Goodbye Payton, hello Saric

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Dario Saric ends up wearing a Sixers hat after a trade with Magic.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Dario Saric ends up wearing a Sixers hat after a trade with Magic.
Posted: June 27, 2014

BROOKLYN - Sporting a blue 76ers hat that barely fit over his hair, Elfrid Payton sat at a dais in the bowels of the Barclays Center and responded to queries regarding the prospect of playing with Joel Embiid and how he envisioned fitting in a backcourt that includes Michael Carter-Williams.

But six questions into the former Louisiana-Lafayette point guard's first news conference as a professional basketball player, a reporter broke the news - Payton, the 10th overall pick in last night's NBA draft, wouldn't be playing for the Sixers after all.

More than 90 minutes later, in trotted Dario Saric, the versatile 6-10 forward from Croatia. Saric, originally the Orlando Magic's pick at 12th overall, became Philadelphia's second lottery pick of the night when the teams swapped the players' rights. The Sixers also received a future first-round draft pick and a future second-round selection.

Saric, 20, isn't expected to play for the Sixers for at least a couple years. The reigning MVP of the Adriatic League recently signed a 3-year deal with Turkish club Anadolu Efes and has the option to opt out after two seasons. Saric, however, didn't rule out the possibility of coming to Philadelphia after one season overseas, if the opportunity arises.

"I signed [with Anadolu Efes] before the draft because I'm choosing a better option for me to stay 2 years more in Europe, to get more experience, to bring my basketball to another level," he said.

When he does come to Philadelphia, Saric will join a young, potential-packed frontcourt that features Nerlens Noel, last year's sixth overall pick, and Embiid, the injured Kansas center the Sixers took third overall last night. Saric compared his style of play to Lamar Odom and Toni Kukoc, a fellow Croatian who played for the Sixers in 2000-2001.

Saric, who could've entered the draft last year but pulled his name out, is a point-forward type player and is said to have a great basketball IQ. He has the ability to handle the ball and passes well. He averaged 16.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists last season for Cibona Zagreb while shooting 55.1 percent from the field, 34.5 percent from long range.

"I got good ballhandling for 6-10," he said. "I see myself in Philadelphia because Philadelphia got two athletic, big guys, got [a] smart playmaker, and I think I can, and this team can, improve to bring another level."

Although he hails from overseas, it's evident Saric is more than familiar with the Sixers. In his opening statement to the media, he referenced Carter-Williams, Noel and Embiid.

"Yeah, I know everything about the Sixers - Moses Malone, Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson, and I love the team," he said. "I know it's like the fifth [largest] town in the USA, and I know everything about Philadelphia . . . They are like the [fastest] team in the NBA right now. I really want to come here in Philadelphia to put my game on that team after 2 years."

Saric's favorite all-time player is Magic Johnson - he has a collection of old VHS tapes and several items of Magic memorabilia back home - and he's also a big fan of former NBA guard Drazen Petrovic, who like Saric, is from the town of Sibenik. Saric said he learned about the Sixers from American newspapers and the Internet. He and his friends also play an NBA video game on PlayStation 4, he said.

"I feel very happy," he said. "This is [a] big part, big time in my basketball career and my life.

"I really want to be a Philadelphia 76er."


On Twitter: @jakemkaplan

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