Spanish sports, umm, tabloid Mundo Deportivo reports that Real Madrid president Florentino Perez is bidding to bring Rudy Fernandez back to Spain. The report says that Real will try to sign Fernandez to a six-year deal in an effort to lock him up both during the lockout and once his NBA contract is complete after the 2011-12 season.
Real Madrid has offered for Rudy to become the highest paid player in the history of the ACB. His proposal is for six seasons and yearly amounts would be close to 3 million euros. The club accepts that Rudy would return to the U.S. mid-season if the NBA lockout ends. In return, the Spaniard would return after completing the final year of his contract with Dallas.
There are several angles to cover here. First, the money: €3 million is presently about $4.35 million US, so, yes, that would be a raise over his 2011-12 and 2012-13 salaries. However, at least under the current system, $4.35 million is a fairly modest salary for a veteran who has reached free agency. If Rudy impresses in what Donnie Nelson says will be a more robust role in Dallas, even with tighter restrictions, this deal doesn't necessarily represent a jump in salary.
Second, let's get a little background on who we're dealing with in Florentino Perez and Real Madrid. Those who follow soccer know these folks as the financial bullies of the world's most popular and lucrative sport. Since they are backed by the royal bank of Spain, their credit line is almost inexhaustible - and they test that regularly.
In just the summer of 2009 they spent around $400 million in transfer fees - the rights to sign players from other teams. That's closing in on half-a-billion dollars just for the rights to players, not even to pay their salaries, and that was just one summer. Now, soccer is soccer and basketball is basketball in Spain. The fact that this €3 million per year contract shatters the record tells you how little is spent there on basketball relative to soccer.
At the same time, the Real Madrid - Barcelona rivalry spills from soccer to other sports like basketball, and both clubs love to make - (and this is key) threaten - splashy moves in each other's faces. Mundo Deportivo is one of their favorite means for those threats, and like the Yankees and Red Sox use ESPN, Buster Olney, Peter Gammons and various big newspapers as PR and negotiating devices, Mundo and other outlets are more than happy to be Real's and Barca's mouthpieces.
Barca would presumably also be interested, but the timing might be perfect for Real, not only because of the NBA lockout but because Barcelona is dealing with some budgetary issues on the soccer side. I'm not terribly familiar with how these clubs operate financially across sports, but FC Barcelona Bàsquet is a part of the FC Barcelona organization and almost has to be impacted by cash flow and debt issues for the larger soccer entity.
The Asociación de Clubs de Baloncesto (ACB), in which Real and Barca compete, is basically the biggest domestic league in Europe, so, depending on his team preference, this is where Rudy would go if and when he returns to Europe. He gained stardom with Joventut Badalona prior to coming to the NBA. Baladona is a pretty big club with a rich history, but as in anything else Real and Barca have dominated that league for the most part. The ACB has been around since the 1956-57 season, and Baladona's four championships are third most, but the two monsters have won 46 of the 56 championships. Real owns 30 of those, but Barca and Baskonia have dominated the past four seasons, splitting the titles and making seven of the eight finals appearances. As the Mundo Deportivo article notes, bringing Rudy back could make Real a player again in a league they've long dominated.
Fernandez's background in Spain wouldn't seem to suggest that Madrid would be his ideal home, though it's obviously a lot better than Portland or Dallas. He was born and still has a home in Mallorca in the Balearic Islands about 100 miles south of Barcelona. Baladona is just outside of Barcelona, and the climates and lifestyles in all three of those areas is quite a bit different from Madrid, for whatever that's worth.
The particularly smart thing about this offer from Real is that Rudy is likely to play in Spain this fall anyway, since the NBA does not figure to play its first 32 games if it plays any next season. The Mavericks will be unable to reassure him of their intentions because of lockout restrictions, so whatever conversation(s) Rudy and Donnie Nelson had about a week ago may be the only influence the Mavericks can exert. Since the money likely won't be that different one way or the other, this will boil down to just how much ambition Rudy has and how badly he wants to try to show that he is one of the best players in the world before he returns to the comforts of home.
At Media Day prior to the 2010-11 season in Portland, he sounded as if that decision would be very simple. He had every intention of returning home after the 11-12 season. He was homesick, he didn't like his role, and the NBA was too violent for his taste. Something changed over the course of this season, though, and though his numbers hit rock bottom and he was no factor in the Blazers' first round loss to the Mavericks, by his exit interview he appeared to be downright pleased with things. The most likely answers were that Portland had a good season and that his coach let him take more of an on-the-ball role - both things that the Mavericks say he can expect more of in Dallas, and he seemed borderline giddy about being traded to Dallas. Note the change in disposition:
While Rudy leaving after 2012 wouldn't be the end of the world for the Mavericks, and while we really don't even know if he'll turn into a better player in this different dynamic, Donnie Nelson has a strong track record with this kind of evaluation and has liked the player for years. Mavericks fans will have to hope that he gives himself an option to stay in the NBA after 2012, even with his home clubs pushing to ensure his imminent and fairly permanent return.