Credit: Marko Metlas / Sportida/SIPA - Vangelis Stolis
Credit Marko Metlas / Sportida/SIPA - Vangelis Stolis

A difficult and highly unsuccessful season ended for Panathinaikos OPAP Athens in Piraeus, where Olympiacos concluded the sweep (3-0) in the Greek League finals.

Free throws this season

80%
12,7
Points made: 12,7
Accuracy: 80,3%
Place in standings: 8
Record max: 25
Record min: 4
Most made FTs: Daryl Macon

As one team's joy is another team's pain, the fact that the Reds won both domestic titles signaled a historical low for the Athenian club, which was left without any major trophy for the first time since 1997.

It's no coincidence that 1997 was the last time Olympiacos celebrated the championship and the cup in Greece. 

At the same time, the squad coached by Giorgos Bartzokas registered an unprecedented seven-game winning streak over their main rivals across all competitions. But more importantly, that 0-7 speaks volumes about how catastrophic the 2021-22 season was for the six-time EuroLeague champions, who finished 13th among 15 teams in the competition's regular season. 

Panathinaikos' image and prestige took another hard blow, with coach Giorgos Vovoras pointing out that "the club must return to where it historically belongs."

Olympiacos' forward Shaquielle McKissic added another dimension to how one-sided the Greek derbies had been all season long. 

"For me, that rivalry means a lot. I'm anxious to see the team they will put together so we can battle it out next year. I just hope they put together a really nice team, so all the excuses can be laid to bed," he told COSMOTE TV in an interview. 

PAO paid a heavy price for last summer's recruiting mistakes and now enters a stage of total reconstruction, which is heavily dependent on their financial status. 

Up until the finals started, club owner Dimitris Giannakopoulos had been adamant that he would return to the presidency only if the sun were ever to rise from the west.

In June 2020, the son of the late Panathinaikos president and pharmaceutical tycoon Pavlos Giannakopoulos announced that the club was up for sale. He also set the price at 25 million.

The decisions

Over the last two years, the uncertainty around the ownership continued relentlessly, mainly because Giannakopoulos' intentions and acts of intervention remained cloudy, even if the 48-year-old businessman has taken some decisions and initiatives in recent months.

His most important decision was to dismiss Fragiskos Alvertis and Dimitris Diamantidis, the two club legends he had appointed in the GM position in 2020. It was April 12, 2022, when Giannakopoulos came forward with an Instagram story written in a rather aggressive tone, accusing the two former players of "delivering a patchwork" and his former associate Panagiotis Triantopoulos of financial mismanagement that created a €3-million hole.

On the same day, coach Dimitris Priftis, a choice favored by Diamantidis and Alvertis, was also released following another loss to Olympiacos

Priftis was replaced by former PAO play-caller Giorgos Vovoras, who returned to the team after 15 months, while Argyris Pedoulakis also came back - not as a head coach but as the team's GM.

Panathinaikos' poor Greek playoff run nullified any chances of Vovoras coaching the team through the 2022-23 season. PAO struggled against Larissa in the semis (3-2) before being severely outplayed in the final series.

The same goes for Christos Serelis, long-time Lavrio head coach, who took up the assistant coach position. In a recent interview, Lavrio's sports director Vangelis Papadopoulos explained that the team is waiting for Serelis to return.

"Let's not fool ourselves. Since coach Serelis is no longer at Panathinaikos, in theory, he will be back in Lavrio," he said to the Greek Basketball Federation's web radio. 

The coach

Almost 24 hours after Giannis Sfairopoulos, one of the top names on the market, clarified that no talks between him and the club had taken place, the Serbian media brought up the name of another candidate. Only this time, where there was smoke, there was a fire.

Dejan Radonjic's discontent with Crvena Zvezda's planning essentially opened the door to Panathinaikos, who were looking for their new bench boss.

The 52-year-old Montenegrin tactician was given a deadline expiring on June 30 to provide a definite answer to the two-year deal offered to him by Zvezda, but it looks like he's only going back to Belgrade to pack his things and move to Athens for the next two years.

Will he stay for that long? Given Panathinaikos' recent history with coaches, it's uncertain whether Radonjic will succeed where everyone else - except Xavi Pascual - has failed since 2014. 

