Vazquez makes NBA cautious
Teams won't pass on Europeans in the draft but say they'll do a lot of research.
Fran Vazquez isn't here or anywhere close -- he is last year's news -- but just the mention of him still makes people in the NBA wince.
Coaches, scouts and management personnel are gathered this week for the NBA Pre-Draft Camp at Disney's Wide World of Sports, evaluating talent and formulating plans -- generally a little more cautious today about jumping blindly into the international talent pool because of Vazquez.
The Orlando Magic used the No. 11 pick of the 2005 draft to select Vazquez, who then used that leverage to sign a more lucrative contract with Akasvayu Girona in Spain.
Although it's common for teams to use second-round picks and even lower first-round picks for a player they don't expect to have until later years -- they retain the rights indefinitely -- this was the first time it happened with such a high NBA draft pick.
"It's definitely a caution flag, a caution sign that you better pay attention to,'' said Toronto Raptors President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo.
Colangelo and Toronto have the No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft this month. One of the players they still are considering for that pick is Andrea Bargnani, a 7-0 power forward from Italy who has been compared to Dirk Nowitzki.
Colangelo said the decision on whether to draft Bargnani won't be influenced by what happened with Vazquez, but he said extensive research would be done on Bargnani's intentions before the pick is made.
At least two others Europeans could be among the top 18 picks in 2006. Most European players have an agent in their native country and another in America working together. In Vazquez's case, the Magic had been assured by his American agent -- and Vazquez -- that he wanted to play in the NBA. His European agent, though, had other plans.
"What we became was an example for the entire league that something like this could happen,'' Magic General Manager Otis Smith said. "I don't think anyone will be gun-shy [of drafting a European], but it heightened everyone's awareness to the Nth degree.''
Vazquez came to Orlando after the draft, and looked almost in awe, promising to return soon. He then signed a new four-year $8.3 million contract in Europe. It was worth considerably more than he could have received under the NBA's rookie salary scale.
"When he comes back, look how good Orlando will be eventually,'' NBA Commissioner David Stern said last weekend. "If he is any good, he'll come back. They always do. Unless, of course, they don't think they can cut it.''
Stern said he believes Vazquez was an isolated case and not a new trend for the NBA. He also believes that Vazquez eventually will play for the Magic. Smith said he expects to have Vazquez after next season. It's after that second year of his deal that the NBA buyout clause drops significantly.