Friday Frappé: Did Panathinaikos make the wrong hire?
In this week’s Friday Frappé, AGONAsport’s Peter Katsiris takes a look back on the first month of Rick Pitino’s tenure as Panathinaikos head coach and whether or not the club made the right call in hiring the NCAA coaching legend…
Just over a month into his tenure at Panathinaikos and the job Rick Pitino was hired to do looks no more complete than when Xavi Pascual was in the Trifylli hot seat.
While Panathinaikos’ domestic dominance hasn’t seen any interruptions since Panathinaikos opted to sack Pascual on 20 December, the club’s struggles in the EuroLeague have reached a new low.
Panathinaikos, despite an untouchable 14-0 record in the Greek Basket League, remain outside of the playoff picture in the EuroLeague with an underwhelming 8-12 record on the European stage.
Pitino, who started his tenure at Panathinaikos with an impressive win over CSKA Moscow, has struggled to put the club back on track in Europe having gone 2-4 in his first six EuroLeague appearances on the Panathinaikos touchline.
While Panathinaikos have shown some signs of improvement under Pitino, the club’s underwhelming performance on the continent suggest that not much has changed despite the personnel changes on and off the court.
The reigning Greek champions have struggled with consistency in the EuroLeague, though one constant has been the club’s brutal form away from the OAKA Olympic Indoor Hall which sees Panathinaikos sport just one win away from home.
Although six games might be an unfair sample size for one to pass judgement on a coach the caliber of Pitino, it seems like a reasonable assessment considering what Panathinaikos had with Pascual.
The club opted to sack one of European basketball’s successful coaches in recent, a coach that steered the club to back-to-back Basket League titles and a Greek Cup in the past two seasons.
While Pitino’s reputation precedes the 66-year-old, the long-time NCAA coach has excelled in college basketball but has been less than impressive in professional stints with the NBA’s New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics earlier in his career.
Add to the fact that the European game, even with its similarities to the NBA and even college basketball, does have several key differences and it seems baffling that Panathinaikos made the right move in sacking Pascual let alone appointing Pitino as his replacement.
One might argue that Pitino has proven his value by overseeing a 5-0 run in the Basket League since his domestic debut on 30 December in Patras. But Panathinaikos have proven time-and-time again that the Greek top tier isn’t much of a challenge for the Trifylli, especially when you consider their 64-game unbeaten streak in regular season play.
Furthermore, Pitino and Panathinaikos might not be unbeaten in the Basket League had they faced Olympiacos in domestic play considering Pitino’s first loss as Panathinaikos coach came at the hands of the club’s arch-rivals in the EuroLeague.
Perhaps the most important point to consider when analyzing Panathinaikos’ decision to appoint Pitino is the club’s desperation for a return to European glory and satisfy a hunger that dates back to their last EuroLeague triumph in 2011. Panathinaikos owner, Dimitris Giannakopoulos, hasn’t been shy to voice his desire to add a seventh EuroLeague title to the club’s trophy cabinet; further adding to the confusion surrounding Pitino’s appointment.
Even more confusing in this situation is Pitino’s consistent comments indicating that he is only planning to hold the Panathinaikos job until the end of the season with a view to return to coaching in the United States.
While it might be acceptable that Panathinaikos sacked Pascual in order to spark the roster, the appointment of an “interim” head coach on a full-time basis doesn’t necessarily seem the smartest move by the Panathinaikos brass.
Of course, Pitino does have time to steer Panathinaikos back into the playoff picture. But, time is quickly running out. Not to mention the Trifylli have a grueling schedule to close out the EuroLeague’s regular season with the club set to face each of the league’s top four clubs in the coming weeks.
The mystery of who will be in the Panathinaikos hot seat to start the 2019/2020 season will have likely taken a toll on the team’s roster, particularly with the club being active in the transfer market for roster improvements, too.
Although the future looks bright with the potential that Panathinaikos will have access to candidates like Dimitris Itoudis in the offseason, each passing week in the EuroLeague is slowly proving that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.