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How Nikola Mirotic Rose From Soccer Destiny, To European Phenom, To The NBA

Televisions flickered football matches from the Spanish League and English Premier League, competitive games staged on grassland, and, growing up, this was Nikola Mirotic’s destiny, a pursuit of a career on the soccer field. His passion for the sport swelled in grammar school, and Mirotic’s increasing height gave him such vision in passing, such ability to take advantage of scoring creases across yards and yards of area. Only at 13 years old, his life’s calling forever changed. 

Mirotic had come to visit his family one day, when his grandfather looked into the eyes of a floppy-haired grandson, a thin physique on an ever-growing boy. A nearby soccer field was the destination for them on this afternoon, but Mirotic only remembers listening to the elderly figure in his childhood sway him from a most popular sport to a 10-foot rim, a 20-ounce ball and a hardwood floor.

“One day, my grandfather, he told me, ‘You’re very tall. You need to just try to play basketball.’ I said, ‘No, no, no, I don’t like basketball,’” Mirotic told RealGM. “But he said, ‘No, just try.’ He wanted me to just try basketball, he showed me a good school and told me to go, practice and see if I like basketball. I go there, I started to love basketball and I worked hard, and that’s how I’m here.”

Mirotic’s eyes lit up the other day, a bright smile to divide his scruffy beard. Now, he’s here. Nikola Mirotic is in the NBA.

“Now look at this,” Mirotic says. “I would never think before that I will be here, but I worked very hard to be a professional player. I think I’m here now because I do a lot of great things.”

Mirotic’s grandfather pushed him away from a soccer path and onto basketball courts in grade school, pushed him to the European powerhouse Real Madrid, but soccer still consumes part of his mind -- and a part of his cell phone, scanning scores and stats. “I always will like soccer, always will watch Spanish league and Premier league,” he says.

He’s so grateful now, and leaving Europe had never crossed the mind until his agent, Igor Crespo, placed his name in the 2011 NBA Draft. Three teams had secured his rights on that June night, the Houston Rockets’ and Minnesota Timberwolves’ dealings ultimately delivering the 6-foot-10 project to the Chicago Bulls. Everyone knew he needed more experience before signing an NBA contract, and so the Bulls monitored his development in the Spanish ACB league. 

Two years ago, expectations already mounting everywhere, Mirotic emitted the praise of an NBA All-Star. Zach Randolph had played Mirotic in a preseason exhibition game, calling him a blend of Dirk Nowitzki and Danillo Gallinari, a prospect who needed the proper environment to flourish. This made its way to Mirotic once he left the United States for the Spanish camp, and he brought with him greater validation and vigor to Real Madrid’s season.

“No pressure, because for me, I started to think that now I need to work even more,” Mirotic says. “It was more energy for me. If someone says that, it is because he thinks high of you. I worked hard, and now I get a chance to play against [Randolph]. I get to play against Dirk Nowitzki. Every day I am practicing with Joakim [Noah], Taj [Gibson], Derrick Rose. I want to enjoy this.

“Before Chicago drafted me, I didn’t think about the NBA. Three years ago when they drafted me, I started to watch the games and fell in love with the NBA.”

In truth, Mirotic privately believed he would complete his contract with Real Madrid, would never need to be bought out, and would part amicably with the club and its fans. In his mind, the NBA would come as soon as 2015, perhaps 2016, but Chicago’s front office urged for dialogue on a potential buyout late in Real Madrid’s 2014 season. The Bulls tracked him for years, understood the unlikelihood of signing Carmelo Anthony and progressed steadily in contract negotiations with Mirotic. Soon, his agents had negotiated a fully guaranteed three-year deal -- the NBA’s richest contract ever for a rookie, never mind simply a European player signing.

“I was thinking I would finish my full contract over there and come afterward, but life is like that,” Mirotic says. “Chicago wanted me this year, and I was feeling good to go. The decision to come this year is a great thing.”

