Ford: Time might be right for Dario Saric to join 76ers even if the money is wrong

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Dario Saric (left), playing for Croatia during a 2015 EuroBasket Group C game against Georgia in September 2015, has yet to join the Sixers.

Dario Saric, the Croatian power forward drafted by the 76ers in 2014, will be taking a large financial hit if, as reported, he jumps the final year of his contract with a Turkish team and comes to Philadelphia to begin his NBA career.

The estimate of what he could eventually lose by signing while still subject to the rookie wage scale ranges from $10 million to $15 million. Why would the son of Predrag Saric, himself a former player and an adviser to his son described by one NBA scout as "money hungry," make that decision?

Earlier this year, another scout answered the question by saying, "Istanbul's not the greatest place to be right now."

That sobering assessment was borne out by the recent terror attack at Ataturk airport that left 36 dead and scores more injured. Terrorism has been a continuing danger in the east and south of Turkey, where the country borders Syria, Iraq, and Iran, but the same threats have now reached Istanbul near the western edge.

Whether the security situation affects Saric's plans is unknown. If he chose, he could also jump back to the Croatian league or to another European league while waiting out the one additional year that would let him join the NBA free of any salary restraints. That isn't his plan, however, at least according to interviews with the media in Croatia.

"I am in constant contact with the Sixers. They want me as soon as possible, but I have a contract with Efes. Terminate is not the same as going to the market and buying a kilogram of cucumbers. But in the summer, I will still go because I have a way out in the contract," Saric told the newspaper Vecernji list.

Saric will play for the Croatian national team in an Olympic qualifier this week. After that, he expects things to happen. There is a July 17 deadline for him to exercise a buyout option for the final year of his contract with Anadolu Efes.

"Everything goes in that direction to achieve this decision," Saric said, according to a Google translation of the report. "I'm waiting to finish this tournament to once again sit down and make a deal and go to the signing of the contract in America."

Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo said that sounded good but was noncommittal on whether he believed it would actually happen. He might want to remain publicly cool since part of the negotiation will involve the Sixers' being asked to pick up a big chunk of the buyout.

Colangelo and coach Brett Brown went to Turkey to see Saric during the recent league championship series. (Efes lost in six games to Fenerbahce. Saric averaged 12 points in the series.) They put on a hard sell, implying that sooner rather than later might be a fine idea for his career with the Sixers.

"We both expressed this would be a good time to come over for a number of reasons," Colangelo said before the recent NBA draft. "Number 1, the makeup of our team and our roster right now would lend itself to considerable playing time or opportunity to earn that playing time. You can't project out what it's going to look like at this time next year."

In other words, don't let the train leave you at the station. The fact, however, is that there aren't that many open seats on that train as it is. Counting Saric, Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid, there are five players who - if they are all still around and able to play - would most naturally be placed at either the power forward or center positions. And that's not factoring in Jerami Grant or Richaun Holmes, both of whom operate better close to the basket. Still, Saric might have been convinced he doesn't want a frontcourt rotation to form in his absence.

If Saric comes, what will the Sixers be getting after all this time?

"He's like a poor man's Toni Kukoc," said one NBA scout. "He can pass the ball. Not a great shooter. Not a great defender. He's a bigger guy but has a good feel for the game. He's a good player."

Kukoc, also Croatian, is an apt comparison. He played three years in Europe after being drafted by the Bulls in 1990, then came over to have a 12-year career in which he averaged slightly less than 12 points per game. Most scouts don't think Saric will be quite that good, although he shot somewhat better this season, making 40 percent of his three-point attempts.

"He improved a little," a scout said. "He's streaky, and the NBA three is further out. He'll be an off-the-bench player. I don't see him as a starter in the NBA but a good guy coming off the bench. It'll be interesting to see if he comes."

Colangelo and the Sixers are certainly interested. There are many pieces to the roster puzzle that still need to be fit together. Saric isn't the most important of those, more like an edge piece, but he's in the box, too. Now it sounds as if he will be coming, despite having reasons to wait. The Sixers might not be the best place in the world for him, but he's seen worse.

bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports