All’s well that ends well: Real Madrid and Barcelona in a season of highs, lows and blows / News

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FC Barcelona and Real Madrid have drawn the curtain on what turned out to be a disappointing season for the Catalans and a very successful one for the EuroLeague finalists.

3-pointers this season

Although the campaign for Madrid can be described as one to remember, FC Barcelona came up short, failing to accomplish their primary goals.

To add salt to the wound, the squad’s head coach and star player had different views on the outcome. Is the glass half-full, as Sarunas Jasikevicius suggested, or is it empty, as Nikola Mirotic would have it? Let’s have a look.

Madrid had the last laugh

Once again, Barca built a team with the view of winning it all, and it concludes the 2021-22 campaign with the Spanish Cup only.

The Blaugrana boasts one of the highest budgets in Europe but ultimately missed out on the two most important titles, the EuroLeague and the ACB League, both at the hands of a team that, a few months ago, everyone thought was dead in the water.

Barca reached the season’s decisive and defining moments in a bad dynamic, without the confidence they had shown for many months and with several players lacking the energy and determination expected from stars of that level.

Sarunas Jasikevicius found no answers in the Final Four, where Madrid was better in the semifinal, nor in the ACB finals, where Los Blancos were once again superior. Signings made either as summer reinforcements (Sertac Sanli) or as last-time additions (Nigel-Hayes Davis) proved to be nothing short of disappointing.

On the other hand, players like Nicolas Laprovittola or NBA prospect Rokas Jokubaitis had been productive for the most part, but their impact was minimized when the Spanish title was at stake.

Overall, the team was mentally soft and unable to handle the pressure once the decisive part of the season arrived.

Barcelona rarely managed to perform on par with the level of talent, quality, and quantity of roster choices that Saras had at his disposal. The Catalans were struggling at the disastrous end of the season and succumbed to a Madrid team that dethroned them as league champions.

The initial image projected by Barca across all competitions could not prepare anyone for what was about to happen once titles were decided. One must not forget that the same team won first place in both the EuroLeague and the ACB regular season while having the MVP (Mirotic) in its ranks.

A few lapses here and there weren’t enough to deprive Barcelona of the home-court advantage, which they managed to defend against FC Bayern Munich and Joventut Badalona just because they won on the road.

Nikola standing alone

Having the biggest European star in Barca and not achieving either of the ‘big’ titles can only be classified as a failure. If the Montenegrin forward was somewhat inconsistent last year, in this past campaign, he felt disappointed because players who should have supported him did not measure up to standards.

In the end, as happened in the EuroLeague Final Four, Nikola Mirotic was left without help. Several key units, like Brandon Davies, Nick Calathes, and Cory Higgins, had been off form during the last two months of the season – and especially the American center whose contract expires and who seemed to be mentally drained and physically exhausted.

Thus, Barca could not put up a fight against Madrid, who had more energy and showed a greater willingness to fight for 50-50 balls. With intensity below zero, the best the Catalans could get out of the finals was a narrow victory at Palau.

Saras loses control

“They have been better, more consistent, and have arrived at the finals fresher,” Jasikevicius commented after Game 4.

The Lithuanian coach has strived to convey to his squad the character that he had always shown on the court, but he has not been able to.

That’s simply because he is the one who must get the most out of his players instead of the entire team adjusting to his wishes.

When he said he needed “a few bastards”, he was certainly being honest, although calling out players in multiple statements might have taken a toll on his relationship with some heavyweights in the locker room.

Having arrived at Barcelona from a pressure-free environment like the one Zalgiris Kaunas provides, with almost no possibility of winning the EuroLeague, Jasikevicius knew that he had to respond to a huge task. When he took over two years ago, Barca was coming off a painful loss in the final game of the ACB bubble hosted in Valencia.

Following a promising season, when the Blaugrana reached the EuroLeague final and won the ACB title, anything less is hard to digest for most fans.

Three domestic titles in two years look like a footnote for a project that had everything to be hegemonic.

Winning at Barcelona is not optional. Of course, one cannot be oblivious to the fact that Barca presented impressive regular-season records in the EuroLeague and the ACB: 24-10 and 32-4 in 2020-21, as opposed to 21-7 and 27-7 in 2021- 22.

A look at the future

As it seems, the next day at Barcelona will include Saras, but several players will have to look for a new destination. Jan Vesely, Oscar da Silva, and Tomas Satoransky will probably be the first additions, while Brandon Davies and Nigel Hayes-Davis are near the exit door.

Calathes will be a bargain in case he goes on the market, and there are other names, like Pierre Oriola or Rolands Smits, whose days in Barcelona seem to be numbered.

Overall, the period of reflection in which the section has immersed itself could bring some surprising moves.

The budget of the club’s basketball section for this season has been 42 million euros. According to El Mundo, sources from the club assume that these figures will have to be reduced next season due to the economic difficulties of the entity.

