The on-again, off-again saga involving Ante Tomic’s NBA prospects is back on… sort of.
Gigantes del Basket, an international hoops magazine and website, reports that Tomic is still considering the possibility of an NBA transition this summer.
This is of interest to Utah fans because the Jazz hold the exclusive rights to sign Tomic should he ever make the jump to the NBA. Utah earned those rights when they selected him 44th overall in the 2008 draft, three years after obtaining that pick by surrendering the 60th pick of the 2005 draft to Philadelphia. It was previously reported — by Spain’s Mundo Deportivo, among others — that he was expected to sign a new three-year contract with Barcelona. Not so fast, Gigantes tells us.
“I still have time to think about it,” the 7’2″ offensively skilled center said in an interview.
This round of “will he or won’t he?” actually didn’t start with Gigantes, though. Their interview with the Croatian-born star of the Spanish league was actually in response to a prior report out of Barcelona last week that indicated that Tomic’s long-term future in Barça might not be as sure as previously thought.
Marc Mundet of RAC1, a Barcelona sports radio outlet, tweeted last weekend that CSKA Moscow was paying close attention to Tomic’s status. Since that didn’t jive with the late April reports that the Catalonian club had bagged Tomic for another three seasons, I reached out to Mundet to compare notes.
Mundet told me that he spoke to Tomic in a recent post-game media scrum — after the rumors of a new Barça deal — and that the center told him, “No decision yet.” When one of Mundet’s followers pointed out that Mundo Deportivo was calling the re-signing a sure thing, Mundet replied, “But it isn’t.”
So why was a deal being reported? It could have been for leverage, something to light a fire under the Jazz and accelerate talks. It could have been a bad source. Or it could have just been that a Barcelona exec just got ahead of himself in characterizing the ongoing conversations with Tomic as nearing a deal. Whatever the explanation, Mundet relays that the player himself is denying that anything is set in stone, with Barça or otherwise.
Now Gigantes corroborates in this latest interview that shows Tomic continuing to waffle, so it seems clear at this point that Tomic has not made up his mind. Here is the full Tomic quote (translated) as it appeared on the Gigantes website today:
“It’s neither yes nor no. It’s hard to sum it up. Sometimes I see myself playing over there, other times no. I still have time to think about it.”
Not much time, though. There’s no hard deadline for Tomic to make his decision, but most agree that it’s now-or-never as far as the NBA jump goes. A new three-year pact with a European squad would keep Tomic on that continent until he’s 31, and few players make the jump that late in their careers. As far as a deadline for making a decision this offseason, it’s likely the Jazz would want to move on to other options if Tomic hasn’t committed by sometime in early to mid July, the period when the most impactful free agents and trade targets are available.
It’s easy to understand why some on this side of the pond feel fatigued by the now seven years of back-and-forth, but Tomic is an established figure in Europe, where he has been an All-Euroleague selection for three straight years and won the ACB title just last season. He’s making a careful decision about his life and livelihood, something that any sane person would do at a career crossroads like this one.
And, according to the Mundet report, it’s more complicated than a decision about Barcelona or Utah. His report that CSKA wants to get in the mix could mean Tomic has a lot to sort through when he sits down to chart his course, though Mundet speculates that won’t happen until after Tomic is no longer involved in the ACB playoffs.
Tomic’s club has advanced to the league semifinals, where they’ll play a best-of-five series against Unicaja Malaga. The winner of that series will play in the ACB Finals against either Valencia, or top-seeded Real Madrid, Tomic’s former team. The Barça-Malaga series starts this Friday, so it’s likely that Tomic’s head will be in the game for the next couple of weeks.
If Tomic finds himself free to contemplate options before the end of June1, Utah could find itself at a competitive disadvantage. The Jazz are not allowed to officially enter into negotiations with Tomic until July 1, a collectively bargained restriction that exists in the NBA but not overseas. They could certainly convey to his representatives a desire to sit down and talk numbers the second July starts, but technically they aren’t allowed to put a dollar figure in front of the Croatian center until days or weeks after he could already have a concrete offer from his current club or CSKA.
Encestando reported in April that Tomic was seeking a deal worth about $2.1 million annually to stay with Barcelona, so if that’s his asking price, that would be doable for Utah, who could sign Tomic using cap space or a salary cap exception2.
It’s hard to imagine the Jazz wouldn’t be interested in bringing him over at the right price. One of the Jazz’s biggest needs at this juncture is a skilled backup big. While Tomic isn’t a true floor-spacer in terms of range out to the three point line, he’s got a soft touch on a short jumper. More importantly, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call him one of the best passing big men the Euroleague has seen, and as Zach Lowe recently pointed out, a facilitating big man is a commodity these days. He’ll never be a star in the NBA, but his unique skills and vision could help the Jazz’s second unit if they’re able to lure him stateside.
The Jazz could also still use Tomic’s rights in a trade with another NBA team, but those rights would only have real value if he remains uncommitted to re-sign in Barcelona or join CSKA Moscow.
For now, only one thing is sure: the Tomic saga continues. One way or another, clarity should be coming in the next month and a half for the Croatian center and for Jazz fans.