Credit: BNS
Credit BNS

At the beginning of this season, Kaunas Zalgiris director Paulius Motiejunas has already made several difficult decisions.

The team said goodbye to head coach Martin Schiller who was replaced by experienced Slovenian Jure Zdovc. Moreover, the Lithuanian powerhouse parted ways with the American guard Emmanuel Mudiay and invited Zoran Dragic and Tai Webster to strengthen the Green and Whites roster.

According to Motiejunas, Zalgiris, who are still looking for their first Turkish Airlines EuroLeague victory, are not showing their game yet. In the Zalgiris Insider conversation, Motiejunas spoke about the problems and answered the subscribers’ questions.

“There are two sides that both players and coaches understand. On the managerial side, the situation is as good as possible for both players and coaches - in terms of salaries, charter trips, training conditions. We have always had it,” said Zalgiris GM.

“The next thing is the game. We are all responsible for the result, we do not run away from responsibility, and we take it. That dialogue with the players - all together and individually, and with the coaches - is happening, and we’re looking at where we can all contribute to making the situation better.”

After eight consecutive defeats in the EuroLeague and a setback on the local front against Rytas Vilnius, Motiejunas claimed that there were objective reasons, why the newly joined specialist Zdovc had not yet managed to get the team playing properly.

“In the beginning, there was no practice at all because there was a match after the match. The next thing - he arrives at a whole new system. I do not want to say that these are excuses, but these are the real reasons why it is difficult for him. He doesn’t know those players, but now I would say that the players don’t know themselves.

2-pointers this season

Points made: 16,1
Accuracy: 45,9%
Place in standings: 18
Record max: 20
Record min: 13
Most made 2FGs: Josh Nebo

When you see those pale faces as they play, I’m sure each of them are better than they actually look right now. You need to get to know the players as they are now and discover the qualities to improve their gameplay.

It is clear that the arrival of a new coach is not what we would all like. But there are all reasons for that, and we hope that the situation will improve,” told Motiejunas.

Bringing two newcomers to the backcourt line, Zalgiris are still looking for an addition to the big men department.

“There was a lot of discussion about replacing Emmanuel with two other players. But financially, we were almost unaffected by this move. After sacking Mudiay, we spent the money on two newcomers.

We choose carefully regarding position 4. We are thinking about a long-term strategy, maybe next year. We do not want to bring a player who would cover the weaknesses just for this season. But whoever comes now, he will not change the face of the whole team. There are problems in other positions too,” the Lithuanian explained.

Asked about the team’s vision and future, Motiejunas admitted that many lightning-fast decisions would not radically change the game and results, so the club emphasizes moving forward with the current line-up.

“We don’t believe in quick solutions. The key now is to revive these players we have. Especially those with whom we have long-term contracts. We need to see if we can build the team around them next season.

At the same time, we need to look at the case of Dragic and Webster, whether they can be the team leaders next season,” said Zalgiris’ director.

Paulius Motiejunas’ answers on the Zalgiris podcast:

Paulius, what mood are you in now?

Between sadness and anger, but also working mood. We are not satisfied with the result, it’s the fact, and now we need to look for ways to improve the game.

You are the one who has experience dealing with crises in a team, there have also been financial problems. How challenging is the start of the season?

There are many challenges because, as we all see, neither attack nor defense is working. The team is still without a face, we do not find in which direction we should move and how to restore the Zalgiris character. That is the biggest challenge.

How much does your deputy Francois Lamy help you in this situation in terms of searching players and other aspects?

I understand that there is a need to find the one who is responsible for everything. The manager is always responsible, I always said and will say so. If something is wrong, it is ultimately the responsibility of the person who signed. Francois is my pick. I put the signature on the papers, no matter that we worked as a team.

In summer, we worked like earlier - there is a coach who says the final word, which player is the most important to him. The bench boss says who he wants, and we do our best to bring that player to the team. Was Francois involved in the process - yes, did he say the last word - no.

