BARCELONA — Bieber must have dumped Selena. Or the other way around. That, or the British are coming.
There are tweets in ALL CAPS. There are tweets with exclamation points. There are tweets in ALL CAPS followed by exclamation points. There are tweets comprised only of exclamation points that are re-tweeted with a “!!!!” preface from the re-tweeter.
But these aren’t the hormonal babblings of Beliebers, nor are they warnings of an impending attack from the red coats. These are men and women whose opinions I’ve willingly subscribed to by clicking ‘Follow.’
Writers, bloggers, basketball minds and insider-ish types—all of whom I respect, some of whom I even admire—who let their collective euphoria man the keyboard for a tweet or two, replacing their typically thoughtful, informative 140 characters with a virtual fist pump.
It was November 26, 2011, and the NBA lockout was apparently over. After 149 days of frustration and bewilderment, I fetl a breeze as my Twitter timeline exhaled.
Yet as I sat in my tiny Barcelona apartment, the two little fellas perched upon my shoulders violently exchanged pros and cons until my head was spinning.
“Well, say sionara to Andrei Kirilenko’s MVP season. The facemask would have complemented the pterodactyl tattoo expertly, too.
“Be well, Nicolas Batum. Fly safely, Jordan Farmar. There goes that book I was about to start writing. (Tomorrow probably. Yes, I definitely would’ve started tomorrow.) Damn, the traffic on Euroleague Adventures is about to take a hit.”
“At least we get to see Ricky Rubio commit the league’s most exciting turnovers for the Timberwolves, and Jan Vesely oop John Wall’s alleys in the Wizards’ new threads. Probably wasn’t ever getting around to writing that book anyways. Oh, and I guess we’re getting rid of Sasha Vuja—oh yeah. No NBA-out clause. We’re stuck with Floppy Sasha. There is no God.”
Eventually, I decide I’m ambivalent. It’s easier that way.
Somewhere in this same city, there’s a man whose head is far clearer than mine. He knows where he stands, what he’s accomplished and exactly how he’s accomplished it. No internal debate or structural changes to consider; there is only one task, and that is to maintain the momentum he and his team have manufactured through seven perfect weeks in the Euroleague.
That man is Xavi Pascual, Barcelona’s head coach.
Instead of placing bids on locked out rentals, Barcelona’s management spent their summer locking up proven stars who have already crested their learning curves.
Having Nicolas Batum for six games or Ty Lawson for seven is cool, but you know what’s even cooler? Having Chuck Eidson or Marcelinho Huertas for an entire season.
With money to spend and rumors aplenty, Barcelona could have snapped up a big fish fairly easily. Yet even as eligible bachelors like Rubio and the Gasol brothers stood on Pascual’s front lawn, strumming on their acoustics as they tossed pebbles longingly at his window, he could not be wooed.
After all, what good is an expensive Band-Aid when your opponents haven’t drawn a single drop of blood?
A little farther east of here in Athens, Zeljko Obradovic should share Pascual’s resolve. Although Panathinaikos has two losses on their résumé this season, the Greens are one of six Euroleague teams that have already clinched a Top 16 berth (the other five: Barcelona, Montepaschi Siena, Unics Kazan, CSKA Moscow and Real Madrid).
Obradovic has a history of sculpting his squads methodically before unveiling a finished product just as spring hits. A Euroleague championship in early May (he’s done that eight times with four different teams) primes Panathinaikos for a run at the Greek League title in June (his 2011 Greek crown was his 11th with the Greens). And for an artist as meticulous as Zeljko, having a good feel for your tools is of the utmost importance. Hence, it should frighten other Euroleague coaches to know that none of the 13 men who have suited up for Panathinaikos this season are boarding planes back to North America.
It’s luck by design, and it’s why either Obradovic (2009, 2011) or Pascual (2010) have captured the last three Euroleague titles.
Meanwhile, other coaching staffs are in a tizzy, figuring out how to replace key ingredients. With Player X out of the mix, should we give Player Y ithe starting gig? Will that plug the leak, or should we go out and sign Player Z just to be safe?
Here are the five coaches who’ll spend their weekends playing Pin The Tail On The Donkey with their depth charts:
1. Vlade Jovanovic, Partizan
Who He’s Losing: Nikola Pekovic (Minnesota Timberwolves)
Less than a week before season’s tip, Maccabi Electra put Milan Macvan in a box, wrapped that box in yellow and blue and shipped it off to Belgrade (on loan) with a black and white bow. Partizan tore up the wrapping paper and inserted Double M into their starting rotation. Instantly, the Boys in Black had the most talented PF-C combo a reasonable fan could ask for.
