The Wakayama Trians gave Zeljko Pavlicevic a guaranteed two-year contract when he was hired in 2013 to lead the team, formerly based in Osaka, as it made the transition from the Japan Basketball League to its successor, the National Basketball League.
The Croatian bench boss then guided the Trians to a 41-13 record, a Western Conference regular-season crown and a championship runnerup finish. They exceeded everyone’s expectations.
Even so, the Trians sought to get rid of Pavlicevic.
But now, as the final weeks of summer come to a close, the team still has not resolved the issue with the two-time Euroleague-winning coach and former Japan national team mentor (2003-06).
On June 11, new ownership said during a news conference that the team would not bring him back due to massive planned cutbacks in the team’s budget, and the team’s attempts to breaks Pavlicevic’s contract have not produced a settlement as of press time.
Reached by telephone on Thursday, a Trians team official told The Japan Times, “We refrain from commenting on that since nothing is official at this point. We can only comment on what we acknowledge. At this point, we can only say nothing’s decided.”
Pavlicevic, however, told The Japan Times on Tuesday that he is not returning to the team. He and his agent, Sam Murakami, have not ruled out taking the matter to FIBA, basketball’s world governing body.
“If worse comes to worse, we will ask FIBA to attribute this issue to be settled,” Murakami told The Japan Times on Tuesday.
This week, the Trians named 37-year-old Kohei Tsukamoto as a new assistant coach and handed the same title to well-traveled coach Takatoshi Ishibashi, who has led four bj-league teams. Perhaps one of them will be named head coach before the team’s regular-season opener on Oct. 11.
Last month, basketball insiders said there was still a chance Pavlicevic might be brought back after further discussions with the team’s new owner.
Reading between the lines, it appears team ownership employed a stalling tactic, trying to get Pavlicevic to accept a massive reduction in salary instead of honoring his contract or prioritizing negotiations for a buyout.
Murakami declined to provide specific details when The Japan Times sent him an email earlier this week.
“…I could not speak anything until it is solved,” he wrote, citing Pavlicevic’s contract.
“Coach and I have a clause that we cannot talk about issues in the team. Coach does not want to be rude, like to sue them. We are still talking to the team . . .”
Before arriving in Wakayama, Pavlicevic led the bj-league’s Shimane Susanoo Magic for the franchise’s first three seasons, taking the squad to the playoffs all three times. Shimane went 85-69 from 2010-13 and increased its win total from 24 to 28 to 33 in that span.
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.