Sunday, July 24, 2005
Updated: July 25, 5:35 PM ET
Jasikevicius played for last three Euroleague champs
By Chad Ford
Sarunas Jasikevicius, widely considered the top point guard in Europe, agreed to a three-year, $12 million deal with the Pacers, his agent Doug Neustadt said Sunday.
Jasikevicius also had offers from the Jazz and Cavs, but decided to take less money and playing time to have a shot at an NBA title.
"It really came down to who he could win a championship with next year," Neustadt told ESPN.com. "He saw a chance to contribute and win and couldn't pass it up."
The point guard, who played collegiately at Maryland from 1994-'98, most recently played for Maccabi Tel Aviv from 2003-2005 and F.C. Barcelona from 2000-2003.
Jasikevicius led Maccabi to a second straight Euroleague title in May and, in the process, won the MVP of the Final Four. He scored 22 points on 7-for-12 shooting, shot 3-for-4 from 3-point range, and had six rebounds and five assists. However, the stats aren't what makes him appealing.
Jasikevicius is a warrior with a great jumper, good size for the position and excellent court vision. Jasikevicius thrives in pressure situations and demands and shoots the ball late in games.
In last summer's Olympics he dropped 28 points on Team USA in a Lithuania victory and 17 points in a loss.
He's lapped the competition in Europe. Now we'll see if he can continue his winning streak in the NBA.
"I was finding it tough to practice this year for the first time," Jasikevicius told ESPN.com in May. "I had trouble motivating myself. I love the competition and it really took the Final Four to begin to bring it out in me again."
NBA teams have flirted with bringing him over in free agency for the past two summers. His asking price last year, $1.6 million, wasn't too high. But general managers, as they are wont to do, always focused on what he couldn't do.
He's too slow. He's not a great athlete. He doesn't play defense. His passion can make him out of control. How will NBA players respond when he chews them out on the court after they make dumb plays?
But after his third straight title, teams began looking at him differently. However, no one pursued him harder than the Pacers. Team president Larry Bird watched Jasikevicius play numerous times over the course of the season and became convinced that Jasikevicius had the character to overcome his physical limitations.
If anyone should be able to spot that, it should be Larry.
Jasikevicius joins a Pacers team primed to make a title run. With Ron Artest returning from a year long suspension,
Jermaine O'Neal, Jamaal Tinsley and Jonathan Bender finally getting healthy and first-round pick Danny Granger added to the mix the Pacers suddenly look like the toughest, deepest and most motivated team in the league.
With their starting five already in place, look for Jasikevicius to be an important sixth man coming off the bench.
The loss of Reggie Miller obviously strikes a blow to the heart of the team. But the Pacers are taking a $12 million gamble that Jasikevicius can bring some of that same swagger to Indiana next season. It's a risky move, but it could be the gamble that puts the Pacers over the top.
Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.