In any case, it's interesting that Dimitris Giannakopoulos was the first one to meet Radonjic, but also that the meeting took place in the brand new offices of VIANEX, the pharmaceutical company run by PAO's owner.

According to several reports, Pedoulakis and Radonjic, who was accompanied by his agent Misko Raznatovic, discussed all the details of the agreement with special emphasis placed on the budget and the potential signings. 

Regardless of the outcome of those discussions, there is still one factor that threatens to derail the project: time. Panathinaikos' apparent deal with Radonjic left Crvena Zvezda as the only EuroLeague team looking for a head coach.

At a time when Maccabi Tel Aviv - another striking example of a team undergoing a massive rebuild - are making a signing almost every two days, having completed more than half of their roster, the Greek giants are still looking at the market. 

Picking up the pieces

Of course, summer trouble has been a constant variable in Panathinaikos' planning since 2019, even before Giannakopoulos implemented the 'income-expenses' model, according to which no extra financing is to be provided.

In 2019, Rick Pitino had almost everyone believe that he was indeed coming back for a second season before he decided to stay in the United States for some months.

In 2020, when Pitino took the job at Iona college, Vovoras became the head coach in a move that had been a foregone conclusion long before it actually took place. In 2021, less than two weeks after the Greek finals, Oded Kattash was replaced by Dimitris Priftis. 

But this summer is also a bit different. Paraphrasing Giannakopoulos, the sun is likely to rise from the west. In other words, Panathinaikos' owner now seems eager to get involved in the team after pulling the plug in 2020.

On June 19, he went to Instagram to point out that "everyone made mistakes" and that "this year's performance was unacceptable." 

He also promised that the squad would be built almost from scratch and that normality in Greek basketball would be restored. 

If Giannakopoulos' informal announcement came as a surprise, the team's fans added another interesting touch just two days later. Gate 13, the biggest and most historic PAO ultras group, had been at odds with Giannakopoulos for the last two years.

The team's owner had repeatedly accused them of promoting their own agenda at the club's expense, while they responded with some harsh announcements and abstaining from the OAKA stands for the most part of the 2021-22 season. 

However, only two days after Giannakopoulos heralded what looked like the beginning of a new era, the team's die-hard supporters made clear that they're willing to bury the hatchet and bear no grudges against the owner. 

"Whatever the budget is, we demand that there be seriousness in the decisions made and that the players honor and respect the club - not like this year's circus," their announcement reads. 

No place like home

The main question at Panathinaikos' camp is what changes can Giannakopoulos' re-emergence bring to a team that has been through a two-year ordeal. No matter how much the budget will increase this summer, the club is still for sale.

In addition, its status in the market has clearly deteriorated. Panathinaikos have gone from a Final Four contender to a playoff team to a squad with no identity and clear goals.

However, starting from July 1, another weapon has been added to the Greens' negotiating arsenal in case a buyer is interested in investing - the exclusive use of the OAKA arena for the next 49 years. 

For several months, Giannakopoulos had been trying to get PAO's basketball section under the same status that the club's football team will enjoy in their brand-new facilities, which will be constructed in the region of Votanikos.

The new stadium, as well as the installations that will be hosting all the other sports, is a long-term project in which basketball will have no place due to the initial planning.

Since the Greek government saw that no solution could be found, the OAKA indoor hall was essentially a no-brainer for PAO to take up permanent residence. As Giannakopoulos indicated in another post, embellishing the interiors and painting everything in green would be "the first step."

Another important factor for his re-emergence is the imminent changes in the EuroLeague board and Jordi Bertomeu's departure.

Giannakopoulos had been the most fierce voice of opposition against the Catalan executive. If the majority of ECA shareholders decide to replace him, the Greek businessman would be granted one more reason to be present. 

The roster

As already mentioned, Panathinaikos are expected to undergo a total makeover before the new season, changing at least half of their roster, although everything will depend on the budget. So far, two signings have been completed and are only pending an official announcement. 

Former AS Monaco point guard Paris Lee has a 1+1 deal in place with the Greens, while Lietkabelis Panevezys' guard-forward Panagiotis Kalaitzakis has signed for three seasons. These two additions are not related to Radonjic's hire. 

Lee is a player who can help on both ends of the court, even as a backup, while Kalaitzakis' case almost became an imperative since Leonidas Kaselakis has already joined Vassilis Spanoulis' project at Peristeri. 

