David Blatt's return shines a light on Maccabi Tel Aviv's future

Orazio Cauchi
Staff Writer
2022-06-26 07:05
Credit: AFP – Scanpix
Credit AFP – Scanpix

When Maccabi Tel Aviv announced David Blatt's return to the team as a consultant last week, I immediately recalled the first time I had the chance to meet the coach in person.

In 2016, I was in Treviso covering the Adidas EuroCamp, an event that was the main showcase for International prospects before the NBA Draft for many years.

Blatt was there as a guest to host a clinic and to do a favor to his old friend Maurizio Gherardini, with whom he had worked in Treviso. After his clinic, in which he suggested to the young guys who were listening to him to stay away from Snapchat (yeah, Snapchat was still a thing back in 2016), I had the chance to do a quick interview with the coach.

2-pointers this season

53%
20,5
Points made: 20,5
Accuracy: 53,3%
Place in standings: 3
Record max: 27
Record min: 11
Most made 2FGs: Ante Zizic

Blatt had just returned to Europe after his experience in the NBA with the Cleveland Cavaliers and had agreed to become the new head coach of the Turkish club Darussafaka Dogus.

During those days, there were a lot of rumors surrounding the team and their budget, which was expected to be huge. When I asked Blatt about the type of targets that the team was looking at, he didn't hide the fact that they were going after some big names, but at the same time, he told me not to believe everything that was circulating at that time. 

"When I was a young kid, I used to go to this newsstand to read the papers. One day, while I was reading one of these newspapers, the owner of the stand told me, 'hey, if you want to read it, you have to pay it', so I asked how much it was, and he told me it was 50 dollars, so I answered surprised '50 dollars? But here it says it costs only 2 dollars', and he told me, 'well kid, don't believe everything you read on the papers',"Blatt told me to explain how many rumors circulating around Darussafaka were fake news. 

In that 2016-17 season, Blatt brought Darussafaka to the EuroLeague playoffs, where they lost against Real Madrid. Do you remember that team?

A few names might ring a bell: Will Clyburn, Adrien Moerman, Ante Zizic, James Anderson, Scottie Wilbekin, and Brad Wanamaker. Not bad, uh?

The following season they won the EuroCup, and Blatt became only the second head coach in the history of European basketball to have won the EuroLeague (with Maccabi Tel Aviv), EuroBasket (with Russia), EuroCup, and an Olympic medal (with Russia). 

The last coaching experience for David Blatt was with Olympiacos back in 2018. Unfortunately, it wasn't a really positive one, both on and off the court. In his first season in Greece, the team failed to qualify for the EuroLeague playoffs.

As a sporting result, it was definitely a disappointment, but on a more serious note, Blatt's life changed forever during that time because he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which forced him to leave his job in October of 2019.

A few months later, David Blatt officially announced his retirement from coaching and became a consultant for the New York Knicks. But after his first season there, his contract wasn't extended. 

Now, the coach will be free to begin his third experience in Tel Aviv with a third different role. After being an assistant coach and a head coach, it's now time to be a part of the front office in his consultant role.

It's not a secret that Maccabi has struggled in the past few years. Actually, the last time they made it to the Final Four was under Blatt in the 2013-14 season, when they won the EuroLeague title against Real Madrid. 

Despite making it to the playoffs this season, Maccabi Tel Aviv's season ended, once again, in a disappointing way, with the team getting eliminated in the semifinals of the Israeli league. 

Now, an almost full reshape of the roster is happening. The two stars of the club, Scottie Wilbekin, and Ante Zizic, have already left. Zizic has joined Anadolu Efes, while Wilbekin is finalizing a multi-year deal with Fenerbahce.

Maccabi will receive a substantial buyout from the departure of Wilbekin, around $1.2 million, multiple sources have told BasketNews. Funds that would definitely help the team on the market.

Derrick Williams and James Nunnally are not expected to continue with the Israeli side, sources have told BasketNews, while there's a chance that Jalen Reynolds can be a part of the roster for next season too. 

But Maccabi reacted swiftly and has already lined up a series of exciting moves. From Zenit, they added power forward Alex Poythress, they also secured deals with swingman Bonzie Colson, who has been one of the best players in the BCL in the past two seasons, but also with Austin Hollins and Darrun Hilliard

Oded Kattash, except for his previous experience at Panathinaikos and another one more than 10 years ago with Maccabi, is still kind of new to EuroLeague basketball, so having the presence and the experience of Blatt in the front office can definitely help in keeping the bar straight throughout the season. 

However, it can be assumed that Blatt will leave no stone unturned. Of course, it may not achieve its stated goals: no one is capable of shaping reality to their liking.

But if there is anyone who is an expert at minimizing the impact of detours and setbacks on the designed path, it is Blatt. He has definitely seen enough to be impressed and allow himself to make hasty and impulsive decisions.

For this and many other good reasons, the acceptance of the proposal by Chairman Shimon Mizrahi and GM Nikola Vujcic is a very good sign: having Blatt in their ranks means that the project has a solid foundation and good prospects. Otherwise, the former Israeli coach would have rejected the offer without hesitation.

Although it would be unfair to put too many responsibilities on his shoulders, David Blatt is exactly the type of figure who can shine some light on Maccabi Tel Aviv's way heading forward. 

Very few people have accomplished in their careers what Blatt accomplished, and very few know Maccabi's environment better than him. Having Blatt on your side is always a good idea in times of change and uncertainty. 

After the fear of not seeing him again as a lead actor in European basketball, it's such a relief to see David Blatt back where he belongs. Welcome back, coach. 



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