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CSKA Pres Andrey Vatutin talks Teodosic, Spanoulis, Euroleague format - May 16, 2017

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Andrey Vatutin has multiple accolades as President and CEO of European power-club CSKA Moscow. But winning back-to-back Euroleague titles isn't on his resume. However, a gold medal this weekend in Istanbul will carve his name as the all-time greatest front office executive in Russian hoops.

He never takes credit, though. For the same reasons, Vatutin has no desire to pursue current and former NBA interest. "The NBA was never a dream of mine. Besides, I couldn't leave CSKA without winning the Euroleague title after what we had gone through in Istanbul in 2012. I feel comfortable here, there's always a challenge of reaching the highest goals and handling pressure, it's like a drug-addiction," he tells me in a revealing Q&A.

Vatutin celebrated his tenth season at CSKA winning the 2016 Euroleague trophy, and is now headed back to Turkey for another swing at his Greek arch-rivals, Olympiacos. This time, there is no chance he returns to Moscow empty-handed. "0-3 against Olympiacos in Final Fouls? Bad stats are for fans and journalists. I'm more pragmatic: each team lives one season, so my entire focus is on our game against Olympiacos on Friday, not on games from the past. I was asked if I had a preference to play Anadolu Efes instead, but I don't. Champions should be able to beat any opponent," said Vatutin, architect of Russian Euroleague titles in 2006 and 2016.

Do you see Vassilis Spanoulis is your nightmares?

"I prefer not to have male figures in my dreams," he said with a chuckle. "I have huge respect for Vassilis (Spanoulis), and I cherish our personal relationship, as I do the influence of Olympiacos owners Angelopoulos brothers, Panagiotis and Giorgos, on basketball."

Vatutin and Vice President Natalia Furaeva juggle one of the biggest budgets in Europe estimated at over 42 million Euros. Per Vatutin: "50% of his budget goes to players salaries." According to VTB League regulations, budgets are exposed much like the NBA, but the Russian muggle is under constant scrutiny of ballooning salaries to attract the best players on the market. "CSKA is the only Euroleague club with open books while our competitors behave differently, though their budgets are sometimes comparable to ours. But CSKA is still the center of attention."

How does that feed into signing star-power? It doesn't. "I think Ramunas Siskauskas and Milos Teodosic were the last well-known stars to leave high level clubs for CSKA. Kyle Hines came to CSKA as a two-time Euroleague champion, but he embraced a role player's gig for Olympiacos (averaging under 10 points and 5 rebounds per game). Signing great players doesn't guarantee success," Vatutin says.

CSKA will soon engage in one the greatest decisions the franchise had in a long time. Milos Teodosic - NBA or Europe? Several NBA GMs and scouts are eye-balling the Serbian wizard floor general. With ex-CSKA assistant Quin Snyder leading Utah into the second round of the playoffs with loads of international flavor, sources tell me the Jazz are bound to shoot Teodosic an offer-sheet. The Brooklyn Nets are also in active pursuit. People close to Teodosic estimate that he'll push for a deal in 3-years $25-30 million range.

"I'm proud to have elite NBA GMs from Brooklyn, San Antonio, Denver, Oklahoma, Houston and others as friends. Teams that want to scout Milos are able to do so with or without CSKA's assistance. I think the teams that have concrete interest in Teodosic weren't mentioned in the media."

Did NBA teams talk to you about Milos Teodosic?

"I don't discuss such kind of scouting with them. I definitely know Milos better than any GM in the world, but my knowledge is used for CSKA alone."

Are you prepared for Milos leaving for the NBA, any backup plans?

"I cannot discuss candidates to replace a player that hasn't left or might re-sign with CSKA. Milos is unique. He is as unique as Nando De Colo, Victor Khryapa and all of my players. But if an NBA team makes him an offer - it will be impossible to compete with."

