Pa Rick Bucher
Posted by FOX Sports NBA

Eurobasket has many advantages NBA players involved: It gets them in shape right before NBA training camp; he tests them in a cauldron of high-stakes basketball rarely seen outside of the NBA playoffs; and it gives some players a chance to play a role they don’t always get in the most talented league in the world.

Take it Willy Hernangomezhis brother Juancho, Dennis Schroeder and Evan Fournier as a few examples. Each member of this group can claim that, at least in the first couple of weeks of September, they have outplayed three NBA MVP candidates – Janice Antecumba, Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic — leading their teams to greater success at EuroBasket 2022.

Now they face the challenge of keeping it in perspective. How do you go back to last week’s NBA training camp and the less glorified “dirty work” of the layup, decoy or defensive stopper?

Willy Hernangomez should know intellectually that New Orleans Pelicans do not consider it on par with the core of the team Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum. He is in the second year of a modest three-year, $7.3 million contract. But can he play with the same energy and commitment in an additional role after being crowned EuroBasket MVP? How Schroder will cope with leaving the bench for Lakers and potentially play from behind Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley after scoring 30 points on 8-of-10 shooting and eight assists for Germany in a close semifinal loss to eventual champion Spain?

“You have to contextualize their performances,” the Western Conference general manager said. “The Hernangomez brothers are the best players on the Spanish team, but they will never be the best players on their NBA teams. Ever.”

Some foreign players can handle this reality. Others cannot.

“Culturally, you’re going through a big adjustment,” the GM said. “Your role is minimized and the player can always say, ‘Damn, I can make a lot of money at home.’ Why am I doing NBA?” Over the years, it’s been interesting to watch those guys who have made it and others who have said, “I’m… this, I’m coming home.”

Jonas Jerebka and Mario Hezonha are two international stars who scouts and executives felt never reached their full NBA potential before heading overseas. Jezonja, the fifth pick in the 2015 draft, has played for three teams over five years and is now back at Spain’s Real Madrid.

“Self-awareness for all players is critical,” the Western Conference GM said. “Hezonja, he never got it. As great a talent as he was out there, he could never take what he needed to be in the NBA.”

Horebka, despite being a second-round pick, made the All-Rookie Team Detroit Pistons in 2010. But he never had the role he enjoyed with the Swedish national team, and he spent nine seasons with four different teams. Three years ago, he returned to Europe and now plays for CSKA Moscow.

“Guys that have been spoiled by overseas success in the past have been small players like Jonas Jerebka,” said an Eastern Conference scout. “He was the best player on his Swedish team, his team was playing pretty well, and then he came back to the Pistons and thought he was going to be ‘The Man’ because he was the best player on a bad team and he was playing well.”

For some foreign players, their stellar performance at this year’s EuroBasket has boosted their status and could pay dividends in the NBA — if they can land the right role. At the beginning of the tournament, Schroder was a free agent and signed a contract with Los Angeles Lakers after helping lead Germany to a bronze medal and a spot on the all-tournament team. Tyler Dorsey2018 second-rounder who signed a two-way contract with Dallas Mavericks earlier this summer, after several seasons playing overseas, convinced at least one general manager that he could be a bigger Maverick than the Texas (G League) legend by helping Greece reach the quarterfinals. The Washington WizardsDanny Audio impressed him with his ability to play for Israel.

“The only other place you can find that kind of pressure is the NBA playoffs,” said the Eastern Conference GM, who had a EuroBasket participant. “These are big plays. I couldn’t be more excited for our guy to experience that, doing something he doesn’t get to do in the NBA. Now we see it and say, ‘Okay, let’s reevaluate and make sure he gets opportunities because he’s shown he can do it against high-level guys.” This is a great opportunity for you to see your boyfriend in a completely different light.”

But the lure of greater opportunities abroad is always there. Only this summer Golden State Warriors wanted Nemanja Bjelica back after he helped them win the championship, but he opted to join Turkish Euroleague side Fenerbahce, reportedly for the same money and a bigger role.

Keep in mind: The Warriors lost it despite having the superstars to get all the players down the pecking order. But plenty of teams — including the ones the Hernangamez brothers and Fournier play for — don’t have proven Hall of Fame centerpieces or a track record of title contention to make it easier to settle for a lesser role.

“A lot of it has to do with the person and maturity level, understanding where your team is at,” the Western Conference GM said. “For all players from abroad, it is more difficult to accept a reduced role, especially in bad teams. Most players look at it like, ‘Gee—-, man, you can lose if I play a lot too.'”

Fournier is in the second year of a four-year, $73 million contract with New York Knicks, far beyond what he could do anywhere else — he’s being paid more to do less for a team with no championship hopes. He started all 80 games last year, but was the third option behind Julius Randle and RJ Barrett and league sources said coach Tom Thibodeau was adamant that the young quarterback Quentin Grimes not be included in the Knicks’ touchdown attempts Donovan Mitchell. But after a great summer, how will Fournier handle Grimes potentially eating into his minutes and shots, especially if the Knicks struggle? Given his contract, he will have to figure things out.

“He’s a coordinator for France, but he’s not good enough in the NBA to be a coordinator,” the Western Conference GM said. “He’s never going to be the first, second or third best player on a really good team. Now, if you don’t get all those reps, all those opportunities, all those plays that work for you, it’s a different game. It’s a skill set in itself to be productive in a much more efficient way with fewer opportunities, fewer touches.”

Perhaps the best guide for all of these players is one of the most obvious: Manu Ginobili. He was a relative of unknown when San Antonio Spurs took him with the penultimate pick in the 1999 draft. Instead of signing a contract right away, he stayed in Italy to play for Kinder Bologna and won multiple league MVP awards and a Euroleague championship. He joined the Spurs after leading Argentina to a World Cup silver medal, playing a limited amount in the regular season, but was a key contributor off the bench as the Spurs cruised to the 2003 title. A year later, he led Argentina to an Olympic gold medal, becoming the first non-US team to win a medal in 16 years. He made the All-Star team in his two years as a regular NBA starter, but for most of his career he happily came off the bench, sacrificing personal accolades to help the Spurs win four championship rings.

“Some guys never get it,” the Western Conference GM said. “And then there’s the guy who’s actually better than his role, but accepts his role because it’s in the best interest of winning. Like Ginobili.”

His sacrifice, a lesson for those who follow, ultimately paid off last month with the greatest individual accolade the sport has to offer:

Basketball Hall of Fame induction.

Rick Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He has previously written for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and authored two books, The Rebound, about NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with Parkinson’s disease at a young age, and Yao: Living in Two Worlds. He also has a daily podcast, At the Ball with Rick Bucher. Follow him on Twitter @Rick Bucher.


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