Over 13,000 fans packed in the spanking new and extremely impressive O2 Arena, while 400 journalists sat behind the baskets in front of huge nets designed to stop overenthusiastic fans from expressing their love for the media. An army of policemen in full riot gear accompanied by growling muzzled German Shepherds swarmed the court and seemed to have no problem keeping the cool. There were some concerns that the mixture of opposing rival Greek fan bases combined with the typical unease that usually occurs in the city on the first of May could cause some problems, but that did not seem to be an issue at all.
A medium-sized crowd of NBA executives (as well as the typical bunch of international scouts) made the trek from the States to take a look at the cream of the crop that European basketball has to offer. Among them, the Milwaukee Bucks John Hammond, the San Antonio Spurs R.C. Buford and Dennis Lindsay (as well as the lone NBA head coach, Gregg Popovich, whom well discuss further below), the Dallas Mavericks Donnie Nelson and Amadou Gallo Fall, the Toronto Raptors Bryan Colangelo, Maurizio Gherardini and Masai Ujiri, the Washington Wizards Tommy Sheppard, the Indiana Pacers Joe Ash, the Phoenix Suns Dave Griffin, the Cleveland Cavaliers Lance Blanks and the Oklahoma City Thunders Rob Hennigan. There were likely others that we did not get a chance to see as well.
In the first game, CSKA Moscow defeated Regal Barcelona 82-78, while in the second, Panathinaikos edged out archrivals Olympiacos 84-82. Here are some select storylines of note for NBA and European basketball fans.
Josh Childress: Money isnt Everything
I feel like a rookie sometimes here, or a freshman in college, Childress told us. I never get any calls. It is what it is. I cant be mad about it. I guess it could be more even.
Despite the foul trouble, Childress was a major contributor in this contest, doing an excellent job being aggressive with the ball both in the half-court and in transition, notably standing out with his excellent athleticism, but clearly playing within himself and looking very intelligent and unselfish. Defensively, he guarded multiple positions, and did an especially good job on combo guard Vassilis Spanoulis, helping slow him down after a very hot start. He had one especially impressive putback slam off an offensive rebound with about four minutes to go, and managed to get a hand on a last-second desperation tip-back that would have sent the game to overtime, but unfortunately rimmed out. I hit it a little too hard Childress lamented.
Childress knew exactly what question was coming next, and was ready to answer it by the time the third word came out of my mouth.
I dont know what I will be doing this summer. Its too early to decide.
When asked what factors will play into his decision regarding whether or not to opt out of his contract and return to the NBA, a very solemn looking Childress offered few specifics.
It will come down to personal feel. How I feel at the time.
Regarding how much financial considerations will help decide that, Childress didnt think they would be the main one:
Money isnt everything. Im going to make a good living regardless. It will come down to personal preference. Money is moneyits cool, but its not why I live my life.
Jannero Pargo: My Game has Gotten Better Over Here
After signing a one-year, 3.5 million dollar contract with Dynamo Moscow, Pargo was forced to leave mid-season for Olympiacos following the financial instability that hit many Russian league teams with the worldwide economic crisis. Since then, he seems to have struggled to find his niche on the team, and was barely a factor at all in this Euroleague Final Four, as hes suffering from a sports hernia that he will need to have surgery on once the season is over. Since the doctors say that he cant injure himself any more than he already has, Pargo has decided that he want to play and give the teams as much as he can give them.
Pargo actually started the game for Olympiacos, and had time to miss one shot, commit one turnover and commit two fouls in the first three minutes before watching the rest of the contest from the bench.
This is how its been in pretty much every game Ive played in, a visibly frustrated Pargo told us in the locker room following the game. Its tough to deal with. It makes it hard to play aggressive and be productive. But this is the role Ive been given, so I just need to play the best that I can.
Despite the inconsistent minutes in Greece, and the issues with getting his payments on time in Russia, Pargo wasnt willing to call his season in Europe a bust.
