(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
When he rejoined Maccabi Tel Aviv as head coach over the weekend, David Blatt
promised that his three-year term would mark a turnaround in the team’s entire
One of the steps towards revitalizing the floundering
basketball powerhouse and regaining some of its lost dominance in local and
continental competition, Blatt said, would be to assemble a squad with a strong
On Tuesday, Blatt and Maccabi made their first move in
that direction, announcing that veteran swingman Tal Burstein, who has
past year playing for Spanish club Baloncesto Fuenlabrada, had signed a
to play in Tel Aviv for the next three years.
Burstein, 30, left Maccabi
for Spain following the 2008/09 season, after almost a decade of playing
yellow-and-blue. He decided to try his luck overseas after
negotiations with Maccabi fell through over differences arising from the
reluctance to invest invest large sums in a player whose nagging
kept him on the bench throughout much of the previous three seasons.
glad to come home,” Burstein said Tuesday following the announcement.
to be cooperating once more with Derek [Sharp], David [Blatt] and
“Last year was not just about financial matters; I had a good
season and a lot of fun in Spain. I seriously considered returning
there, and I
had a few options, but I sat down with Maccabi and we came to an
Burstein wasn’t afraid to state aims: returning Maccabi
Tel Aviv to the top of the local basketball tree, a position it lost
when it was beaten by Hapoel Gilboa/Galil in the BSL final.
goal is to win a [BSL] championship and the State Cup. I trust Blatt to
a great team – balanced and smart – like he knows how to do,” he
Blatt, who is currently in Moscow coaching the Russian national
team, said he was “very happy” for the chance to see Burstein wearing
Inking Burstein was “one of the first things on my to-do
list upon returning to the club,” he said.
“I like Tal very much on a
personal level, and he is an important player and model for Maccabi Tel
This is only the first step towards renewing the club’s Israeli
Burstein’s year abroad started out somewhat slow, but as the
season progressed the rust began to wear off and the veteran – who can
guard positions as well as small forward – racked up quite a few good
performances, ultimately finishing with an average of 9.4 points, 2.4
and 1.4 assists in 24 minutes per game.
Those numbers are close to the
kind of stats he contributed to Maccabi in Israeli and Euroleague play
injuries to his feet slowed him down and reduced his playing
Burstein was a key member of a number of Maccabi teams and was the
lone Israeli starter in the legendary lineup that won two Euroleague
championships and included such names as Anthony Parker, Sarunas
and Nikola Vujcic.
There has been abundant speculation as to the other
Israeli players Blatt intends to sign.
Former Maccabi stars Lior Eliyahu
and Yotam Halperin, both of whom have not been seeing much playing time
respective teams – Spain’s Caja Laboral Vitoria and Olympiakos of Greece
obvious candidates to return home to Nokia Arena.
Blatt, however, has
chosen to remain vague, saying several times over the past few days that
were many prospects to choose from, even among Israeli players who had
donned a Maccabi uniform.
Upon taking the reins at Maccabi, Blatt
repeatedly stressed that one of the main attributes he would be looking
prospective squadmembers was “character.”
Burstein, who has come back
from several potentially career-ending injuries, has shown time and
he is blessed with a healthy dose of this intangible quality.
management is probably also hoping that Burstein’s return will catalyze a
resurgence of support among disappointed Maccabi fans, whose growing
estrangement from the team can be attributed as much to the lack of an
veteran they can identify with as to the actual loss of the
Burstein and Maccabi will, of course, be aiming to reclaim
But, even more than that, they’ll be hoping to win back
the hearts of the crowd.