Could The Houston Rockets Lose Sergio Llull?

Aug 8, 2012; London, United Kingdom; Spain guard Sergio Llull (12) reacts during the men's quarterfinal against France in the 2012 London Olympic Games at North Greenwich Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When the Rockets drafted Sergio Llull in 2009, the plan was to groom him in Europe before he was ready to come over to the NBA. Some three years later, Llull is still not a Rocket. Is he ever going to come?

According to the Spanish newspaper, MARCA, Real Madrid is trying to make sure the answer to that question is no. In their latest report on Llull, MARCA notes that Real Madrid has offered Sergio Llull a six year extension with an option on a seventh year to keep Llull away from the NBA. Here's what they had to say:

El diario MARCA publica que el Real Madrid está negociando la ampliación del contrato de Llull para las próximas seis temporadas y que incluso podría incluir una séptima opcional por parte del club. Con esta operación el Madrid espantaría a los Rockets, el equipo que tiene sus derechos en la NBA y aspira aún a incorporarlo a su franquicia.

And my translation:

The daily newspaper MARCA disclosed that Real Madrid is negotiating an extension of Llull's contract for the next six seasons. The contract would also include a seventh year as a team option. With this move, Madrid could scare away the Rockets, the team that owns his NBA rights and hopes to bring him over to their franchise.

Obviously, nothing has been signed yet, but if Real Madrid locks up Llull long term, it will be a huge disappointment for the Rockets. Llull looked like a great pick at the 34th spot in the 2009 Draft, and that pick is looking even better now after a few excellent seasons and a thrilling Olympics.

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Getting Llull over to the Rockets was always the problem. Llull signed with Real Madrid at a relatively young age before the draft, and extended his contract with them in 2010. This summer, he had a chance to buy his way out of his contract, but forewent the option and instead will play the season in Spain.

In the words of Llull's father, "Houston is going crazy for him." Unfortunately, the Rockets are forced to play a waiting game to see if Llull will accept Real Madrid's latest offer or wait to see what opportunities the off-season presents.

With his status as a veritable star in Europe, Llull has no reason to come over without the promise of serious playing time, so the fact that the Rockets just signed their most significant free agent in years at the point and used their first draft pick on a shooting guard does not bode well for Llull's chances with the Rockets. Given their history with Billy Spanoulis, perhaps Llull could be scared off.

However, if the Rockets value him highly enough, changes can be made to the roster and Llull knows this. If there isn't a spot for Llull on the Rockets next year, he knows that the Madrid contract extension will still be on the table. For that reason, I'm inclined to believe that Llull will wait before deciding on his future.

NBA teams and European players play this game all the time, and the eventual result tends to be the same in the end, with the player choosing to take his game to the highest league in the world. There are notable exceptions (Fran Vasquez comes to mind), but the opportunity to play against the world's best on the biggest stage is often too much to pass up. If you're Daryl Morey, you have to hope that Llull resists the temptation to take Madrid's offer.

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