LAS VEGAS - A 7-1 Russian is easy to spot in a crowded casino. The fact that he was wearing an orange shirt with the word "Knicks" written across the front was the clincher.
The secret find of this offseason was revealed here yesterday when Timofey Mozgov agreed to a three-year, $9.7-million contract with the Knicks. "I still can't believe it's real," the 23-year-old center from St. Petersburg said.
Mozgov has been in the United States since mid-June, and the Knicks have done all they can to keep his identity a secret. A buyout agreement first had to be worked out with his Russian team, Khimki Moscow, and a transfer had to be completed. The Knicks were concerned that another NBA team - perhaps even Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who has vast connections in Russian basketball - would learn about their plans to sign Mozgov and try to intercept. Mozgov is expected to officially sign today.
The contract includes the buyout amount Mozgov has agreed to pay Khimki for his release. With the Knicks cautious about locking into any long-term deals, the second and third years of the contract are not guaranteed.
He was discovered by European scout Kevin Wilson, who sent video to Knicks president Donnie Walsh and coach Mike D'Antoni. Both are enamored of Mozgov's size - he weighs 270 pounds with a solid frame - and at 7-1, he moves fluidly, finishes with authority and appears to be adept in the pick-and-roll. His jump shot needs work and he'll need to get stronger to bang with some of the NBA's bigs.
Walsh could not comment because the contract hasn't been officially completed.
Like most European basketball players, Mozgov has dreamed about playing in the NBA. He said he grew up watching highlights on two VHS tapes that he and his friends played over and over. But the last time the Knicks gambled on a 7-foot European, they chose Frederic Weis in the first round of the 1999 draft - infamously passing on Ron Artest.
Mozgov won't play for the Knicks in the NBA Summer League, which opened here yesterday with a 100-90 loss to the Nuggets. In that game, another 7-foot project, second-round pick Jerome Jordan, struggled with four points, two rebounds and six fouls in 12 minutes, 41 seconds. Toney Douglas led the Knicks with 27 points, six rebounds and five assists.
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