. How will NBA players respond when he chews them out on the court after they make dumb plays?

So instead, scouts focused on the babies – teenagers who sat on the bench and waved towels. While Jasikevicius was willing his team to victory on the court, the multitude of GMs and scouts who have sat in gyms and watched him dominate the competition over the years were more interested in the team's young 12th man. Everyone's looking for a home run, the guy who saves the franchise. Everyone misses the double, the guy who contributes – probably as a prominent sixth man – to a championship.

He's not the only guy in the same boat. There were a number of top veteran players in Sunday night's championship who have the talent to play in the NBA. Maccabi's Anthony Parker and Maceo Baston could be great rotation players. So could Tau Ceramica's Luis Scola, Arvydas Macijauskas and Travis Hansen.

Three of them – Parker, Baston and Hansen – are Americans playing overseas who struggled in their first pro stints but have improved greatly the past several years. Scola was drafted by the Spurs a few years ago but hasn't convinced them to pay the cash it would take (a starting salary of about $3-4 million) to get him over here. Macijauskas almost came to the NBA last season, but negotiations with two different teams fell apart.

Parker and Baston, like Jasikevicius, are veterans. Scola, Macijauskas and Hansen still have upside. All five could help a team next season if they are willing to give up starting roles in Europe for rotation gigs in the states. But none would have the immediate impact of Jasikevicius.

Is this the summer it all changes for him? Will he finally get some love from the NBA?

There's plenty to like about Jasikevicius' game. He's the best floor general in Europe. He has Steve Nash-type court vision. He's got a great outside jumper and uses his craftiness to weave his way to the basket and draw fouls. He's a vocal leader who isn't afraid to take the last shot. He makes his teammates better. And most important, he wins.

Can you name an NBA team, other than the Suns and Nets, that doesn't need some of that?

Add a great Olympic performance against the United States (he dropped 28 points on Team USA in a Lithuania victory and 17 points in a loss last summer) to the three Euroleague titles he's already won, and someone will pull the trigger on a contract this summer.

Who? The Pacers have shown interest in the past. So have the Spurs and Pistons. The Cavs, who desperately need some help at the point, could use a winner like Jasikevicius to help change the culture there. The Blazers could use a mentor for Sebastian Telfair. The Jazz have no one running the point worth keeping right now. He'd be a major upgrade over Chucky Atkins for the Lakers. If Dallas decides to dump Jason Terry, he'd make a heck of a role model for Devin Harris. I could keep going.

I don't think the question anymore is about whether the NBA will have his agent's number on speed dial this summer. The question is whether Jasikevicius really wants to make the jump.

He wouldn't be the first great Euroleague player to snub the NBA. Serbian forward Dejan Bodiroga has been dubbed the Larry Bird of Europe for years, but turned down several offers to come to the NBA because he didn't want to trade being a basketball god in Europe for a gig as a role player in the United States.

Euroleague MVP Anthony Parker also turned his back on the NBA when he signed a two-year extension with Maccabi just weeks ago, likely ending any talk about his playing in the States again.

"I'm enjoying myself here," Parker told Insider. "I just think I'm happy helping my teammates here. I know I can play in the NBA, but I don't think I have to."

Jasikevicius has the same difficult choice ahead. There's no question that he can play in the NBA, but the chances of his being a star there are slim. On most contending teams, he's probably a sixth man or a setup man for an NBA superstar. And he would probably have to take less money in the NBA to be in that role.

On Maccabi, he's a national hero. I met someone from Tel Aviv in Moscow who was already in the process of filming a commercial, begging him to forget about the NBA and stay in Israel. Maccabi fans are the most enthusiastic basketball fans in the world. Jasikevicius is worshipped by them in a very real and intense way.

NBA fans can get a little crazy now and then, but they don't hold a candle to Maccabi fans.

Let's just put it this way: If Maccabi traded a player like Shaquille O'Neal away for what the Lakers got in return, Maccabi fans would have been jumping off buildings. In LA, there were a few furrowed brows over morning cappuccino.

Can he adjust to a supporting role in the calm and cool NBA? Jasikevicius' game is all about heart. An NBA team that signs him and doesn't play him will rip that heart out. He doesn't want that. He knows it would destroy his game.

"I feed off the passion here," Jasikevicius said. "I see a sea of yellow [Maccabi's team color] cheering us on and it lifts me. We have the greatest fans in the world. It's an honor to play for them."

He means it. As the last seconds ticked down on Maccabi's victory Sunday, Jasikevicius got down on his knees and began bowing to Maccabi fans. Israeli journalists (many of whom clearly don't follow the objectivity rule of most American sportswriters) kissed and hugged him as he walked off the court.

After the game, in front of a pack of Israeli reporters, I asked him whether he was leaving for the NBA next season. After Jasikevicius gave me one of those I can't believe you're asking me in front of this crew looks, he gave the right response.

"I don't know what I'm doing next year," he said. "I'm going to rest a little bit this summer. See if I can get motivated. I just don't know."

