Pavlicevic to leave Wakayama as team begins massive cost-cutting measures: reports

by Kaz Nagatsuka and Ed Odeven

Staff Writers

After a season of sensational accomplishments, the National Basketball League’s Wakayama Trians are poised to undergo a complete organizational restructuring, according to published reports.

As part of this major overhaul, veteran bench boss Zeljko Pavlicevic, who guided the Trians to a championship runnerup finish at the inaugural NBL Finals in late May, will not return for the 2014-15 campaign, Nikkan Sports and Kahoku Shimpo reported on their websites over the weekend.

Pavlicevic was unavailable for comment on Tuesday. He is reportedly under contract for next season, though.

The Trians have scheduled a 5 p.m. Wednesday news conference at Noritz Arena Wakayama.

“We are going to keep running the team by deducting the personnel costs. We would like to get support from the local companies,” a Trians official was quoted as saying on both websites cited above.

Despite the Trians’ success on the court, they have struggled to make big strides in popularity. They finished eighth in the 12-club circuit in average home attendance (1,247 per game).

The news websites reported that Wakayama’s current front office, including president Nobuaki Furukawa, who formerly worked for the NPB’s Chiba Lotte Marines and Seibu Lions, would also not be retained.

Presumably as a part of its cost-cutting moves, the club has also put 10 of its 14 players on the NBL free agent list, including former NBA draft pick Rick Rickert, a 211-cm big man.

Pavlicevic, a 63-year-old Croatian, is a two-time Euroleague winner. He served as the Japan men’s national team head coach from 2003 and 2006, including at the 2006 FIBA World Basketball Championship in Japan. From 2010-13, he was the bench boss for the Shimane Susanoo Magic. He led the bj-league squad to three playoff appearances in its first three seasons and an 85-79 regular-season record in that span.

What’s more, Pavlicevic brought instant credibility to all three of his coaching stops in Japan. As part of its 50th anniversary celebration of the FIBA European Champions Cup’s establishment in 2008, Pavlicevic was among the 20 coaches nominated for 50 greatest Euroleague contributors who didn’t make the top 10 (35 players and five referees also comprised that top 50 list). He also mentored Croatian stars Toni Kukoc and Drazen Petrovic before they moved on to the NBA.

Before joining the NBL, the Trians were owned by Panasonic, which ended its ties with the team, formerly based in Osaka, in 2013. Under new management in Wakayama, the Trians entered the NBL as one of seven professional clubs (five corporate clubs), and finished with a Western Conference-leading 41-13 record, led by Pavlicevic and his core players, including former JBL scoring champion Takuya Kawamura, Michael Parker, who also starred for Shimane from 2011-13, and Rickert.

Parker ranked in the top five in five different major individual categories (points, rebounds, field-goal percentage, steals and blocks), while Kawamura was the top Japanese scorer with 19.2 points per game in the 2013-14 campaign. Both Kawamura and Parker were named to the NBL’s Best Five squad.

Parker and Rickert did not respond to email messages left by The Japan Times on Tuesday.

In the 2012-13 season, Panasonic, then coached by Yoshinori Shimizu, finished in fifth place with a 20-22 record in the final JBL season.

A season later, the Trians more than doubled their win total and competed for a championship, but fell short of their ultimate goal.