It may sound almost crazy now, but just two months ago, David Blatt’s job as Maccabi Tel Aviv coach was in serious jeopardy.
Maccabi got off to its worst-ever start to a BSL season, and while it mostly managed to win in the Euroleague, it did so in a far from impressive fashion.
The 87-85 defeat at Hapoel Jerusalem on December 2 saw the yellowand- blue fall to its fourth defeat in its first nine local league games. It is safe to say that had the club not been committed to a lucrative contract with Blatt, he would have been shown the door, perhaps even before the defeat at Malha Arena.
In the almost two months since, Maccabi has played 17 games over all competitions, winning each and every one of them.
It is of little surprise then, that the rumors regarding Blatt’s future at the club have evaporated into thin air.But rest assured, they will be back.
For that is the life of the Maccabi Tel Aviv coach.
While a defeat at Real Madrid in Euroleague action on Thursday would hardly be regarded as a disappointment considering the Spaniards have lost just one game all season, an unexpected setback in the State Cup next week will once more bring to the surface the bitterness some of the club’s owners feel towards Blatt.
It is a testament to Blatt’s capabilities and character that he became the first coach since Tzvika Sherf in the 1980’s to start four straight seasons at the club.
However, despite winning nine of a possible 10 local titles in his two tenures as head coach, he has had his back against the wall ever since Maccabi dropped the league title to Maccabi Haifa last season, with his relationship with several of the owners going sour long before that.
A Maccabi coach has to guide his team to a win in every game. And he has to do so in style, preferably with Israeli players making key contributions.
It is only a matter of time until the ownership loses its patience with the coach, regardless of his identity.
Such a level of success simply cannot be maintained over the long run.
Blatt has managed to stick around longer than most, but the impossibly high level of expectation at the club will also end up costing him his job.
For the time being, however, he’s a hero once more.
After winning the Euroleague’s regular season Group D with a 8-2 record, Maccabi has taken sole possession of first place in Top 16 Group F, triumphing in all four of its games.
Tel Aviv’s offensive play in the regular season left plenty to be desired, with the yellow-and-blue being ranked only ninth in the competition with 76.4 points per game, scoring more than 80 points just once in 10 contests.
The Top 16 has been a completely different story, with Maccabi upgrading its efficiency on offense, scoring between 85 and 90 points in its four convincing victories to date. Blatt’s team is averaging 11 points more than in the regular season (87.5 ppg), while also improving its field-goal percentage and turning the ball over a competition- low 8.25 times per game, five fewer times than in the regular season.
The reduced sloppiness has not only benefited Maccabi’s offense, but has also limited the scoring opportunities of its opponents.
Real Madrid, regarded by many as the best team in Europe this season despite losing to CSKA Moscow last week, will put Maccabi’s improved form to the ultimate test on Thursday, especially with the yellow-andblue missing injured center Shawn James.
James was ruled out for at least three months with a ruptured disc in his back on Monday and may not even play again this season. An MRI scan on Sunday revealed the extent of the injury, which is unrelated to the back trouble that saw him miss four Euroleague games earlier this season and only play a limited role in the contests in which he did participate.
James has been suffering with his back for the past year-and-a-half and was booked for an MRI after the pain intensified during Saturday’s win against Ironi Ness Ziona.
His absence leaves Maccabi short-handed under the baskets, with the club yet to determine if it will bring in a replacement.
In the meantime, Maccabi will have to manage in the paint with the injury-prone Sofoklis Schortsanitis and the relatively inexperienced Alex Tyus.
As if this season hasn’t been taxing enough for Blatt, he has been handed another challenge.
Blatt will end the season at Maccabi, there seems to be no doubt about that even in the unrealistic world occupied by the club’s owners.
However, the miracles he has worked with the limited budget at his disposal often seem to go unappreciated by those who make the decisions at Maccabi.
It seems quite likely that at any other club he would have been handed a contract extension long ago. But barring some very special achievement, a Euroleague triumph for example, Blatt’s time at Maccabi will in all probability come to an end when his contract runs out at the conclusion of the campaign.
He seems to be unaffected, going about his job in the most professional of manners as always.
After almost parting ways with their coach a mere two months ago, this recent winning streak should have reminded the club’s bosses what they have in hand.
Unfortunately for Maccabi, they will likely not appreciate what they have in Blatt until he is gone, and by then it will be too late.