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Tuesday, July 4
Tsakalidis wants to play in Phoenix

Associated Press

PHOENIX -- Iakovos "Jake" Tsakalidis arrived in Phoenix on Thursday, some 18 hours after the Suns made him their first-round pick in the NBA draft.

The question now is how long the 7-foot-2, 282-pound starting center for Greece's national team can stay.

The Greek club AEK, for whom the 21-year-old Tsakalidis has played for since 1996, sent letters to all NBA teams before Wednesday's draft warning they would not release him from his contract.

But Phoenix officials and Tsakalidis' representatives believe a settlement can be reached.

"There is some uncertainty as to when Jake can join us in uniform. The details have yet to be worked out," said Suns president Bryan Colangelo, adding that the team is negotiating a $350,000 buyout of Tsakalidis' contract.

"I definitely want to be here," said Tsakalidis, who speaks limited English and let his agent, Bill Pollack, do most of his talking during a news conference.

"Jake has emphatically stated that he wishes to play here in the NBA," Pollack said. "Our job is to analyze exactly what legal tasks are at hand and to come up with solutions.

"This is a complex problem because it involves different schools of thinking. In 1996, Jake was still a youngster and they asked him to sign a four-year contract. It was an amateur basketball contract because he was underage. On June 10 of this year, they tendered him a new five-year contract, a new unilateral contract.

"He didn't sign it. He didn't negotiate it. It was sort of like it came in the mail. Greek law says you can do that. You can't do it just about anywhere else. So we're going to find out about the validity of the contract being tendered to him."

Steve Costales, who was Tsakalidis' agent in Greece and now is his interpreter, said the center told teammates he wanted to go to the NBA two years ago.

"They didn't believe he would leave. They felt it would be too much of a culture shock. They didn't think he would come to another country where his knowledge of the language is not very good," Costales said. "They kept telling him he was not ready for the NBA. But the teams he worked out for believe he was, with a little bit of work."

That's what the Suns think, too.

"He's a unique talent," Dick Van Arsdale, Phoenix's vice president for player personnel said of Tsakalidis, who averaged 9.2 points and 7.0 rebounds last season and shot 59 percent from the field.

"He has a tremendous upside because he hasn't played basketball very long. He's very mobile for a big man and can play some defense. We didn't think he'd be around (at No. 25 overall). The only reason he dropped was because of the contract situation."

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