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Updated: Bjelica returning to Europe rather than joining Sixers

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Bjelica didn’t get the NBA contract he was hoping for, and he is now considering going back to Europe.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

On July 5th, Nemanja Bjelica and the Sixers had reached an agreement for Bjeli to join the Sixers on a one-year, $4.4 million deal. The deal is yet to be made official though, and according to Nikos Varlas of Eurohoops.net, Bjelica is drawing interest from teams in the Euroleague:

Nemanja Bjelica and the Sixers have not finalized yet their contract for next season and according to multiple sources, EuroLeague teams may jump on the chance to bring the Serb forward back to the old continent.

It’s obvious that Bjelica’s priority is the NBA, however, he expected a better and especially a longer deal than the mid-level exception of the Sixers for one year.

That’s why the 2015 EuroLeague MVP remains puzzled and Europe can be an option for him. Of course, very few teams can afford him, but on the other hand, the chance of signing Bjelica could be intriguing for every EuroLeague powerhouse.

Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic, who covers the Minnesota Timberwolves, confirmed Varlas’ report.

So it sounds like Bjeli was expecting a more fruitful contract. And I don’t really blame him. I mean, Ersan Ilyasova got 3 years, $21 million after committing to the Milwaukee Bucks early on in free agency. This summer wasn’t friendly to those who signed later on though, like Bjeli.

Varlas remarks that the NBA is a priority for Bjeli, so one would think the Sixers still have a strong chance at keeping him aboard. It also helps the Sixers’ cause that “very few teams can afford [Bjelica]” in the Euroleague, if that is indeed true (Euroleague teams spend far, far less money on players than the NBA, that I know is true). However, the appeal for Bjelica and potential Euro teams is obvious. Bjeli is a former Euroleague MVP, which means a few things:

  1. Any European team who would acquire Bjeli would likely get an immediate boost in popularity and excitement within their fan base, due to Bjeli’s reputation as a star from his most recent Euroleague season. So it makes sense for almost any team to sign him strictly from a PR perspective.
  2. Bjelica is much, much more likely to be a difference-maker in Europe — we’re talking star-level there vs. bench role player stateside. Bjeli knows his game can thrive across the Atlantic, he’s already done it. So it makes sense for Bjeli and almost any team to reach an agreement strictly from a talent perspective.

If Bjeli were to go back to his roots, it would be disappointing. I detailed his fit here, and while he’s no all-star, Bjeli could be an important role player this season as the Sixers chase down an Eastern Conference Finals victory. Watching him jet for Europe and find that the Sixers have no Ilyasova replacement would be a bit worrisome.

Bjeli could make sense of either move, i.e. joining the Sixers or returning to the Euroleague. I wouldn’t be shocked to see one or the other, but my gut tells me he stays in the NBA and joins the Sixers. The single season pay would likely be more in the NBA (although Bjeli would likely be sacrificing multiple years of guaranteed money should he stay in the NBA) and again, the report touched on the fact that Bjeli has made the NBA a priority.

UPDATE:

With laughable timing, Keith Pompey is reporting that Bjelica will indeed be playing in Europe next season rather than for the Sixers in the NBA. This after news surfaced this morning that Euroleague teams were interested in Bjeli and also after I wrote about 10 minutes ago that my gut says Bjeli stays in the NBA.

The room mid-level exception, which the Sixers were anticipated to use on Bjeli, remains unused for the time being. And one player yet to sign with a team, Jahlil Oka...