Continuity was supposed to ensure that Maccabi Tel Aviv would be able to build on last season’s success.
While David Blatt’s departure for the head coaching position at the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers was somewhat inevitable, the hiring of long-time assistant Guy Goodes as his successor was meant to keep the yellow-and-blue on course for more glory on the back of a dream season.
Even more importantly, after having to rebuild the roster off-season after off-season, Maccabi’s management really thought that this summer it would just have to fine-tune the team. At least seven of the players who made up the core of last season’s side were meant to continue with the team, with the only real negative change to the roster expected to be the retirement of David Blu.
All that should have translated into a smooth transition to life under Goodes, however Maccabi’s plans were thrown into disarray on Monday when Euroleague Final Four MVP Tyrese Rice opted out of his contract and signed a three-year deal with Russia’s Khimki Moscow.
“Maccabi Tel Aviv… Thank you! Some great relationships were made last season. Ones that will last a lifetime. And they know the truth! Love!” tweeted Rice. “Oh and I took less money to come to Maccabi because I knew we would be great. For you people who don’t know… I got a son to take care of,” he added.
Rice was paramount to Maccabi’s Euroleague triumph last season, scoring the winning basket in the semifinal against CSKA Moscow and netting 14 overtime points in the final against Real Madrid to lead the yellow-and-blue to a sixth European championship title in club history.
He was offered a 50 percent increase by Maccabi, but that was still nowhere near to matching the contract he was handed by Khimki, which will pay him more than double of Tel Aviv’s improved offer and in the excess of four million euros over the next three seasons.
Khimki also agreed to pay Rice’s 350,000 dollar release clause, which had to be activated by the end of June, leaving Maccabi completely helpless.
Rice’s back-court partner, freeagent Ricky Hickman, seems set to follow him out of the club, meaning Maccabi will lose the two players who played the biggest roles in the team’s triumphant season.
A Maccabi statement said the club was “prepared for such a situation and there are already several quality candidates to replace Rice,” and that “we are certain that our upcoming signings will help us remain at the top of European basketball.”
It remains to be seen who Maccabi will bring in, but the yellow-and-blue at least ensured it won’t be losing another big name on Tuesday, reaching an agreement with center Sofoklis Schortsanitis on a two-year extension.
As if the task facing Goodes wasn’t daunting enough, he now steps into Blatt’s big shoes without even enjoying the benefit of inheriting the roster that registered such resounding success last season.
With a new head coach – familiar as he may be – and the two biggest stars leaving for more lucrative offers, there are suddenly plenty of question marks surrounding the team’s future.
Needless to say, Maccabi’s hopes of continuity have already all but faded.