It really doesn't seem like too long ago LK was chucking threes in the powder blue, and the Nuggets expected to have him back this past season at a reasonable $2.7mil for a final year. Alas, our season is over and LK is still playing in Europe where he signed a two year, $12.2 million dollar contract about a year ago. With the offseason in full swing now we might as well examine where Kleiza is now and what he can do for the Nuggets in the future
Image from a fansite for Olympiacos "Reds" No idea what this says or means
What's Kleiza's Status with the Nuggets?
He's a restricted Free Agent, assuming the Nuggets tender another qualifying offer to keep his rights, which they almost certainly will. Kleiza cannot be used in any NBA trade while he is under contract in Europe. Kleiza can opt of the final year of $6.1 million contract with Olympiacos, but he won't have to before exploring the options during NBA free agency period. Trading Kleiza for something good would be very difficult, but not impossible. I explained why in a fanpost last year.
How did Kleiza do over in Europe
In the 20 game Euroleague season, Kleiza averaged 17.3 ppg, good for the overall scoring title. He also grabbed 6.4 rebounds a game, shot 55% from two and 35% from three. Quite simply LK was a legitimate MVP candidate in his first year over there. Keep in mind it's harder to get monster numbers where players generally average less minutes and get less shots than they would in the NBA. As of now, LK stands out as a success story for ex-NBA players coming over to have an immediate impact. Kleiza will play May 7 in Paris during the Euroleague Final Four for the Olympaicos "Reds" if you're interested in watching. I think it will be on NBATV. Check out Eurobasket.net for details.
Will the Nuggets bring him back?
Kleiza almost had a 4 year, $25 million extension with the Nuggets before the deal was called off prior to the Chauncey Billups trade. Seeing as how LK would make $6.1 million to stay another year in Greece, his agent would be looking for a deal in the same ballpark to come back. Nuggets have the right to match any offer to Kleiza within seven days or agree to sign and trade him. Ultimately, it's up to Linas whether or not he comes back to the NBA or gets traded. It's too early to answer this question with any sort of certainty right now, but I'll make some guesses in the next sections
A few months ago I read that Kleiza enrolled in University as part of a program for professional athletes. I used to have a link to this, but I can't find it anymore. I would need some help on the research but it's unknown if this could affect his decision on where to play next year. With the prospect of a new CBA next year, NBA agents will be looking to lock their players up in big multi-year contracts while they can. It's possible LK's agent could push him to sign now rather than later. Also, Greece (the country where Kleiza's team plays) is kind of in serious trouble right now. Their government just recieved a $145 billion rescue bailout. How this affects professional basketball over there I'm not sure, I haven't thought about that shit. But it's something to consider.
My Guess on what happens
The price to bring Kleiza back would be sort of high. Especially for a guy that's averaged 8.3 points and 3.5 rebounds in the NBA. Right now, there are much more important things to worry about than whether or not to bring LK back. As long as JR and Kenyon remain on the roster, there's not enough room or money to make him an offer. Unless things change, Kleiza should hope another team wants him enough to give Denver an asset, or overpays to the extent where we would be crazy to match the offer. If it were me as the Nuggets GM, I'd be entertaining trades for Kleiza but in no hurry to sign him. In fact, I'd give the money to Joey Graham instead.
Linas Kleiza clearly has the talent to play in the NBA. It's a question of whether he wants to earn his stripes and his money the hard way, and meet Denver halfway on a reasonable offer to come back. Ersan Ilyasova came back to the Bucks from the Euroleague on a 3 year, $7 million dollar deal. Clearly he wanted to be back in the NBA, he sacrificed and it's been a resounding success. In LK's case, I somehow think we can expect him to take the money and run.... to Greece for another year that is.