Houston Rockets fans have been tantalized by the name for seven years now.
Real Madrid fans hope the tease never ends.
But those in the know say rugged Spanish guard Sergio Llull, spotted earlier this week scoring 22 points in Real Madrid's stirring come-from-behind exhibition triumph over the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder, could still end up in the NBA someday.
The Rockets acquired the rights to Llull (pronounced Yule) in a draft-day deal with the Denver Nuggets in 2009 that cost them in excess of $2 million. Since then, Lllull has resisted numerous attempts by the Rockets to lure him Stateside, preferring to stay with his beloved Real.
The devotion to his Spanish club has established the 28-year-old as a local hero on a scale that only Real Madrid's biggest soccer stars know better. And Llull's popularity only soared in the summer of 2015, when he signed a six-year contract extension.
Sources briefed on the specifics of Llull's contract, however, tell ESPN.com that the NBA buyout to free him from his contract in Madrid is not nearly as onerous as Spanish press reports suggest.
It's "manageable" in the words of one source.
An eventual jump to the NBA for Llull, I'm told, thus remains in play ... no matter how understandably skeptical basketball-loving Houstonians are by now when they hear Llull's name.
If it were up to the Rockets, Llull would have been here by now, giving Mike D'Antoni one more shooter to space the floor in his James Harden-centric offense. Yet sources insist that the national team mainstay, for all his public pronouncements about spending the rest of his career in the Spanish capital, does have legit interest in coming over to the NBA and truly testing himself against the world's best.
Is it just talk?
Just another layer to the tease?
The belief in Europe is that the Rockets would have to promise a significant role, on top of a pile of money that covers any buyout and also pays him nicely, to get Llull to leave behind his comfort zone and the adoring Madrid public.
Just know this: Houston, sources say, will keep trying to convince Llull to make the leap.
Starting again next July.
Keep your eye on Milwaukee.
Even after the recent acquisition of Michael Beasley from Houston, league sources say the Bucks continue to scour the market for trade targets that might help them weather the projected six-month absence of Khris Middleton.
Middleton’s team was 12.6 points per 100 possessions worse last season when he was off the floor and will miss him badly at both ends. Milwaukee’s foremost 3-point threat is expected to miss six months after rupturing his left hamstring during a Sept. 20 preseason workout.
The Bucks, sources say, have since offered former Rookie of the Year guard Michael Carter-Williams to the Sacramento Kings in a trade proposal for Ben McLemore and will continue to probe for potential deals after the Kings rebuffed that pitch for 2013's No. 7 overall pick.
As our own Zach Lowe noted Thursday in his comprehensive NBA League Pass Rankings, it’s an open secret at this point that the Bucks are willing to move either Carter-Williams or big man Greg Monroe in the right deal.
Sources stress, though, that recent speculation about a Monroe-to-Charlotte trade in exchange for Jeremy Lamb and Spencer Hawes does not fit that description. Lamb would certainly fill a need with the Bucks, but the Hornets -- already committed to trying to nurse Roy Hibbert back to prominence on a one-year, $5 million deal –- are said to have no interest in Monroe.
Golden State will max out Stephen Curry at the first opportunity next summer. That’s a given.
What has to be slightly adjusted is the working ballpark figure for the max contract that will greet Curry in July 2017.
The longstanding estimate for a Curry max used to be a five-year deal in the $175 million range. Yet the recent dip in the league’s projections for the 2017-18 salary cap -- teams were notified in July of a forecasted drop from $108 million to $102 million –- means that $165 million over five years is the proper estimate as we speak.
We arrived at that figure in consultation with ESPN cap maven Larry Coon, who projects Steph’s 2017-18 max to come in at a shade under $28.8 million as a player with seven to nine seasons of service time.
Curry, of course, is finally playing out the last season of the four-year, $44 million bargain extension he agreed to on Halloween in 2012 when there were still countless questions about the long-term stability of his ankles.
That contract, almost as much as Curry’s brilliance as maybe the sport’s greatest-ever late bloomer, has been a massive key to the Warriors’ success, because the resulting financial wiggle room it unintentionally provided helped Golden State acquire Andre Iguodala, comfortably re-sign the likes of Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and, combined with last summer’s mammoth salary-cap spike, made the signing of Kevin Durant possible.
A sure sign that the Pistons were concerned about Reggie Jackson’s health before coach/team president Stan Van Gundy announced that his point guard would miss at least six to eight weeks to deal with recurring tendinitis in his left knee: Rumbles began to circulate Wednesday that Detroit was exploring the point guard market for potential reinforcements.
“Exploring” obviously doesn’t mean that the Pistons will definitely make a move. As Van Gundy noted Thursday when he met with local reporters on the matter, he’d have to eat a guaranteed contract to add a player.
But sources say Detroit had some interest in former Heat and Pelicans point guard Norris Cole before Cole signed a deal in China this week. The veteran Steve Blake, who spent last season with the Pistons, is another obvious option if they decide some additional experience, with the benefit of some SVG familiarity, is needed behind new starter Ish Smith.
Or perhaps Van Gundy’s team will join their Central Division neighbors from Milwaukee in the hunt for a trade.
Back to Llull for a moment.
Back to Monday’s overtime classic in Madrid, which ultimately saw Russell Westbrook and the Thunder saddled with a 142-137 defeat despite Oklahoma City’s five-point lead with less than five seconds to go in regulation.
Some consolation for OKC: It was the sixth time in the past 10 preseasons that an NBA team has lost on overseas soil to Euroleague opposition.
The full list of those six L's:
2016: Real Madrid (Spain) defeats Oklahoma City
2014: Alba Berlin (Germany) defeats San Antonio
2012: Barcelona (Spain) defeats Dallas
2012: Fenerbahce Ulker (Turkey) defeats Boston
2010: Barcelona defeats L.A. Lakers
2007: Real Madrid defeats Toronto
More consolation for OKC: Let’s go out on the season’s first limb and suggest that it might have been a factor that Westbrook didn’t play in the fourth quarter or overtime after he rang up a quick 18 points, four assists and three steals in 22 minutes.