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26
Jan

David Pick-Teil 42

1. The COVID pandemic that has plagued our world and caused the Euroleague to shake and rattle, has more or less flipped the table upside down, a-la topsy-turvy. With half a season in the rearview mirror, there's no logical explanation for having 50% of the current Euroleague playoffs club - Bayern Munich, Zenit St. Petersburg, Valencia Basket and Armani Milano, Zalgiris Kaunas - 1st timers writing history, or extreme overachievers rewriting their own history; while more established and decorated clubs like Fenerbahce, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Olympiacos, Panathinaikos and Baskonia aren't even close sniffing playoffs contention.

Heck, reigning Euroleague Finalist Anadolu Efes are sitting in the 9th seed, while Alexey Shved's squad Khimki Moscow are rock bottom, with a negative 2-14 record.

"Whoever said money can't buy happiness doesn't know where to shop," is one of my favorite quotes. It’s genius, but also a realisation that money without love means nothing, while love without money can be everything.

Prime example? Khimki. They have the money, but they’re surly unhappy. Why? Because they overpay players that aren’t good enough. Bayern, Valencia, Zalgiris are great examples for clubs with a manageable budgets, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. On the flip side, with an organization like Olimpia Milano, Ettore Messina had an open checkbook and could’ve basically bought everything including Pope Jorge Mario Bergoglio. With Kyle Hines and Sergio Rodriguez (both Euroleague Champions with CSKA) running the PNR and teammates like Kevin Punter (2x BCL Winner with AEK Athens and Virtus Bologna), Zach Leday, Malcolm Delaney, Shavon Shields and domestic GOAT Gigi Datome - money can certainly and most definitely buy happiness in the Italian fashion capital.

Same quote goes for the lower budget teams who chose character and chemistry in an attempt to overachieve, rather signing players based on their resumes and history - where they’ve been doesn’t matter as much as where they’re headed. I mentioned Munich and their triple-headed scouting monster (Baiesi-Pesic-Trinchieri) as a club that maximizes their budget well. Another club doing a great job in that regard is Zalgiris and head coach Martin Schiller. Kaunas found people with character and motivation high enough to out-grind their opponents. Joffrey Lauvernge returned to Europe on a high note from the NBA signing with Fenerbahce, but injuries caused him to fall off and he took a massive pay cut to rejuvenate his love for the game. Nigel Hayes played for a handful of NBA clubs before recording a great spell with Galatasaray- proving he is worthy of a shot in the Euroleague. Augustine Rubit and Patricio Garino both previously failed to leave their marks in the Euroleague, and have been given another chance to prove they belong.

A lot of clubs, Maccabi Tel Aviv in particular, aspire to sign under the radar players. It's risky, but when it works, it works BIG TIME. But for every Chuck Eidson, Nikola Vujcic, Tyrese Rice and Ricky Hickman, or Elijah Bryant - there will always be plenty of Elijah Millsap, Kendrick Ray, Chris Jones, Darko Planinic, Milan Macvan, Maik Zirbes, and Dragan Bender (RECENTLY VOTED ONE OF THE WORST OFFSEASON ACQUISITIONS BY EUROHOOPS.NET). That goes for many clubs struggling now such as Khimki with Dairis Bertans, Panathinaikos with Marcus Foster, Fenerbahce with Lorenzo Brown, Alex Perez, Dyshawn Pierre; and Olympiacos with Charles Jenkins, Octavius Ellis.

2. The Notorious B.I.G: "Mo(re) Money Mo(re) Problems".

It's probable we will never fully know the ins and outs for what went on behind the scene in the Thomas Heurtel vs Barcelona saga - but it's nonetheless one of the most wild basketball stories of 2020.

Y'all remember when Panathinaikos owner Dimitris Giannakopoulos cancelled his team's flight home to Athens and forced his players to take the long, grueling bus route home? Nick Calathes, who coincidentally plays for Barcelona, was also part of the Pao mess then. He was one of the lone players that respected the wishes of his owner and took the bus. Others such as James Gist, Chris Singleton, Kenny Gabriel and Mike James - opted to book their own flight home.