Although the leaders of Barca assure that they have not proposed a specific percentage as an objective in the budget reduction, they admit that the wage bill for basketball – 34.8 million euros, which amounts to 36.08 adding all the expenses – will have to be cut down .

It all started with the barbecue

If Real Madrid succeeded in unmasking all the weaknesses their main rivals were carrying, one should not forget about how it all started.

On April 15, Rudy Fernandez, along with Sergio Llull, both emblematic figures and Real Madrid veterans, invited their teammates for a barbecue in Fernandez’s house.

From that point on, a team that barely kept its place in the EuroLeague regular season Top 4 started shooting sparks.

The players came closer, everything clicked, and Real Madrid only suffered two losses, of which only one was really painful – to Anadolu Efes in the EuroLeague final game.

The price of (in) discipline

Although Fernandez and Llull did a good job in keeping the team together, some days earlier, it was Pablo Laso who had taken drastic measures and decisions.

After the game against Panathinaikos in Athens on March 31, the Basque coach left Thomas Heurtel and Trey Thompkins off the 12-man squad for reportedly experiencing the perks of a night out in Athens that lasted until the early morning hours.

At the same time, Guerschon Yabusele – who had signed a three-year contract extension midway through the season- received a hefty $ 50,000 fine for violating the internal regulations.

Heurtel’s ousting, combined with Nigel William Goss’ injury in the Final Four, upgraded Fabien Causeur as the Frenchman developed into a key player at a point where almost everyone had written him off.

Alberto Abalde was left behind in the rotation, while Adam Hanga’s transition into a guard served Laso’s plans while ascribing a slightly different role to Llull and Fernandez.

Against all odds, the playoffs rekindled the competitive spirit in a group hell-bent on resisting their fate.

“We deserve it for everything we’ve been through,” summed up Llull.

More than a step-in

Among all the mishaps, nothing can compare to what happened on June 5, when Laso suffered a myocardial infarction that shocked the entire squad. Doctors understood the seriousness of his condition since the 55-year-old coach had suffered a heart attack and had to undergo catheterization of his heart.

Despite his gradual recovery, Chus Mateo proved that he’s far more than an accidental hero. The Madrid-born coach proved to be masterful in the Spanish playoffs, preparing the team for battle, making good decisions, and perfect rotations in Laso’s absence.

Walter Tavares was the MVP with 25 points, 13 rebounds, and a PIR of 41 in Game 4. Hanga, Causeur, and Deck came as a rescue trio from the perimeter while Yabusele responded to the task against Mirotic.

Madrid looked more united by the absence of Laso and Randolph’s dramatic injury, who tore his ACL.

Real Madrid have shown maturity and resilience in the face of adversity, turning a season that tended to become a lost cause into a triumph.

Laso won his sixth ACB championship trophy since he joined the club in 2011 and his No. 22 title overall with the team he has served as a player in the 1990s.

Time to rebuild

One would say that the Spanish champs are now entering a rebuilding phase since Heurtel, Thompkins, and Goss are set to leave, while 37-year-old Rudy Fernandez and 34-year-old Sergio Llull will be getting less playing time.

Rudy and Llull have been instrumental players in the morale and soul recovery of a team that a few months ago was sinking.

The defensive recital of the Majorcan forward in the finals against Barca has been exemplary. Llull, for his part, has drawn from his experience whenever he had to act as a point guard, knowing how to manage the rhythm.

35-year-old Fabien Causeur wants to continue and even retire at the WiZink Center after spending his most productive years in the Spanish capital.

The Frenchman’s excellent season finale, especially in the ACB, has made the white entity rethink his situation.

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The market goals

Real Madrid will work towards a goal to have a roster as wide as possible to fight for the four titles again, but with greater guarantees if possible.

For this reason, Juan Carlos Sanchez (director of the basketball section), Alberto Herreros (sports director), Pablo Laso himself, and his entire team are already putting together the new squad.

Sergio Rodriguez is expected to return to what had been his home for six years after his second adventure in the NBA and throughout Europe, with CSKA Moscow and AX Armani Exchange Milan.

According to the latest reports, the Spanish point guard, now 36, will sign a one-year contract with an option for another one.

Mario Hezonja had a great season with UNICS Kazan, proving he can be part of a high-level team. At 27, the Croatian forward arrives in a state of total maturity after having a very early explosion.

He already knows Spanish basketball since he played for FC Barcelona for three seasons before making the leap to the NBA.

Dzanan Musa, current ACB regular season MVP, will probably follow. The former Rio Breogan guard-forward, 23, promises to provide instant scoring to Madrid but also power on the defensive glass thanks to his 2.06 m. figure.

With Hezonja and Musa, Real Madrid is looking to rejuvenate their exterior game, and that is why Jeffery Taylor has ended up being left out of that new lineup.

The Swede has already turned 33 and will have to look for a new adventure backed by his great years with Madrid.

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