It is safe to say that no one at Maccabi Tel Aviv is shedding tears following the departure of Sonny Weems.
In fact, it is hard to think of a case in which a failure to complete a drug test was welcomed with such relief, perhaps even joy, by those who in theory were supposed to dread such news.
Besides the fact that his play on court has been one of the biggest disappointments in a season filled with dejection, Maccabi’s highest paid player – at around $3 million over two years – was disliked by many of his teammates.
He was also held responsible for playing a significant part in the firing of head coach Erez Edelstein five games into the campaign.
But the question has to be asked: Did Maccabi set him up by privately organizing the drug test he didn’t complete on Saturday, or is Weems the only one to blame for the predicament he finds himself in? Maccabi considered buying out his contract and releasing him on several occasions earlier this season, believing that Weems is also one of the main reasons for the rift in the dressing room between the Israeli and American players.
The yellow-and-blue ultimately chose not to do so, largely due to the cost of such a move. However, by not completing Saturday’s test, Weems effectively failed it, which has allowed Maccabi to void his contract.
Adding further intrigue to the story is the fact that the test, implemented by the Anti-Doping Committee of Israel, was ordered and paid for by Maccabi and was not one of the standard tests given after Euroleague games or arranged by FIBA and the Israel Basketball Association.
Weems vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
“I was taken to a drug test at the arena, which I did,” said Weems, who averaged 11.6 points, 3.4 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game in the Euroleague and 7.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per contest in the BSL.
“I took the drug test, pissed in the cup 7-8 times, actually filled it up to the max. But the drug guy kept throwing it away. I was in there for a long time, from 5:45 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. at night.
“The reason why they are probably saying I failed the test is because my son’s flight landed at 9 p.m. and he’s from Lithuania and he doesn’t speak English. I was supposed to pick him up from the airport at 9:30 p.m. but I had to do the drug test and they kept throwing the samples away. I kept telling them: ‘I’m not trying to be rude or disrespectful to anybody, but you have to understand that I’m a father first and my son doesn’t speak English and is only three years old and he is stuck in an airport in Israel.’” Sources at Maccabi said Weems was not being truthful and that his son traveled to Israel with his mother and that they were both picked up at the airport and taken to a hotel.
One of the reasons the drug inspector may have had to throw out the samples was that drinking large amounts of fluids can result in diluted urine that can’t be tested. Gal Mekel and Victor Rudd were also tested with Weems and their samples were sent to a laboratory in Germany.
“There are tests which we initiate and we are also invited by associations and clubs to give private tests,” said Anti-Doping Committee of Israel chairman Shaul Schreiber. “In this case, Maccabi Tel Aviv invited us and whoever orders the test also pays for it.”
Weems insisted on Monday that he doesn’t take drugs, saying that he passed three tests in the NBA last season.
He claimed that he wants to remain at Maccabi.
“I don’t want to leave. I like it here,” he said. “I like the team and I like the city. I don’t know where all this is coming from.”
Weems, who arrived at Maccabi with great expectations after establishing a reputation as one of the best players in the Euroleague during his time at CSKA Moscow, knew very well that Maccabi’s ownership was hoping to part ways.
His agent already arrived in Israel prior to Saturday’s incident to discuss his future at the club.
While Weems claimed that he liked life at Maccabi, some of his teammates didn’t sound like they would miss him too badly.
“I talked to him for a little bit,” said guard Andrew Goudelock after leading Maccabi to a 91-85 win over Maccabi Ashdod in BSL action on Monday night, a game Weems was told not to attend. “I pray for him. I made sure everything was okay with him and wished him luck on whatever he will be doing next.”
Even though Weems had yet to be officially released at the time and Goudelock said that he hoped he wouldn’t be, he seemed to be already looking forward to life without his countryman.
“We don’t try to worry about it. We can’t do anything about it. It is a situation between him and the management.
We do our job, play basketball,” said Goudelock. “I think we will be okay. We can’t hold our heads down in situations like this. We can’t stop playing.
We still have to be a team, we still have to fight and I think we have the guys to do that. It is next man up. For the guys who haven’t been playing much, it is a great opportunity for them. For the guys who have been playing, we need to carry a little bit more load.”
The fact Maccabi’s management suspected Weems may be using recreational drugs and the fact he didn’t complete the test according to WADA regulations still doesn’t mean he actually took a banned substance. He may have failed to play to expectations and made a foolish mistake by leaving the arena without permission on Saturday.
But using him as a sole scapegoat for the team’s disastrous season is unfair.
Those truly responsible for the mess sit in the front office.
Weems’s poor judgment did, however, present Maccabi with an ideal opportunity to part with a player whose negative contribution far outweighed any positive impact he may have had.
The exit of Weems, whose deal was guaranteed through 2017/18, will not make Maccabi a much better team, if at all. It does, however, save the club plenty of money, which in the yellow-and-blue’s current state is no small achievement.
Even with the BSL and State Cup titles still to play for, Maccabi’s ownership has already conceded 2016/17 as a lost season.
Saving money and maintaining any pride it still has left following numerous embarrassing defeats are all that remain from a campaign which once promised so much.
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