If you thought that rookie point guard Ricky Rubio was Minnesota GM David Kahn's Great White Whale, remind yourself of the saga of Spanish forward (and former Rubio teammate) Fran Vazquez. Vazquez was selected as a lottery pick 11th overall by Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith in 2005; he's yet to do more for the team than posing for the picture you see above, and there's a chance (ooh, a chance!) the scrappy power forward could come over to the Magic this summer after his Spanish League contract expires.
And, in a move reminiscent of a distraught Toni Kukoc coming to Chicago just as Michael Jordan first retired in 1993, he'll get here just in time to see Dwight Howard possibly leave Orlando as a free agent. Still, that's what happens when you draft a player that professed to have no ambition or interest in playing professional basketball in the NBA, as Vazquez did back in 2005. This might change soon, though. From Brian Schmitz at the Orlando Sentinel:
Smith said Vazquez' contractual situation will allow him to come over to the states and maybe finally attempt to make the Magic's roster.
"That's the plan," Smith said of the Spanish power forward.
Vazquez is playing for FCB Regal in Spain. Smith said Assistant General Manager Dave Twardzik and scout Sam Foggin have seen and spoke with Vazquez.
Schmitz went on to pull up a fairly recent quote from Rubio, which points out Vazquez' hustle and athleticism. "It's easy to play with him," Rubio told Schmitz, "because he doesn't need the ball."
That's music to the ears of a team looking for a little toughness and ability to secure extra possessions. A guy to help Dwight Howard do the dirty work, while setting the sort of screens for shooters that -- if Howard set them -- would send Dwight to the bench with three fouls before the end of the first quarter.
That team, and placement, might not exist if Vazquez suits up for Orlando starting in October of 2012. Mayan predictions aside, the Magic will likely attempt to rebuild from the bottom up should Howard leave for little-to-no compensation this July. They should attempt it, at least, if they want to pull off rebuilding correctly. Because, though Smith might not like to admit it, they will be rebuilding if Howard leaves. There's no way around it.
So even before Vazquez plays an NBA minute, the idea of a well-regarded 29-year-old big forward with team-first credentials could entice teams looking to go over the top. And while Smith nor Magic fans might not like the idea of wasting a lottery pick (even if it was a lottery pick from an era still reeling from the loss of new "Frasier" episodes) as a way to create future payroll flexibility, the idea of using Vazquez's rights as a way to get out from under a contract like Hedo Turkoglu's might be a sound rebuilding move.
Because it's not as if the Magic would need a 29-year-old rookie as a building block moving forward. Other eager teams might, though.
Smith likes to save face. He's clearly decided (for now, at least) to pass on dealing Howard, and his litany of win-now moves (including the Vazquez pick, because Smith thought he'd be with the team immediately) since taking over the team in 2005 suggests that he'll try to keep calm and carry on in his own inimitable fashion, not unlike Cleveland's waste of a season following LeBron James' defection. Smith can't rely on the luck the Cavaliers got in watching their lower-level lottery pick jump to the front of the pack in order to draft a new franchise stud in Kyrie Irving, though. And Vazquez, ready to push a contending team over the top, would seem to be a way to grease the wheels in order to slide past a half-hearted rebuilding year.
This is all assuming that Smith wasn't just blowing smoke to Schmitz, though, and that Vazquez really might come over. As with anything that ever comes out of a GM's mouth, you have to go slowly and wait for something tangible before you sign off on it. Forever negotiating, they are.
It would be nice to see this guy play stateside, though, and for both Vazquez and the Magic to form a mutually beneficial relationship, even if Fran never dons the Orlando blue.