Are you trying to look to the future with the acquisitions of Tai Webster and Zoran Dragic?

There are two topics in this regard. One - the season has just begun. They joined when there were six defeats in a row. We hope to quickly change the view on the court, especially when it comes to the point guard position. But we know that they need time to get in shape.

There was no impulse as it could have been and perhaps as we secretly hoped. But it’s not like we’re throwing all our forces to save just this season. In the case of both players, the contracts provide possibilities to look at the next season as well, but basically, as we wrote, these are the contracts of this season.

Zoran is an experienced player. When a team is burning and playing poorly, it is always good to attract such a player, especially for such value. He will bring calmness and experience. Webster has played a bit in Europe, he might be a great fit in this type of basketball. Regarding him, we need to watch whether he can suit in the EuroLeague, Lithuania. This is thinking about a long-term strategy.

Why Zalgiris and Martin Schiller did not part ways in the summer, and has the decision to fire him already been justified?

That decision was ripe, there was no hesitation. Why not in the summer? I don’t want to talk about this in public and explain, but you see the coach working, his whole team putting effort.

Our job is to give all the tools. And when all the tools were in their hands, the season begins, and you see if what they did is giving dividends. We saw that was not the case this time.

In summer, you put the team on paper, and it looks good, we were all happy. Once you gather all the players on the court, then you see if we go any further. In summer, everything goes according to plan.

Do Zalgiris have financial commitments to Schiller?

We have. Contracts for both players and coaches are guaranteed. There are separate negotiations with each. Negotiations with Martin are not over yet.

How could you explain the decision to sign a 2+1 contract with Tyler Cavanaugh?

We are always looking for a long-term strategy, the contracts have always been 1+1 or 2+1, hoping that the player will grow up here. We kept this line. Only sometimes you get what you want, and sometimes you don’t. Tyler still has time to prove he can improve. We all forget Brandon Davies’ first year, and especially the first months. The same goes with Pangos or Micic.

Why Lithuanian coaches Dainius Adomaitis and Rimas Kurtinaitis were not chosen?

We talk and see what the most appropriate option is. We want Lithuanian, but just because you are Lithuanian does not guarantee a place in Zalgiris.

Does Zalgiris coaching staff, people who arrived there before Zdovc, meet the level of EuroLeague?

I don’t want to break it all apart. The fact that the current work, when there are no victories, cannot be satisfying. We sit down, talk to the coaches about what needs to be changed. They lead the practice. Francois and I will not be training. When it is 0-8, the fact that it is not a satisfying situation.

After the scout, Algimantas Bruzas, left the team, was there no person in the team, responsible for watching other players during the season?

We are watching intensively, Francois is doing this. He is accumulating a database, and we are preparing for next season.

Doesn't it seem, that after the era of Sarunas Jasikevicius in Zalgiris, all the implemented decisions took the club back to the old days, when the team had neither the vision nor the spine to complete the team?

I think we still feel hangover after Jasikevicius departure. Now, we need to develop the qualities of fighting, devotion, and basketball understanding; it’s hard. You can certainly see that there is an outcome of Saras' leaving. I tell everyone that it is impossible to change Sarunas. There are 2-3 coaches who can do this. Will we find one? No.

We are looking for another coach to start growing with. Schiller seemed to be the one, but in this season, we saw that it was not working. As for the team's vision - yes, the situation is similar to the previous one, when we collapsed and everything is not easy to rebuild.

One of the season goals was to reach the EuroLeague quarter-finals. Are you still thinking about it?

I told that for the team and the coaches. According to the current situation, it is impossible. Now, we have to, as I like to say, reset, or, as Saras said, go down to the floor.

The key is to get back to the basics that we go to fight in every match and give our all to win. As far as I declared the clear goal, we broke down. When we said the goal was to win the next match, then everything went according to plan. A lesson for the future.

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