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Krstic Scores Big in Russia Cup after Slow Start

After getting off to a slow start in the Russian League, Nenad Krstic became an overnight hero for his new team, Triumph Lyubertsy Saturday night, scoring 19 points in a 62-55 win over Khimki in the Russia Cup.

Krstic was named the outstanding player in the game, which is the first of four to determine who takes home the symbolic Russian championship trophy. Among those he dominated was former Net teammate Jerome Moiso.

Krstic had limited success prior to the Saturday night game. Triumph plays in both the FIBA EuroChallenge (not the Euroleague or the FIBA Eurocup, which have higher caliber teams) and the Russian League.

Krstic averaged 16.0 ppg and 8.5 rpg for Triumph in October's FIBA EuroCup Challenge, after averaging 13.7 ppg and 5.7 rpg in limited minutes this August for Serbia in FIBA qualifying round. Before the Russia Cup game, he put up 9.3 ppg and 5.3 rpg in the Russian League. He had also played limited minutes in Russia as well, averaging about 23 a game...not much fewer than Triumph's other starters. His minutes do not seem to reflect any recurring problems with his left knee which required surgery for a torn ACL in December 2006 and severely limited his ability to contribute last season. Krstic has said his knee is fine.

His best games for Triumph prior to Saturday had been in the EuroCup Challenge, a two-game qualifying tournament held in October. The winner moved up into the EuroCup competition while the loser dropped into the EuroChallenge. Krstic scored 19 and grabbed 7 boards vs. a mediocre Belgian team in the deciding game but Triumph lost and wound up in the EuroChallenge. EuroChallenge begins in January and is held around the continent, permitting NBA teams to get a look at him as GM's and scouts begin crossing the Atlantic.

Meanwhile, he has been playing in the Russian League, one of Europe's best national leagues. Triumph recently lost to Russia's best team, CSKA Moscow, 69-64. CSKA is a perennial Euroleague power and may be the best team outside the NBA. Its roster includes three former NBA players among them Net draft choices Zoran Planinic and Viktor Khryapa, and two NBA prospects. Krstic had what was a typical Russian league game, scoring eight points and grabbing four rebounds in 22 minutes, taking only four shots and making three. He also picked up three fouls. (Planinic was the star of the game, with 16 points.)

By comparison, Boki Nachbar is averaging 15.3 ppg and 6.8 rpg in the same league.

The Nets made a $2.7 million qualifying offer to the 25-year-old Krstic in early July, giving them the right to match any other NBA offers. But the market was apparently not what he and his agent had hoped --a two year MLE deal-- and he headed for Europe. The Nets will continue to retain his rights as long as they send him qualifying offers...and they have said they will continue to do so.

Krstic's current contract, according to reports, is a two year deal, with only the first year guaranteed. Krstic has an option for the second year, meaning he could be back in the NBA after this season. If and when he returns, he would still be as a restricted free agent with New Jersey holding his rights. The Nets can offer him that one-year qualifying offer for $2.7 million again, match any offer made him by another NBA team, or work a sign-and-trade.

At the time he signed with Triumph this July, the Euro was trading high against the dollar. The contract was seen as the equivalent of a $9 million NBA contract. No longer. The Euro has dropped against the dollar and the contract is worth less.

Moreover, conditions are not the same as the NBA or Euroleague. The team's arena regularly attracts only about 2,500 fans and with the Russian economy reeling, it's uncertain how much money once super-rich Russian oligarchs will want to spend on playthings like sports teams.

Krstic has recently hinted he wants back to the NBA. In his Serbian language blog in September, Krstic admitted he had "let down his employers, the New Jersey Nets," according to ESPN.

In an interview on the Triumph website last month, Krstic compared the experience of playing in the Euroleague, the NBA with Russia, careful to talk about how much he misses the NBA.

"I also miss the fans, who are great in Europe," said Krstic, quickly adding, "The NBA is really good, too. Both places have good sides and bad sides. From my point of view, playing in Europe is great, but so is doing it in the NBA."

On the exodus of NBA players to Europe, he struck a similar tone: "It's really good, especially seeing that a lot of players came from the NBA to European basketball. Not only it is good for European basketball, but for world basketball, too. European basketball got so much better from the sports and financial side that more and more players will come. I think that is the future, but we will see."