An already tumultuous season in Shanghai just got even more so after Sharks management announced today that American head coach, Dan Panaggio, has been relieved of his position with the team. He will be replaced by assistant coach, Wang Qun, who is the only Chinese member of Shanghai’s otherwise all American coaching staff.
The Sharks, who are at 4-13 on the season, currently sit in 16th place.
Though the Sharks are parked firmly in the bottom of the standings with little hope for a playoff spot, the move to out Panaggio is surprising given the circumstances. Panaggio, who was hired last season after Bob Donewald Jr. moved to Western China to coach the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, has enjoyed success in his brief tenure, piloting the team back to the playoffs in his debut stint after they finished out of the league’s top eight the year before. Bringing in his triangle offense and a stout defensive approach, the Sharks were known as one of the hardest working and best coached teams in the league.
But due to several factors, the Sharks have been unable to match their level of success from a season ago. Opting not to bring back their two imports from last season, Mike Harris and Marcus Landry, Pannagio and management first went with power forward D.J. White and combo swingman Elijah Millsap. But in the lead-up to the regular season, the team reportedly became increasingly dissatisfied with Millsap and when a big name with a big NBA resume, Gilbert Arenas, became available, the Sharks held what boiled down to an open competition between the two players.
The result: Just two days before the start of the regular season, Arenas — with the backing of management and of influential captain and longtime China National Team point guard, Liu Wei — became the man. And as Andrew Crawford over at Shark Fin Hoops explains, that decision ultimately may have been Panaggio’s undoing, as Arenas has missed the majority of the season after pulling his groin midway through the first quarter of Shanghai’s opening game against Beijing in November:
Instead, star import Gilbert Arenas- who was signed two days before the team’s first game of the season- has been plagued by [a pulled groin] and his absence has been one of the main reasons for the Sharks’ sudden downturn in fortunes. In his press conference after the Ducks game, Panaggio conceded that the decision to sign Arenas (and buy out the contract of previous recruit Elijah Millsap in the process) was a gamble that didn’t work out. The former Washington Wizard point guard has played only four games this season and is currently in America getting treatment on a recurring injury.
Arenas is currently back in the United States undergoing treatment for the injury and his return at this point is unclear.
With Agent Zero out of the lineup and with the losses mounting, the Sharks then took another gamble: Signing a temporary replacement to hold the fort until Arenas became healthy enough to play again. With rules only allowing teams to switch foreign players twice during the regular season, the move is dangerous as swapping out an injured player only to swap him back in later uses up the full allotment of foreign player transactions.
The team — at the time 2-4 — signed Ryan Forehan-Kelly, who played well in the first half of last year before rupturing his achilles (he was replaced by Landry). Brought in to prop up the team’s record, Forehan-Kelly struggled and the team lost all three of their games with him in the lineup. Shortly after, Arenas was given the OK and he returned on December 18. But only three games later, Arenas re-injured his troublesome groin and the Sharks — no longer able to bring in a replacement — were stuck with their damaged goods.
The Arenas saga hasn’t been the only roster trouble, however. Taiwanese guard/forward, “Jet” Chang Tsung-hsien, was signed prior to the season, but due to mandatory military service in Taiwan, the player’s arrival in Shanghai was delayed until mid-season and he has yet to suit up.
The Sharks play tomorrow at home against Tianjin.