The experience hasnt been great, but it hasnt been bad either. From a basketball perspective, Dynamo Moscow was actually great for me. I loved playing for David Blatt and Dan Shamir. I really felt like I was becoming a better player over there.
Here in Olympiacos things havent been that bad either. Ive learned a lot from watching guys like Yotam Halperinwho is a very smart playerand Papaloukas. My game has gotten better here.
I couldnt help but ask Pargo whether he had been watching the way his former teamthe New Orleans Hornetshad been booted out of the playoffs last week.
I watched it. Definitely. Im pulling for those guys. Those are my good friends.
Any thoughts on the way they went out?
I was embarrassed. The effort was so different than it was last year.
Asked whether he felt like he would have made a difference had he still been on the team, he didnt seem to have any doubt.
I do feel like that. There is so much pressure on Chris Paul, I could have helped with that. He needs to make plays all game long, in every game, for 82 games, and then in the playoffs. I feel like I could have taken a lot of pressure off him. With me there, he can sit on the bench a bit more and not be so worried. I could give the second unit a big boost. We can also play togetherwe work really well together. I think he got really tired, and having someone to ease the pressure would have made a huge difference.
Surprisingly enough, Pargo isnt ruling out returning to Europe next season, and really didnt even seem fazed by the subject.
Not at all. Im definitely not ruling out Europe. Greece is a great country, Russia is a great country. For my family this has been great. They treat me well and the basketball is fine too. I wish I was playing a little more, but thats about it.
Pargo reminded me that he took a different route to becoming an established player than most NBA veterans.
Ive been all over the world now, and I played in a lot of different places in the States too. I went to Junior college in Kansas, and then to college at Arkansas. Its different for different people I guess. Im not the richest guy in the world, but Im doing OK.
So any idea where you might be playing next season?
I have no idea. It depends whos interested. Money is not going to be the sole factor in the decision process. A lot of people think it is. I feel like I proved last year that Im an NBA player. I dont have anything more to prove at this point. The timing of this economic crisis has been unfortunate, but I think I can still get a good deal in the NBA.
When pressed about exactly what happened last summer with the Hornets, where they reportedly made a 3-year contract offer for 9 million dollars that they later rescinded, Pargo shed quite a bit of light for us on the topic.
The offer was on the table, and they asked me to wait. They were looking to make a trade, trying to clear more money, so they asked me to wait. The offer was supposed to be on the table until I decided to take it. Once I decided to take it, thats what they said that the offer is no longer on the table. I was never asked about anything.
Im not bitter. Im not angry. I understand that it was a business decision. I did turn down other NBA offers while I was waiting for them. The Spurs made an offer for 2 million. Atlanta made an offer for 2.5 million. I turned them down to go to Dynamo Moscow.
Regarding potential tension that the way the Hornets conducted themselves in the negotiation process was rumored to have caused, particularly with Chris Paul, Pargo wouldnt deny any of that.
Chris and I are good friends. We work really well together. We could have had a great season.
Super Siskauskas, and Other Memorable Performances
With his team looking very stagnant offensively, and having a difficult time keeping pace with arguably the most prolific scoring team in European basketball, CSKA Moscow needed someone to step up to the plate and help carry them to the Final.
Ramunas Siskausas was more than willing to be that guy, scoring 11 straight points and 18 overall in the fourth quarter alone to will his team to victory.
Thats what great players are for, his coach Ettore Messina said in the press conference following the game, declining later to elaborate further. I cannot do the job of the journalists.
Siskausas was more than able to do that himself, knocking down a barrage of 3-pointers, most of which came with a hand in his face as he was running of screens. He took the ball to the basket strong, smartly drawing a number of fouls, and also hit an unbelievable floater in the lane from an impossible angle, with a man draped all over him.
