Let me start this post with a question, a very serious question, might I say Top-16-serious… What would you choose – three wins or four? Mmmh… A question worth a million dollars? Or maybe, rather, a question worth a Euroleague Top 16 place? As unfair as it seems, Žalgiris managed to slip through to the next round of Euroleague and even climb up to the third place in the group with three victories, while Lietuvos Rytas was ‘left on the ice’ after losing the last regular season game to Unicaja Malaga. Screwed it up themselves, no one to blame.
I’m going to write about the new players individually after I get a better look at Žalgiris acquisitions in the VTB League Final 4 in Kaunas tomorrow and the day after.
Both Lithuanian top-guns underwent changes in the club, but there’s a couple differences, that were influenced by how deep the pockets of the owners are. Žalgiris made their signings (Aleksandar Čapin and Mario Delaš) before they qualified, Lietuvos Rytas, however, waited for things to develop. Had they qualified to the Top 16 the team would have strengthened more. I doubt that Valanciunas would be on the team. And Rytas GM Jonas Vainauskas spoke about signing former player Hollis Price (had Rytas made it to the Top 16). In fact, it might prove better for Rytas in the long-term perspective, which you could safely call by the name of Jonas Valanciunas. The player will have time to improve faster (if he gets regular minute and as Kurtinaitis has said this will all depend on the youngster) and get to know, what’s waiting for him next season (in the Euroleague if they win LKL and the Euroleague Qualifications if they lose in the finals).
Another detail is that Žalgiris added players without dropping anyone (if I’m not mistaking, there are 16 players in their roster now), while Lietuvos Rytas got rid of the useless Dejan Borovnjak (but will still probably pay a part of his salary, a I doubt Panionios would be stupid enough to take the full offer) and said good-bye to Lukas Brazdauskis who rotated to the secondary squad. I’m pretty sure Žalgiris will send some of their youngsters to Aisčiai as well (Janavičius, Vasiliauskas, Butkevičius, Juškevičius (?)). Talking about the new Žalgiris player contracts (Delaš – 3,5 years, Čapin – 2,5), there’s not much chance that they’ll stay in the club for the whole time. The new Žalgiris owner is looking how to make business out of basketball, just as he has been doing from football for a while now. And business in basketball is behind the mechanics of buying and selling players. I don’t know the details of Delaš’ contract, but I’d imagine that there’s a nasty buy-out fee. Or nothing of that kind at all. If that’s the case, this will let Žalgiris hold all the cards whilst negotiating with richer clubs, as they can put the limbo stick on the price anywhere they want.
Generally speaking, both teams are looking to the future. Bojan Popovič was sold just because his contract was going to end at the end of this season and Lietuvos Rytas wanted to make some money before letting go of him (which would have happened anyway in the summer). I’m pretty sure that the club from Vilnius is looking for a young point guard, who they could have for another season and if possible the after that. If we look at what Rytas is looking at for the playmaker role (Hollis Price, Igor Miloševič and maybe Bobby Dixon), Miloševič is the one that has a bright future. The only doubts can be in his statistics as he hasn’t been doing a lot in small (Rytas-sized if not smaller) club of Marrousi. Kenan Bajramovic is another steal for Rytas, he has proved to be a good player the last time round in Vilnius and with his price down due to not playing this was a timely acquisition.