Out of sight, but never out of mind.
"When I take a European player I don't expect it to be one or two years, it could be three or four. I like to get these guys to come over here when they're about 25, 26, 27 years old. They're mature, they've been through all of it, they know what to expect and they're ready to make the jump over. A lot of young guys like to jump into the fray right away and it takes them a few years. I expect when we bring these guys over, they'll be ready to go," stated Larry Bird, when speaking about Indiana's second-round pick way back in 2007.
Eight long seasons have come and gone since Stanko Barać, 7-foot-2, was acquired from the Miami Heat in a draft night trade. In the years since then, the unsigned draft acquisition (not unlike the Pacers) has faced his fair share of ups and downs. He got stuck playing behind Tiago Splitter and Mirza Teletovic for a season while with Caja Laboral, and last year he appeared in only six games for Anadolu Efes Istanbul after being sidelined by a herniated disc. Yet, through it all, while he was making stops in the Spanish League, playing professionally for Efes of the Turkish Basketball League and, most recently, signing a contract with Cedevita, the Pacers never stopped monitoring his progress:
"He's a guy that the public forgets about a little bit or doesn't get to see so they're not really sure what he is. He's kind of like an urban legend," said Indiana's Director of Scouting back in 2010 to Pacers.com. "But we track him closely, we see him play numerous times, we have a close relationship with him. If the time comes that it fits the team and his situation, then you have to look at it. He's an asset. We didn't draft him just to draft him, we drafted him because we liked him as a player."
Indiana was not ready to "look at it" when the team acquired his draft rights back in 2007, and the time did not fit "his situation" a few years ago when the now 28-year-old, reportedly, elected to stay with Anadolu Efes rather than agree to a multi-year deal with the Pacers. But now, with Barać ready to pursue an NBA deal, the time has come for the Blue-and-Gold to evaluate exactly how much they like him as a player.
RealGM Sources: Pacers working out unsigned acquisition Stanko Barac in June to determine future with the 7-2 center. http://t.co/hf9qNIHHzH— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) May 26, 2015
Currently, the 28-year-old is still finishing his season with Cedevita, where he is averaging 10 points and 4.6 rebounds while shooting a tied for career-best 58% from the field. Barać's best game of the season came against Zagreb on May 26, when he poured in 24 points and corralled a team-best seven rebounds.
Despite his recent standout performance, many of the negative arguments against the 245-pound man of mystery's game are eerily similar to those of Roy Hibbert. Criticism of his lack of athleticism and foot-speed comes up time and time again, and, at the time he was drafted, DraftExpress pegged him as a "heavy footed Center who lacks some fluidity in his motions" and also pointed out that teams often "try to lure him away from the basket."
Which means, though scouts laud his shooting touch as well as his ability to finish around the rim with both hands, his interior presence may no longer be a fit for the new look Pacers. Aiming to improve the roster's versatility, adding another lumbering big man, even if at a low price, seems like a mismatch for a team prodded by Larry Bird to play with greater spacing and pace next season.
Back in 2010, Director of Scouting Ryan Carr may have, albeit unknowingly, best described the relationship between the Pacers and the Croatian native moving forward in 2015, "He's an asset."
In other words, it may be more likely that his draft rights will be included in a trade than it is that he will be signed to a contract with the Indiana Pacers. Especially when considering that, should the team's starting center take his player option, being relegated to the bench is reportedly not outside the realm of possibility for Roy Hibbert.
"We'll have to see how it all plays out and what the roster ultimately looks like, but there's a possibility that Roy's role will be diminished, if we're trying to play faster and trying to play smaller," Vogel told the Indianapolis Star.
Looking to move on from a system rooted in physicality as well as taking pride in protecting the paint, Stanco Barać, standing at 7-2 and weighing in at 245 pounds, may ultimately remain an "urban legend" to fans of the Indiana Pacers, depending upon what happens at mini-camp and in free agency.