After a disappointing start to the season, Lokomotiv-Kuban Krasnodar has changed coaches. Dmitry Gerchikov explains why Fotios Katsikaris is gone and introduces fans to new boss, Sasa Obradovic.
Why did Loko’s front office decide to go in a different direction?
The easiest answer is that the team was not performing as expected. A quick glance at the VTB United League standings, however, might cause some confusion. After all, Loko’s won three straight in the League, and comfortably, at that.
As for Krasnodar’s setbacks, plenty of teams struggle to beat Khimki on the road and you could blame the Enisey upset on early-season jitters and the new coach and roster needing time to gel. Krasnodar, which isn’t playing in the Euroleague this season, replaced 80% of its roster and is still trying to fit the pieces together.
But Loko is in much worse shape in the Eurocup. After beating Olimpija in the first game, Kuban has dropped three straight by a combined 35 points. Given the club’s stated ambition of winning the championship, there’s no excuse for losing at home to Ulm and Valencia.
Were there any other factors in Katsikaris’s exit?
Yes, at least from an outside perspective. To begin with, under his leadership, Lokomotiv was only dominant against teams that couldn’t match its talent. To that point, Krasnodar’s winning streak in the VTB United League was nothing more than a gift from the calendar. No matter how you spin it, Nizhny, Parma, and Tsmoki (Katsikaris wasn’t in Minsk, but the team played in his mold) can’t match up to even Krasnodar’s experimental rotations. When Loko couldn’t just rely on superior talent, things quickly went south.
Second, it was pretty evident that the team was not on the same page, even to Loko’s devoted fans. Last season, Georgios Bartzokas’s well-coached collective relied on exemplary defense and discipline to reach the Euroleague Final Four. Now Loko’s American contingent and the team’s role players struggle to communicate, while the coach appeared to check out at times, seemingly back in Spain with Murcia for a siesta.
Finally, the team didn’t know which brand of basketball to play. With Bartzokas’s departure, the team’s defensive mentality vanished. Taking an offense-first approach is dangerous in the leagues where Loko competes. Making matters worse, Katsikaris didn’t have the time or communication skills to install a hybrid system. Something similar happened during his last stint with a national team, as the Greeks got stuck between worlds and failed to reach their potential.
There aren’t many high-quality coaches on the market. For example, even powerhouse Maccabi couldn’t entice any of the top candidates to take over this summer. And that’s with a secure berth in the Euroleague and plenty of opportunities to shine. As far as Kuban is concerned, the trick is finding a coach that might have flown under the radar.
This time around, Loko had to rush its search for an experienced, winning coach who would take control of the locker room and appreciate the mysterious Slavic soul as well as an American mentality.
Does Sasa fit the bill?
Absolutely. He won enough during his playing career to shut up anybody on his roster who might get a big head, picking up three European and one world championship to go along with silver at the Olympics with Yugoslavia. He embodies an era of European basketball and continues to inspire incredible devotion from Crvena Zvezda fans, where he’s welcomed like a god.
Yes, he hasn’t had as much success as a coach. But wins in the Bundesliga and Ukrainian Superleague speak to his ability to win games and achieve success over the long haul. He was also able to guide Alba to the Euroleague Top 16 with limited resources and is very good in cup competitions, having won four trophies in Germany. Obradovic should be the perfect fit for Loko in crisis. Many thought he would end up with Pao during the summer, which only speaks to his reputation.
What if it doesn’t work?
Then Krasnodar will need to find a new head coach in the summer. The current contract goes until next summer. If everything goes well, there will be an extension. If not, the two parties will part amicably.
As far as fans are concerned, Obradovic should be entertaining, even if his tenure doesn’t always go smoothly. Obradovic is very emotional during games, fully engaged, and expects the same from his players. Who can forget this memorable incident during his time at Alba?
Watching Loko is going to be a lot more interesting with Obradovic in charge.