After Thursday night's match-up with the Spurs in Pittsburgh, the Cavaliers will come home for their final preseason practice run at the Q against CSKA Moscow before tipping things off for real in Cleveland on the 27th.
The perennial Euroleague power once owned by Mikhail Prokhorov advanced to the Euroleague Final Four last season before being eliminated by the same Barcelona team that just beat the Lakers 92-88. They were led last season by a couple key players with Cavaliers' ties in ex-guard Trajan Langdon, as well as the post playing big man from Kansas, Sasha Kaun, who will be leading the charge for CSKA again this season.
The Cavaliers traded for and own the draft rights for Sasha Kaun, who after helping the Jayhawks to the 2008 National Championship, was selected 56th overall by the Seattle Supersonics in the '08 Draft. Sasha would go on to sign a three year deal with CSKA that summer worth around three million euros, and has manned the post for CSKA in each of the last two seasons since.
In 51 games for CSKA last year, Kaun averaged just over 10 points and 5 rebounds per game, playing 20 minutes of extremely efficient basketball on a nightly basis. While obviously not attempting a three pointer, Kaun shot just over 70% from the field for the season, and earned himself a spot on the Russian National Team this past summer.
I got a chance to catch up with Sasha last week in anticipation of this upcoming game against the Cavs, and our conversation is below...
Stepien Rules: With a need for post-playing depth on the current roster, did you have any conversations with the Cavaliers this summer about possibly playing in Cleveland this season?
Sasha Kaun: There were some conversations, but I don’t think anything will work out this year. I will just wait and see, and hopefully something might work out after this year.
Stepien Rules: How far did the talks with the Cavs get this summer?
Sasha Kaun: I spent a couple days in Cleveland, visiting with the organization this summer, and my agent came down but I didn’t think anything was going to be a legit deal this past summer so I just decided to stay here in Moscow, play another season, and talk more next year.
Stepien Rules: Did you talk with any current Cavs players when you were in town?
Sasha Kaun: No, not really, most of the guys were out or in summer league so I spent most of the time meeting with the administration. I did meet the new coach [Byron Scott] and it was nice to talk with him for a second, but I didn’t get a chance to talk to anybody else.
Stepien Rules: You signed a thee-year deal with CSKA in 2008, so is this season then a contract year for you?
Sasha Kaun: I actually did extend that three-year deal for another year this past season, so I have two years left on my deal right now.
Stepien Rules: With those years left then, how does that work exactly if the Cavs were to want to sign you?
Sasha Kaun: I do have an option on the contract that will allow me to switch teams with a minimum buyout option, so there are definitely things we can do.
Stepien Rules: Do you look at the match-up on October 16th as a tryout of sorts in hopes to sign on with the Cavs, or catch on with an NBA team in the future?
Sasha Kaun: Well I think it will be very interesting to play during that game, to play against the organization that has your rights, and hopefully I can try to show them what I can do, and give them a better perspective.
Stepien Rules: Can you talk about how your game has progressed through competing at a high level internationally since your time at Kansas?
Sasha Kaun: Switching into playing professionally has helped a lot, and l understand the game a little bit different now from an international standpoint with the way they play the game here. I have been able to expand my offensive skills a little bit more, learned a little more things on defense, and gotten better overall as a player.
Stepien Rules: What's it been like for you to play for a club like CSKA, in Moscow, which is one of the premier organizations in Europe?
Sasha Kaun: Me coming from Kansas to CSKA Moscow, they are two very historically rich programs. CSKA has been known for their rich basketball program through the years, so there are many good players that have played here. I am just proud to be a part of it. I’m blessed to be in this organization, and have the chance to try to impact it a little bit. It is challenging at times, especially in the beginning when I first made the move, because a lot of good players come here, and it’s not always easy for a young guy who just moved back to European basketball, but I looked at it as a good situation for me, and I’ve just tried to get better. It’s been a lot of fun, and I think it’s really helped me out a lot.
Stepien Rules: After spending your college career in Kansas, do you live now in Moscow year 'round, or do you get a chance to get back to the states?
Sasha Kaun: I have a place in Kansas City, my wife is from that area, so I have an apartment there and we spend time there in the offseason.
Stepien Rules: In Moscow, what are the expectations for your CSKA club going into the season? Is it the Euroleague Championship or a Final Four run the every year?
Sasha Kaun: Well I think with the team that we have, definitely our goals are going to be high. We brought in some new guys, and we have a new coach who’s really a good coach, and we will definitely be hoping to get back to the Final Four and have a shot at it this season.
Stepien Rules: Can you talk about your experiences playing alongside Trajan Langdon?
Sasha Kaun: Trajan came here a few years before me, so since I have been here he has been on the team, and playing with him is a lot of fun. I find him to be a very unique guy, and I love talking to him about different things because of his experiences in sports. Not a lot of guys go through what he went through. Get drafted in baseball, go back to college play basketball, get drafted in basketball, play in the NBA, then play in Europe, so it’s always fun to ask him different questions and get a perspective from his experiences. He is just a great guy, and a great leader.
Stepien Rules: You put up solid numbers this summer playing for Russia in the Worlds (10 points 6 rebounds through seven games) what was that experience like competing for your country?
Sasha Kaun: It was definitely a lot fun competing in an international tournament, playing for my national team, and I think we did well as a team. We performed at a pretty good level. We ended up losing to the US in the quarterfinals, so I thought it was pretty successful for us. It was a very good experience for me to play against some good players, some good international players and some NBA stars so it was a lot of fun this summer.”
It will also be fun to see how Sasha and his CSKA club matches up with the Cavaliers on Saturday. While we didn't get into specifics on his buyout option, if I were to speculate I'd guess that contract dollars - more-so than on-court production - was the main factor with why talks with the Cavs didn't get any further than they did this off-season. From what I can tell, Sasha is making about a million a season playing for CSKA, and coupled with what that buyout option is, that might have been more than the Cavaliers were willing to spend on a big man right now that they might view as the fourth or fifth best big on the roster behind JJ, Andy, and Powe. After those three, I think Sasha will and does match-up pretty well with Ryan Hollins on down, but we'll get a better idea of that come Saturday. I appreciated the conversation with Sasha though regardless, and wish him nothing but the best of luck. We'll be keeping an eye on him going forward this season for CSKA, and hopefully check back in with him later on down the line.
* Sasha was held out of Tuesday night's game against the Heat while he works his way back from an injury, though I do expect him to go on Saturday. CSKA's best player J.R. Holden also did not play, and did not make the trip as he deals with a heart issue. Trajan Langdon did play Tuesday in Miami though, and he went for a team high 20 as CSKA fell 96-85.