Since 2006, when CSKA brought the Euroleague title back to Moscow after 35 years, all eyes are trained on Russian basketball and its new economic power. By the way, no single Roman Abramovich heads a club, but the great boom of the entire movement (which includes the National Team, European champion in pectore) has been carried out thanks to huge amounts of money closely connected to the relative return of Russia as nation to a golden age.
So now CSKA is no longer alone: The Red Army must share the scene with newly-born clubs like Triumph Lyubertsy and BC Khimky, a police team like Dynamo and Siberian giants Unics Kazan and Ural Great Perm. Everyone is endowed with large financial resources, but “millionaire status = winning titles” isn’t a perfect formula, otherwise Dynamo Moscow would have won many and many championships. This concept seems to be too much difficult to assimilate – not even Messina’s example has been analyzed and studied for improvement – and Russian investment on the market continues with nobody to stop it. Accumulating names upon names, spending dollar after dollar: It’s a hobby that’s either nice or insane, depending on whether the final result is an illusory second place behind the invincible CSKA. However, this year Russian owners have surpassed themselves: Just take a look at the CSKA antagonists’ rosters … I’m serious when I say BC Khimky can beat the Memphis Grizzlies.
And the rest of the league? No good news from Samara, Surgut, Vladivostok. They can’t fight for the title, but they are Russian teams all the same, then it’s not a case find DeJuan Collins (10.8 points and 5.3 assists per game with Zalgiris Kaunas in the last Euroleague) in Rostov, or Rafael Araujo (eighth overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft) in St. Petersburg. What are they searching for? Surely not the glory.
CSKA MOSCOW: Was Papaloukas really at career’s end? Yes. Had Andersen completed his cycle in Moscow? Yes. Those which seemed terrible losses for the Euroleague champions are probably not such heavy blows as to undermine Messina’s confidence. Besides, the new arrivals are Zoran Planinic, the player most similar to Papaloukas in Europe and much improved last season in Vitoria; Erazem Lorbek and his sweet hands; and Terence Morris, an incredible athlete, great rebounder and better scorer than most people think, averaging 12.4 ppg who shot 60% from two-point range and 49% beyond the arc last season in Tel Aviv. It’s quite impossible that CSKA can disappoint. Messina is still there, despite rumors that had him in Barcelona, and his players are still the men to beat in Europe. OK, the competition is gaining, but you can sleep well thinking about who would take the winning shot: Siskauskas? Smodis? Holden? Good night.
DYNAMO MOSCOW: No, Dynamo is not a Euroleague contender: That’s the immediate thought you have upon seeing the team’s enormous (14 players) and qualitatively excellent roster. A hypothetical bench consists of Arriel McDonald, Travis Hansen, Dimitri Domani, Yaroslav Korolev and Sergei Monya: Don’t you think this starting five could reach playoffs in the Russian Superleague? Instead, these are only the reserves. And coach Blatt can feel confident of the team and its different tactical solutions. At the moment, his team’s conception includes Jannero Pargo (one of the best sixth-men in last year’s NBA signed a one-year contract worth $3.5 million) and Hollis Price from Lyetuvos Rytas Vilnius together in a small but fast backcourt, along with Nachbar, another returnee from the NBA. A frontline filled with D. Lavrinovic (has he solved his back problems?) and Javtokas is something that a lot of Euroleague teams don’t have. Put simply: Blatt must win.
BC KHIMKY: The way drawn by Dynamo, which chose its players from NBA, has been followed by Khimky, he wore tore Carlos Delfino from American GM’s arms. The Argentinean is probably the best acquisition made in Russia during this summer: Born in 1982, Delfino is still young, experienced in Europe, and can dominate either physically or technically. He has the right pieces to fit into a team of good defenders (Palacio, Moiso, McCarthy) and an amazing shooter (Garbajosa). Khimky’s identity is purely defensive, though, knowing coach Kemzura’s attitude, and Maciej Lampe should definitively become a star playing next to Delfino and Moiso: His all-around development will benefit by the presence of a real big man and a small forward like the former Raptor who doesn’t love the post-moves at all. How many minutes will the Russian prospects get? Sorry, that’s not Khimky’s problem.
UNICS KAZAN: With Lavrinovic far away, the ambitions for Unics drop. It will be difficult to get to the title, but with hard work and a bit of luck, a return to the semifinals isn’t a dream. Unics has landed Marko Popovic for the backcourt, the area most in need of help (McCullough and Chikalkin are getting older, Kirksay is often used as power forward), while between the big men, coach Aco Petrovic has an embarrassing situation which will probably conclude with Veremeenko and Kresimir Loncar in the starting five, as Likholitov and Stanescu head to the bench. In a team poor of talent like Unics (true, we can’t compare it to CSKA, Dynamo or Khimky), Kurbanov finally has the chance to show his skills. Last minute addition: Marc Jackson!
TRIUMPH LYUBERTSY: The big deal signed with Nenad Krstic is the declaration that Triumph also wants to be a contender in the Superleague. The Serbian center, if recovered from his knee problems, is among the top five in Russia. Triumph’s run starts with Krstic and Marcus Goree, who left CSKA after two positive seasons. With Askrabic also in the roster, it’s no mystery that Eremin’s playbook will be much more concentrated in the paint; furthermore, J.R. Bremer and Kerem Tunceri are specialists in the use of pick-and-roll. Lyday is ready to do damage with his three-point shot.
THE OTHERS: Ural Great Perm can’t reach the semifinals like they did last season: Dalmau is a talented playmaker, and Ralph Biggs is a scorer, but they are alone. Could Spartak St. Petersburg surprise? Wisniewski is super, and the frontcourt includes Lewis Sims, Araujo and Blair. Lokomotiv Rostov is interesting: Junior Harrington is the key player, but Goldwire, Collins, Antic and Morgunov are solid, too. Sadness abounds for all the remaining teams, and a question assails the mind: What type of players are Marque Perry and Alex Scales (Samara), Pavel Podkolzin (Lokomotiv Novosibirsk), Kevin Fletcher (Surgut), Vidas Ginevicius (Spartak Primorie Vladivostok)? Why do players such as these decide in the middle of their careers to come to Russia, earn money and lose games? Don’t they wish to emerge and improve themselves? Obviously, the answer is negative. They don’t love basketball: They love dollars and consequently play basketball.