And yet, back home, Mirotic heard backlash for leaving through a buyout of millions, heard detractors of his American dream. Some told him he should stay. Some said he wasn’t prepared, wasn’t athletic enough. Mirotic had struggled to end the Real Madrid season, dealing with a minor wrist injury. Yes, Mirotic needed to sit down with his family, his wife and his representatives for a final decision -- and everyone agreed.

“I don’t care what people say because it was the perfect moment,” Mirotic told RealGM. “Twenty-three years old, I won titles with Real Madrid, and I did great things there. The perfect moment is now. I was thinking I was ready, thinking that I belong here, and Chicago gave me a lot of interest.” 

A week into preseason, Mirotic has shown promise to be an integral contributor in an NBA rotation for the next decade. And as Crespo says, “Nikola loves Chicago, loves his teammates and loves the coaches. He loves this situation.”

Mirotic is bigger than some teammates had envisioned on tape, a skillful ball handler and accomplished shooter. For Tom Thibodeau, Mirotic still must strengthen, sharpen and quicken the release on his jumper and fully understand concepts.

For the head coach, players must grasp schemes and an edge to maintain a rotation spot, and Mirotic’s there now on a championship contender should Rose and veterans like Pau Gasol stay healthy. Mirotic is still learning this new league, still learning his fresh surroundings. On his way out of an opposing arena recently, he became lost in finding the exit doors to the team bus, and soon a security personnel showed him the way.

“What an opportunity for me here … I cannot believe it. I’m learning a lot, and it’s amazing,” Mirotic says, and he’s so much more coordinated now in his pro career. He’s no longer a 6-foot-something kid running around on a soccer field, a grandfather’s persuasion turning Mirotic into a European basketball prodigy. He’s here now, far from a soccer field, far from the critics back home. Nikola Mirotic is where he belongs.

14-15 Euroleague Power Rankings: Centers

As the 14-15 Euroleague season begins, RealGM presents the ultimate positional rankings of the league's best players. In this first edition, we ranked the elite centers from one to ten. 

1. Gustavo Ayon (Real, Spain)

Statistics in 2013-14 (NBA): 4.3 points and 4.8 rebounds.

Euroleague finalist Real Madrid won the biggest fight of the offseason in signing Gustavo Ayon. One of the best big men in 2014 FIBA World Cup, Ayon has joined Real for the next two seasons as a replacement for Nikola Mirotic. Ayon can unquestionably contribute as much as Mirotic did in 13-14 statistically - Ayon failed to establish himself as anything more than an NBA role player but has always been very productive in international competitions. The 29-year-old center averaged 17.6 points and 7.6 rebounds in the World Cup, including 25 points performance in the quarterfinal match against Team USA.

2. Ante Tomic (FC Barcelona, Spain)

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 11.7 points and 6.4 rebounds. 

Ante Tomic stands out statistically from the other players ranked here. The Croatian big man was the only Euroleague center that ranked in the Top 15 in scoring last season and also was the second best rebounder of the league. In 13-14, Tomic was not only as productive as the previous season, but also had a career performance in a game against Anadolu Efes in which he scored 26 points, grabbed 15 boards and collected career-high 40 performance index rating (PIR) points. Numbers don’t lie and the 27-year-old Tomic is expected to remain in elite for the upcoming years.

3. Tibor Pleiss (FC Barcelona, Spain)

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 12 points (86% FT) and 5.4 rebounds.

Now it is obvious that moving to Laboral Kutxa in 2012 was a great move for Tibor Pleiss. After adjusting in 12-13, last season was a great success for Pleiss. He more than doubled his stats in Euroleague (12 points and 5.4 rebounds), while he was also a dominant figure in Spanish league (12.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game). If Dunk-O-Meterexists in Europe, Pleiss would had been among leaguers as the German center successfully used his height (7-foot-1), long arms and often finished off plays with dunks. As Pleiss joined Tomic at FC Barcelona by signing a two-year contract, it is going to be interesting to see how two elite centers will fit together on the same team.

