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Saturday, March 31, 2012
Takamatsu's plight reflects poorly on league
By ED ODEVEN
The Takamatsu Five Arrows are awful, so bad that they don't even pretend to be a cheap imitation of a mediocre franchise.
Entering this weekend's games, first-year coach Kenzo Maeda's club has dropped 15 consecutive games. The Five Arrows are 2-40, a failure rate of 95.2 percent.
Simmer on those numbers for a moment.
What's even more shocking about Takamatsu's horrendous record is its sustained level of lousiness throughout the 2011-12 season.
To wit: The Five Arrows have lost all four games against the Western Conference-leading Ryukyu Golden Kings by a combined 127 points, and in four games against the Rizing Fukuoka (yep, four defeats), the Shikoku-based club was outscored by a total of 83 points. I'm not so sure coaching titans Red Auerbach, John Wooden or Phil Jackson — or even Superman — would be able to work any miracles with this team.
It's impossible to sugar-coat the facts. Takamatsu's front office has not demonstrated an ability to field a competitive team since the 2008-09 season (33-19), the third and final campaign under original bench boss Motofumi Aoki.
The once-proud franchise — a championship runnerup in its inaugural season (2006-07, when mainstays Julius Ashby, Rasheed Sparks, Yu Okada, Isaac Sojourner, among others, gave the fans a true treat every time it stepped onto the court) — is the laughing stock of the league.
The Five Arrows will finish the 2011-12 campaign with a reduction in wins for the fourth consecutive season. And that's an almost unattainable feat, when you consider the facts: A) The bj-league has added eight expansion franchises (Akita, Chiba, Iwate, Kyoto, Miyazaki, Shimane, Shinshu and Yokohama) to the mix since Aoki's last game with Takamatsu; and B) Players and coaches are under one-year contracts, giving every team — in theory, at least — a legitimate shot at making improvements each offseason.
But, a team beset with financial woes and no noticeable prospects for a brighter future faces this harsh reality: Its very existence is bad publicity for the league.
Whenever the Five Arrows suffer another, ahem, 30- or 40-point loss, it makes the entire bj-league look like an amateur circus. It takes away from the real accomplishments of any of the other 18 squads in the fledgling league.
The Five Arrows were 13-39 in 2009-10 and 10-38 last season.
This season? They've not even come close to reaching that level, which says something revealing about the team's construction and its available cash to invest in a decent product. And, sadly, there's no clear sign that anyone in the organization has any clue how to build anything that resembles a decent outfit.
What's worse, the fans suffer, and not only in Takamatsu. When the Five Arrows compete on the road, the host team is facing an inferior foe every team, a team that is, well, truly a semi-pro team based on the above evidence.
That doesn't mean, however, that Takamatsu imports Paul Butorac, Kevin Smith and Nyika Williams are bad players. Or that Hiroyuki Kikuchi, Makoto Kita, Masaaki Suzuki and Shuichi Takada couldn't make an impact for other clubs in this league. But, when other teams have at least four foreigners, or, in most cases, five, the Five Arrows are at a distinctive disadvantage before the opening tipoff every game.
Case in point: Here's how the Five Arrows' sixth season commenced: a 79-60 road loss to the Osaka Evessa (Oct. 15) and an 80-60 defeat in the rematch; an 80-73 loss to the visiting Shimane Susanoo Magic on Oct. 22 and a 101-63 defeat a day later. Picking out a few random games from this season brings us the following: A 100-77 loss to the visiting Miyazaki Shining Suns on Nov. 6 and a 95-69 loss to the host Shiga Lakestars on Nov. 27, as well as a 115-79 defeat to the visiting Ryukyu Golden Kings on Dec. 18 and a 103-66 Christmas Day embarrassment against the Shining Suns. Also, these results are in the books: Ryukyu 100, Takamatsu 60 on Feb. 5 and Fukuoka 109, Takamatsu 64 on March 18.
In other words, the Five Arrows are an utter embarrassment to the league.
All of the above points to the obvious decision the bj-league's board of directors ought to make in the coming weeks: Issue an ultimatum to the Five Arrows, making it clear that the team's downfall is unacceptable.
The league needs give the team two options: 100 days to piece together a legitimate city-, prefecture-, or island-citizen ownership group (think NFL's Green Bay Packers) or fold. Nothing else should even be considered.
The league's previous (translation: incoherent last-ditch) effort to "save the Five Arrows" has been an outrageous failure every step of the way.
As reported in The Japan Times, the Five Arrows' original main sponsor, Anabuki Construction, Inc., filed for bankruptcy in November 2009, when it reportedly owed ¥140 billion in outstanding debts.
The team played that season, however, under veteran coach John Neumann. But it never had a chance for success with a shoestring budget, and a roster cobbled together weeks behind schedule.
The 2009-10 club began the season with eight Japanese players and zero foreigners, though all teams customarily start three foreigners, and the results were predictable, a 103-56 season-opening loss to the Sendai 89ers and a 120-72 thrashing at the hands of the Shiga Lakestars on Oct. 10, followed by a 30-point blowout win for the Lakestars in the rematch.
Things got much worse. In May 2000, Sports Project Takamatsu, the team's management company, filed for bankruptcy in Takamatsu District Court — a week before the Final Four — with ¥50 million in debts.
Days later, in an abrupt change of plans, with the league's naive backing, Sports Project Takamatsu withdrew its bankruptcy paperwork from the court. But the negative publicity that generated surely kept away a good number of potential quality sponsors.
The bj-league has provided some financial assistance to keep the team afloat and Takamatsu's city government has given the team a discounted rate for gym usage in the past few seasons. Even with that help, the Five Arrows have not been able to take any steps forward in terms of building a competitive team.
Part of that — the big problem, it says here — comes from festering wounds left after Anabuki essentially made the franchise damaged goods.
Or as one longtime source told Hoop Scoop in 2010, "All I hear is that there is so much anger towards Anabuki, the bankrupt company that ran the team, that no one wants to give any money to help the team that Anabuki created and ruined."
And nothing's changed. So it's time to slam the door on this disgraceful chapter in league history.
A Takamatsu-based team needs to prove it has the capital to field a competitive team or exit the stage gracefully. Anything else should be unacceptable.
The Five Arrows have amassed fewer wins since Anabuki's departure from the scene (25 victories in 142 games) than seven teams have already wracked up this season: Ryukyu, Osaka, Hamamatsu Higashimikawa, Akita, Kyoto, Fukuoka and Shiga.
For the sake of the league's scant credibility, it's time to stop the bleeding, for crying out loud.
It's time to issue an ultimatum to the Takamatsu Five Arrows.
And, finally, it's time for the league's leaders to prove, once and for all, they aren't spineless, that they aren't afraid to aggressively tackle major problems.