An international report emerged over the weekend that claimed the Thunder is attempting to bring Tibor Pleiss to Oklahoma City next season and has entered into buyout negotiations to finally sign the 2010 second-round pick.
That is not the case, The Oklahoman has learned.
Pleiss, a 7-foot-1 center who was the 31st overall pick in 2010, likely will remain overseas for at least one more season. It’s not out of the question that the Thunder might pursue Pleiss as the summer progresses, but it is currently a remote possibility given the team’s current roster structure.
Starting center Kendrick Perkins has one more year remaining on his contract and will earn more than $9 million this coming season. Steven Adams, the 12th overall pick in last year’s draft, served as Perkins’ backup last season but as a rookie showed he is capable of becoming a starting center. The Thunder then drafted Mitch McGary out of Michigan with the 21st overall pick last week, and McGary is said to be able to play both power forward and center. Hasheem Thabeet also has one year remaining on his contract, although it is a non-guaranteed year.
Rather than bring Pleiss over next season only to subject him to a logjam, the Thunder is content to wait another year and add Pleiss to the team for the 2015-16 season, when Perkins will be off the books.
The Oklahoman has learned that the Thunder did make a contract proposal to Pleiss in the summer of 2012. Pleiss, however, turned down the offer in order to join his current club, Baskonia, which competes in Spain as part of the ACB league.
Had Pleiss joined the team then, he would have been in position to compete for the primary backup role. That summer, the Thunder let Nazr Mohammed sign with Chicago as an unrestricted free agent, and Adams was only entering his freshman season at Pittsburgh. Thabeet stepped in as Perkins’ primary backup.
A report out of Spain, nonetheless, said the Thunder has offered to pay the approximate $1 million buyout fee for Pleiss. But the news appears to be nothing more than a negotiating ploy.
Baskonia reportedly is in dire straits financially, and securing a sizable fee from Pleiss’ buyout would be a boost to the team’s operation. It is believed that Baskonia is attempting to sell Pleiss to another European team, and in order to expedite a buyout the club claimed the Thunder has interest. Despite how far-fetched it is given Oklahoma City’s roster, the connection looks credible because the Thunder owns Pleiss’ draft rights. But it’s not uncommon for European clubs, as well as agenda-driven agents, to try to dictate the market and drive up the price for players by linking them with NBA interest.
Pleiss is among the players who can command such interest.
He is blossoming into one of the best centers on the European circuit, and the demand for him is believed to be growing stronger each season. He has two years remaining on his original four-year contract and has put himself in position to capitalize financially with a lucrative contract on his next deal.
But more and more, the German big man looks ready to bring his talents across the water.
Pleiss, 24, averaged 12 points, 5.4 rebounds and one block in 21 minutes per game this season. He started 21 of 24 games after averaging 14.2 minutes and starting just four out of 25 last season.
Should he join the Thunder for the 2015-16 season, Pleiss will be 26 at the start of that season, the same age Tiago Splitter was midway through his first season with San Antonio in 2010-11. The Spurs employed a similar “draft-and-stash” approach with Splitter, leaving him playing internationally for three years before bringing him to the NBA.
Splitter agreed to a three-year, $11 million deal with San Antonio, a deal that was signed as a free agent deal rather than a rookie scale contract because Splitter signed with the Spurs three years after being drafted. As a second-round selection, Pleiss also wouldn’t be subject to a mandatory rookie scale deal. It could drive up the price for Pleiss even more if he enjoys another standout season in Spain next season.