4. Ioannis Bourousis (Real, Spain)

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 8.3 points (86% FT) and 5.9 rebounds.

After spending two title-less years with EA7 Emporio Armani Milan, last season Ioannis Bourousis finally got into a winning situation and was a part of an astonishing Real Madrid run. Real was only one win away from becoming one of the most remarkable teams in the history of Euroleague. However, Bourousis is not the one to blame for loss as the Greek center was one of the most effective players in the final game, where he scored 12 points and grabbed nine boards. With Mirotic gone, the biggest challenge for Bourousis will be to use all his experience to help Real maintain the impressive level of play as it was last season.

5. Bryant Dunston (Olympiacos, Greece)

Statistics in 2013-2014 (Euroleague): 10.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. 

Last season Bryant Dunston, now a second-year center, stepped into a difficult role as a rookie as he became a starting big man of back-to-back Euroleague champion Olympiakos. It did not take long until Dunston turned into a dominant player inside the paint who was a difference maker on both sides of the floor. Dunston's defensive skills and rim-protection was noticed by Euroleague coaches, who voted Dunston to become 2014 Euroleague Best Defender trophy winner. Despite Olympiakos tried to strengthen their frontcourt by adding Othello Hunter, it seems that Olympiakos will still rely mostly on Dunston, who will again be the strongest candidate to win Best Defender award.

6. Shawn James (EA7 Emporio Armani, Italy)

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 9.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.

Shawn James missed a big part of last season as he recovered after having back surgery in January and had to watch his teammates lifting Euroleague trophy in Milan. However, most of Euroleague fans should still remember his game from 12-13 season as back then James led the league in blocks (1.9) and was named to the 2012-13 All-Euroleague Second Team. Now James moved to Milan, where he might become a piece that kept EA7 Emporio Armani team way from winning a playoff series. If James gets back to the level he was in 12-13, Milan will become a real contender to play in Euroleague Final Four.

7. Sofoklis Schortsanitis (Maccabi, Israel)

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 9.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.

Sofoklis Schortsanitis is one of the most unique players in the Euroleague as he didn’t receive more than 15 minutes of playing time per game in last three seasons but still remained among elite centers. Due to his condition, Schortsanitis’ playing time was limited in 13-14 but the Greek as usual was able to do a lot of damage in a short period of time - Schortsanitis also led the league in points per 28 minutes (19). Do not expect to see Schortsanitis to climb the ranking in the upcoming seasons but the current Euroleague champion should remain a guy who can get the job done in 15 minutes.

8. Sasha Kaun (CSKA, Russia)

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 8.4 points and 3.5 rebounds.

Now as the only center on a Euroleague title contender, 14-15 is going to be a make or break season for Sasha Kaun. The big man was very efficient on pick and roll situations and was productive when CSKA needed that the most. Kaun scored 29 points in the last two playoffs games against Panathinaikos and collected 27 points in two 2014 Euroleague Final Four games. It is going to be interesting to see how Kaun will look on the court together with Nando de Colo and if he can develop himself into a big man, who put double-digit performances on a game-by-game basis.

9. Lamont Hamilton (Laboral Kutxa, Spain)

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 10.3 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.3 assists.

Even though he missed half of the Euroleague games last season due to injury, Lamont Hamilton was still selected to RealGM’s Euroleague All-Rookie 2nd Team and in general had a productive season. Hamilton was one of the best sixth men in the league as he averaged 10.3 points and 3.6 boards in 19 minutes of action. With Pleiss gone to FC Barcelona, Hamilton’s role is set to increase but as Laboral Kutxa acquired Ryan Gomes, Davis Bertans, and Thomas Heurtel flashed in 2014 FIBA World Cup, the center’s touches will be limited.

