Will he or won't he? And should he? The questions are the same for Dario Saric, but we're getting closer to finding some answers.
Sam Hinkie's favorite draft-and-stash player has remained in Europe since being acquired by the Sixers in a draft-night deal with the Orlando Magic back in 2014. A recent report claimed Saric already informed his teammates with Anadolu Efes that he's set to make the jump to the NBA this offseason and join the Sixers. Saric signed a three-year deal with Efes in 2014, but the contract has a buyout this offseason that would allow him to make the transition to the NBA.
There are various complications at work here. If it was all so simple, if Saric already had his bags packed, new Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo wouldn't be taking Brett Brown to Turkey in the next few weeks to talk to Saric about his plans.
"Not to denounce the European media and what was said, I just don't like to jump on speculation and further develop it or amplify it," Colangelo said earlier this week on TCN's Breakfast on Broad. He added that he and Brown will "sit down with [Saric] and his family and agent" in Istanbul sometime soon.
This is a pivotal offseason for the Sixers for all sorts of reasons: the front office change, the draft, free agency, the rising league salary cap, ownership's stated desire to push the rebuild forward into whatever the next stage might be. How and when they fold Saric into the overarching plan is a big deal. But should he come over or stay in Europe another year?
He should stay in Europe
Saric turned 22 last month. Even in a league that's increasingly keen on getting players in the mix before they can legally drink, he's still young. If Saric decides to stay in Europe, it will be about money and earning potential.
Coming over now means Saric is still bound to the rookie pay scale where the most he could make is 120 percent of what's slotted for the 12th-round pick in 2014, minus what he has to pay out of pocket for the buyout. (Per NBA rules, the Sixers can contribute only a percentage of the buyout. The rest has to come from Saric.) A year ago, when this first became a possibility, Derek Bodner did an excellent job explaining the complicated myriad financial implications. As a ballpark figure, Saric would be looking at something around $2 million in salary for the 2016-17 season if he goes to the NBA.
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If he stays one more year and finishes his contract with Efes, he could make considerably more money. By waiting another year, the Sixers would still own his rights and he could negotiate only with them, but he wouldn't be bound to the rookie pay scale. Nikola Mirotic did that with the Bulls two years ago, signing a three-year deal worth $16.6 million. Saric would ostensibly be in line for much more considering the NBA's new TV deal will kick in this offseason. Accordingly, the salary cap is set to jump to around $90 million next year (up from $70 million), and projections for the 2017-18 season have the cap around $108 million.
A lot of players are about to get a lot more money. Saric could be one of them. As one league source put it, it's about to be "silly season with funny money" in the NBA. One front office executive said if Saric stays put and plays well in Europe for one more year, he could see him getting "somewhere around" $10 million in his first season. Another league exec wasn't so bullish and ballparked it at somewhere between $6 million to $8 million because "there are mixed reviews on his play." Either way, even conservative estimates put it at more than the rookie scale and north of what Mirotic commanded because of the escalated cap. Of course, that's if everything breaks right for Saric in terms of his development. And that's without factoring in what the Sixers do this offseason and how it might affect any future negotiations.
He should go to the NBA
Saric has been headed to the NBA since he was a kid. The destination has been obvious for a while. The only lingering question is when he completes the journey. He's 6-10, 233 pounds, his three-point shot is coming along, and he's already accomplished quite a bit Europe. In 2014 he was the Adriatic League MVP and the Final Four MVP, and he was the FIBA Europe young men's player of the year in 2013 and 2014. He's probably ready for some new challenges. Plus, if he waits another year, there's a chance that he could face considerably more competition with fewer opportunities, which might ultimately hurt his bargaining position.
Depending on what happens in next week's lottery, the Sixers could have as many as four first-round picks. Because of pick-swap rights with Sacramento, they have a 26.9 percent chance to get the first overall pick. They also have roughly a 50 percent chance to land a top-two pick and around a 50 percent chance of getting two picks in the top-five. And while Colangelo said the Sixers don't have "a current star," he thinks the Sixers have "young developing pieces" and "some potential stars." Barring any further setbacks, they also figure to add Joel Embiid to the mix. That's a lot of new talent. Getting in now might not be such a bad idea for Saric from a competition standpoint, because waiting another year might mean fewer available roles and minutes.
"There's an idea and an understanding that there might be more leverage for him to come over the following year and forgo the rookie scale," Colangelo said. "That's, again, speculation and not necessarily the circumstance that we'll find ourselves in as a team if we take a major step forward or a small incremental step forward. We think these are good circumstances for him and we hope he does have a desire to be here."
This is a difficult decision for Saric. In a vacuum, he stands to make more money by waiting. But a lot can happen in a year. The cap will jump again. That much is certain. There's no telling, though, how the influx of new players might affect Saric's bargaining position if he delays for another season. Again, if this was already a done deal, it's unlikely Colangelo and Brown would have plane tickets and passports ready so they can discuss the situation with Saric in Turkey. Sounds like he still needs some convincing. This feels like a toss-up at the moment. My gut says he comes over, my head (and my calculator) says he should wait and gamble on a big payday. I'm going with my head.