Let's have a look at how each player's contract status right now:

Panathinaikos OPAP Athens

Position Player Status
PG Stefan Jovic Signed until 2022 +1
PG/SG Nemanja Nedovic Signed until 2023
PG/SG Daryl Macon Signed until 2022 +1
PG/SG Neoklis Avdalas Signed until 2027
SF Howard Sant-Roos Signed until 2023
SF Ioannis Papapetrou Signed until 2023
SF/PF Lefteris Mantzoukas
Signed until 2025
SF/PF Alexandros Samodurov Signed until 2028
PF Okaro White  Signed until 2022 +1
PF Nikos Chougkaz Signed until 2025
C Giorgos Papagiannis Signed until 2023
C Vassilis Kavvadas Signed until 2022 +1
Coach Giorgos Vovoras
Expired contract Giorgos Vovoras, Peyton Siva, Lefteris Bochoridis, Leonidas Kaselakis (will not return), Jeremy Evans
Rumored to leave Giorgos Vovoras (story), Stefan Jovic, Peyton Siva, Okaro White, Jeremy Evans
Interested Dejan Radonjic (story), Paris Lee (story), Panagiotis Kalaitzakis (story)

That doesn't necessarily mean that all players with a contract will stay, but specifically, in PAO's case, it does mean that those on an expiring deal will definitely leave. 

The restless

Peyton Siva and Stefan Jovic are already out the door. Both had an utterly forgettable stint in the green jersey, as the American point guard averaged only 2.4 points and 2.9 assists over 12 games. Meanwhile, the Serbian international confirmed the initial fears regarding his injury problems. He stayed at Panathinaikos for five months and played in only 10 games.

Daryl Macon had an overall above-average rookie EuroLeague campaign, producing 13.1 points and 3.6 assists per contest.

The American guard came out of AEK Athens, signing a 1+1 contract. At one point, the Greens were eager to pick up their option for another season, but because of Macon's disappointing playoff performances, it's unlikely he'll continue with the team.

Howard Sant-Roos falls under the same category. The Cuban guard-forward signed a two-year contract last year, which expires in the summer of 2023. However, there are many factors that impede his future at OAKA.

For starters, his underwhelming season was illustrated in the Greek derbies across all three competitions. With PAO being deprived of a first-rate point guard, the 2018 EuroCup champ had to carry a lot of weight on his shoulders over the last two years.

Initially, he responded well, earning himself a new and better contract. But after having many ups and downs throughout the 2021-22 season and without getting his hands on a Greek passport in a process that was never finalized, tables were eventually turned.

Okaro White, a player selected by Dimitris Priftis personally after the two had worked together at Aris Thessaloniki and UNICS Kazan, is on an expiring deal that includes a team option.

Judging by the numbers alone, White had a decent run with the Greens (8.4 points and 3.7 rebounds in EuroLeague, 11.8 points, and 5.4 boards in the Greek League). However, in his case, numbers aren't telling the whole truth. Panathinaikos are slated to bid him farewell very soon. 

Jeremy Evans, who was used as a reserve big man for the most part, had penned a one-year deal, and PAO do not intend to negotiate a new one. Despite having a few good games, he could not make the difference in any crucial contest.

Lefteris Bochoridis and Vassilis Kavvadas, two players who have been tarnished by injuries over the past few years, were brought in to fill in some gaps in the team's backcourt and frontline, respectively.

Bochoridis, 28, was given a second chance to leave his mark on the team that recruited him in 2014. However, his second stint, which started in 2020, isn't going to last more than two seasons. 

Center Vassilis Kavvadas was expected to get more playing time since Jehyve Floyd was released early in the season. But that hardly ever happened, and now, the team option will be activated only if the Greek club decides to keep him mainly for domestic league purposes.

Credit Vangelis Stolis

The youth

This factor has a lot to do with how young players will be used. Apart from Kalaitzakis, who is 23 but has no experience at the highest level, Panathinaikos' roster include forwards Lefteris Mantzoukas, Nikos Chougkaz, Alexandros Samodurov, and guard Neoklis Avdalas.

After being loaned out to Ionikos Nikaia, 21-year-old Chougkaz returned to the Greens last February, getting more playing time in the second half of the season. With him on the 12-man squad, PAO registered 16 wins in 18 games. Of course, his contribution to those victories was minimal. His contract expires in 2025, and the club will try to give him a bigger role if the player deserves it. 