10. Nenad Krstic (Anadolu Efes, Turkey)

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 9.6 points and 3.2 rebounds.

After a slow start last season, Nenad Krstic finally became himself in the beginning of Top 16 stage, where he put four 20 PIR points performances in a row but after the seventh game of the second stage Krstic disappeared and never came back. Overall, Krstic has been in decline over the past few seasons. In the 2014 FIBA World Cup, Krstic’s playing time was limited due to his poor conditioning, which was mainly caused by a knee injury, therefore it is unsure if he can get back this season at the top level that he was just couple years ago.

Interview: Marco Baldi Of Alba Berlin

The German Beko BBL is the fastest growing basketball league and once again set a new attendance record. The German teams attracted more than 1.5 million fans during the 13-14 season.

Eight-time German champion Alba Berlin set the highest standard with an average attendance of 10,659 fans per game. These results might be surprising for most of European basketball fans but not for the general manager of Alba Berlin, Marco Baldi, who was working towards this direction for about a decade. Baldi and his team’s effort were recognized by Euroleague as he won the Euroleague's Club Executive of the Year for the 08-09 season award and his team received Euroleague wild card for the second time in last three years. 

RealGM sat down with Baldi in Berlin to talk about his vision for Alba, German basketball, the financial side of European basketball, their upcoming friendly game against San Antonio Spurs and much more. 

RealGM: First of all, how would you evaluate your team's performance during the 13-14 season?

Baldi: We should consider what we did before the season; I am talking about a complete renewal of the team. We only kept one junior player and one veteran player, while all the other players were recruited and were here for the first time. The circumstances have also changed in Germany as we now have Bayern Munich, who are what they are and they are ready to invest appropriately. Brose Baskets have also found a kind of an investor, who has a very strong relation to the club and he kind of takes it personal. Therefore he is also ready to invest, he can afford it because he is a billionaire. That means we have strong competition there and we have clubs within our league who are always able to top our offers, which changes a little bit the picture of German basketball.

We did a kind of step back; we did not go for big names. We found of good mixture of young players, who are ready to kill, ready to develop. With a very good work ethic, but no big names. We found great chemistry and combination of more experienced and internationally-proven guys such David Logan or Cliff Hammonds and also young foreigners who had their first tests to show if they can make that next step, like Reggie Redding. Also adding young players to this mixture worked out very well. You cannot forget our winning streak, which helped to build our confidence. If I have to draw a line, I would say it was unexpectedly beautiful season.  

It is my 25th year here and I cannot remember a team that would put this much heart and effort on the court. Talent and skill wise, this team was not at the highest standard, but every single member was ready to work, ready to contribute. There was no jealousy and it was a huge pleasure to work with this team. Most of them are on the contract for the next season, including the young guys because this is the way we are heading. If you only look at the results, there is a title we won (Cup Trophy); we made it to the very last stage at the domestic league. Eurocup is a very underrated competition, which does not have this glamour effect that Euroleague has, but it is a very tough competition. Sometimes I think it is even tougher than Euroleague because the arenas you play are more difficult, travelling sometimes is more difficult as well. It is a very tough competition and we made it to the last eight and then lost to the champion Valencia. 

All in all, I think we had a good season. For us it is always very important that we had great support from the spectators. We had a relation between people who are interested in the club and they had a very high-identification with the team, which is a very important thing for us. People saw that this team is leaving its heart on the court and is giving everything. You might have some games that are not on the highest level or you lose them, they can forgive us as long as people see that the effort is there and they see the purpose. It has been a fantastic season. 

RealGM: You have mentioned the changes in German basketball. Alba is an eight-time German champion, but the last time the team won the championship was six years ago. Are those changes the main reasons of that?

