Maccabi Tel Aviv's preparations for next season were thrown into disarray on Monday after Euroleague Final Four MVP Tyrese Rice opted out of his contract and signed a three-year deal with Khimki Moscow.
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 in club history.
The 27-year-old American, who joined from Bayern Munich last summer, was also named as the BSL final MVP after scoring 30 points in Game 1 at Maccabi Haifa, averaging 22.5 points and 5.5 assists over the two games against the Greens to ensure Maccabi regained the local league title.
Rice had one more year left on his contract, but also had a release clause estimated at 350,000 dollars which he could activate until the end of June. He repeatedly said he plans to remain in Tel Aviv and even enrolled his son Ashawn in the American school in Israel for next year. Maccabi also offered to open his contract and increase his salary by 50 percent compared to his original deal, but that was still nowhere near to matching the amounts he was offered in Europe.
Real Madrid was rumored to be willing to hand Rice a three-year deal worth five million dollars, almost double of Maccabi's improved offer, but Khimki topped that with a three-year contract which could reportedly exceed four million euros.
Regardless of the actual amounts, the bottom line for Maccabi is that it suddenly has a massive void to fill on its roster after believing until recent days that it could build its team around Rice.
Rice's back-court partner, Ricky Hickman, is also on the verge of signing elsewhere, leaving new coach Guy Goodes facing an even more daunting prospect than expected after stepping into the big shoes left by David Blatt.
"Maccabi thanks Tyrese for a dream season and wishes him success in the future," a club statement read. "Maccabi was prepared for such a situation and there are already several quality candidates to replace him. We are certain that our upcoming signings will help us remain at the top of European basketball."
In other Israeli basketball news, the BSL announced on Monday that Barak Netanya has notified it that it plans to play in the second division next season. Netanya has been part of the top flight in the past five seasons, reaching the Final Four in 2010. However, due to financial constraints and the lack of an adequate arena in the city the club has decided to demote itself to the National League.
Maccabi Ashdod, which was relegated from the BSL last season, is expected to be handed Netanya's place in the top flight.