Not 36 hours removed from the NBA draft lottery, potential No. 1 pick Luka Doncic made headlines at a press conference before this week’s EuroLeague Final Four, saying he may not come to the U.S. in 2018.
Reporter: “Are these your last two games in Europe that you will play in the EuroLeague?”
Doncic: “Ι’m not sure if these are the last two games. We are yet to make this decision. Perhaps after the season.”
How high would Luka Doncic go in the draft?
Almost as soon as Phoenix won the draft lottery, Doncic’s name was tied to the Suns, considering they recently hired Utah Jazz assistant Igor Kokoskov, who coached Doncic on the Slovenian national team.
There were plenty of other reasons to believe Doncic was a lock to join Devin Booker in Phoenix.
If the Suns were not planning to select Doncic No. 1 overall this June, perhaps opting to keep Bahamian big man DeAndre Ayton in Arizona instead, Sacramento Kings general manager Vlade Divac is expected to take the most highly regarded European prospect ever with the second overall pick.
Doncic’s comments from the EuroLeague Final Four in Serbia enter some doubt into this conversation.
Didn’t Doncic already declare for the draft?
Yes. Let us not forget that Doncic did file paperwork to enter the 2018 draft, as Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania reported last month. It’s not like entering the NBA is the furthest thing from his mind.
Is Doncic just putting up a smokescreen?
It’s also not like what Doncic said from his news conference is all that surprising, either. We don’t put much stock into players offering guarded responses when asked the same question during the NCAA tournament. It’s not entirely cool to say, Yeah, I’m outta here as soon as this season’s over, when your team is still competing for a title, and Doncic has games left on Friday and Sunday with Real Madrid.
His Spanish League team will surely lobby to keep the 19-year-old phenom in Europe beyond this season, but even as Doncic told ESPN The Magazine’s Mina Kimes in April that You never know what can happen in the future. I want to concentrate on where I am,” the conversation around him centered on his NBA life next season. “If everything goes right,” his life will be different next year, he added.
Why else might Doncic hesitate to come to the NBA?
The question is whether Doncic has an alternative motive for keeping his decision under wraps.
“He’s going to have a little say here as well,” DraftExpress founder Jonathan Givony said on “The Woj Podcast” this week. “He’s actually under contract in Real Madrid, and if he doesn’t want to go to Sacramento, he could definitely make things hard on them and make things difficult by saying, ‘Guys, if you draft me, I’m going to sign a huge extension. I’m going to make 2 million Euro next year, and I’m not coming over until you trade my rights.’
“He’s never at any point said 100 percent that he’s coming over next year. I think he would like to. Obviously, you want to get your rookie scale contract started. You want to get moving on that second deal four years from now, but he has a lot more leverage in this process than anybody else in this draft, so it’ll be very interesting for me to hear what his camp thinks, because Sacramento is not the most attractive place for a young prospect.”
Doncic’s agent, Bill Duffy, also said recently that his client would not work out for any teams during the forthcoming pre-draft process, opting instead to let his performance overseas — 20.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6.7 assists per 36 minutes for one of the best teams in Europe — speak for itself.
“I don’t think that will be an issue,” Duffy told the Sporting News. “Playing in the EuroLeague speaks for itself. What he has been able to do, it speaks to both the talent and preparedness for Luka. He has had a different level of experience than most of his peers. Euroleague is the next step to playing in the NBA.”
Given what Doncic has said in the coronating year leading up to this draft — a year in which it’s been a foregone conclusion that he will be The NBA’s Next Great European Player — we probably shouldn’t be shocked by anything he said at the EuroLeague Final Four. Now, if he stands by this undecided stance in the weeks to come, then it might be time for the Suns and Kings to start worrying about his status.
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