Hirotaro Nomamoto, the Osaka Evessa general manager since the team entered the bj-league in 2005, was relieved of his duties on Wednesday, sources familiar with the situation told The Japan Times.
The Evessa went 0-3 in preseason play, and Nomamoto lost his job two days after their final preseason game. They suffered blowout losses to the Kyoto Hannaryz (78-58), host Shiga Lakestars (89-62) and Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (75-62) in succession in the Seiki Cup, which ended on Monday.
The Evessa are three weeks away from playing host to the Takamatsu Five Arrows, who are coming off a 2-50 season, in their season-opening series under new coach Zoran Kreckovic.
One longtime bj-league insider said Friday he was not surprised that Nomamoto was made the apparent fall guy for the Evessa’s performance in the three-day tournament.
“Losing to the rival Kansai teams and Hamamatsu by a total of 60 points (is unacceptable),” the source said. “Beating Shiga and Kyoto is a priority in Osaka.”
After all, the Evessa are expected to win — nothing more, nothing less. They captured championships in the 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons and finished runnerup in 2009-10, in original coach Kensaku Tennichi’s final season.
Entering this season, the Evessa’s overall regular-season record is 227-103. They have appeared in six of seven Final Fours.
Though Kreckovic, the veteran bench boss from Serbia, may build a strong team as the season progresses, it appears the team has already pushed the panic button. And this comes only four months after coach Ryan Blackwell, Tennichi’s replacement, was not offered a new contract despite leading the Evessa to the playoffs in two consecutive seasons, and a 67-35 record in the regular season.
Blackwell took the Evessa to the Final Four in May 2011 as a rookie head coach. And the team appeared on the verge of another trip to Ariake Colosseum last season, but two-time MVP Lynn Washington’s season ended on March 13, when he was arrested on suspicion of smuggling marijuana into Japan.
Washington, the emotional soul of the team’s three championship teams, was exonerated of all charges after 18 days in police custody in Osaka, but never played another game. And an era of Evessa basketball came to a crashing halt in the offseason.
Only three of the 12 men on the current Evessa roster were with the team last season. Ultimately, permitting that massive roster turnover goes back to Nomamoto’s work as the day-to-day supervisor of on-court personnel. Nevertheless, team owner Koichi Sato and team president Hidetaka Isomura have the authority to dictate changes and demand results for the organization.
“This all goes back to last season when they broke up a very good team that could’ve challenged for a championship this year,” the league insider said. “It’s hard to bring in a new coach and imports who aren’t familiar with the Japanese basketball culture and expect positive results . . . at least right away.”
When he was contacted by The Japan Times on Friday, team spokesman Makoto Yamada wouldn’t confirm or deny that Nomamoto is no longer the Osaka GM.
It’s unclear at press time if Nomamoto will be reassigned to another position within the organization.
Did Nomamoto find suitable replacements for departed stars Mike Bell, Bobby St. Preux, Cohey Aoki and Washington and dependable big man Wayne Marshall?
The verdict is still out.
But one talent evaluator who has kept close tabs on the Western Conference for years is already convinced that the Evessa’s four new imports — center Larry Cox, power forward Andre Coimbra, small forward Nathan Walkup and point guard Temi Soyebo — are not adequate replacements for the aforementioned ex-Evessa standouts.
“The team is fractured,” another source said.
Meanwhile, just two days after the Phoenix routed the Evessa, bj-league commissioner Toshimitsu Kawachi reportedly visited Osaka on official league business.
Was Kawachi there to hold talks with Panasonic Corp. officials after the Panasonic Trians had announced on Monday they are folding after the 2012-13 JBL season?
Perhaps. If so, it would support the rumor that Panasonic will merge its basketball operations with the Evessa and their parent company, Human Holdings Co., Ltd, to form a stronger business backbone for the bj-league team.