Sinai Says: Maccabi Tel Aviv fans should appreciate Blatt

The criticism leveled at Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt over the past couple of weeks is truly baffling.

Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt 390 (R) (photo credit: Reuters )
Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt 390 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters )
It is a well known fact that many of those involved in the world of sports, be it fans, players or journalists, suffer from a short term memory.
But the criticism leveled at Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt over the past couple of weeks is truly baffling.
Sure, Maccabi has registered several disappointing results in recent weeks, including two straight defeats in the Euroleague.
However, you would have thought Blatt had done enough in the first year-and-a-half of his second stint as yellow-and-blue boss to be given a whole lot more respect than he is currently being shown.
It is now easy to forget, but Maccabi was in complete disarray when Blatt entered the fray in the summer of 2010.
Maccabi had just dropped its second Israeli league title in three years, something which hadn’t happened since the 1960’s, and failed to make it past the quarterfinal stage of the Euroleague for a second straight season.
But far more crucially, it had also completely lost touch with its core values, resulting in its reputation reaching an all-time low.
The Moni Fanan scandal and the embarrassing behavior of Blatt’s predecessor Pini Gershon had seemingly tarnished the club’s name beyond repair, but Blatt played a significant role in helping Maccabi reconnect with its supporters, as well as Israeli sports fans in general.
After going through five coaches in four seasons, Maccabi had finally found the leader it had been looking for, with Blatt guiding the team to the BSL championship and State Cup after suffering just a single loss all season to an Israeli opponent, while also vastly exceeding expectations by taking the team to the Euroleague title game.
The only thing Blatt was guilty of was doing too well.
The 2010/11 campaign was supposed to be one of rebuilding for Maccabi, but instead it has become the bar by which Blatt is measured, setting an almost impossible benchmark to meet.
The future seemed extremely bright last summer, with key players Sofoklis Schortsanitis, Lior Eliyahu, David Blu and Guy Pnini all being signed at least through this season. With star playmaker Jeremy Pargo also agreeing to a two-year contract extension in May, Maccabi looked to have a core of players that would all but guarantee success.
But just as Pargo was the catalyst to Maccabi’s resurgence last season, he is also one of the main reasons Tel Aviv has been chasing its own tail for much of this term.
Pargo notified the team in August that he would like to opt out of the two-year deal as he wants to play in the NBA, eventually signing with the Memphis Grizzles following the end to the lockout.
Maccabi was awarded $270,000 in compensation from Pargo by a FIBA arbitrator, but his departure was far more costly.
New Jersey Nets guard Jordan Farmar, who was only supposed to play a contributing role with the team during the NBA lockout, departed the side in December as its leader in points, rebounds, assists, steals and minutes through its first seven Euroleague games, leaving a massive void.
Demond Mallet, signed last month, was never going to fill Farmar’s shoes, but at that stage of the season he was the best option Maccabi could afford.
Making matters infinitely more difficult for Blatt was the club’s decision to play in the Adriatic League this season, adding at least 26 games to the team’s schedule.
During last season, one in which Tel Aviv reached the Euroleague final, it played a total of 60 games.
As of today, Maccabi has already played 51 games this term, traveling more than 50,000 kilometers in its jaunts to places like Siroki and Vrsac, which are in Bosnia and Serbia in case you were wondering.
The management’s decision to play in an extra competition is set to pay off financially with Tel Aviv to host the Adriatic League final four in April.
However, it is Blatt, who was always against joining the Adriatic League, who is left picking up the pieces from playing three games in five days almost every week and being stood up in the summer by his best player.
Nevertheless, Maccabi qualified for the Euroleague Top 16 from second place in Group B with a 7-3 record, and has had little trouble overcoming opponents in Israel and in the Adriatic League, winning at one stage 18 consecutive games in all competitions.
However, Blatt began to come under fire two weeks ago, when after three tight quarters against arguably the best team in Europe, Maccabi fell at home to Barcelona.
A meaningless BSL loss to Maccabi Ashdod poured petrol on the flames and Blatt has seemingly become everyone’s favorite scapegoat after the yellow-and-blue dropped to a potentially critical 82-74 Euroleague defeat at Bennet Cantu last week.
A failure to beat Cantu by at least nine points at Nokia Arena this Thursday could well result in a Top 16 exit, something which has happened to Maccabi just once in the past eight seasons.
But let there be little doubt, Maccabi needs Blatt a whole lot more than he needs the yellow-and-blue.
It may sometimes be convenient to suffer from amnesia, but Blatt deserves far more credit than he is currently being given.
Blatt is the right man to lead Maccabi forward and even if Thursday’s game doesn’t end the way the club’s fans are hoping for, they’d be foolish to wish for any other coach.
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