Baldi: I think only Bayern Munich has the potential to dominate the league. But it is just the economical potential. It is an important part and the higher budget you have, more likely you win the league, but even for them it took couple of years to win the title. I don’t think within next five or ten years there will be one team that will completely dominate like it used to be with Bayer Leverkuen and Alba. The competition is much more balanced and it is very competitive. There is not a single game that you can win without the right approach. This has radically changed. I remember that around 2000 there were four or five teams that you can beat by just being there and doing your job. But it is not like that anymore. You need to prepare for each game, you need maximum effort because otherwise you might lose. I think this is what people want to see and what makes competition better. It increases our level every year and now we have six or seven teams that without having red faces could say they want to be in best four or go all the way to the final. They are not dreamers, they have the right, infrastructure and they have potential to achieve that. This is what makes basketball in Germany more attractive. There used to be one team and others were trying to shoot from the distance. 

RealGM: For many years Alba has had amazing attendance numbers. This season you had an average of 10,000 spectators per game. How did you build this large fan base? Where did these results come from? 

Baldi: First of all, Berlin is an interesting market because there are a lot of people, I am talking about modern and international people. On the other hand, at this moment we have 104 teams in the first division. Just in volleyball, I think there are three. The competition here is huge. But this is just sports as on the other hand, Berlin offers many other things as for instance people come here for only weekends to party and they leave two days later. This is another competition. We started to work on this around 12-14 years ago; we did not wait for the people to come the gate but we went out. We have six people working with tickets who do nothing else than developing ticketing programs, contacting people and do groups sales. There is a lot of effort there. Another thing is that we have a huge youth program. At this moment, there are 85 youth coaches under our umbrella who go to schools and they teach basketball there in the name of Alba club. We do that in Brandenburg area, while in Berlin we have contracts with 60 schools. All together, it is 3,000 kids and they all have friends and family, and they come to the games.  

Of course, we also have special ticketing programs, but this is how we work. First of all, let’s make a platform where people could actively participate on Alba Berlin, I mean by playing the game. This one part, and the other is an aggressive ticketing, which means we are not waiting for people to come to the gates, but we go out, we sell to corporations, we sell to groups. There is not a one institution in Berlin that we have not contacted yet in order to sell them tickets. This is our investment. Also we keep our people motivated and we give them competitive salary. Maybe we could have a better player but then we might not have fans in the arena. We believe in sustainability - the more fans come, the better our image will be and maybe we will have a chance to increase the culture of our team. Also we are used to work on a market. We have never been organized in a way that we rely on a sheikh, a millionaire or a city. We are always working on a market and this is how we grow. This was built over years.

RealGM: It seems that everything Alba does is based on financial or other logic, however, in the offseason teams like Alba has to compete with teams which do not have large fan bases and they pay the players unreasonable amounts of money. Does that bother you and do you think there will be a salary cap or any financial regulation in the future? 

Baldi: When you grow up in basketball in general, you are used to competition. There will always be a one who has more or who is nicer. This is one part. I think Euroleague is going towards this direction that you are talking about by so-called financial fair play. They know that it is not healthy if clubs with the biggest budgets in the Euroleague depends just on one person. We see what happened to Montepaschi Siena. It was a typical monostructural club, depending on one institution, which was a bank, and once that bank faced problems, the team is in trouble as well. We are not waiting for the sheikh. Maybe he will come, but we are not waiting for him. And if he does not come, we will not blame anyone. We are also not blaming anyone that are in the market with much higher salaries because that cannot be avoided but at the end, they might not even pay, as it happens often in basketball. For this kind of approach, there should be a very clear regulations. Euroleague is working towards this direction as they offer ticketing programs, teach you how to work with the fans, they offer marketing programs as well. If we want to develop European basketball, we can only do it with sustainability. We cannot do it by just waiting for people who might invest some money in basketball because they consider it to be fun. Or if they see basketball team as a toy or a thing of personal interest. We cannot give our basketball into these hands.  

