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‘Draft and stash’ picks have an uncertain path to NBA

The Thunder “stashed” forward Serge Ibaka (9) overseas for a year after drafting him in 2008.Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press/File 2015

When it was apparent the Celtics wouldn’t pull off the blockbuster draft-night deal that many of their faithful expected and they were relegated to using all of their amassed first-round picks last Thursday, there was widespread disappointment at the TD Garden draft party because most of those diehards couldn’t pronounce Boston’s next two picks after Jaylen Brown.

Their names are Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic, taken 16th and 23rd respectively, but there is a possibility that neither may ever play in a Celtics uniform.

Those two are termed “draft and stash” players, meaning NBA teams select overseas players, allow them to stay with their international teams, and then eventually bring them over to the NBA when the team and player agree that courtship is suitable.


“Draft and stash” players do not count against an NBA team’s salary cap or roster limit. The teams simply hold the rights to those players as long as they play for a non-NBA team, or until they trade or relinquish those rights.

The question is when will the Celtics want that duo to join the roster and how long will it take Yabusele and Zizic to become NBA ready. Both are bound to contracts with their clubs — Rouen Metropole for Yabusele and Cibona Zagreb for Zizic — and will require buyouts to terminate those contracts and free them to sign with the Celtics.

The process is tricky. Some overseas clubs require multimillion-dollar buyouts for their premium players, dissuading players from breaking those pacts, and an NBA team is only allowed to pay $650,000 of a buyout before it then counts against the players’ rookie contract.

Stash and grab
Notable international players who were drafted and continued to play with their overseas teams before playing in the NBA:
2015 Nikola Milutinov Spurs 1st (26th) 1 season*
2014 Dario Saric 76ers 1st (12th) 2 seasons*
2014 Bogdan Bogdanovic Suns 1st (27th) 2 seasons*
2013 Lucas Nogueira Hawks 1st (16th) 1 season
2011 Jonas Valanciunas Raptors 1st (5th) 1 season
2011 Donatas Motiejunas Timberwolves 1st (20th) 1 season
2011 Nikola Mirotic Rockets 1st (23d) 3 seasons
2008 Serge Ibaka Thunder 1st (24th) 1 season
2007 Tiago Splitter Spurs 1st (28th) 3 seasons
2007 Rudy Fernandez Suns 1st (24th) 1 season
2007 Petteri Koponen 76ers 1st (30th) 9 seasons*
* -- has not yet played in NBA

In other words, it makes little sense for a player to pursue a buyout over $650,000 if it takes away from his NBA rookie contract. Buyout amounts increase by $25,000 as the contract proceeds, encouraging teams to wait to bring a player to the States.


Also, if a player waits three years to join an NBA roster, he is no longer limited to the constraints of a rookie contract and can sign a multiyear deal with the club worth more than what he would have earned in that initial rookie deal.

Yabusele, if he decided to come to the Celtics next season, would sign a three-year rookie deal worth approximately $4.766 million. Zizic could sign a three-year pact worth $3.489 million. Nikola Mirotic was drafted in 2011 by the Houston and then traded twice on draft night, landing with the Chicago Bulls.

Mirotic played three more seasons for Real Madrid before signing a three-year, $16.6 million deal with the Bulls that began in 2014-15. He was an All-Rookie first-team player that season.

“We’ll sit down with these players and their representatives in the next couple of weeks, we’ll look at their contract situations, the buyouts and the options,” Celtics assistant general manager Austin Ainge told the Globe. “We’ll try to make the best decision for their progression, whether that’s staying on the teams they were on, going to different team in Europe or coming to the Celtics.”

Depending on the overseas team, that $650,000 sum is a valuable asset and it is amenable to allowing the player to sign an NBA contract. In other situations, those financially successful or powerful teams may not be so eager to lose a key player to an NBA team and therefore could make the eventual marriage difficult by offering another lucrative contract or being unwavering on a buyout amount.


Those negotiations between NBA executives, such as Ainge and the Celtics brass and overseas teams, can be tricky. They are usually conducted in English and there can be situations where the player decides to stay with his current team or rebuffs an NBA opportunity.

The most glaring case occurred in 2005 when the Orlando Magic, a year after drafting Dwight Howard, selected Spanish center Fran Vazquez from Gran Canaria of the Spanish League with the 11th overall pick. The Magic believed Vazquez would join their club but he instead signed a with CB Girona and then FC Barcelona.

Eleven years later, Vazquez, 33, remains in the Spanish League and he has never played in an Orlando uniform.

“There is a risk,” Ainge said. “But with the salary cap rising so significantly in the NBA and the European economy down so much, it’s not as difficult as it used to be for NBA teams to compete with those salaries. There’s going to be fewer and fewer players that choose to stay in Europe for financial reasons. Now they could stay in Europe for lifestyle reasons or family but we should be able to compete financially.”

The Celtics’ last example of a “draft and stash” player was 2008 second-round pick Semih Erden of Turkey. Erden played two more seasons in Turkey, came to Boston in 2010, and played 37 games before being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He played 32 games with Cleveland before heading back to Turkey, where he remains.


Yabusele already knows that staying in France is a distinct possibility and doesn’t mean getting more seasoning.

“It’s not a problem for me, even if I got to go one year, two years in Europe, in another country and play, I’ll go,” he said. “I just want to play in the NBA and try to be better, so it’s great.”

Zizic is considered more NBA ready and expressed desire to give the league an opportunity this year.

The Celtics didn’t exactly scintillate their fan base by taking two virtual unknowns in the first round, but both could eventually become at least contributors. Yet that process is meticulous and uncertain, and the result may turn out unsatisfying for the faithful seeking future stars.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @gwashburnglobe.