Whats ironic is that Siskauskas really hasnt had that great of a season this year, by his lofty standards at least, having hit just 35% of his 3-pointers in the Euroleague. As we noted in our preview, though, you can throw all that out the window once he steps on the court in a setting like the Final Four, as there isnt a player in Europe that most coaches would rather have on the floor in a setting like this, and it wouldnt be surprising at all to see him step up when CSKA needs him most.
After the game, we had a moment to ask Siskauskas whether the NBA is still an option for him at this point in his career.
Is it too late for the NBA? No, Im still open. I dont say no. Its not a dream of mine or a goal, maybe some years ago it was, many years ago actually. Im happy playing in Europe. If there was a good offer, then maybe. Were there offers? Not really. Nothing serious. They talked to me like we're talking now.
In the same veteran players stepping up and making huge plays when it most counts category we must also throw in the names of two old foxes, Theodoros Papaloukas and Sarunas Jasikevicius. Both were unbelievable in certain stretches of the semis, athletically appearing as if they hadnt lost a step in the past few years at all, as they both seem to have recommitted themselves physically and were both looking as fit as ever. Jasikevicius was especially clutch, writing yet another page in his storied European career with an incredibly aggressive fourth quarter performance that helped Panathinaikos again advance to the championship game for a rematch of the 2007 Final Four in Athens.
No Go for Messina and the NBA?
Ettore Messinas chances of coaching in the NBA next season appear much slimmer these days than they did a few months ago, and he didnt appear to appreciate me bringing up the topic in the press conference following the game.
Im happy for the good publicity all of you are making with this gossip. Until some of this gossip will result in an actual phone call, were talking about nothing, Messina announced in a stern tone.
If all the gossip leads to the fact that no one calls me, then thats a problem, he added.
With the Sacramento Kings looking exclusively at coaches with NBA experience, the Toronto Raptors a lock to rehire Jay Triano according to sources, and the Nets having decided to stick with Lawrence Frank, its difficult to see a spot that Messina fits in at the moment.
Barcelona is rumored to be an option for Messina, should they fail to win the ACB championship, and his hometown team of Armani Jeans Milano will also reportedly make a very strong push to get him back in Italy, as they may increase their budget substantially with new contributions for their main sponsor Giorgio Armani. According to Messina, my first idea is to talk with CSKA.
An NBA Head Coach at the Euroleague Final Four
Seeing the typical globetrotters of the NBA landscape (Bryan Colangelo, David Griffin, Donnie Nelson, R.C. Buford and others) at the Euroleague Final Four is nothing newyou come to expect that year in and year out. But seeing an NBA head coach right next to us in the stands is something completely different altogether.
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich decided to take advantage of his team being eliminated from the NBA playoffs early by making it over to Berlin. We had a chance to sit down with him briefly in between games to pick his brain on a number of topics, and were happy to see how friendly and engaging he was.
Jonathan Givony: Why did you decide to come over here?
Gregg Popovich: There are lots of reasons. For one, I love traveling. I love going overseas. I love basketball. Since we just lost, this was my first opportunity to come over for this in a long time. Its a great thrill, and Berlin is a great city. The atmosphere here is unbelievable. This is a chance to mix in a vacation with business at the same time.
Jonathan Givony: When youre watching games like these, are you still looking at them from the eyes of a coach? Seeing the stuff they run and trying to pick up a few things here and there?
Gregg Popovich: Oh sure. Im much more anal in that sense. In this game for example I saw a great out of bounds play that Im going to steal for sure. I like to see how different coaches manage the game. How they sub. What theyre doing offensively and defensively. There is always something you can learn. If you think there is nothing else to learn, than you better retire.
Jonathan Givony: Are the players that we just saw, like Ramunas Siskauskas and David Andersen, good enough to play in the NBA?
Gregg Popovich: I Dont feel comfortable talking about individual players. I dont want to go there.
Jonathan Givony: From what youve seen, can the level of the players here translate to an NBA setting?
Gregg Popovich: I see guys that I like. The majority have already been drafted and NBA teams have their rights. Or perhaps they are happy with where they are. You always see players you like.