Of course, this is not specifically a basketball problem as we have in football teams such PSG or Chelsea, where you have these situations. I am not crying that Russians or somebody else have more money because this situation has been like this for years. Previously it was Greece, who offered two or three times more money than you could even think of, but they never got paid and players were off the market at the time. There are some regulations now and we should continue to work on this situation. On the other hand, it is always important for basketball to have investors. But most sustainable investors are these who get something back, not those who do it for fun. There are exceptions like Panathinaikos situations, where a family has been investing for so long, they have my respect. On the other hand, it cannot be a model for a European basketball.

RealGM: Where do you see German championship ranked among European competitions in five or ten years?

Baldi: It is very difficult to say, but German league has a goal to become the best league in Europe by 2020. But what is the best league? Best basketball, highest attendance, best TV coverage? The criteria are not so easy to define. I think we really improved in the last years. Definitely, in order to make the next step, we need more German players. We are working on this very hard. At the moment, we have some kind of misbalance because some of the teams in Germany feel nervous that you have to pay very high salaries for German, comparing with the prices in the international market. On the other hand, to give players motivation, we need those regulations we have now in order to motivate and develop German players. Spain or Lithuania, I think they make their living because they have so many great players. Maybe they have other weaknesses such weak economy, inexperience in marketing or ticketing or other things, but they have the core, which are players and coaches. We need to work on this direction and we need to improve.

Answering your question, I think now Spain is stronger and then I am not sure who is second. Because you have those typical situations in Israel or Greece, where you have one or two very dominant teams. Italy? Not really. France? Stable but we are there.

RealGM: No German players made it to All-BBL First or Second team this season. Is the fact that players from abroad dominate the German league your biggest worry?

Baldi: I do not think that the problem is foreigners dominating the league, but we definitely need more higher-level German players. If we were good and foreigners would still dominate the league, then why not. At the best time of Italian league Bob McAdoo and players like him was dominating. When Italy had golden era, they had many great international players. What you said is one of the biggest worries and it is something that we need to work on; bring more German basketball players to the highest level. We started ten years ago collecting kids from schools to teach them basketball. And it starts from there. In Lithuania, probably the first sport young kids meet is basketball, while here in Germany they get in touch with soccer, then more soccer, then maybe a little bit of handball, then volleyball and then maybe some basketball, which is taught by someone who is better in soccer (laughing). And we need to change that. The best place where it can happen is school. Of course, most of kids who are involved in our training program will do it for fun but who wants more, they come to our club, they get their practices and support. If you want to move further, all the options are there. This season we won the junior title and the results are slowly coming up. We started ten years ago when they were six years old. Now they are 16-year-old and it will take another five or six years and then we will have the benefits. 

This is Berlin only and we gave to do it nationwide. Berlin is a specific place, while in other places, maybe even rural areas you must use other concept. The number of people playing basketball must be increased and then of course we need to improve coaching quality, referees because it is all connected. But first step is to bring young kids to basketball. We already made some steps; there are requirements from the league now. If you want to participate in the top league, you must work with youth. It is not you want it or not, you have to. We are improving in that but it will take certain time to grow more quality players. The circumstances are right for that and there is no excuse.

RealGM: In your opinion, what the future holds for German national team after the retirement of Dirk Nowitzki?

Baldi: First of all, the German national team was depending a lot on Nowitzki. I think it was a miracle that the guy who was really exhausted after a long season was still involved and had a special role there. He was still coming back to Germany and played for Germany. At the same time, everyone understands that this is over. Maybe he might play in a game or two, but more or less this is over. For this reason I think we need to create a certain spirit and bring something to play for this team. I’m talking about the approach “Dirk is there, I’m coming” and “oh no, Dirk is not there, I’m not coming, I need to rest”. This is the first thing that needs to be done. Then it is again, players development is not a thing that you can do in two years, it will take time. We have many good players, of course not as many as Lithuania or Greece, which are smaller countries. Talking about material if we compare Germany with Italy, I would not say that they are on a higher level. I think until German national team will be really strong, I am talking about making to the final four of European championship, it is going to take some time. Maybe five years. We could find something better with Nowitzki and Chris Kaman, but that would not be natural. To develop our players, get to the next level, it is going to take us about four-five years.