However, unlike then, the Heurtel situation has nothing to do with the result of a basketball game, win or lose. The Frenchman simply doesn't fit in Sarunas Jasikevicius' system due to his limited defensive capabilities, comical coming from a coach with such high defensive standards while Pini Gershon insists that as a player, "Saras" was the worst defender on Maccabi's trilogy-winning team; and he had to come up with tricks and schemes to "hide" the Lithuanian on defense.

Long story short, "mo(re) money mo(re) problems" in Barcelona means that now - after wanting to unload Thomas but not coming to an agreement to settle on his $1M contract, all this while fellow Frenchman Leo Westermann already transferred from Fenerbahce to Catalonia.

Here's how all this escalated. Rumors surfaced a few weeks ago that Barcelona and Fenerbahce might be negotiating a Heurtel-Westermann trade as both players are represented by agent Misko Raznatovic. Fenerbahce denied all along their interest in Heurtel, a lot because 1. they inked PG Alex Perez to 2-year, $700,000 deal 2. They signed G-F Marko Guduric, also a Raznatovic client. Oddly enough, for the longest time throughout the offseason, Fenerbahce tried to unload Westermann, but Misko denied all offers or interest that aroused.

While it was reported that Heurtel will travel with Barcelona to Turkey to meet Raznatovic and finalise his release .... thunder roarings quickly indicated that Heurtel is talking with Barca's arch-rival Real Madrid. NO WAY IN HELL said Barcelona. They felt betrayed, even though I have no idea why. I've seen players move from arch-rival clubs before, like Guy Pnini and Yogev Ohayon from Jerusalem to Maccabi Tel Aviv and the other way around, or Cory Walden from Partizan to Red Star, and Vassilis Spanoulis from Panathinaikos to Olymapicos, or Iiannis Papapetrou who took the opposite route. THIS SHIT HAPPENS, it's basketball.

It all boiled down to the post game drama on the return flight to Spain as Barcelona officials informed Heurtel that he is not to travel with the team and must return to Barcelona on a different route, a longer route, and also spend the night - an additional night - in Istanbul. Coincidently, on his connection location, Heurtel met CSKA Moscow and Mike James, who publicly voiced his thoughts on Twitter, supporting the Frenchman.

Barcelona issued a statement bringing clarity to the situation: "Thomas Heurtel was not neglected in any case and was given all the facilities - hotel for the night, regular flight ticket and all the relevant documentation - to be able to travel and return to Barcelona the next day. Given the club and the player’s agent break off negotiations and ... not being under the discipline of the team in this match (vs Anadolu Efes), it was decided that the player wouldn’t return with the group. The player was not neglected. Finally, the club would like to announce that Thomas Heurtel still currently belongs to FC Barcelona, whilst waiting to be able to solve his future in the coming days." Later they’d publish that he is no longer a player of Barcelona, but that he is not to sign with ANY club in Spain.

CRAZY, right? I know. I love Thomas, I was a fan of his for many years. I love how he handles the ball and has great court-vision; and honestly, I really don't care if he does or doesn't play defense. Very few players in the Euroleague play defense. Milos Teodosic never played defense. Nor did Tyler Rochestie or Jeremy Pargo. Scottie Wilbekin doesn't play defense. Sergio Rodriguez doesn't play defense. If it's a bad fit between the coach and the player, and that's perfectly normal in basketball and it's no one's fault - then there's a need for a change. But no one should be crucified.

3. “The Zeljko Obradovic Curse”: December, a few weeks ago, marked one year since the legendary Serbian coach against his former Greek sweetheart Panathinaikos in an empty gym at the OAKA Arena. Covid only broke a few months later and shut down basketball entirely, but at that time - Fenerbahce and Pao were sanctioned to play behind close doors due to disciplinary sanctions imposed by the Euroleague. "This is the worst thing that can happen in basketball. I hope we will never have a situation like this again. This is terrible, I hope this never happens again," Obradovic said. Fast forward to the present - still no fans, still no environment of basketball, but life goes on and hopefully fans can enter the games soon and revive everyone's love for the game.

But what is the "Obradovic Curse'' once he departs from clubs? Partizan Belgrade returned twice to the Final Four, but never won the title. Badalona waited almost two full decades before winning the Cup after 18 years. Benetton Treviso disappeared from basketball. Panathinaikos haven't returned to the Final Four, and Fenerbahce - well, we all see what's going on there.











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