There’s no question that Hapoel Jerusalem had a good 2018/19 season. Albeit a season that could have been even greater, but fell short.
After winning the State Cup at the Jerusalem Pais Arena over Maccabi Rishon Lezion, everyone was on a high and it looked as if the Reds were the team to beat, the class of the Israel Basketball Super League as well as the European Basketball Champions League.
After capturing the local cup, the players all noted that this was just the first of a number of goals that the team had set, and when everyone left the arena that night the feeling was that the current campaign which came to a screeching halt last week in the league semifinals was going to be one very special season.
Unfortunately, it was not to be and there is plenty of unfinished business that the club left on the table. The State Cup was a nice prize, but the Hapoel Jerusalem brain-trust knows full well what could have and should have been.
It was clear from the start of the season that Jerusalem had put together a group of “good guys.” Guys who were going to fight for one another and guys that were going to go out and give 110% on the floor game-in and game-out which was certainly the case. The effort, desire and drive of the players can’t be questioned. The team and coaching staff gave it their all. As is often said, it’s a process and this is just the beginning of that process.
Changes will need to be made, that’s for sure, but the core base and values will remain.
Coach Oded Katash did an admirable job. Did he have hiccups along the way? Sure. But was he able to be a players’ coach? Most definitely.
At the post-series press conference following the three-game sweep of Hapoel Beersheba in the BSL quarterfinals, Katash said that the difference between this year’s squad and last year’s was night and day and the two can’t even be compared. That’s all true. It’s clear that the most important part of building the team was that the players had to be people of the highest caliber first and foremost; anything less would be unacceptable on this team.
Did Katash get the most out of his squad? Yes. Could they have done a few things differently in its composition? Absolutely. Will they make those moves over the summer? That’s the plan, but as they say, man plans and God laughs.
Most importantly, Jerusalem needs to address its size issues. It was clear from the outset that the Reds needed bigger quality players outside and inside. It became even more evident in the loss to Rishon Lezion at Beit Maccabi in the regular season. Rishon coach Guy Goodes had exposed this weakness, which ended up being an underlying theme throughout the campaign.
You can teach many things in the game of basketball, but you can’t teach size. For example, Tamir Blatt is an excellent scorer, but needs to be given the opportunity to take open or protected shots due to his height. TaShawn Thomas and Josh Owens are nice players with upside and are excellent pros, but when they are challenged inside by bigger players they are at a disadvantage. This was the case in numerous games this season, especially against Tenerife in the Champions League quarterfinals.
Jerusalem needs to look for a big guard and a big, mobile man inside. Katash clearly stated the need to improve the roster immediately following the semifinal loss to Rishon and this a good place to start.
The other issue is that as good a group of guys Jerusalem had this season, they needed a “bad boy” that could take the team by the neck, stir it up a bit and shake it up when necessary. If you look at some of the greatest teams in basketball history, there always seems to be a player that just won’t give a hoot and do what needs to be done. More than what would be described as a killer instinct, but yes a player that has one.
Katash spoke about the killer instinct and he said at certain points Hapoel had it while other times it did not. Jerusalem needs that each and every game. A guy that will mix it up both on and off the court and has the basketball abilities and qualities to do go along with that rugged temperament.
So where does that leave the team for next year? That’s a good question. We will find out over the next few weeks what the plans are, but here’s what we know as of today:
Lior Eliyahu, Bar Timor, Chris Johnson, Malcolm Griffin and Alex Chubrevich will most probably all depart. James Feldeine, J’Covan Brown, Blatt, Yogev Ohayon and Owens are all candidates to stay.
Amar’e Stoudemire is a big question mark as he would like to go back to the NBA or even a Euroleague team, as he was quoted a couple of weeks ago.
Another unknown is Da’Sean Butler, who sent out an Instagram post thanking everyone for the season in which it seemed unclear whether he will return or not.
Finally, it’s not certain whether Thomas will stay or go. The team would like him to stay but as he said, he’s listening to offers. He is thankful to Jerusalem for giving him a chance after his personal issues late last season, but he would definitely like to see his salary increase as it should for a player that put up the type of numbers that he did.
Jerusalem will need to bring in a number of new players, anywhere from our to seven, plus it also has to see what it will do with youngster Tomer Levinson and on-loan center Jo Lual-Acuil.
The priorities must be a tall scoring guard and big man whether or not Butler, Thomas or Stoudemire remain. The Reds will also have to sign at least two Israeli players as well to round out their roster.
General manager and CEO Guy Harel, Eyal Homsky of the ownership group and Katash have their work cut out for them over the next couple of months. They will have to make wise decisions that will on the one hand strengthen the squad, but on the other hand make sure they don’t change to much of what has succeeded on some level to date.
That’s the challenge and test ahead for Jerusalem. Will it succeed in the process? We will all have to wait and see.
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