There are unconfirmed rumors that Vassilis Spanoulis left Panathinaikos because he was out-paid by Dimitris Diamantidis. De Colo is the reigning Euroleague MVP, but Milos Teodosic can end up earning more on his next contract. Do you give Milos an identical contract as De Colo or less?

"This is an interesting myth about Vassilis Spanoulis and Dimitris Diamantidis. I've heard it before of course, but no one has ever confirmed it. CSKA salaries are confidential. If players haven't shown each other their contracts, I don't see reason to be financially jealous."

How has CSKA been so successful in building teams without the fingerprints of a General Manager, rather administrative executives?

"There are different models of management, each one has pluses and minuses. Hiring a former player for example, doesn't guarantee the solution to problems. Knowing what to do with the ball on the court isn't enough in our line of work. The market is most important, so one must establish business connections, influence and management experience. Still, it's possible that in the future CSKA will hire a retired athlete."

CSKA, of the elite Euroleague teams, has troubles filling its arena with fans. Why?

"We had approximately 8500 spectators for Euroleague games and 3000 for VTB League games this season. The main problem is that basketball is not a popular sports in Russia. We do a lot for our fans from ticket prices, to food to entertainment, and I'm sure we can do more, but are resources are limited because we don't have our own arena. Unlike other basketball countries like Serbia, Greece, Turkey, Israel where the fans come just to see the games and support their teams. Moscow also has a wide range of entertainment opportunities and fans need to spend a lot of time getting to the arena in such a huge city. I should admit that CSKA's dominance in Europe and Russia has a negative outcome: some fans don't come because the team will win even without their support. The wildest thing I heard was recent from a fan that said, 'start losing and we'll come to games, otherwise it's not intriguing enough.'"

How would you summarize Euroleague's transition from brackets to a league format?

"This was the most interesting and unpredictable season ever; it exceeded the expectations of organizers and participants. Obviously, the 16 teams format proved to be beneficial. More than half the games were decided in the final seconds and others were huge surprises. We got a legit chance to evaluate team's' strength because the pools format couldn't provide a clear understanding of that. Besides, clubs began to earn money."

There are talks of expanding the league to 18-24 teams. Do you think that's a smart strategy?

"The high level of basketball and financial growth allow it, but the Euroleague schedule is tough and forces clubs to use charter flights more often. Thus, I doubt we see a line of teams pushing to join the league. From a financial standpoint, I think only two Russian clubs, one Spanish and one German teams are ready to make the jump into the tournament. Then there's another angle - NBA contracts force us to spend more money and players demand an increase in salaries to give them a reason to stay on this side of the pond."

Which team do you think should earn the final WILD CARD ticket for 2017-18?

"If the wild card is given, I'll support one of the Russian teams willing to join because the top Russian clubs are good enough on the hardwood and off it to partake in the Euroleague."

How about a FIFTH Spanish ACB team in the Euroleague next season?

"The clubs agreed that Jordi Bertomeu will take the final decision on that."

Euroleague rules read that no more than four teams per country, but we might see five Spanish club next season. Vatutin: "Definitely the bylaws need to be respect. I am sure the Euroleague Board committee will make a well-weighted and fair decision."

Vatutin also has some troublesome issues and suggestions to generate more Euroleague games and increase in teams, but that means less domestic challenge. "We need more European games and less domestic games. An increase in EuroLeague teams not heavily involved in other competitions will create a logical and dynamic schedule, allowing an easy expansion to 18-20 teams. We can find the windows for playoffs series and might even allow FIBA's craving for National Team windows. Also, it's not only about the teams, but about the fans. More Euroleague teams means more fans and interest in games. That will lead to an increase of revenues from tickets and merchandize, clubs will be more attractive for sponsors and TV. The only model that generates real money is an independent closed leagues."

CSKA's president offers more strategies to better the European competitions. 'If we decide to increase the number of participants, it is necessary to decide on the qualification system. The main problem is having multiple lanes to join the Euroleague. It's too complicated and often illogical, even for the specialist. Maybe we should raise the number of A-Licensed clubs, or use the domestic ranking system from various leagues - This is something we have to discuss."

