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Tuesday, May 14
Updated: Tuesday, May 14, 11:06 AM ET
Europe no longer just a GM's vacation spot
By Chad Ford

More and more scouts are booking round-trip tickets to China, South America and the increasingly popular European leagues looking for the next great foreign import.

During the first week of May, representatives from almost every team in the NBA -- including the likes of Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, Bucks GM Ernie Grunfeld, Raptors GM Glen Grunwald, Heat GM Randy Pfund, Grizzlies GM Dick Versace and Rockets head coach Rudy Tomjanovich -- made the trip to Bologna, Italy to scout the Euroleague Final Four.

Quite a change from just a few years ago, when European scouts did all of the leg work and GMs relied on scratchy video tape of players.

"Four years ago, we'd have two or three NBA scouts watch us play during a season," Benetton Treviso (Italy) coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Now, we've had 30 to 35 scouts and GMs come to watch us practice."

Rockets coach, Rudy Tomjanovitch, said that he feels obligated to make the trip.

"We've seen how foreign players have made an impact in the league and it was something I felt we needed to be at," said Tomjanovitch in Italy where he watched a pair of Benetton players -- Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Bostjan Nacbar -- who could go in next month's NBA draft lottery. You've got to be on top of things. I think every team is out here being represented. They've all got someone watching."

"When you draft, you always look for the best available player. Anymore, that means spending lots of time scouting internationally," Bucks GM Ernie Grunfeld said.

Grunfeld says the gap between international players and American players has narrowed considerably.

"It used to be that you worried that the international kids couldn't keep up," Grunfeld said. "They lacked the strength and the speed to play in the NBA. Now, I think they're more prepared than the college and high school kids coming into the draft. They've proven that they can play at our level."

Nuggets assistant GM Dave Fredman didn't need to make the trip. His staff had already been to Europe multiple times. There was nothing left for them to see.

With two first round picks, Fredman said the Nuggets will are looking at foreign player when they use their 25th pick in the draft. He employed a similar strategy in 1999 and again in 2001 when he worked for the Jazz.

"We're going to take a strong look at a several foreign players," Fredman said. "With two first round picks, it makes sense sometimes to get a player that you can leave over in Europe and let them develop. With the talent level already thinning at the end of the first round, you can get a lot more value for your pick and save some cap room."

Chad Ford writes the daily NBA Insider column for ESPN Insider. To get a free 30 day trial, click here.

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