Whether that's true or not is anyone's guess. The "I don't know" speech didn't sound particularly convincing. His agent stopped me two days ago and told me that Jasikevicius definitely would end up in the NBA this season.

Jasikevicius is a competitor. He's accomplished everything a European player can. Now it's time to see just how well those skills translate to the NBA.

If you're a lucky fan of the team that signs him, do yourself a favor: Don't shrug your shoulders because you can't pronounce his name. Meet him at the airport. Throw a parade. Chant his name at games. Get his heart thumping.

And maybe he can make it four in a row.


http://insider.espn.go.com/nba/colum...=2055870&num=0
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Old 05-10-05, 12:17 AM
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If he wants passion and fan worship, than i suggest he take whatever the spurs are offering. Tell him to ask manu, tony, beno..hell we even cheer Rasho 85% of the time.
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Old 05-10-05, 12:48 AM
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Why does everyone think any outstanding Euro player has to come to San Antonio??

SA has a nice core signed up for the forseable future - we need small parts to surround that core. This guy is much more than spare parts.

He aint coming here. There is no role for him.

If I was Houston, I'd seriously consider pursuing this guy. he could help them tremendously with his savvy and shooting ability. He could really spread the floor for T-Mac and Yao.

Ditto Indiana, because Jamaal Tinsley blows.

This guy could put a good team in need of a combo guard over the top.

Last edited by RichB; 05-10-05 at 12:52 AM.
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Old 05-10-05, 12:57 AM
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I used to argue that Jasikevicius can't play in the NBA. After Steve Nash won an MVP award I'm not so sure anymore. I think the best fit for Jasikevicius would be Phoenix. He would give Nash the required rest and the team won't have to adjust its style of play for him.
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Old 05-10-05, 01:19 AM
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If I remember right, before the 2003/2004 season, the Spurs didnt have a good backup PG after Speedy choosed to sign for another team. RC Bufford and Pop ware determined to sign Sarunas Jasikevicius, who just ended his contract with Barcelona. But Sarunas was in a great hurry to sign a contract and by the time the Spurs approached to sign him, few days earlier he already signed with Maccabi. He sounded being insulted because no NBA team offered him a contract.

Without doubts, his clutch, talent and shooting, would have been huge for the Spurs. Obviously, it was a mistake not to sign him at time.
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Old 05-10-05, 01:36 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RichB
Why does everyone think any outstanding Euro player has to come to San Antonio??

SA has a nice core signed up for the forseable future - we need small parts to surround that core. This guy is much more than spare parts.

He aint coming here. There is no role for him.

If I was Houston, I'd seriously consider pursuing this guy. he could help them tremendously with his savvy and shooting ability. He could really spread the floor for T-Mac and Yao.

Ditto Indiana, because Jamaal Tinsley blows.

This guy could put a good team in need of a combo guard over the top.
I think that Spurs should sign any player that could make the team better. It also would keep him from signing with a Houston or an Indiana like you suggested.. You're telling me that you don't want the Spurs to upgrade when they can, and not just with european players. I was hoping for them to sign Brent Barry last summer. If there was an American combo guard like him that became a free agent and could help with our depth i would say make a run at signing him.
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Old 05-10-05, 01:45 AM
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trade bb
sign sarunas j
keep getting manu to come off the bench, start sarunas
We keep our all international backcourt
sign scola
12 straight nba titles
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Old 05-10-05, 02:34 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by noamt
I think the best fit for Jasikevicius would be Phoenix. He would give Nash the required rest and the team won't have to adjust its style of play for him.
i disagree. jasikevicius is ready now. he is 29 and has performed extremely well in olympic and euroleague play. there's no need to make him be nash's protege playing only 15-20 minutes a game. he doesn't need to learn - he already knows the game and will in fact TEACH good team basketball to the nba team he goes to.

too bad the spurs don't need him. i'll go as far as saying this: if jasikevicius joins the nba, he'll be a top six point guard. and if he joins the pacers as rumor suggest, he'll be a top three point guard.
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Old 05-10-05, 02:54 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Clubber Lang
i disagree. jasikevicius is ready now. he is 29 and has performed extremely well in olympic and euroleague play. there's no need to make him be nash's protege playing only 15-20 minutes a game. he doesn't need to learn - he already knows the game and will in fact TEACH good team basketball to the nba team he goes to.
Sharas needs to play in a system that hides his defensive liabilities and exploits his offensive capabilities. In Maccabi they tailored a complicated zone defense especially for that purpose. I think that of all NBA teams the Suns will have to adjust the least for that as he is to a large extent a Nash clone (albeit a bit slower). Most other top teams would have to adjust considerbly. Let's see if they are ready to do so. Indiana is indeed rumored to like him. He met with LArry Bird in Tel Aviv a few weeks ago.

I doubt that Sharas would like to play for a non-contender.
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Old 05-10-05, 08:51 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jesterbobman
trade bb
sign sarunas j
keep getting manu to come off the bench, start sarunas
We keep our all international backcourt
sign scola
12 straight nba titles
Careful J, youre drooling again. Have you taken your meds today?
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