With Acie Law playing increasingly well (Don’t laugh. OK, laugh.), the rest of Partizan’s pieces filling themselves into place around the big dogs and the best home atmosphere in Europe, another Final Four was seemingly within reach, their last coming in 2010 in Paris.
Macvan is on his way to an All-Euroleague season and should pick up the Rising Star Award with relative ease barring injury or a serious collapse, but that’s not enough to elevate Partizan to the upper echelon.
No Pekovic, no Final Four in Istanbul. Period.
2. David Blatt, Maccabi Electra
Who He’s Losing: Jordan Farmar (New Jersey Nets)
Although Chuck Eidson was Maccabi’s metronome and Sofoklis Schortsanitis carried more than just his own weight in the paint, it was the physically intimidating backcourt combo of Doron Perkins and Jeremy Pargo that dropped the match in Maccabi’s gunpowder last season. And when Perkins went down with an knee injury in March, Pargo picked up the torch and carried it all the way to the EL finals, earning an All-Euroleague spot in the process.
Doron Perkins is still hurt and Jeremy Pargo exercised his NBA opt-out in spite of there being, at the time, no NBA. With Farmar gone, the Euroleague’s worst three-point shooting team loses a guy who hits one per game, and someone who had started to excel in Blatt’s system. Now, all eyes are on Yogev Ohayon and Keith Langford to fill Jordan’s shoes: Ohayon to run the team, Langford to light up the scoreboard. Grizzled veteran Theo Papaloukas might have to squeeze some oil in those creaky knees of his and gear up for extended minutes as well, and we could even see the highly anticipated Euroleague debut (highly anticipated by me, anyway) of Jon Scheyer, whose situation was covered here by colleague AJ Mitnick.
I didn’t like the Farmar signing when it happened, and by week three I had eaten my words. Now, I remember why I had reservations: losing your primary ball handler ain’t easy.
3. Dusko Ivanovic, Caja Laboral
Who He’s Losing: Kevin Seraphin (Washington Wizards) and Goran Dragic (Houston Rockets)
Seraphin is certainly one of the lockout’s success stories. Notoriously impatient with younger players, Ivanovic took a liking to the youthful Frenchman early and hung on for the duration of the ride. Now, with Milko Bjelica sidelined due to injury and Joey Dorsey in and out with nicks and bruises, Caja is thinner up front than they’ve been in years. Even with Mirza Teletovic on an MVP pace, they’ll need to reel someone in off the waiver wires if they want a legitimate shot at the belt.
It’s hard to call Goran Dragic a loss when he only split 11 minutes across two games and recorded three points, but what Caja now lacks is the mere threat of an explosive player. Even with old, lead-footed Pablo Prigioni running the point, a lineup with Dragic, Teletovic and Fernando San Emeterio could hang triple digits when properly tuned up (pick a fifth player of your choosing). Now, Ivanovic will have to count on the continued development of Pau Ribas and Thomas Huertel to complete the picture at guard.
4. Jean-Luc Monschau, SLUC Nancy
Who He’s Losing: Nicolas Batum (Portland Trailblazers)
Nicolas Batum leads SLUC Nancy in points, assists, steals, blocks and minutes played. But at least they’ve still got their leading rebounder in Akin Akingbala, who grabs 6.8 game.
Batum gets 6.7.
5. Pablo Laso, Real Madrid
Who He’s Losing: Rudy Fernandez (Dallas Mavericks) and Serge Ibaka (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Madrid is losing more cumulative NBA pedigree than anyone else, but Laso’s options on the bench should make for a softer landing. That, plus the fact he’s already secured a spot in the Top 16 is why his headache is only the fifth largest among EL coaches.
For starters, Jaycee Carroll is tops on the team and seventh in the Euroleague at 16.9 ppg. Next in line we’ve got Lithuanian wing Marty Pocius, who did an excellent job filling in for an injured Rudy last week, dropping a season-high 20 points for a 23 rank in Madrid’s 93-89 win over Spirou Charleroi. To top all that off, Real Madrid decided to bring Pistons draftee and until-recently Alicante forward Kyle Singler into the fold to provide a little extra scoring.
As for Serge Ibaka, well, they’ve got bodies to replace him. Unfortunately, none of those bodies are Serge Ibaka’s body. Maybe Nikola Mirotic and Ante Tomic should have curled Rudy Fernandez while they still had the chance.
Nick Gibson, editor of EuroleagueAdventures.com, covers Euroleague and other European basketball developments for SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear each Friday. Click here to follow him on Twitter.