There are few teams at which you can go from hero to zero faster than Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball club.
Just ask Tzvika Sherf.
In May 2008, Sherf came within one win of guiding Maccabi to the Euroleague title, only losing in the final to CSKA Moscow.
Less than a month later, he was fired after Maccabi dropped the local league title following a dramatic one-point defeat to Hapoel Holon in the BSL onegame winner-take-all final.
Had Holon’s Malik Dixon not scored with 2.3 seconds to play, Sherf would have likely continued at the club and both his and Maccabi’s futures may have been very different.
That defeat to Holon ended a streak of 14 consecutive local championships, and the yellow-and-blue has dropped the title twice more since.
Nevertheless, a failure to claim the championship is still an unthinkable prospect at Maccabi.
Current head coach Guy Goodes knows that and his team’s recent run of results should surely have him at least a little worried.
The 45-year-old Goodes was the obvious successor to David Blatt last summer after spending four years as his assistant, and he was lauded after guiding the team to a crunch win on the road at Alba Berlin in the final game of the Top 16 to secure Maccabi’s place in the Euroleague quarterfinal playoffs.
However, the 3-0 defeat at the hands of Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul, and in particular the manner of the sweep, has put the first-year Maccabi coach under pressure once more.
Goodes, who has a guaranteed contract for next season, has so far received nothing but support from the club’s ownership. However, as commendable as it is for Maccabi’s management to back Goodes during its current slump, past experience has shown that the dynamics at the club when it doesn’t take the BSL title almost always lead to the sacking of the coach.
Over the past 49 years, only one coach has survived at the yellow-andblue after not winning the championship, a certain David Blatt. However, even he would have likely been on his way out in 2013 had he not been in the midst of a lucrative guaranteed deal.
Maccabi remains the favorite to claim the championship, but its recent results, and especially the fashion of those defeats, have shown how vulnerable the current roster is.
Maccabi has lost five consecutive games over all competitions, including the sweep against Fenerbahce, with its past two defeats in BSL action, against Maccabi Rishon Lezion and Hapoel Gilboa/Galil, coming by an average 18.5 points per game.
The 89-72 setback against Gilboa on Saturday was especially humbling as it came against the BSL’s basement boys, who had won just two of their previous 16 games.
Maccabi’s capitulation in the second half continued a trend which has characterized the team throughout this season.
For the 15th time in 2014/15, Maccabi found itself trailing by double digits in a game and for a 12th occasion it failed to mount a comeback. Maccabi lost those 12 contests by an average of 17 points.
With the championship once more coming down to a home-and-away tie to be decided on aggregate score, another heavy defeat at the wrong time could prove to be crucial.
Hapoel Jerusalem, Hapoel Tel Aviv, Rishon Lezion and Gilboa have all beaten Maccabi by at least 17 points this season, with Jerusalem – the favorite to face the yellow-and-blue in the final – already doing so twice.
The frustration throughout the roster was clear for all to see in the abject performance against Gilboa, with center Sofoklis Schortsanitis losing his cool late in the first half, being ejected after twice elbowing Gilboa’s Marcus Lewis. The big man’s latest shenanigans seem to have sealed his fate at the club, with Maccabi previously leaning towards releasing the Greek giant following a disappointing season on court.
Goodes let the players know exactly what he thought of their recent displays in a team meeting a day later, reportedly saying, “None of you will be here next season if you continue like this. We don’t care who you are and what contract you have. If anyone wants to quit, he can do so now.”
Maccabi has five more regular season games to steady the ship before the start of the playoffs, beginning with Thursday’s showdown against Bnei Herzliya.
While Maccabi still has two more months of games to play in the BSL as it looks to win a 52nd local league championship, it is already well into its preparations for next season.
After handing Devin Smith a lucrative three-year contract extension earlier this month, Maccabi signed Sylven Landesberg to a new three-season deal, with Israeli guard Yogev Ohayon also on the verge of extending his stay.
With Guy Pnini, Brian Randle, Jake Cohen and 17-year-old Croatian phenom Dragan Bender also all under contract for next season, Maccabi already knows the identity of more than half of its senior squad.
Maccabi is also likely to use its option to retain the services of Jeremy Pargo and hopes to re-sign Alex Tyus, although he seems likely to leave for bigger money in Europe.
The disappointing Marquez Haynes, swingman Nate Linhart and Sofo are set to depart, while Joe Alexander will also leave unless he manages to obtain Israeli citizenship due to his Jewish roots.
Goodes’s status remains steady for the time being, but that could of course all change in a few weeks.
Ironically, the addition of Pini Gershon as his assistant last summer, which he initially opposed, could end up ensuring Goodes is back for another campaign.
In order to calm Goodes’s concerns that Gershon was brought in as an emergency backup in case he failed, Maccabi’s management agreed to make the second year of his contract guaranteed rather than a team option.
That could end up making the difference should Maccabi come up short in its quest for the championship.
Winning the BSL title will of course spare Goodes the nerve-wracking wait to learn his fate, but that is currently looking nowhere near as simple as it once did.
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