Peja to Panathinaikos? It's Greek mythology

By Marc Stein

There is a story apparently gaining traction in Europe suggesting that Peja Stojakovic plans to walk away from the final year of his contract in New Orleans to play with Greek power Panathinaikos next season.

I am suggesting you dismiss it.

After receiving a handful of Twitter pleas asking me to dig up some clarity on the matter, I spoke Wednesday with a source quite close to Stojakovic. And the message was clear: There has been zero discussion in Peja’s camp about him leaving the Hornets and returning to Greece, where he played for a few seasons before making his NBA debut with Sacramento in the lockout-shortened 1999 season.

The speculation emanates from recent Greek media reports asserting that Panathinaikos is close to landing “an important NBA star.” Peja's history there led to some inevitable but baseless assumptions.

I've been assured by the source that Stojakovic, scheduled to earn $14.3 million in 2010-11 in the final year of his Hornets contract, fully intends to stay in the NBA despite the back and abdominal injuries that cost him 20 games this season.

It likewise seems safe to suggest that Stojakovic, 32, would need an eight-figure buyout – or at least a buyout in the high seven figures – to justify terminating his contract and seeing what sorts of free-agent options he’d have domestically and abroad to make up the difference.

The Hornets obviously lack payroll flexibility to dramatically change their supporting cast around star guard Chris Paul. But if they had to pay that much in a buyout, they're probably better off just keeping Peja's expiring contract in case an unforeseen trade opportunity materializes.