He restored Maccabi’s dominance, but was Blatt too good for his own good?

Sinai Says: Blatt hoping last season's remarkable accomplishments, both on and off the court, won't prove to be a curse in disguise.

By
October 18, 2011 23:16
David blatt

311_David Blatt. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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David Blatt returned to Maccabi Tel Aviv as a savior last season.

After dropping the Israeli league title for the second time in three years and failing to make it past the quarterfinal stage of the Euroleague for a second straight season, Maccabi’s management finally understood that Blatt was the perfect man for the job of resurrecting the yellow- and-blue.

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Expectations were nearly at an alltime low, but Blatt’s first season at the helm was nothing short of a resounding success.

Maccabi easily swept away all of its Israeli foes, losing just one game on its way to the championship and State Cup, while also going all the way to the Euroleague final before eventually succumbing to Panathinaikos in Barcelona.

But perhaps most importantly, Blatt played a crucial role in helping Maccabi reconnect with its supporters and Israeli sports fans in general.

Tel Aviv enters this season as if it never lost its way between 2006 and 2010, having gone through five different coaches and winning just an unthinkable three titles in that span – two BSL championships and one local cup.

Maccabi has seemingly overcome the Moni Fanan scandal and Pini Gershon’s embarrassing behavior and regained its popularity and benchmark status in Israeli sports, presenting Blatt with a completely different challenge for the upcoming campaign.



To put it simply, Blatt is expected to guide Tel Aviv to one more victory than it achieved last season and win a sixth European title in club history as well as a league and cup double.

However, speaking to Blatt earlier this week, it was clear that he has no intention of looking too far ahead and is determined to focus on one game at a time, starting with Thursday’s Euroleague opener at Milano.

“Last year we didn’t put the cart before the horse and step by step we improved and moved forward,” Blatt told me. “I think we did it the right way. So we are not going to change that attitude, and we are not looking too far in the future.”

After going through a complete off-season overhaul for five straight years, Maccabi held on to seven key players ahead of 2011/12, including the likes of Lior Eliyahu and Sofoklis Schortsanitis.

However, Chuck Eidson – and more surprisingly, Jeremy Pargo – left the team, and with the injured Doron Perkins not renewing his contract, Maccabi was left with a hole in its once-strong backcourt.

It filled that need with New Jersey Nets guard Jordan Farmar, but the 24-year-old American will be returning to the US once the NBA lockout ends, creating a headache for Blatt which is only going to get worse.

“Continuity is always a key,” Blatt said. “It is one of the pillars to a successful program, and it was certainly part of last summer’s vision.

By and large we were successful, but we have to consider that we lost players in our strength positions, three of the best perimeter players in the Euroleague, Pargo, Perkins and Eidson. Losing those three guys, despite the good continuity we were able to keep, makes it challenging for us to round out the team and hopefully get back to the level we were at last year.

“However, the system is in place and I think the commitment and good attitude is there. We are further along than we were last year and we are more in tune with one another at this point of the season and we certainly have a good roster.

“I hesitate to say how important [Farmar] is to the team because he is a guy who is unfortunately here today but will not be here tomorrow,” Blatt added. “He is a big contributor to us but to overemphasize his importance to the team would be a mistake, because we are going to have to replace him.”

Nevertheless, Blatt believes that Maccabi will never regret its choice to bring in Farmar.

“It was the right decision without question,” he said. “Jordan is Jewish and has connections to Israel and one day, we very seriously hope he will come back to Maccabi.

“He is an exceptional young man, and at the very same time we had a very strong need for his position. He was the best player out there.

Pargo’s leaving sort of took us by surprise, and we were in a hole. And Jordan filling that hole with all the other elements – his background and his willingness and desire to step in the program – made it a very easy decision.”

After being drawn into regular season Group C with Spanish giant Real Madrid, the heavy-spending Milano and Efes Istanbul, as well as the always dangerous Serbians Partizan Belgrade and Charleroi of Belgium, Blatt refuses to take anything for granted.

“We walked into crossfire,” he said.

“What makes our group the toughest and so dangerous is the fact that there are no sure qualifiers.

“All the other groups have 3-4 teams that are of the highest level and will qualify unless there is some enormous failure. That is not the case in our group.”

Despite Blatt’s caution, there seems to be little doubt that Maccabi will advance to the Euroleague’s Top 16.

But you wonder whether last season’s remarkable accomplishments, both on and off the court, might not prove to be a curse in disguise.

After years of disappointment, Blatt has raised the expectation bar at Maccabi back to an almost impossible level.  But with only a hint of failure, Blatt could be reminded of the treacherous nature of his profession, becoming a victim of his own success.

allon@jpost.com

Follow Allon on Twitter: @AllonSinai

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