Coach Pini Gershon ran out of solutions to fix Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Coach Pini Gershon ran out of solutions to fix Maccabi Tel Aviv. Photo by Seffi Magriso
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David Blatt, the Israeli American basketball coach, is the front-runner to succeed Pini Gershon as the head man at Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Gershon, the boisterous floor general of Maccabi Tel Aviv who was at the helm during the club's glory days, was dismissed as coach yesterday. He has faltered since returning to the sidelines at Yad Eliahu for the past two seasons.

The sticking point with Blatt, who last season coached Greek club Aris Thessaloniki and is currently preparing the Russian national team for the World Championships, is money.

Aside from his base salary, which is estimated at $500,000 net, Maccabi will have to kick in taxes levied against Blatt for working overseas in the last three years. In addition, Maccabi will have to pay compensation to Aris, to whom Blatt is contractually bound for next season as well.

Maccabi offered Blatt a salary of $350,000 for the first year of the contract and a pay raise to $600,000 in the second season, when Gershon's $1.5 million wage comes off the books. Blatt is the top choice of club vice chairman David Federman because "he has experience at the highest levels in building a team and managing a game," said a source familiar with management's thinking.

Federman and Blatt have held a number of discussions about the coaching position, during which it was made clear to the latter that Gershon would not interfere with day-to-day management of the team.

A decision on Blatt's potential hiring as coach is expected within the next two days. If talks with Blatt fail, Tel Aviv would consider promoting assistant coach Sharon Drucker, who is believed to be the preferred candidate of co-owners Udi and Shay Recanati. Bnei Hasharon coach Dan Shamir and former Hapoel Jerusalem head man Guy Goodes are also on management's radar.

Gershon met yesterday for the second straight day with club chairman Shimon Mizrahi. After the two sides failed to reach an agreement Sunday on the terms of Gershon's termination with the club, management announced that it had indeed reached a deal with the coach.

After a 90-minute meeting, Maccabi management released a statement that read: "Pini Gershon expressed his wish not to continue coaching Maccabi Tel Aviv for the 2010-11 season. Pini will make himself available to the club in a different capacity that will be determined soon. All our talks were held in a positive atmosphere. The club wishes to express its deep gratitude to this accomplished coach for the wonderful achievements to which he led our team, including European Cup titles, Super League championships and State Cups."

According to the Israeli news portal Walla!, management offered Gershon the title of general manager on condition that he relinquish his head coaching duties and agree to a salary cut. The specifics of Gershon's role with the club has not been hashed out, and it remains unclear whether the coach wants to give up the sidelines in favor of a front-office position.