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Bob Donewald and Shanghai part ways, next stop Xinjiang?

Xinjiang is hoping that the always passionate Bob Donewald will be the missing piece to their championship aspirations. (Photo courtesy of NetEase)

The Shanghai Dongfang Sharks and head coach Bob Donewald Jr. have officially split ways after the team agreed to release Donewald from his contract earlier this week.  The news comes after a statement was released on the Sharks’ official website by “Team Yao,” a group of advisors and strategists who represent Sharks owner, Yao Ming.

In two full seasons with the Sharks, Donewald, who also acts as the Chinese Senior National Team head coach, compiled an overall record of 41-30, including a semi-finals appearance in 2009-10.  This past season, the Sharks failed to make the playoffs, finishing the year at 12-20.

The statement, which comes only hours after NetEase first reported the possibility of a split earlier this afternoon, announced that Donewald and the team had broke off from their contract earlier this week, and that the team will start a search for a new coach immediately.  No specific names were mentioned.

Though Shanghai’s next move is unclear at this point, Donewald’s is not.  In the original NetEase story released this afternoon, it was reported that the Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers are poised to sign Donewald to a lucrative deal next season with the hope that he can lead the team to their first ever league championship.  Xinjiang has lost in the CBA Finals the last three years.

In the official statement, Shanghai announced the split and thanked Donewald for his two years of service.

Said the statement, “A few days ago, Shanghai Sharks head coach, Bob Donewald, and Shanghai Dongfang cancelled their contract together, and Donewald will thus no longer be with the team.  Shanghai general manager, Zhang Ming, would like to express that while coach Donewald was with the Sharks, he infused the club with advanced ideas and concepts, and his distinct personality.  In order to support Donewald’s personal considerations to develop himself professionally, the club has decided to break his contract.  We wish him even more success as he continues to remain on the platform of the Chinese Basketball Association.”

According to NetEase, Donewald and Shanghai had originally signed a two-year deal with a mutual option for a third. But, citing an anonymous figure with inside knowledge of the situation, NetEase is reporting that the two sides’ negotiations broke down after Shanghai refused to match Xinjiang’s offer.

The news is unexpected. Last month, Xinjiang announced they were bringing back head coach, Jiang Xingquan, for another season, despite rampant speculation that Jiang would retire at the end of the year.  However, according to a Sina report released today, Xinjiang eventually decided to go in a different direction by starting a search for a new head coach.  The possibility of bringing in a foreign coach was always high, but clearly nobody expected the team to target Donewald, as today was the first time this story was mentioned.

Though there is no news officially confirming Donewald’s move to Xinjiang, it is widely expected that he will eventually sign in the coming weeks.

Donewald’s ascension to the top of Chinese basketball is noteworthy not only because he is a foreigner, but also because of the speed at which it has been accomplished by.  In his first season in China in 2009-10, Donewald produced one of the most improbable turnarounds in league history, resurrecting a one-time championship franchise from a nearly bankrupt afterthought into a legitimate top four contender.  Behind current NBA players Garret Siler and John Lucas, Jordanian national team forward, Zaid Abbas, and Chinese national team point-guard Liu Wei, the Sharks went from a last place 6-44 record, to 27-5, the fourth best record in the league.  The Sharks beat the Liaoning PanPan Hunters in the first round of the playoffs before losing to eventual champion, the Guangdong Hongyuan Southern Tigers, in the semi-finals.

Shortly after the season, the Chinese Basketball Association hired Donewald as the head coach of the Chinese national team.  With the team undergoing a transitional period as it adjusts to replace the aging core of Yao Ming, Wang Zhizhi and Liu Wei, Donewald’s ability to develop young players was viewed as a crucial element in his hiring.  Bringing a a level of visible enthusiasm on the sideline rarely seen in China, Donewald has quickly garnered praise and respect from inside of China.  Under his direction, several Chinese players have improved dramatically.  All of his players have mirrored Donewald’s passion for the game, especially on the defensive end, and as a result, the team is competing and playing harder than they ever have before.  In the 2010 World Championship in Turkey, Donewald led China out of the knockout stages before they were eliminated by Greece Lithuania in the Round of 16.

This season in the CBA however, Shanghai was unable to repeat their success from last year.  League rules allow the four teams with the worst record to sign an Asian import who can be used in addition to two non-Asian imports.  Because Shanghai finished with the worst record in the league in 2008-09, they were able to sign Abbas to play alongside Siler and Lucas. However, by finishing outside the bottom four last season, Shanghai was not allowed to bring back Abbas as an Asian import and thus played the season without a key contributor from the year before.  In addition to being shorter on talent than they were the previous season, the Sharks’ problems were compounded by a series of high profile off-season acquisitions that ultimately failed to live up to the hype.  The Sharks’ season opening import duo of Mike Harris and Devin Green was quickly scrapped as the team got out of gates slowly, and “Max” Zhang Zhaoxu, left the University of California Berkeley one year early to sign professionally with the team, was unable to fill the departed Siler’s role as an effective defensive presence inside.

Donewald was born in 1970 and worked as an assistant coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers and New Orleans Hornets from 2001 to 2004.  Previous to working in China, Donewald coached in the U.S., England Brazil and the Ukraine.

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