Mantzoukas managed to become a member of the rotation at 19, having played in 44 matches during the season with an average of 9 minutes, even though the position that suits him best is yet to be determined. So far, he has been used in both forward positions, which hasn't helped him find consistency. His deal will be over in 2025. 

Avdalas is considered one of the team's biggest projects. Last January, the 16-year-old combo guard signed a five-year contract with Panathinaikos that will go through 2027. However, one mustn't rule out the possibility of him being loaned out to get more experience and time. 

Samodurov, a 17-year-old prospect widely regarded as Greece's top talent with a considerable NBA potential, agreed to join the Greens on a multi-year deal (until 2028) when Diamantidis and Alvertis were still pulling the strings.

PAO's potentially overcrowded line of forwards might bring him to another team for the 2022-23 season. 

The Big 3

This leaves us with the team's three core players, whose stay is guaranteed unless the club receives an (NBA) offer they all can't refuse. 

The situation is more clear in Nemanja Nedovic's case. The Serbian guard was the team's top scorer this past season, while he appeared in 55 games. That's an important fact since he has been injury-prone for the most part of his career.

The club considers the 31-year-old a leading figure on and off the court who can lead his younger teammates by example. Nedovic is still committed to the two-year contract he signed last summer.

Ioannis Papapetrou has one more year left in his contract. At 28, he's the team's captain and one of the players with the biggest impact.

Midway through the season, he had to undergo surgery to cure sinusitis and was away for two months. His overall contribution was far from great, but he will return for another one if no NBA team pursues him. Papapetrou's NBA-out clause is worth around one million euros, but it seems unlikely he will draw any interest this summer. 

The big man and the buyout

On the other hand, All-EuroLeague Second Team selection Giorgos Papagiannis has all eyes set on him. Having authored his career-best campaign, averaging 10.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks in the EuroLeague, the 25-year-old center seems ready for a second NBA stint.

Papagiannis, the highest-drafted Greek player ever in 2016, will have to pay more than $3,000,000 out of his pocket if he finds an NBA job since his buyout amounts to $4,000,000.

Any NBA organization can pay up to $750,000 for an athlete's exclusive International Player Payment Amount.

This means that Papagiannis must find a way to cover the remaining sum, most likely in installments as Facundo Campazzo did with Real Madrid when he moved to Denver.

For Papagiannis, who had a two-year tenure in the NBA, the minimum contract he can get in the 2022-23 season is about $1.8 million.

This means that if he returns to the USA with the minimum salary, most of the amount he will earn in the next two years will have to be given to cover his release from Panathinaikos.

Either way, Papagiannis and Panathinaikos can negotiate on how 3.25 of the 4 million dollars will be paid. But that's a longshot right now. After all, Panathinaikos have tied their big man until the summer of 2023, and one of the club's biggest challenges will be to persuade him to stay for a few more years. 

Expectations

After the long meeting they had, Radonjic and Pedoulakis reportedly agreed that the ideal way to get the team's transfer plan off the ground would be to place emphasis on the guards since they are the ones running the show on any team.

Radonjic has described his basketball philosophy as "good defense and transition offense." Those two basic principles have followed the Montenegrin coach throughout his career, although his two-year spell at Bayern Munich (2018-2020) wasn't as successful as his Zvezda endeavors. 

Panathinaikos' new coach remains a supporter of aggressive defense, low post play, and extensive use of pick&roll. He's also keen on having big bodies (Ognjen Kuzmic, Vladimir Stimac, and now Giorgos Papagiannis) at his disposal.

PAO will undoubtedly look for a starting point guard, where Nick Calathes would be an ideal choice if he could find a way to be freed from his contract with FC Barcelona.

At least one more player is expected to take up the reserve combo guard position, while Papagiannis' loneliness in the frontline will not last long. Since both Okaro White and Jeremy Evans will be gone, at least three big men (two power forwards and one center) should come in to fill in the missing parts. 

Nevertheless, the level of the players to be signed over the following weeks will bear little resemblance to the club's acquisitions in the past two summers.

Even if the rumors that have Giannakopoulos almost double the budget are not confirmed, it's unlikely that players' salaries ahead of the 2022-23 season will come up to less than €8 million.

URBONUS

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