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Usman Garuba released from NBA contract

Without anyone having claimed his contract in waivers, Garuba no longer has an NBA link. A return to Real Madrid is an option.

Without anyone having claimed his contract in waivers, Garuba no longer has an NBA link. A return to Real Madrid is an option.
Pepe TorresEFE

Usman Garuba has been officially released from his NBA contract on the eve of the start of the 2023 World Cup. It’s a undesirable situation of instability that the center from Azuqueca de Henares will try to use to his advantage by shining for Sergio Scariolo’s Spain side at the tournament, something which he did in a previous Eurobasket. The 21-year-old posted a defiant message on social media three days ago: “I’ll prove everyone wrong. Mark my words”.

The center’s reaction came after the announcement that the Oklahoma City Thunder decided he was surplus to requirements for the 2023-24 season. From that moment, and following the process required by the NBA, the Thunder had to spend 48 hours in a waiver wire - a kind of limbo during which other franchises can claim their contract and keep the player in the same conditions agreed with his previous team.

But that period has passed and no one has claimed Garuba, who now, to all intents and purposes is a free agent and without a contract. If he returns to the NBA, and that is in principle his intention if there is any option in the coming weeks, he will do so by signing a new contract, as a free agent.

Garuba was drafted number 23 in 2021. Being a first-round pick, he arrived in the NBA subject to the contractual tables stipulated for those rookies chosen between position 1 and 30: by that 23rd position, he was entitled to a deal that could see him earn between 4 and 11.8 million dollars, with an average salary of $2.9 million. He has earned about $4.7 million in his two seasons, in which things didn’t go well, with the Houston Rockets.

In his next deal, he had just over $2.5 million guaranteed, which the Thunder will take care of. If his contract had remained in effect at OKC or with another team via waivers, there would have been a team option (unilateral renewal option by the franchise) for the 2024/25 season of $4.3 million. That option is now void; he could have entered the summer 2025 market as a restricted free agent had he been offered a qualifying offer of $6.3 million. But Garuba’s NBA time, at least for now, ends here, in the summer of 2023 - at least as far as his rookie contract is concerned.

Garuba’s desire is not to give up on his dream of playing in the United States. He could still hang on and wait for the 30 franchises to begin their training camps, when the latest adjustments to their squads are outlined... and there’s no doubt that playing a prominent role at the 2023 World Cup would boost his options of being handed a second chance in the NBA. So it is likely that the decision on his future will not be imminent, although now he has the handicap of playing as a free agent, without a contract and with all of the risks that that entails, especially on a physical level and in case of injury.

Return to Madrid

In any case, a return to Europe is a viable option - to, if nothing very, very strange happens, his former team before he went to the Rockets - Real Madrid. When he left in the summer of 2021, he had to pay the Spanish club his release clause - 3 million euros. But a flexible payment plan was agreed to make it easier - 70% of it (about €2.1 million) would be deposited during the two years that Garuba spent in Houston - including the part that the Rockets could pay out of their own pocket. That means that around 900,000 euros remains outstanding and the player can use that to negotiate his return home.

Garuba signed a professional contract with Real Madrid, which was not announced at the time, in which his salary conditions were improved along with other terms and conditions. Among them was an agreement in which Madrid retained his rights in Spain and Europe and also a commitment to the player should he regress to Spain in case his NBA adventure didn’t go to plan, as could be the case now. It’s an option that Madrid could activate automatically. So, now that he is definitively without a team, Usman Garuba’s options seem clearly defined - either start over again in the NBA or a return to Real Madrid.


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