Had Vatutin's idea been executed, teams like Maccabi Rishon Lezion or Hapoel Jerusalem, recent Israeli League champions, would have received Euroleague tickets.

"We should not approve to constant changing of rules every season, but allow ourselves long-term planning. Most of the league winners around Europe aren't being rewarded with Euroleague spots, so there is a decrease in motivation. In fact, the lone leagues that do provide such tickets are the VTB League, the Adriatic League and the German Bundesliga," Vatutin concluded.


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Euroleague Standings
 1 Real Madrid 23-7 
 2 CSKA 22-8 
 3 Olympiacos 19-11 
 4 Panathinaikos 19-11 
 5 Fenerbahce 18-12 
 6 Anadolu Efes 17-13 
 7 Baskonia 17-13 
 8 Darussafaka 16-14 
 9 Crvena Zvezda 16-14 
 10 Zalgiris 14-16 
 11 FC Barcelona 12-18 
 12 Galatasaray 11-19 
 13 Brose Bask. 10-20 
 14 Maccabi T-A 10-20 
 15 EA7 Armani 8-22 
 16 Unics 8-22 
Stats Leaders
Points Per Game
  Avg: 21.8
 1. Langford, Unics21.8 
 2. De-Colo, CS.19.1 
 3. Goudelock, Maccabi .17.3 
 4. Wanamaker, Darussaf.16.7 
 5. Llull, Real Madrid16.5 
 6. Teodosic, CSKA16.1 
 7. Bogdanovic, Fener.14.6 
 8. James, Panathin.13.1 
 9. Larkin, Baskonia13.1 
 10. Rice, FC Barcelona13.0 
Rebounds Per Game
 Ekpe UDOH
  Avg: 7.8
 1. Udoh, Fenerbahce7.8 
 2. Melli, Brose Bask.7.4 
 3. Honeycutt, Anadolu .7.3 
 4. Kuzmic, Crvena Z.7.0 
 5. Voigtmann, Basko.7.0 
 6. Zizic, Darussafaka6.7 
 7. Dorsey, FC Barce.6.3 
 8. Dunston, Anadolu .6.2 
 9. Jankunas, Zalgiris6.1 
 10. Tomic, FC Barce.5.9 
Assists Per Game
  Avg: 6.8
 1. Teodosic, CSKA6.8 
 2. Spanoulis, Olympiacos6.1 
 3. Llull, Real Madrid5.9 
 4. Larkin, Baskonia5.7 
 5. Colom, Unics5.7 
 6. Jovic, Crvena Z.5.7 
 7. Guler, Galatasaray5.6 
 8. Heurtel, Anadolu .5.6 
 9. Calathes, Panathin.5.5 
 10. Westermann, Zalgiris5.5 
Steals Per Game
 Charles JENKINS
  Crvena Z.
  Avg: 2.1
 1. Jenkins, Crvena Z.2.1 
 2. Calathes, Panathin.1.5 
 3. Wanamaker, Darussaf.1.5 
 4. Lazic, Crvena Z.1.4 
 5. Wilbekin, Darussafaka1.4 
 6. Larkin, Baskonia1.3 
 7. Jovic, Crvena Z.1.3 
 8. Guler, Galatasaray1.3 
 9. Hanga, Baskonia1.3 
 10. Fernandez, Real M.1.2 
Blocks Per Game
 Ekpe UDOH
  Avg: 2.2
 1. Udoh, Fenerbahce2.2 
 2. Tyus, Galatasaray1.5 
 3. Pleiss, Galatasaray1.2 
 4. Parakhouski, Unics1.2 
 5. Dunston, Anadolu .1.1 
 6. Randolph, Real Madrid1.1 
 7. Singleton, Panathin.1.0 
 8. Birch, Olympiacos1.0 
 9. Honeycutt, Anadolu .0.9 
 10. Kirk, Anadolu Efes0.9 

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