Spanish guard Juan Carlos Navarro has surprised the NBA with his decision to return to FC Barcelona, the club he grew up with. Navarro's move is pretty unusual considering he left a lot of money on the table last year to sign with the Grizzlies and that he was bound to get a good contract in the league this summer after a brilliant season with Memphis in which he averaged 10.9 ppg and was named to the All-Rookie 2nd Team.
So why did Navarro choose to re-join his former team?
"It all started when he returned to Spain for holidays after the NBA season came to an end," Navarro's agent Alex Saratsis told HoopsHype.com. "In his mind, there was no doubt he was going to sign a contract with an NBA team for coming years, but things started to change when FC Barcelona got in touch with us. They were willing to make a great economic effort to bring him back and besides Navarro was thrilled to see that Chichi Creus (a former Spanish player recently named GM of FC Barcelona) was running things. I was in Barcelona last week for Navarro's birthday and that was when negotiations really heated up. They made two offers to us and the second one was one Juan Carlos couldn't refuse."
Reports out of Spain suggest Navarro's contract is for five years and $15 million euros (around $23 million), making him the best paid player in the history of FC Barcelona's basketball team.
Although free agents can't negotiate with NBA teams till July 1, Saratsis gauged the interest in his client around the league. And from what he was hearing, there was big money waiting for him in the NBA also.
"They were not flat out telling me what kind of contract Navarro could get, but you could feel there was a lot of interest from five or six teams especially, Memphis included," Saratsis said. "We were looking for a contract between $4.5 million and the mid-level exception and from what they were saying, I think it was doable. The names of Jason Kapono, Matt Carroll and Kyle Korver (all of them making more than $4.5 million per season) were often brought up when discussing what kind of role and contract he could get."
With Navarro bolting for Spain, the Grizzlies get yet another bad break following a dismal season in which they got heavily criticized around the NBA after dealing Pau Gasol for little value. Memphis acquired the rights to Navarro from the Wizards last summer in exchange of a future first-round pick. Now they will have nothing to show for it. But there's additional bad news for the Grizzlies: Marc Gasol, whose rights they obtained from the Lakers in the February trade, may join La Bomba in Barcelona.
"Juan Carlos understood that there was a possibility of playing with Marc in Barcelona and if that came to fruition, he would be thrilled," according to Saratsis. "The basketball project of the team was very important to him. It was never about money for Navarro. He gave up money to play in the NBA."
The question is, why give the NBA a try and then return to Europe after just one season – especially after proving he belonged in the league?
"Well, now he can at least say to himself that he was able to play there, that he was good enough to succeed in the NBA," Saratsis said. "At one point, he thought he would never get a chance to play there and proving himself that he could do well in NBA was big for him."