As ASVEL keep struggling in all competitions and president Tony Parker says he's not worried, players and fans of the French team describe a totally different reality.

Credit: Franco Arland/Icon Sport via Getty Images
Credit Franco Arland/Icon Sport via Getty Images

When Tony Parker talks about his club's ambitions, he proudly asserts that LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne must look for a place in the EuroLeague playoffs.

David Lighty

David  Lighty
Team: LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne
Position: SG, SF
Age: 34
Height: 195 cm
Weight: 98 kg
Birth place: Cleveland, United States of America

But as almost 1/3 of the competition is already behind us, the team lies at the bottom of the standings. At the same time, fans are losing patience and demand accountability. Meanwhile, players point out a lack of communication, while the head coach implies that some of the squad's ex-players were irreplaceable.

And how about the president? Where does Parker stand amid all this turmoil? What does he think about his team hitting rock bottom, presenting a 4-game losing streak (which may be extended), and becoming easy prey at the hands of a struggling Panathinaikos side?

When he managed to win a permanent invitation for ASVEL in the EuroLeague, Tony Parker explained that he wanted to make his club a reference on the international scene, with quality recruits and constant progression towards the top.

That's a notion shared by other members of the board. Take, for instance, the club's vice president, Gaetan Muller, who talked about the future projections in an interview with Progres.

Credit Romain Biard/LPS via ZUMA Press

"When we came in 2014, we had a 5 million euro budget. We tripled it. We receive 8 million from our sponsorship deal, which places us first in France and among the first places in Europe," Muller said.

"This shows our development. There is work to be done, but we are closer to a 20 million budget, which we aim for in 5-7 years, than we were to a 15 million budget eight years ago. The club's development is progressing, and now we want to move up a gear," the French executive continued.

It's true that ASVEL are following a very different financial model from the other LNB representative in the EuroLeague. AS Monaco rely more on linear progression rather than a gigantic budget increase based on their wealthy owner's fortune. It's a strategy and a policy that appears to be in line with the rules of Financial Fair Play. 

That's why their budget for the 2022-2023 season is 15.8 million euros, only 5% up compared to last season (15.1 million euros). But after several seasons, the project seems to be progressing in slow motion.

If ASVEL are still a dominant force in the French league, having won three consecutive titles, they haven't gotten anywhere near that level in the EuroLeague, despite Tony Parker's investments. 

This season, ASVEL had to establish itself as a team rising on the European scene and confirm its dominant status on a French territory with another domestic title. Moreover, Tony Parker confirmed this ambition with a rather interesting recruitment. Despite the regrettable loss of Victor Wembanyama, he knew how to convince some big names.

Nando De Colo and Joffrey Lauvergne arrived last summer, thus bringing their experience from the top level. De Colo, one of the best French players of all time and a former EuroLeague MVP, was joined by Lauvergne, another French international, but also by Yves Pons, a star player at Tennessee and NBA rookie with the Grizzlies last season.

However, despite all the verbal promises, ASVEL's start to the season has been catastrophic by all standards. They are 8th in the French league with 5 wins and 4 losses, as opposed to dropping only the right games all season long last year.

Above all, they look like the worst team in the EuroLeague, although other teams (Armani Milan, Panathinaikos) would also present a very strong case. After the defeat against PAO last Friday, the team's supporters made clear they had enough by issuing an announcement that reads the following:

"Regardless of the opponent, we give everything in every game. But what about the team at the beginning of the season and tonight? We have become Europe's laughingstock, a team thrown into crisis.

In France, ASVEL is no longer scary. Our record is sad; we don't understand the situation and want some answers. A loss is never welcome. 'Logical defeats' must not exist in our vocabulary if we want to grow on the European scene.

What's going on? How is it possible that our club won three titles in a row, producing such a disconcerting nonchalance?

We want to meet the team at the end of the match against Pau Orthez, regardless of the result. We would like to meet the management also as soon as possible. A response from them is expected."

The release is signed by the Green Gones, a group of emblematic ASVEL supporters. While historically accustomed to success, and even more so in recent years, fans don't really understand how the club can find itself in such a situation.

At the game vs. Bayern, a sizeable banner drew attention. Its message was: "A reaction is expected, gentlemen." Eventually, ASVEL lost to the Bavarians despite leading by five points with three minutes left. 

Credit Franco Arland/Icon Sport via Getty Images

Leaving the locker room after a heartbreaking loss, Tony Parker was reportedly infuriated. From the height of his immense experience, ASVEL's president probably knows how to recognize the must-win games.

