After losing their second Euroleague final in the last four years, CSKA Moscow president and CEO Andrey Vatutin felt the team needed changes. The 38-year-old Vatutin believes that bringing back a well-known coach, a few new players and a three-year development program is the way CSKA will win another title.
RealGM sat down with Vatutin in Tallinn, Estonia to talk about the last season, changes and the future of CSKA.
RealGM: What goes through your mind when you think at the previous Euroleague final?
Vatutin: It’s the past. It’s the last season. It’s a bad experience, but at the same it is also experience. We built a new team with a new coach and a new three-year strategy. It’s the past and now we only think about the future and the targets of the next season. It’s a bad experience; we deserved that [Euroleague] title, but it’s basketball.
RealGM: After the Euroleague title slipped away in the final seconds, did you know immediately that changes were coming for CSKA?
Vatutin: It’s a different story. In my point of view, it is impossible to think about one season. We invited Ettore Messina for three years. I believe that three years is enough time to build any sports team. It’s impossible to build a new team every season. Last season we invited a lot of good players, [Nenad] Krstic, [Andrei] Kirilenko, [Milos] Teodosic, but the system didn’t work. Now we try to invite new and young players. Our number one target is to build a new generation of CSKA.
RealGM: Contininuing on Messina, did you keep in touch with him since he left CSKA?
Vatutin: He’s my friend. After he worked in CSKA for four years, we built a strong relationship. We kept in touch through phone and Skype all the time. After last season, we talked only with Messina. There were rumors we talked with [Zeljko] Obradovic and [David] Blatt. We never did that. I think now Messina has a very good combination of European and American experience. He knows the system of the Lakers and the NBA, therefore he will help us for sure not only as a coach, but also as a manager. He knows both American and European markets, and I think it’s a very interesting project. He helps not only one team, but also young coaches, organizes clinics and many other things. It’s a good bridge between American and European basketball.
RealGM: CSKA has made changes not only a coaching change, but also brought a few new players. What are the expectations for the new guys like Aaron Jackson, Zoran Erceg and Drew Nicholas?
Vatutin: The main goal is to improve our roster and each position. Jackson can be better than [Jamont] Gordon, while Nicholas will strengthen our team with his three-point shooting. I think [Andrei] Kirilenko will stay, but for now I don’t know that yet. It’s up to him to decide and I don’t know when he will announce his decision. We kept Krstic and now the main question is Kirilenko. If he stays, we will use one strategy, if not, we will find another player for his position. We also added two players from our youngsters’ team. I think now we have a good combination of experience and youth.
RealGM: Did the departure of Alexey Shved, who left the team and signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves surprise you?
Vatutin: No, not at all. For sure he deserves this. I don’t know if he’s ready or not. I think he’s ready mentally. He’s young and life in Russia and the States will be the same for him. In the NBA, Alexey can be useful on offense, but he’s absolutely not ready to play defense. I think the Timberwolves will give him a chance. [Ricky] Rubio is injured; therefore Alexey will get some playing time.
RealGM: CSKA has been a dominant power in European basketball for years. How do you manage to keep players and team members motivated day in and day out?
Vatutin: It’s very difficult to motivate the team after last season’s Euroleague Final Four. If you win the Euroleague title, it’s difficult to motivate the team for the Russian league. Even if you don’t, it’s the same thing. I believe that each player and manager of CSKA can play under pressure. If you work for CSKA, Barcelona or the Lakers, you always feel pressure. It’s something specific and you have to work for CSKA to understand that.
RealGM: Even though Russia has only one place in the Euroleague, do you feel that basketball is on the rise in basketball?
Vatutin: Sports wise, we deserve a minimum of three places in the Euroleague because of TV rights, merchandising and marketing. But for Euroleague, it’s not easy to put three Russian teams. I believe that Unics Kazan will qualify to the Euroleague and we will have three teams.