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David Pick | Nr. 54

Der große Knall bei Panathinaikos | David Pick über den griechischen Traditionsklubs, der nach dem enttäuschenden Abschneiden in der EuroLeague die komplette Führungsriege entließ

Dictatorships aren't very common in the 21st Century. There will always be Dennis Rodman's buddy Kim Jong-un - Supreme Leader of North Korea; and a little bit of Vladimir Putin; but all in all, it's not something we see often. That goes both for politics and sports. However, there are always exceptions to be made. Dimitris Giannakopoulos is that guy who doesn't follow rules, he creates them, and we live by them. "WE" means everyone that is part of Panathinaikos.

Giannakopoulos, also known as "@dpg7000" on Instagram, has over 285,000 followers. If you fool around with his IG handle it's possible to find a few random combinations. One of them is "dpg007", as in Agent Giannakopoulos 007. OK, Jokes aside. Dimitris was born in Athens, and inherited ownership of Panathinaikos from his late father Pavlos Giannakopoulos, founder of VIANEX, the largest Greek pharmaceutical company today.

Once an owner, Giannakopoulos became famous for his wrecles decision making. He canceled the team’s flight back from Turkey after a loss and made the players and coaches take the lengthy bus ride back to Athens. He brought women's panties to the derby vs crosstown rival Olympiacos; he embraced smoking inside the OAKA arena while sitting courtside. Dimitris is everything but traditional.

To be sincere, I love Dimitris. We’ve shared great talks, good meetings, and some pretty cool moments together. He also gifted me an authentic Panathinaikos jersey with my last name engraved on the back, “PICK”. I don't always agree with his decision making, but he normally shoots from the heart, where it hurts most, and takes actions impulsively because he thinks like a fan. I had to respect that. Fans will run into a wall or jump out of a plane for their sports club. Dimitris is no different. He is a fan of Panathinaikos probably more than he is an owner, which is crazy. Dimitris is extremely accomplished and successful in life, hence why it's frustrating for him to see basketball failure and heartaches around him in recent years.

The latest news out of Athens cried Panathinaikos underwent a massive reconstruction in its DNA, firing head coach Dimitris Priftis, President Panagiotis Triantopoulos, General Manager Dimitris Diamantidis, and Technical Director and scout Nikos Pappas. Fragiskos Alvertis also left his position as co-GM alongside 3D.

Impulsive, right? Panathinaikos are ranked 2nd in the standings of the A1 Esake League, with multiple games ahead of 3rd seed Kolossos, and just two games behind first-place Olympiacos. But that’s two games too many. Panathinaikos stunk it up badly against the reds with 20 and 30 point blowouts losses. Only a Darryl Macon buzzer-beating, game-winning shot against Fenerbahce saved the Greens from finishing dead last in the Euroleague, and probably historically their worst seeding ever, which understandably isn’t acceptable. Pao are the 4th worst defensive team behind Zalgiris Kaunas, ASVEL, and ALBA Berlin; with the 3rd worst +/- of negative 146, trailing only ASVEL and Zalgiris. It became official in the early weeks of April where Pao went 3-2 gearing up toward the playoffs, that changes needed to be made. Who’s at fault: Perhaps the GMs, the Coaches or the Players?

Rewind to 2020 when Giannakopulos advertised his intentions to sell the club for 25M Euros because he had no interest to continue pouring his money down the toilet drain. Was he sincere? Did he really entertain selling his sweetheart? His most prized toy? I guess we will never know, because it didn't happen. Sponsors failed to join the club, investors declined purchasing stakes, and Giannakopulos found himself with a stuttering franchise. He decided to limit his involvement and made moves that rejuvenated the winning DNA around the club.

Pao's longtime Sports Director Manos Papadopoulos bolted to Russia to join Zenit Saint Petersburg while the Greens brought in former legends Fragiskos Alvertis and Dimitris Diamantidis as co-GMs. Panagiotis Triantopoulos was promoted as President to control the financial balance and flow of expenses. This year was no picnic. After serving 20 years as an assistant coach, including two separate stints at Pao (2012-2014, 2016-2020), Georgios Vovoras inherited the famed Green giant. Without Papadopoulos to steer the ship, Pao began to sink. Vovoras was sacked, and his successor raised a lot of eyebrows. Oded Katash, a former Euroleague champion with Panathinaikos, and ex-teammate of Alvertis and 3D, was bought out of his contract in Israel with Hapoel Jerusalem. Katash, with the support of his managerial "brothers", signed a 1+1 contract, with a club option for the following season.

