And does anyone else find it hard to translate stats in Europe into the NBA?
Joel Freeland and Victor Claver will factor into Trail Blazers' summer plans
Published: Thursday, May 10, 2012, 6:00 PM Updated: Thursday, May 10, 2012, 6:00 PM
By Joe Freeman, The Oregonian
Deron Williams ... Steve Nash ... Eric Gordon.
Goran Dragic ... Roy Hibbert.
Trail Blazers fans are dreaming big this offseason, and the aforementioned names are just a few of the tantalizing possibilities lurking in this summer's free agent class.
But as the Blazers plot ways to spend the $15-$20 million in salary cap money they will have at their disposal, two players they already have the rights to also will factor into their plans: Joel Freeland and Victor Claver.
The former first-round draft picks have spent the past few seasons in the Spanish ACB League developing their games and preparing for a move to the world's highest level of basketball, and it appears the time to make that move finally has arrived. Two members of the Blazers' front office, Joe Cronin and Steve Rosenberry, traveled to Europe last week to visit the duo, and both expressed a desire to make the leap to the NBA next season.
The Blazers responded by telling them they'd love to have them.
"We'd really like to bring them both over," Blazers interim general manager Chad Buchanan said. "We're going to be aggressive to get them signed and get them in a Blazers uniform next season. Any deal will have to make sense for Joel, for Victor and for the Blazers and our offseason plans. But if we had a choice, we'd like to get them both signed."
But it's not that simple. Even though the Blazers have oodles of money to spend, a need for both players and a slew of open roster spots, a combination of issues will determine if Freeland and Claver finally don Blazers uniforms.
Both players are under contract with European teams -- Claver with Pamesa Valencia and Freeland with Unicaja Malaga -- and there are financial factors working against the Blazers. For starters, the Euro is worth nearly 35 percent more than the dollar. Also, high-end European contracts regularly include a slew of perks, such as a free place to live, a new car and sometimes even a private chef.
Freeland and Claver make roughly 1 million Euros a season, hardly a deterrent for the Blazers. But if they were to hit the open European market, they would command a much higher salary because they have developed into premier Spanish ACB League players. Claver has two seasons remaining on his contract -- which includes a 500,000 Euro buyout -- and Freeland's European agent, Rafa Calvo, says his client has two more seasons left on a five-year deal. Those two years are similar to player options in the NBA, so the Blazers could be bidding against a host of European teams.
And even though Portland holds the rights to both players, it has been three draft classes since the Blazers acquired them, so they essentially will be treated as free agents, meaning the Blazers will have to use cap space or part of their midlevel exception to sign them. Buchanan said the team will reach out to both players before free agency starts on July 1, but negotiations could drag out well into the free agent signing period.
It's a virtual lock the players will have to settle for less money to join the Blazers, at least initially. So as Claver, 23, and Freeland, 25, weigh their options, the decision could come down to money or the dream of playing in the NBA.
Claver, whom the Blazers selected with the No. 22 pick of the 2009 draft, has been lobbying to come to Portland for two years. If the NBA lockout had not wiped out the 2011 offseason and nearly three months of the regular season, Claver likely already would have one NBA season under his belt. Freeland, the 30th pick in the 2006 draft, also is ready for a new challenge -- under the right circumstances.
"The NBA is a dream for him," Calvo said of Freeland. "That's the top of the mountain for any basketball player. But it's something that has to come at the right time with the right conditions. It's a big jump for my client in all respects. It's not all about money. He has to go to a situation where his basketball can keep growing ... where he's going to have a very important role. He's not going to go to a team to watch games on the bench, where there are three players in front of him."
If the decision were simply about basketball, there's little doubt both Freeland and Claver would come to Portland next season. Freeland, who didn't start playing until he was a teenager, has developed into a versatile 6-foot-10 banger who can play both power forward and center. He's widely regarded as one of the top five big men in Europe, where he has become a go-to offensive threat.
Buchanan said Freeland's offensive repertoire features a solid midrange jumper and a consistent jump hook, and he excels playing in the high post as well as at the elbow. The Blazers, who are desperate for frontline help, also like Freeland's toughness and "motor." The England native, who will compete in the Summer Olympics, is expected to visit the United States for two weeks in June to play in a series of exhibition games in Houston.
"Joel has put in his time over there and gotten better," Buchanan said. "He's ready for a new challenge. I would definitely say that he's a priority for us."
Meanwhile, Claver has battled through injury and family tragedy to have another standout ACB League season. His father, whom Claver was close to, unexpectedly died last year. Then, for the second time in less than a year, Claver broke a bone in his foot and missed roughly two months.
The Blazers do not project Claver, a 6-foot-10 small forward from Spain, to develop into a star. But they view him as a "glue" guy who plays smart, shoots well from three-point range and has the potential to be a standout defender. In a game last week, Claver scored 20 points and made four three-pointers.
Nothing is set in stone, but it seems like the stars have finally aligned for Claver and Freeland to make the jump from the ACB League to the NBA.
"We're high on both players," Cronin said. "And they are intrigued about the possibility of coming over. Nothing is a lock, but there is a good chance it will happen this year. We'd be very happy if we could get them over next year."
-- Joe Freeman; follow him on Twitter
discovery69 wrote:Time to see if the Blazers wasted drafting Freeland in 2006 and Claver in 2009.
2009 will go down as the draft where the Blazers had two chances to pick DeJuan Blair and decided to go with Claver at #22 and Dante Cunningham at #33. San Antonio picked Blair at #37.
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