Sasha Kaun finally won the big one this season before riding off into the sunset. With his retirement comes the end of a career of a man whose value was rarely sufficiently recognised by those who really mattered, writes Emmet Ryan
There’s a fair debate as to whether we should call this Sasha Kaun’s first or second retirement but it certainly feels like the last one either way. Kaun’s body is battered, a matter he acknowledged in his statements announcing his retirement, and the grind can be tough when you have little else to prove. At Cleveland, without ever playing a significant role, Kaun managed to do what he could never manage at CSKA Moscow. When the Cavaliers claimed the NBA championship last month, they put to rest any fears that Kaun would retire unsure if there was more to get out of the game to which he gave so much.
Kaun was associated directly with the very concept of CSKA-ing. He was there in Istanbul, London, Milano, and Madrid. Every stop along the way before CSKA finally broke the run of misery saw Kaun endure with his team mates as their capacity to close it out was questioned. No amount of VTB titles would ever put those demons to rest. Only a Euroleague title could do that. When CSKA wound up the 2015 season, with another disappoint in a Final Four and a facile run to a VTB title, Kaun looked to be done with the game at every level having rarely been given the trust to close out the matter that his game had earned.
Nerds, for want of a better word, loved Kaun and it was easy to see why. In the paint he was like a cheat code scorer, reliable to put up and make high percentage shots while also getting to the line with regularity. Those coaching him however weren’t willing to go full geek on Kaun, all too often there would be a single quarter where Kaun would go off and for little logical reason his side would stop going to him on offence. While mixing things up has its obvious appeal, the feed Kaun and watch the scoreboard strategy really was under-used throughout his time in Europe. Some important games are won early, by pounding the stuffing out of your opponent with an effective weapon. That was Kaun’s offensive strength, he was the guy you used to bludgeon the opponent until they either fell unconscious or bled out. Defensively he was reliable, far from Europe’s best big man on D but not
Getting a shot at the NBA with a serious contender obviously held enough appeal to Kaun for him to give it at least one more season. Throw in his happy memories from previously living in the US, having won a NCAA title with Kansas in 2008, and the opportunity to work David Blatt and Timofey Mozgov, who he played under and with while winning Olympic bronze with Russia at London 2012, and this was an ideal set of circumstances.
Kaun never got a shot at establishing himself in Cleveland, his broken down body saw him only get on the floor in 25 games and that was mostly garbage time. Add in Blatt’s acrimonious departure and the decreased role of Mozgov, eventually leading to his countryman’s departure last month, and Kaun had little cause to hang around the Cavs once he got what he came for. Kaun got his taste of the NBA, he won the big title. That he wasn’t the focus or even a piece of note really didn’t matter in the end. Kaun’s body has been through the wars, he deserved having others to take the load as he got his piece of glory.
Scribes Stateside are confused by the manner of Kaun’s decision. Well they are more amused to be honest, that this footnote in the championship roster figured he’d go out having won the NBA Championship in his lone season makes for amusing observation. This corner is far from one to judge, delighting as BiE does in Ognjen Kuzmic being both a D-League and NBA champion in 2015, but his legacy is about so much more than a single year. What he gave fans in Moscow and across Europe led to him finally getting that year where he had his moment in the sun.