"This defeat hurts a lot," sighed Nando De Colo in the corridors of the Astroballe. In that contest, the 35-year-old guard scored 15 points on 4/11 from the field and dished out 3 assists. 

After Panathinaikos, where he registered his very first game with a single-digit PIR, De Colo broke down ASVEL's woes and shortcomings. 

"I think we got many new players. We have to build a new team without many players who don't have EuroLeague experience. We struggle to know each other and play together," the Frenchman told BasketNews.

Numbers can reveal a great deal here: four EuroLeague seasons, four different teams, where only Antoine Diot, David Lighty, and Charles Kahudi participated in all of them.

Last summer, ASVEL recruited no less than four EuroLeague rookies in Yves Pons, Jonah Mathews, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, and Retin Obasohan. Players who are now flourishing on other teams (Chris Jones, Elie Okobo, William Howard) went through the exit door. 

"It's a tough season, and everybody can win anywhere. Teams with experienced players seem to be more ready than others. But it's still a long season," De Colo added.

However, coach TJ Parker didn't spare the seasoned veteran when he was asked to point to his squad's problems. 

"Last year, we had probably the best backcourt in the EuroLeague as they're playing right now. Elie Okobo and Chris Jones made a huge difference at the beginning of the season. They're really talented guards," Parker said after the game in Athens.

Credit PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP - Scanpix

"It's always tough when you have to go back to zero and change your whole team."

Then, Parker addressed the issue of his aging leader. His words didn't go down well - and rightfully so. 

"Yes, we have Nando, but Nando is 35. He isn't the Nando of CSKA or Fenerbahce. It's good to have him, but all those young players are not used to playing all those games in the season.

In the past, they played 30 games, and the season was over. Now, we got to realize that the EuroLeague is a different level, requires different energy, and you play 70 games a year."

In less than a minute, TJ Parker made a statement that made some noise at this point of crisis. He began by questioning the work of the front office in the construction of the roster since he not only laments the departures of Okobo and Jones but also underlines the radical changes that took place last summer.

It goes without saying that it's very hard for any coach to find continuity in his work when managing a totally different workforce. 

On the other hand, De Colo is clearly reaching the end of a decorated career that includes many accolades. Always capable of scoring the ball, he keeps being a defensive liability.

Over the last few games, he seems to cost his team more points than those he brings in with his scoring talent. It remains to be seen whether Parker has struck a chord here, and De Colo will feel the urge to give some answers on the court after his pride got hurt.

"That's a fact, a given," David Lighty told BasketNews commenting on his coach's statements. "Look who we had last year and what they're doing. It's nothing against who we have now and what's going on," he clarified.  

ASVEL have been struggling to start off the right way in their games. It's no coincidence that they end up trailing by many, even from the first half. It happened in Bologna (-19), Valencia (-11), and Belgrade (-17). Of course, it happened in Athens as well (-15). 

"We are still waiting to be in a difficult [situation] to get back into the game, and it takes up too much of our energy every time," admitted De Colo. "It's difficult to be consistent over 40 minutes. I'm not even asking us to be good, but at least we don't have such a big gap."

"I should bring a recorder and rewind it because I feel like I'm repeating myself every time," TJ Parker complained. "We can't wait to be at -17 to start playing. We lacked the energy even though it was the first thing marked on the board."

"We start slow for some reason. Then, we fight, get back in the game, and at the end of the match, we got to execute on offense and get stops on defense," David Lighty describes. 

"We see moments where we play great. But it's about doing it for 40 minutes. I wish we had the answer to that right now. We have a formula that's working. But we have to keep it and sustain it at a high level."

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So far, Joffrey Lauvergne has had a nearly season-ending injury, while Jonah Mathews starred in one of the season's most peculiar incidents when he missed the game in Belgrade because he forgot to bring his passport.

So, how does the tide turn? "It makes your mind go crazy," Lighty admits.

"It's an up-and-down season, always. There are a lot of games left, but it's frustrating right now. We shouldn't put our heads down."

Lighty, one of Tony Parker's favorite players, cashed in his stellar performances with a four-year contract extension that runs through 2024. By then, he'll be 36. He has seen ASVEL go through many highs and lows and thinks one should only hope for the best. 

"For sure, you have to be optimistic. It's going to come a better day, someday," he said with an undertone of fatalism.

"We don't know when, but it will happen. We didn't show up against PAO. I wouldn't say it's fatigue. Every game in EuroLeague is a battle, and it counts," the 34-year-old Ohio native pointed out. 

"We make too many mistakes over the entire match," noted TJ Parker.