RealGM: Did you expect to get a wild card from Euroleague and what does this extra attention from Euroleague means for the team?

Baldi: Yes, I think they appreciate what we do because they see the way we are working. They also understood that German competition is not so easy to win. We have their support and they like the model we have here. We are grateful to have their support. On the other hand, there are sports ranking with different criteria. Sports criteria, TV ranking, fans attendance. If you look there now, we are here and it is not a big surprise for us. Even last year we were there but they chose Budivelnik Kyiv because they could not foresee what is going to happen in Ukraine but they saw this possibility with Ukraine having European championship and basketball growth there. 

Of course we have our limits because we do not have an investor who would not care about the money and would buy every player we want. There is a high-consistency, sustainability and we spend only the money that we generate. Sometimes it is a little bit boring because it is more exacting when you have guys from the NBA coming to play for your team. But on the other hand, we cannot afford this. They analyze the cities and that is why we got the support. Also, whenever we played in the Euroleague, except once, we always made it to the Top 16. There are many explanations to choose Berlin basketball, the market is interesting and we have proved that we are serious.

RealGM: Despite Berlin being a huge market, do you see Alba becoming a European powerhouse by going this “I spend as much as I generate only” way?

Baldi: Of course it is possible. At the same time, the regulations should be adapted as well. Two or three years ago there was a report by a company, which analyses sports business, that the basketball section of FC Barcelona had 30 million euros turnover with six million euros revenue. As long it is going to be like this, we have no chance. Again, I am not crying and I am not blaming anyone for this. I think we have to come to reasonable terms and we will develop in this direction. Investors must feel comfortable in the Euroleague and they must see that it is attractive to invest there. We need to build the sustainability, otherwise, as we see with Siena, an elite league cannot afford to have protagonist who suddenly disappear. It just cannot happen. It will come but it is a process. It will definitely help us but we need to work ourselves as well. We need to find people who are ready to invest in our project and want to work on sustainability. We see people put a lot of money, they do not win and then they just come home and do something else like horse riding. That is why we need sustainability and we are developing into this direction. We might not become a powerhouse in five years but the market, Berlin allows it, and the arena is here, the potential. We cannot have CSKA approach - whenever you offer we can top it, we want to have this player. This cannot be our approach and it is not going to be. 

RealGM: What was your first reaction when you heard officially that Alba is going to compete against the San Antonio Spurs? What are your expectations for the game?

Baldi: I cannot say this because Dirk will be disappointed, but I was hoping to play against San Antonio Spurs because it is much better to play against NBA champions. That is my favorite team in the NBA, I followed them all the years. We are happy that we had an opportunity to play Dallas Mavericks. And this is what people want to see - local team playing against an NBA team. We had Washington Wizards and New Orleans Hornets in Berlin in 2009 and you cannot compare the revenues and TV coverage with the game that Alba was involved. People want to see great NBA teams, in this case it is going to be the best one, playing against the home team. If NBA teams play against each other, it might work in London, but it does not work in Berlin. I am sure that if Indiana Pacers would come to Kaunas to play against Zalgiris, that is what people would like to see. You were asking when we will become a powerhouse but do not forget that this is going to be our 25th season. This is still a young club and this event fits our anniversary season perfectly. We are very honored and we will try to do everything to play a very good role there. We do not have to motivate our guys and we have some experience as we played against the Mavericks here. Different rules and the atmosphere is a little bit different as well. But you have to adapt, even if it for one game. I do not want to say that the result will not count but especially for our young guys, just to play against the top of the top is fantastic. This is a great opportunity.

Top-10 American Players In 13-14 Euroleague

RealGM has ranked the Top-10 Americans who were most productive and had most success in 13-14 Euroleague season. Five players from this ranking (Dunston, Rice, Dentmon, Brown, Delaney) played in the Euroleague for the first time in their career.

