Sarunas Jasikevicius is going to get offers this summer but Emmet Ryan looks at why staying with Zalgiris Kaunas for one more year might not be that bad an idea for the Euroleague legend
Two coaches in Euroleague, and arguably across all competitions in Europe, have done more work for their stock this season than any others. Dejan Radonjic of Crvena Zvezda and Sarunas Jasikevicius of Zalgiris Kaunas. Radonjic was in pretty good shape last summer, irritating Misko Raznatovic for not moving then before winning over the super-agent with what he has been able to do with Zvezda this year. Saras likewise had offers but stood pat at Zalgiris. In both cases, the majority of views were that the coaches would struggle to do much in Euroleague this season and not because of their talents on the sideline. The rosters in Kaunas and Belgrade just didn’t look good enough to compete.
Instead, Zvezda are now a team nobody wants to get in the playoffs and Zalgiris have stayed relevant in Euroleague far longer than anyone expected. While their 11-14 record means they need a miracle to make the playoffs, few observers saw them performing anywhere near this level. Indeed, this site was low on both sides prior to the start of the campaign.
Radonjic is in a house money situation. Realistically, Zvezda will at worst make the post-season for the second straight year despite crazy budgetary constraints and he can wait to choose his preferred big opening whenever it happens. There looks to be a little more haste with Saras, almost as though the legend ought to move to somewhere he can win big as soon as possible.
His situation in Kaunas however seems to point to some major upsides in hanging around. For starters, there’s no way he’s not staying in Euroleague for the foreseeable future with Zalgiris. The Kaunas club is not losing the LKL title for the next couple of years, not as long as they hold a wealth advantage over the rest of the league to ensure they stay too good for anyone to beat them in a playoff series. Operating on a budget and doing well in his first full year of a Euroleague campaign, with notable scalps over likely playoff sides Baskonia, CSKA, Efes, Panathiaikos, and Zvezda all under his belt, Saras has shown he can do more with less.
A second year allows him to get the house money situation that Radonjic has secured, or rather a shot at it. Jasikevicius took over a Zalgiris side that was mentally a mess in the middle of last season. He has brought organisation to a limited roster, the kind of do your job mentality that teams with the fiscal disadvantages of the Kaunas club needs. They aren’t pulling off the odd upset here and there. This is a side that has visibly improved as the year wore on. There have, naturally, been off nights but that’s going to happen when your budget pales in comparison to the giants. The gradual improvement however makes staying awfully appealing to Saras.
Remember, he never played for Zalgiris until his final season (winning the lone LKL title of his career) but is a Kaunas native who is old enough to remember when this team was one to be feared. He has the kind of hunger to try for a playoff push and he knows one or two more pieces with minimal off-season losses could put his side in with a real shot next season.
That’s a huge appeal for a serious competitor. If he goes to Barcelona, Maccabi, or any of the other possible openings this summer he could be a great coach but if he waits a year and trusts himself, and you know Saras trusts Saras, then he could leave Zalgiris a legend and go off to try and win Euroleague somewhere else. At 41, Saras has plenty of time. Enjoying life back home for another year doesn’t look too bad an option.