After 24 hours of celebrations and little sleep, Maccabi Tel Aviv will have to quickly return its focus to basketball, with the yellow-and-blue still having one final goal to achieve in order to complete a perfect season.
The newly-crowned European champion returned home to a hero’s welcome on Monday, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu taking time out of his busy schedule to meet the players and staff and around 30,000 supporters celebrating with the team at Rabin Square.
However, the yellow-and-blue doesn’t have long to come back down to earth, with the BSL best-of-five semifinal series against Hapoel Eilat to get underway on Thursday at Nokia Arena. The players will receive a well-earned day off on Tuesday, but will already be back in training on Wednesday ahead of Game 1 against Eilat.
After exceeding all expectations simply by reaching the Euroleague Final Four, Maccabi stunned CSKA Moscow in the semis on Friday before upsetting Real Madrid in overtime in a gripping final on Sunday.
Maccabi’s sixth European championship title may have been an unexpected and stunning success, but after dropping the local league title to Maccabi Haifa last season, Tel Aviv remains desperate to reclaim the Israeli championship.
Coach David Blatt will be especially determined to win the BSL title, with his future at the club yet to be resolved.
Blatt’s achievements with the yellow-and-blue over the past four seasons certainly merit a contract extension, but due to much-publicized differences with some of the club’s owners, his long-term future with the team has been in doubt since the end of last season.
Blatt’s current contract runs until the end of next season, but both he and the club have an exit clause this summer.
Part-owner David Federman, who attacked Blatt in the media in the past, said he believes the coach “is going nowhere”, but added that “anything is possible in life.”
Blatt, who joined a rare group of coaches by adding the Euroleague title to the EuroBasket championship and Olympic medal he won with the Russian national team, is believed to be CSKA’s top target to replace Ettore Messina and has also been mentioned in connection with a move to the NBA.
A head coaching offer from the NBA will surely result in Blatt’s departure. However, he said he would like to remain at Maccabi after Sunday’s final, but only if he is handed a contract extension.
“I need to meet with the owners again as there are some things we need to discuss,” said Blatt. “I don’t want to stay here as a lame duck. I have a contract for one more year, but my goal isn’t to remain here for just one more year. I want to be part of a club’s vision, and I hope that club is Maccabi. But if not, than it will be somewhere else where they will believe in me over the long run.”
While Blatt’s future is the biggest question mark hovering over the team ahead of next season, Maccabi will also have to make several changes to its triumphant roster.
After a difficult start to life as a Maccabi player, Tyrese Rice almost single-highhandedly led Tel Aviv to the title in the Final Four, scoring the winning basket in the semifinal against Moscow and netting 14 of his 26 points in overtime in the final.
Rice is under contract and is set to be back for another season, as are the likes of Devin Smith, Alex Tyus, Sofoklis Schortsanitis, Sylven Landesberg, Yogev Ohayon, Guy Pnini and Ricky Hickman, assuming he isn’t lured away by a lucrative offer from the continent.
Joe Ingles, Shawn James and Andrija Zizic are all likely to leave in the summer.
After coming out of retirement ahead of this season, the 33-year-old David Blu seems intent on quitting the game for good after the end of this campaign. However, Maccabi plans to do all in its power to convince him to play on for at least one more season.