Many of the players who opted out of their contracts last June struck gold in free agency. Not the case for Shane Larkin, who hit the market and ended up joining Spain’s Baskonia on a sweet deal for European standards, but a far cry from what others made this summer. The 6-foot-1 guard says he’s not sweating the turn of events and thinks this could be a stepping stone in his pro career.
How do you come to the decision to sign with Baskonia?
Shane Larkin: It was a pretty anxious free agency for me. I had a few teams that were interested in me. I don’t really know where the conversations went with those teams, but I ended up switching agents halfway through free agency because I wasn’t really happy with the direction I was going in with my other agent. So I made that switch and by the time it happened it was really late in free agency and all the teams pretty much had their spots taken up. A few teams called with invitations to training camp with partial guarantees and options like that, but I just thought the opportunity to play in Spain and in the Euroleague with the option to get big minutes, work on my game and become a better basketball player was the better opportunity at the time compared to the other options on the table. If you go to a team on a partial guarantee, the opportunity might be there, but obviously you’re not going to be one of their first options. Baskonia really wanted me and wanted me to be a big piece of the team. I just thought that now it would be more beneficial for me and my young career to come here, play in some good competitions with great players and learn a different style that should make me better.
I saw you got a pretty good contract compared to what most players in Europe make.
SL: Yeah, it was a pretty big deal. But it wasn’t neccesarily about the money. I thought the opportunity to play with great players like Roddy Beaubois, Andrea Bargnani and a bunch of talented players was more of a factor in the decision.
When did you change agents exactly?
SL: I don’t remember the exact date, but probably around August 1. Somewhere between late July and early August.
Who’s your agent now?
SL: It’s Jim Tanner.
You talked with the Spanish media about how you felt like you had been an underrated player during your career. Why do you feel that way?
SL: The teams that I’ve been on didn’t have great seasons. When I was with the Knicks two seasons ago, we had a bad year. We didn’t have a good year in Brooklyn either. With the Knicks, there’s no excuses. We tried to adapt to a new system, new coach and new situation for a lot of players and it just wasn’t the right roster for the offense they were trying to run at that particular time. In Brooklyn, we lost a lot of players to injuries and we just didn’t play as well as we should have. I feel whatever you do individually in years like that, even if my numbers were solid across the board, it doesn’t matter. Because you lost so many games, your market goes down. People just overlook you. If you look at my numbers and those of multiple backup guards in the NBA who receive multi-milion dollar deals… If you put them up against each other, my numbers were better or very similar. The fact that my teams didn’t do so well in the regular season, that kind of hurt my market value and it hurts your reputation as a winner. The teams I’ve been on the past two years were not great situations, but I’m definitely grateful for the past two years because I got to play a lot of minutes.
Anyway, I think I have been overlooked because I’ve kind of been behind the eight ball. I got drafted, got injured in summer league, then I had to play in a triangle system which is not really the best type of system for a pick-and-roll point guard. Then this year I put solid numbers, but we had a losing team. We didn’t win a lot of games that we should have won. I showed improvement, but with so much losing it was a tough year. On top of that, I played with many different coaches over three years, so it was hard to find that footing that you need as a young guy . For all those reasons I mentioned, I believe I have been overlooked. It has not been the easiest path for me.
You saw a lot of guys opting out of their contract in free agency and it went well for most of them. You did the same, didn’t go so well for you. Any regret?
SL: Not really. The situation in Baskonia is a better situation than Brooklyn knowing that they wanted to go in a different direction. I could have possibly been in a bad situation with the guards they drafted perhaps playing in front of me because the new management might want to see them play. That situation wasn’t ideal. I don’t feel any regret about my decision. Obviously, it’s not all about the money, but I’m playing for more money this year than I did last year and I’m playing in a good situation where I’m going to have a lot of people watching me play and seeing my improvement. I’ll play in a competition where there’s a bunch of talented players. I think there’s 10 guys that were in the Euroleague that signed NBA deals this summer.
Your uncle played basketball overseas back in the day. Obviously different time and different place, but have you spoken with him about how this might be like?
SL: I talked to him a lot when I was making my decision, thinking about whether I should continue to wait or go overseas. He was like, “Go where you feel comfortable” and said when you played overseas they need you to do more. We spoke about the differences of my playing style in the NBA vs. what it should be like in Europe. In a lot of ways, me playing overseas and getting this experience being one of the most important players on the team will help me whether I stay playing in Europe multiple years or go back to the NBA. Obviously, everybody wants to play at the highest level of basketball and, although the Euroleague is a very high level, everybody’s goal is to win an NBA championship. The mindset is you have to be aggressive and be a bulldog as a small guard and I think Baskonia can help me develop that mentality and make me a better. That’s the kind of conversations that I had with my uncle.