On June 6, 2012 -- exactly one year ago -- reports surfaced that Mavericks draft pick Nick Calathes was prepared to come to the NBA and begin his career. After three successful years in Europe, the general opinion around Dallas was optimistic.
For those not familiar with Calathes, or just in need or a refresher, he's a 6'6" point guard out of the University of Florida that was drafted 45th by the Mavericks in 2009. Although widely considered a first round talent with his size, defense and passing ability, his stock fell when he made his intentions to go overseas clear.
Calathes, who holds dual citizenship with the U.S. and Greece, spent his first three years out of college with Panathinaikos. Although European leagues can vary drastically in talent, Panathinaikos is ranked as the third best team in Europe. Calathes was a key starter, and had several strong performances on the way to Panathinaikos' Euroleague championship in 2010-11 (his statistics for all three years can be found here).
Unfortunately, the plan to come to the NBA last off-season fell through, possibly because the Mavericks could only promise him a non-guaranteed contract and a chance to earn his way onto the team through summer league. In the midst of trying to lure Deron Williams to Dallas, the front office wasn't in a position to guarantee Calathes anything. Instead, Calathes signed a two year deal with the Russian-based PBC Lokomotiv-Kuban.
Unlike Panathinaikos, Lokomotiv is not a premiere European powerhouse. In fact, they don't even play in the Euroleague -- Lokomotiv is part of the second-tier Eurocup. Considering the severe drop in talent, expectations for Calathes were high.
Well, he exceeded expectations and went even further. In April, he was named MVP of the Eurocup while leading Lokomotiv to the league championship. Notably, he became the first player to record 100 assists in a single season -- a notable accomplishment in the European game that rarely hands them out. Notice that the Eurocup's previous MVP, Patrick Beverly of Spartak St. Petersburg, went on to become Houston's backup point guard last season.
Could Calathes do the same with the Mavericks? Well, it's not as simple as signing him, because he still has a year remaining on his Lokomotiv contract. Buying out a European player's contract is hardly unprecedented -- Toronto recently did so with Jonas Valanciunas' contract. However, problems can often arise as well, like in Ricky Rubio's case. Of course, Calathes' buyout would probably be significantly cheaper -- if reports that his two year deal with Lokomotiv was worth $2 million are correct, then the buyout would be around a million. That's chump change for NBA teams owned by Mark Cuban, to be frank.
Another obstacle is the rumor that Calathes likes his current situation too much to move. That's understandable -- he just led his team to a title and was named MVP, and might prefer to ride out his title. However, the Mavericks aren't helpless. Just like they half-heartedly supported Calathes' original decision to come state-side, they could strongly express their desire for him to come over this off-season. If both sides are willing, a potential buy-out becomes much easier.
Much of this is speculation, and I would put the odds in favor of Calathes staying in Russia this year. But make no mistake -- he's American born and raised, and it seems likely that his dream is to one day play in the NBA. If you got a call from Mark Cuban saying, "we want you to play for the Mavericks this year and we think you will play an important role for us," you'd have to at least consider it strongly. Right?
There are definitely major obstacles in the way right now, but if both sides are willing, I'd love to have Calathes in a Mavericks uniform next year. If not this year, I'd imagine it'll be sooner rather than later.