Rytas consider replacing Nicola with Bagatskis

The days of Marcelo Nicola in Vilnius might be counted. The Argentinean coach of Lietuvos Rytas has not delivered the expected results increasing the pressure even further.

Yesterday’s Eurocup home loss against Zenith St. Petersburg was already third for Rytas in Europe this season. Despite a narrow final margin (65-70), Vilnius side again looked helpless on the court. At half time the hosts were down by 22 points and one could feel the sense of yet another defeat coming.

A late run saw Rytas narrow the gap to just a single point near the end of the fourth quarter but the visitors from Russia managed to keep their composure and avoided a disappointing loss.

The latest defeat put Rytas in the fourth place in Group E complicating the team’s chances of finishing high and even creating doubts regarding their qualification for the second round. The two-time Eurocup winners were aiming high before the start of the season after heavily refreshing their squad in summer.

The things are better for the black-red-whites on home soil. Rytas lost only one of 7 games in LKL this season. Though the only defeat was hopeless and it came in the most important game – against fierce rivals Zalgiris.

Head coach Marcelo Nicola was given a second chance after he took over from Virginijus Seskus as Rytas head coach in the middle of last season but was unable to bring any notable wins to Vilnius. Nicola’s Rytas was blown 4-0 by Zalgiris in LKL finals and was knocked-out by Pinar Karsiyaka in Eurocup Eightfinals.

Despite one of the worst starts of the season, Nicola refused to resign. For many it seems bizarre that a team, known for changing at least two coaches almost during each season, hasn’t fired the head coach.

Apparently, the high release clause is giving Rytas management second thoughts. Krepsinis.net reports that Nicola’s contract with Rytas includes a significant amount which would be paid to Nicola in case the club terminates the contract.

However, Israeli journalist David Pick reports that the club is interested in Latvian coach Ainars Bagatskis who is currently in charge of the Russian side Nizhny Novgorod. It seems that the club is late to pay his salary which could give Bagatskis the right to terminate the contract.

Bagatskis has previously played and coached Zalgiris and is also a head coach of Latvia national team. In addition to being familiar with Lithuanian basketball, Bagatskis was able to work well with local players in Nizhny Novgorod. And unlike many Russian sides, local players are playing important role at Nizhny.

He had a similar story with Latvia national team after kicking out most of the team’s stars and bringing in young players.

Does this mean that Marcelo Nicola’s days in Vilnius are numbered? Only time will tell, but there’s little time to spend. As for Nicola himself, he’s thinking about the weekend’s game against Vytautas, a side coached by Rytas’s former coach Virginijus Seskus who was succeeded by Nicola.