Is it just inexperience? In the game vs. Bayern, De Colo and Obasohan allowed Niels Giffey to execute without pressure. Then, Yves Pons forgot to foul Nick Weiler-Babb when only 10 seconds were left to play, practically letting the clock run out.

"We have to work a lot, spend much more time to know about basketball and our game and how we can play together. Communication is important," De Colo noted.

Lighty admits there's a communication breakdown at times. "Yeah, I would say so. That's an issue we had from the start of the season."

The American player doesn't think the gap is just between old and new players.

"It's everyone. Whoever the five are on the court, we have to stay connected. Looking ourselves in the mirror, we can make the team better."

Off the back of a big win in Bologna almost a month ago, ASVEL approached the month of November with high hopes, largely thanks to their schedule.

But as things went south last month, the French champs will have to surpass themselves if they want to survive a sizzling December calendar (Monaco, Olympiacos, Barcelona, ​​Real Madrid).

ASVEL head into a new series of games with the painful impression of having already let the momentum - and a lot of their slim playoff chances- slip away. 

"Before thinking about that, we have to win a game," TJ Parker warned after Bayern. "Streaks like that, you got to stop them quickly."

In this vein, it's no wonder fans want to have a word with players to remind them of what they represent. But Tony Parker himself isn't out of the picture.

His work is clearly called into question since fans think he's leading a repressive policy in the Astroballe stands, which the simmering crisis only serves to make more acute.

The ultras no longer have the right to attend the installation bar or use a loudspeaker to enhance the audio effect and the atmosphere. They're not even allowed to carry bottles of water into the hall, a measure that's been in place in other arenas around Europe, including Monaco. 

However, Tony Parker doesn't look particularly concerned about the current situation.

"If we want to approach this subject, for me, there is no need to panic. I find it hard to understand people's reactions," the former NBA great said to Le Progres.

Credit IMAGO/PanoramiC - Scanpix

"It's funny because had we won the matches against Crvena Zvezda, Dijon, and Bayern, which we controlled, we would be 5th in the EuroLeague and 4th in the French league. I understand, but for me, there is zero panic," Parker explained.

According to Tony Parker, the team is "talented," but they are having difficulty finishing the matches, in particular, because of the serious knee injury of Joffrey Lauvergne.

"We're always looking to see if we can improve the team. But for the moment, there's nothing on the market," he said.

As fans ask for some explanations from the Parkers, Tony is certain that harsh comments won't prevent his brother from doing his job.

"He's mentally strong. Otherwise, he wouldn't do this job," he replied.

At least for now, TJ Parker isn't on a hot seat. His job can only be threatened if ASVEL keep tripping on the domestic front, as they have done so far.

Parker enjoys some kind of immunity, having won two straight titles after taking over the team from Zvezdan Mitrovic in 2020. Being able to overcome a stacked team like Monaco is no small feat, and the French coach gets credit for it. 

Credit Franco Arland/Icon Sport via Getty Images

Regarding recruitment and the team's construction, betting on two players who would ideally be the points of reference eats up a large part of the budget. Still, ASVEL is a club with little room for error. Hence, it becomes complicated when one is injured, and the other isn't at the height of his powers.

Although it's always easier said than done. Especially in hindsight, any club with a budget like ASVEL's shouldn't aim for stars, not only because they can't afford established players who could make a difference but are out of reach.

It's also because they've been historically efficient with a group of average players who are good enough for the EuroLeague level. 

To make a playoff team out of ASVEL would mean getting at least 4-5 players of the level of De Colo and Lauvergne, but that's something the Lyon-based club wouldn't do. 

It's also interesting that ASVEL's president doesn't want to hear about a transition season.

"Nope. We want to be competitive in the EuroLeague, and we're trying to make history by winning a fourth French league title in a row. I don't call it a transition season," he clarified. 

Lighty seems to be on the same boat.

"As always, the French league is a top priority, no matter what," he said.

Credit Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP

"But (EuroLeague) playoffs is always the goal for me. That's why I signed here long-term. It's the goals the management also has. Why are we playing basketball?" he wondered.

If Lighty was ever to ask anyone about how to bounce back, De Colo isn't his man. 

"I don't know," the two-time EuroLeague champion conceded.

"It's been already two months, and we need to keep working. There's nothing else to do. Maybe we can have a click anytime, but right now, it's tough."

Keeping everyone on the same page, himself included, would be a good start for ASVEL's most experienced player. But as long as Tony Parker suggests there's no reason to turn on the alarm, it looks like ASVEL are waiting for a miracle to happen.

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