Losing their final five regular-season games, the Saitama Broncos stumbled to a 19-33 overall record and finished fifth in the bj-league’s six-team Eastern Conference.
The top four teams in both conferences qualified for the playoffs, which get under way this weekend.
Second-year Broncos coach David Benoit, meanwhile, said his job security is on the line.
“It might be one of the reasons I lose my job, because I couldn’t get them to the playoffs this season,” Benoit told reporters on Sunday.
For bj-league coaches and players, the maximum length of a contract is one year. This, of course, can lead to many changes in personnel throughout the league on a yearly basis.
Those comments were made moments after Saitama’s 87-63 loss to the Tokyo Apache in the teams’ final game at Yoyogi National Gymnasium Annex.
In short, the Broncos were awful against the East’s top two teams, the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (36-16) and Tokyo (33-19). Saitama lost a combined 12 of 14 games against those teams, going 1-7 against both.
What’s more, the Broncos were 7-19 on the road this season. They started the season with a 5-0 record, but failed to maintain that level of success for the remainder of the season.
“I think we started out exactly (the way) we planned on doing, but we hit a few bumps in the road,” Benoit said.
All-Star power forward Reggie Warren, who had starred for the Takamatsu Five Arrows in the previous two seasons, was Saitama’s top player. He averaged 21.9 points (fifth in the league) and pulled down 12.3 rebounds per game (seventh-highest average). No Saitama player was in the league’s top 10 in assists or steals.
Warren missed the final five games of the season with a broken nose. Teammate Isaac Sojourner, another dominant frontcourt player, had his left arm in a sling for the season finale, a game in which Tokyo led by as many as 38 points in the second half. Sojourner, who had an elbow injury, didn’t play in the season’s final three games.
“We really missed those guys a whole lot,” Benoit said of Warren and Sojourner, “because it kind of takes away our inside presence.”
Center Antoine Broxsie, whose primary role is as a shot-blocker (2.2 per game), didn’t have the inside help from the aforementioned standout teammates in the season’s final games.
Benoit referred to Broxsie as a role player and said Warren and Sojourner had played larger leadership roles for the team.
“Other players were playing hard and trying to finish up” the season on a positive note, he said. “But today it just seemed like we ran out of steam.”
In the end, injuries played a factor in Saitama’s disappointing finish, the coach admitted.
The team’s high influx of new players — more than 10 players saw time on the court this season — didn’t seem to help matters either.
“I thought we made some recoveries at times, but I think we just really kept breaking down mentally,” Benoit said. “. . . With young players sometimes it takes a little time for those guys to even play together. Sometimes, it’s more than a year; sometimes, it takes a couple of years for them to learn one another.”
Too many changes can cause problems for a team’s chemistry, he added.
“I know some teams made some changes, but for me once you get a group of guys together you try to keep those guys together and keep them playing together even if you have some mishaps,” said Benoit, whose team went 21-23 in the 2007-08 season.
The Broncos added point guard Yuen Austin Lee, who played college ball at Seattle Pacific University, to the roster in late February.
Lee, who turned 24 in March, struggled to get adjusted to playing for his new team. He had 62 assists and 40 turnovers in his 18 games with the team. He was 2-for-22 from 3-point range and averaged 6.0 points per game.
Benoit, a former forward who spent eight seasons in the NBA (mostly with the Utah Jazz), said his first head-coaching job has been a learning process. His first few years as an NBA player gave him the experience to analyze the early stages of his coaching career.
“It kind of reminded me of my first couple of years in the NBA because it’s a lot of high energy,” he said, reflecting on his time so far as the Saitama coach.
As a coach, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned to date?
“Probably just learning to control the game a little bit better,” Benoit said.
“As far as for me, of course I’m still learning a lot, but I’m knowledgeable enough about the game to know what to do and what not to do. So sometimes it’s about having the personnel to be able to execute it, too.
“But I am pretty sure I’m going to get there. I’m going to get there.”
For Benoit, the long offseason has begun.
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