Euroleague MVP Race

As the Euroleague Top-16 phase approaches its end, here are our Euroleague MVP rankings, where there are six new faces and big changes since the beginning of the season.

Real Madrid Makes Case For Being Euroleague's Best Team Of The Century

Real Madrid has a remarkable 41-1 record this season and could become the best team of the 21st century if that continue this path all the way to the Final Four in Milan in May.

Euroleague's Most Improved Players Of The 2013-14 Season

While Euroleague is on a short break, here are our Top 10 Euroleague's Most Improved Players Ranking. With the season halfway over, RealGM ranked players who have taken the next step in their Euroleague careers.

Euroleague Rookie Ladder

While Euroleague is on a short break, RealGM presents Top 10 Euroleague Rookie Rankings. With the season halfway over, RealGM ranked best players who made their debut in Euroleague during the 13-14 season. Like season, Americans dominate the ranking, occupying the top five spots.

Europe Interview: Blake Schilb Of Crvena Zvezda

RealGM caught up with Blake Schilb to talk about the transition from France to Serbia, Crvena Zvezdaís performance in the Euroleague, rivalry with Partizan and much more.

24 Questions For The Start Of Euroleague 2013-14

On Nikola Mirotic, a possible threepeat for Olympiacos, Carlos Arroy's return, can CSKA buy chemistry, the rise of Ukrainian basketball and much more.

Europe Interview: Tomas Van Den Spiegel

RealGM recently caught up with Tomas Van Den Spiegel, a pioneer in European basketball's social media community, to talk about his retirement, career highlights, Belgium basketball and much more.

RealGM's 2012-13 Euroleague Awards

Victor Khryapa wins Euroleague MVP, while Paul Davis is Rookie of the Year, Aron Baynes wins Most Improved and Georgios Bartzokas is Coach of the Year.

Euroleague Rookie Ladder

Blake Schlib, Paul Davis, Ricky Hickman, Shelden Williams, Marcus Williams, Drew Gordon, Leo Westermann, Dashaun Wood, Nemanja Nedovic and Kelvin Rivers are amongst the top newcomers to Euroleague this season.

Euroleague's Most Improved Players Of The 2012-13 Season

Aron Baynes, Shawn James, Nemanja Bjelica, Curtis Jerrells, Vladimir Lucic, Pietro Aradori, Jaka Blazic, Ante Tomic, Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Kostas Papanikolaou have had breakout seasons in Euroleague.

Euroleague Power Rankings: Small Forwards

Sonny Weems, Pete Mickeal, Andres Nocioni, Bostjan Nachbar, Emir Preldzic, Malik Hairston, Bojan Bogdanovic, Mickael Gelable, Krunoslav Simon and Jonas Maciulis are the top small forwards in Euroleage this season.

24 Questions For The Start Of Euroleague

As the 12-13 Euroleague season begins, RealGM presents 24 questions for the Euroleague fans.

Let The Valanciunas, Anthony Davis Comparisons Begin

Like almost all young centers, the development of Jonas Valanciunas and Anthony Davis will depend heavily on the environment their team puts them in. Davis has a higher ceiling than Valanciunas, but the difference between the two isnít nearly as high as their pre-draft publicity would suggest.

Reevaluating Ty Lawson's Time In Europe

Ty Lawson had a role player existence during his time for Zalgiris before emerging as one of the best young point guards in the NBA. We dig into the reasons why.

Euroleague Quarterfinals Preview

The top-8 teams from Spain, Greece, Israel, Italy and Russia are ready to begin the last stage to reach the 2012 Euroleague Final Four.

Europe Interview: Earl Rowland Of Unicaja Malaga

Earl Rowland has been rising the ranks in Europe and recently moved from the Latvian league to Unicaja Malaga in the ACB and Euroleague.

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