Final Four the target for hungry Panathinaikos
This year, Panathinaikos BC stormed to the Basket League title after Olympiacos withdrew, but the Trifylli have bigger fish to fry in the 2019/2020 season as they aim to finally return to the Final Four of the EuroLeague.
Was this the easiest of Panathinaikos’ 38 national championships? It’s certainly up there. In the first round, Panathinaikos were due to play their arch-rivals Olympiacos, but the Erythrolefki refused to turn up amid protests against the referees. Olympiacos were subsequently disqualified from the Basket League playoffs and suffered automatic relegation to the second tier.
In the following two rounds, Panathinaikos had far too much class for Peristeri BC and Promitheas Patras, sweeping the pair to ease to the crown. Given that Olympiacos have left the Basket League, we can expect much of the same in the 2019/2020 season, but the main target for Panathinaikos is a return to EuroLeague glory.
Panathinaikos, a club steeped in glory and rich history, have failed to reach the Final Four of the EuroLeague since 2012. In the 2018/2019 season, Panathinaikos did well just to make the playoffs after a disastrous start to the campaign, but things have to be different this time around. Supporters are tired of experiencing painful defeats in the quarter-finals.
They’ll have to do it without the legendary Rick Pitino. After he steered the ship and took the Greens to the Greek Cup and Basket League, many hoped the 66-year-old American Hall of Famer would stay for a shot at the EuroLeague, but Pitino turned down Dimitris Giannakopoulos’ offer and returned to the USA. Argyris Pedoulakis, who had coached Panathinaikos in two seperate spells in the past, has replaced him at the helm. The fact Panathinaikos called him ‘the best Greek coach’ has added extra pressure immediately.
Panathinaikos have undertaken an ever-increasing squad clear-out. Ageing veteran James Gist, now 32, was allowed to join Red Star Belgrade as a free agent. Diminutive Lithuanian Lukas Lekavičius has penned a deal with Zalgiris Kaunas, Thanasis Antetokounmpo is set to sign with the Milwaukee Bucks of the NBA, while Keith Langford, Sean Kilpatrick and Matt Lojeski have all packed their bags as well. The Athenians were keen on keeping Kilpatrick, but if reports are to be believed, they couldn’t find common ground financially. Young gun Giorgos Kalaitzakis is likely to be loaned out for experience.
At the moment, Ian Vougioukas is out of contract at Panathinaikos, but it’s predicted that he will sign an extension. Deshaun Thomas has already extended his Panathinaikos contract through to the completion of the 2020/2021 campaign.
Giannakopoulos had promised Pedoulakis that he would be given Pitino’s budget. So far, Panathinaikos have been rather quiet on the transfer market (especially in comparison with Olympiacos), only signing former EuroLeague champion Tyrese Rice from Brose Bamberg. Nevertheless, in the coming days, Panathinaikos are set to secure the services of ex-NBA player Jimmer Fredette. The 30-year-old American will add prolific scoring to this Panathinaikos team, something which the Greens desperately lacked in the 2018/2019 season. Fredette, the 10th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, will join from the Shanghai Sharks in China.
Rumours have also strongly linked Gran Canaria power forward Jacob Wiley with a Panathinaikos move.
We can’t forget the strange case of Marcus Denmon either. Recently, Panathinaikos revealed that they had signed a contract with Denmon, but the player subsequently stated that he is still a free agent. Denmon wants to continue playing in the Chinese league and the 29-year-old will likely pay a fee to Panathinaikos in order to put the situation to bed. Panathinaikos had activated the return option in his contract after he played for the Athenian organisation in the 2017/2018 season.
As the summer progresses, the club will continue scouring the market for new additions, as they aim to break their EuroLeague curse and break the quarter-final barrier. Without the charismatic Pitino at the helm, it won’t be an easy task, but the talismanic Nick Calathes is in Athens to stay and such a talented, naturally gifted basketballer deserves to play on the biggest stage of all again - the Final Four. There can’t be any excuses.