Bonzie Colson (left) and Lorenzo Brown will not join forces in Maccabi’s colors next season. Brown has already left the club, and Colson is set to follow suit. Source: Srdjan Stevanovic/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images
Bonzie Colson (left) and Lorenzo Brown will not join forces in Maccabi’s colors next season. Brown has already left the club, and Colson is set to follow suit. Source: Srdjan Stevanovic/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

Maccabi’s summer shakeup: key stars exit, rebuild begins

Basketball OlyBet 27.06.2024

In the past two EuroLeague seasons, Maccabi Tel Aviv came within one win of reaching the Final Four. This summer, however, the team faces a nearly complete restart as the core quartet that has driven the club’s success is either already gone or likely to leave soon.

American guard Lorenzo Brown, who was naturalized by Spain in 2022, initially announced in early June that he intended to stay with Maccabi. However, just three weeks later, he signed a three-year contract with reigning champion Panathinaikos Athens, a deal worth approximately €1.7 million per season. From Brown’s perspective, the move is logical; he joins a stronger club and receives a salary increase from the €1.4 million he earned last season at Maccabi.

Center Josh Nebo, coming off his best season, was linked with various teams throughout the spring. Recently acquiring Slovenian citizenship and set to play alongside Luka Dončić, Nebo ultimately joined Olimpia Milano.

Wade Baldwin, Maccabi’s leader and one of the EuroLeague’s top individual talents, announced his departure from the team last week after their triumph in the Israeli championship. The American guard explained that while the decision was difficult, he made it considering his family’s safety due to the ongoing war.

Interestingly, there has been little speculation about Baldwin’s next move. The esteemed European basketball portal BasketNews reports interest from Fenerbahce Istanbul. However, given Baldwin’s exceptional individual skills, he might seriously consider a move to the NBA. Even though he hasn’t won the EuroLeague, it’s hard to see how Baldwin could elevate his game further in Europe.

At 28, Baldwin has matured significantly from his earlier, more turbulent years. Now seems like the perfect time for him to test himself again in the NBA. If the Boston Celtics, reigning NBA champions, wanted Gabriel Lundberg, Baldwin could certainly be on the radar of several North American teams.

The future of Bonzie Colson, another key player for Maccabi, is the only one still unclear. Colson has a contract with the Israeli club for the next season, but reliable sources link him to Fenerbahce. Israeli media reports confidently suggest that Colson will leave, making it a huge surprise if the 28-year-old remains with Maccabi.

Maccabi’s biggest obstacles

Maccabi, despite having contracts with several players, is in a very difficult position due to the departure of its key players. Over the past two seasons, the six-time EuroLeague champion has been a top contender, but now that status is at risk. Maccabi faces the possibility of becoming an average team, for whom even reaching the play-in would be a significant achievement.

Three factors complicate the situation for coach Oded Kattash’s team. Firstly, many top players have either switched clubs or will remain with their current teams. Currently, the market has only one A-list star available – Will Clyburn, who considers himself the best small forward in the EuroLeague. However, his last two seasons with Anadolu Efes Istanbul indicate he may not be at the same level he was during his prime with CSKA Moscow.

Johnathan Motley, a center who played for Fenerbahce, would have been a good fit for Maccabi. However, he moved down a tier to the EuroCup, signing with Tel Aviv’s other team, Hapoel, becoming the club’s highest-paid player at €1.4 million per season, according to Israeli media.

Motley’s transfer raised eyebrows because, despite some flaws, he is undoubtedly a EuroLeague-caliber player who can dominate the paint against many opponents. As the Israelis reported, Maccabi wanted Motley very much and rightfully so.

However, some notable players are available on the market, such as Jordan Loyd, who played for Monaco in recent seasons, and Luca Vildoza, who was signed by Panathinaikos with high expectations last season. While both would add value to Maccabi, they are far from the level of Brown and Baldwin.

Maccabi could consider players who didn’t make the NBA cut, but the last two seasons have shown that this is quite a gamble. The success story of Kendrick Nunn and Panathinaikos is an exception. Players aspiring for an NBA roster spot usually wait as long as possible before moving to Europe, so if someone from North America joins Maccabi in September or October, it will take time for them to adapt to the European game.

Secondly, Maccabi’s financial situation is uncertain. While the club is not on the brink of bankruptcy, the war that forced their EuroLeague home games to be played in Belgrade last season has taken its toll. Ticket sales were minimal, and logistics became significantly more complicated and expensive.

Thirdly, the ongoing conflict makes attracting players much more difficult, especially top players and those with families to whom money is not the most important factor.

In Israel, it’s noted that previously, players were eager to come because of the good salary, favorable climate, and widespread English-speaking environment. However, the war has made players extremely cautious. For example, Canadian Tyler Ennis joined Hapoel late in the season but will play for the Italian club Reyer Venezia next season, despite receiving a higher salary offer from the Tel Aviv team.

This situation means that Israeli clubs are now often reinforcing their rosters with internal league transfers. While the local championships are strong, there aren’t enough high-level players to keep Maccabi among the EuroLeague elite.

Players leave, millions of euros come in

It is clear that Maccabi should not endlessly mourn the departure of its core quartet, as every new beginning also brings new opportunities. Fans have long been calling for more local players, and now is the perfect time to meet their demand.

Moreover, this is not the first time Maccabi has lost key players after a successful season. In the summer of 2014, following their EuroLeague triumph, the club saw the departure of Final Four MVP Tyrese Rice and Ricky Hickman.

The years following that season were difficult, but by the 2017/18 season, Maccabi started to improve, and they eventually built a team that, according to Brown, could have won the EuroLeague this season if Baldwin had not been injured in the first game of the quarterfinal series against Panathinaikos.

Although Maccabi faces several challenges in rebuilding the team, there is a positive aspect to losing their stars. Israeli media reports that the buyout fees for Baldwin, Brown, and Colson could amount to approximately €1.5 million, and the club will save significantly on salaries. The newspaper Israel Hayom calculated that the departure of the key quartet will save Maccabi around €4.7 million.

This financial relief provides a valuable foundation for the future, as it is extremely difficult to see how Maccabi could assemble a team capable of competing for a Final Four spot next season.

To be honest, this goal seems virtually impossible.


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