Burstein follows Blatt back ‘home’ to Maccabi Tel Aviv

Veteran swingman signs a 3 year deal.

Burstein 311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Burstein 311
(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 philosophy.
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 Israeli identity.
On Tuesday, Blatt and Maccabi made their first move in that direction, announcing that veteran swingman Tal Burstein, who has spent the past year playing for Spanish club Baloncesto Fuenlabrada, had signed a contract 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 for the yellow-and-blue. He decided to try his luck overseas after contract-renewal negotiations with Maccabi fell through over differences arising from the club’s reluctance to invest invest large sums in a player whose nagging injuries had kept him on the bench throughout much of the previous three seasons.
“I’m glad to come home,” Burstein said Tuesday following the announcement. “I’m happy to be cooperating once more with Derek [Sharp], David [Blatt] and everyone else.
“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 agreement really quickly.”
Burstein wasn’t afraid to state aims: returning Maccabi Tel Aviv to the top of the local basketball tree, a position it lost last month when it was beaten by Hapoel Gilboa/Galil in the BSL final.
“Our first goal is to win a [BSL] championship and the State Cup. I trust Blatt to assemble a great team – balanced and smart – like he knows how to do,” he said.
Blatt, who is currently in Moscow coaching the Russian national team, said he was “very happy” for the chance to see Burstein wearing the yellow uniform again.
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 Aviv. This is only the first step towards renewing the club’s Israeli character.”
Burstein’s year abroad started out somewhat slow, but as the season progressed the rust began to wear off and the veteran – who can play both 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 rebounds 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 before injuries to his feet slowed him down and reduced his playing time.
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 Jasikevicius 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 in their respective teams – Spain’s Caja Laboral Vitoria and Olympiakos of Greece – are obvious candidates to return home to Nokia Arena.
Blatt, however, has chosen to remain vague, saying several times over the past few days that there were many prospects to choose from, even among Israeli players who had never donned a Maccabi uniform.
Upon taking the reins at Maccabi, Blatt repeatedly stressed that one of the main attributes he would be looking for in prospective squadmembers was “character.”
Burstein, who has come back from several potentially career-ending injuries, has shown time and again that he is blessed with a healthy dose of this intangible quality.
The club’s 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 Israeli veteran they can identify with as to the actual loss of the championship.
Burstein and Maccabi will, of course, be aiming to reclaim the championship.
But, even more than that, they’ll be hoping to win back the hearts of the crowd.