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The International Waiting Game

The art of the ‘Eurostash’ is built on patience, as the San Antonio Spurs know well. They have benefitted time and time again from drafting international players late and waiting for them to make the leap to the NBA.

Sometimes they got lucky, like with Tony Parker. The Spurs took Parker with the 28th overall pick in 2001 NBA Draft. He had no contractual hang-ups and was ready to come to America so he came to the NBA immediately.

This wasn’t the case with Manu Ginobili. The Spurs drafted Ginobili 57th overall in 1999, then waited three years for him to make the jump to the NBA.  His stock significantly rose in those three years, as he returned to Italy to play for Kinder Bologna. He helped win the 2001 Italian Championship, the 2001 and 2002 Italian Cups, and the 2001 Euroleague, where he was named the Euroleague Finals MVP. He was also named the Italian League MVP in 2000–01 and 2001–02.

A late second round pick in 1999 turned into an international star by the time he joined the Spurs in 2002. 14 years later, he’s still a Spur. Not a bad investment.

Although no longer a Spur, the same thing happened with Tiago Splitter, as the Spurs took him in 2007 and waited three years for him to come over. Splitter didn’t enter himself into the NBA draft but he was automatically eligible when he turned 22, so the Spurs took him with the 28th pick. He didn’t come over until 2010, but he would spend five seasons with the Spurs, even being a consistent starter on their 2014 championship run, before being traded this past offseason to the Atlanta Hawks.

Sometimes it backfires, like with the Luis Scola situation. The Spurs drafted Scola in the second round of the 2002 draft, 56th overall.  In 2005, three years after drafting him, the Spurs were negotiating a contract buyout with Saski Baskonia, a Euroleague team in Spain that Scola played for. Baskonia wanted $3 million for Scola’s contract but the NBA restricted teams from spending more than $500,000 on contract buyouts (it has since been raised to $600,00), meaning the other $2.5 million would have to come out of Scola’s pocket.

For obvious reasons, Scola didn’t want to do that, so the Spurs hedged their bets by picking up a different Argentinian big man, Fabricio Oberto. It would be another two years before Scola made it to the NBA, but only after the Spurs had traded his rights to the Houston Rockets. Oberto would go on to be a nice addition for the Spurs, even starting in the 2007 Finals during the Spurs’ third championship run.

The Spurs currently own the rights to at least six players who are overseas that they have been waiting at least one year for. Whether one of them could be the next ‘Ginobili’ is yet to be seen, but the Spurs are willing to wait to find out

Ryan Richards, second round, 49th pick in 2010 – He’s only 24, but the window might be closing on this British big man. He played on the Spurs’ Summer League team in 2012 and 2013, appearing in a combined eight games, averaging four points, two rebounds and nine minutes of action per game. The seven-footer has played for five different Euroleague teams since 2011.

Davis Bertans, second round, 42nd pick in 2011– Originally taken by Pacers, the Spurs traded for Bertans’ rights on draft night. He signed a multi-year deal with Union Olimpija (Solvenia) in 2010, the year before he was drafted. In 2012, he signed a three-and-half-year deal with Partizan-Belgrade (Serbia). He played ten games that year before tearing his ACL in the Serbian League finals, sidelining him for nine months. In 2014, he signed a three-and-half-year deal with Saski Baskonia (Spain), but he would tear the same ACL in his right knee in March of 2015, from which he is still recovering. The Latvian forward has shown promise and is still young at 23, but with two torn ACL’s in the same knee, he is a risk.

Adam Hanga, second round, 59th pick 2011 – One of the older international prospects at 26, Hanga had started to come into his own when he was with Sidigas Avellino (Italy). One issue with the Hungarian swing man is he is a 6’7” forward, something the Spurs have plenty of on their current roster. Hanga is currently playing in the Euroleague with Saski Baskonia.

Erazem Lorbek, rights acquired in trade with Indiana Pacers in 2011 – Quite possibly the biggest long shot to come over to the NBA on this list. Lorbek was originally drafted in the second round of the 2005 draft by the Pacers before his rights were acquired by the Spurs as part of the George Hill – Kawhi Leonard trade in 2011. Despite playing college ball at Michigan State, the 6’10” Slovenian has played his entire professional career in Europe and Russia. At 32 years old, it’s highly unlikely he will ever come over.

Livio Jean-Charles, first round, 28th pick in 2013 – A member of ASVEL Basket, the French team owned by Tony Parker, Jean-Charles is a work in progress with a lot of upside. At just 22, the 6’9” forward has played on the Spurs’ Summer League team the past two summers, appearing in five games with four starts.  He has previously said he doesn’t want to play in the NBA-DL, which could explain why he has continued to stay in France.

 Nikola Milutinov, first round, 26th pick in 2015 – Last year’s first round pick, the Spurs may have to wait awhile for Milutinov , as he signed a three-year deal with Olympiacos in July, 2015. At just 21 years old, the 7’0” Serbian might be worth the wait.

Cady Lalanne, second round, 55th pick in 2015 – Lalanne is different than the rest of the players on this list because he is not overseas. In fact, he is already in the Spurs’ system, playing in the NBA-DL for the Austin Spurs. A second round pick out of Massachusetts in last year’s draft, the 6’10” Haitian was named to the NBA-DL All-Star Western team. Lalanne has appeared in 36 games (22 starts), primarily playing center. An impressive shot-blocker and rebounder due to his reported 7’5” wingspan, Lalanne could be a nice addition to San Antonio Spurs rotation in the years to come.

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