Katash would bring life back to Pao, leading them to win both the domestic cup title, and league championship. It was a total 180 degrees turnaround. But that too was short lived. He wouldn’t return and hasn’t found a coaching gig since. Learning from his contractual mistakes at Pao, Katash recently turned down a 2-month deal with Maccabi Tel Aviv, because the offer lacked a guarantee for 2022-2023. Katash formed a strong bond with superstar wingman Mario Hezonja, but the difficulties surrounding Greek big man Dinos Mitoglou hurt Katash’s stock going forward. Katash normally does well with centers, but his star players have always been PNR-dominant guards (Jeremy Pargo, Gal Mekel, Tamir Blatt, J'Covan Brown). It's normal and natural for a former PG to gravitate more towards his ball handlers than understand life as a 2.10 behemoth.

While Pao attempted to keep Mitoglou, the 25-year-old chose a more tactical career-decision. Dino transferred to Italy, signing with Armani Milano to play for Ettore Messina, and utilize his NBA experience and connections to later assist Dinos to make the jump back to the U.S. Coincidently, following a Euroleague clash against none other than Panathinaikos, it was announced that Mitouglo tested positive to doping and has been removed from Milano's roster. I kid you not, I can't make this shit up. With Katash out and Mitoglou gone, the premier target became Hezonja. Pao offered him a "BAG" (A LOT OF MONEY), but discussions with coach Dimitris Priftis led Super Mario to understand that he would have no minutes at the shooting guard/small forward position behind Nemanja Nedovic and Ioannis Papapetrou, pushing him out of the club to ultimately sign with UNICS Kazan. "It was a mistake", multiple Greek journalists now confirm. "In fact, it was the biggest loss that summer. Neither of the other players can be counted on as go-to guys that can win. They're not as consistent as Super Mario."

The offseason continued with a series of questionable moves that were uncharacteristic of Dimitris Priftis, who returned to his homeland after leading Kazan to the EuroCup Finals to secure a spot in the Euroleague. Priftis was given a long grace period while Ls kept piling up and the shaky roster proved to be no match for Olympiacos. Giannakopolous, while true to his word to stay out of the process of rebuilding, was boiling up inside. Although Pao won the 1st derby, Olympiacos then went on a 4-game win streak against the Greens; all in different fashion from wins at the OAKA, to the Peace and Friendship arena, to the Cup Finals being the last straw. Dimitris felt humiliated.

22 months of silence ended with a megatron-size announcement to the media and hirochima-size Instagram post, pointing all ten fingers to those at blame. "Although the direction was clear and the team was rid of any pressure, instead of building a basic core – as it had been agreed upon – foreign players of questionable quality were selected, for the sake of short-term success which obviously wasn't achieved. In fact, the team failed to be competitive even against opponents of the same financial caliber. In combination with the team's overall outlook, which has been in constant decline as far as results and performance, we think there's no point in going forward with this plan," the official press release stated. Shots continued to fire as Giannakopoulos' IG story lit up in flames, accusing Diamantidis, Alvertis, and Triantopoulos of poor management, clarifying that the change was inevitable.

Pao's quick attempts to keep their hopes of a championship alive rehired Vovoras out of Hungary, and named Argyris Pedolakis - another coach that was previously fired by Pao, technical director. Pedolakis had three previous stins with the Greens, and in his announcement he was referred to as "the best Greek coach." That's odd. If he's so good how come he was fired for Rick Pitino? How come he isn't coaching? What does such a statement say about the likes of Dimitris Itoudis, Georgios Bartzokas and Giannis Sferopolous?  

Vovoras is young and ambitious. He has upside should he think outside the box and make bold moves. He knows the club's DNA. He has 2.5 months to start and finish a challenging process, coaching perhaps the great underdog team of Pao ever.

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