The NBL has changed considerably since the end of the 2015-16 season, enough that the China talk, the Mitchell & Ness agreement and Cedric Jackson’s move to Melbourne United aren’t among the biggest things that’ve happened.
They were kept out of the six most noteworthy developments of the offseason by the following:
6. Cameron Bairstow joined the Brisbane Bullets
Despite Jonny Flynn’s 18-game cameo in 2012-13, it’s still unusual for a recent NBA player on the right side of his theoretical prime to sign with an NBL team.
Regardless of whether Bairstow was tempted to play elsewhere after being waived by the Detroit Pistons, the headline is that he chose the NBL over Europe, the D-League and China. That decision is the biggest success for the league’s new salary rules to date. The positivity of David Andersen, Brad Newley and Aleks Maric returning would’ve been diluted had the 25-year-old straight out of the NBA chosen a Euroleague city over his hometown.
The prospect of what Bairstow will do on the court now he’s with the Bullets is also significant.
He hasn’t come close to fully exhibiting his game in a professional setting—his two NBA seasons yielded 16 field goals in 36 games. His play elsewhere, including in an injury-shortened stint with the Boomers in Rio, suggests it’ll be fun to watch when he does get an extended run.
Bullets coach Andrej Lemanis and Bairstow were familiar with one another well before this deal, and Brisbane’s front court, though well stocked, doesn’t include Taj Gibson or Pau Gasol. Health permitting, Bairstow’s extended run will come this season.
5. Terrance Ferguson joined the Adelaide 36ers
The 2017 NBA draft prospect announced in June that he was joining the Adelaide 36ers directly out of high school. The move made him the NBL’s youngest-ever import, which is partly why his appeal is amplified.
The scope for success and failure is largely what makes incoming imports so interesting. They often have a big enough role to greatly improve their team’s fortunes, and are subject to high enough expectations to thoroughly disappoint.
That scope for Ferguson is gaping. His age and lack of experience could become apparent once the games begin, or they could be forgotten through play that validates his status as a predicted first-round pick.
He should command extra patience from the 36ers given the likelihood of him remaining enthused and improving during the season. His shooting range, defence, athleticism and height at shooting guard should also facilitate court time.
How he fares will have an influence on the future of draft prospects coming to the NBL instead of college, but that’s of secondary importance. Even if he makes the All-NBL team and is a lottery pick next year, it’s unlikely there will be an outbreak of similar signings in the near future. Those in Ferguson’s situation would still have many other avenues to playing professionally and getting drafted, and NBL teams would still have many other import options.
4. NBL TV was announced, and all games will still be televised live
The league announced earlier this month that it’s launching a new NBL TV, a service offering live and on-demand streaming of every game this season on various devices. It’s $5 a month for non-club members and compatible with TVs, so assuming it runs smoothly, it’ll make being an NBL fan easier.
The media release said “hundreds of classic NBL games” dating back to 1979 will be available on demand, which furthers the benefit to current fans. Those with a yearning to learn more about the stylings of Tonny Jensen or to see a Paul Stanley masterclass at the Devils Den might be sated.
The classic games will showcase the league’s history, one of its best assets, and could improve the frequency and sophistication of references to the past in current league coverage.
With access to both the present-day and old games on demand, fans and media should be better informed, which could lift the standards of NBL discourse a smidgeon, thereby deepening the fun.
Fox Sports will still show every game live in 2016-17, helping the league’s exposure and giving Fox Sports’ platforms incentive to report on NBL happenings.
New Zealand’s access will be limited to Sky Sport’s broadcasts and streaming, as NBL TV won’t be available there for now according to Stuff.co.nz.I
New King: Brad Newley
3. The Sydney Kings were overhauled
Last season was eventful for the Kings. They played their final game at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, fielded four imports and experienced the Joe Connelly era. Things got even nuttier once the season finished.
They got a new owner in AEG Ogden, signed the reigning MVP, moved their home venue to a place with a capacity of 20,000 and hired Andrew Gaze as coach.
Another unsettled season is feasible, and at least some drama is inevitable.
The change in ownership could be the most important of these moves ultimately—AEG Ogden manages Qudos Bank Arena and is the Australian branch of the group that owns the Los Angeles Kings—but Gaze’s appointment is the most intriguing right now.
He has no NBL coaching experience and he’ll be guiding a rebuilt roster. The oddness of that happening at a non-Melbourne Tigers NBL team will linger.
They added Newley and Maric, but the recruitment of Kevin Lisch is the primary reason for optimism. He’s the one person Sydney’s brought in who has succeeded in the NBL in recent years, and his ability, status and position mean he’ll have lots of influence. He has the chance to burnish his reputation, as he hasn’t faced a situation like this in the league before.
2. The salary and contract rules were changed
The league revealed in March a complicated series of changes to its salary and player contract rules. They’ve had a noticeable effect on the competition already and that effect could swell in the next few years.
The new soft salary cap, currently set at $1.1 million, presumably assisted in the returns of Andersen, Maric, Newley and Bairstow. More additions to the league of that ilk are possible in future seasons with teams allowed to, in theory, spend what they like on some players.
That positive brings a downside too, namely the possibility of teams spending themselves into ruin. The clubs might be sensible and the salary equalisation subsidy might work, but the spectre remains.
New Zealand, Sydney and Brisbane are the teams that haven’t made use of the extra import rule, meaning there are five guys on rosters who wouldn’t have been permitted without the new rule. So far, there’s been little apparent change in the type of imports teams are going for. No New Zealand NBL or SEABL imports were signed this offseason, for example. Ferguson is unusual, but Joey Wright told Downtown last month the Sixers might’ve tried to sign him if there were only two spots available.
Maybe in the next few years there’ll be one or two riskier-than-usual import selections inspired by knowing there are two other Americans and ten other rostered players to cover any mistakes.
1. The Townsville Crocodiles folded
The Crocs folded in April, a move that was unsurprising despite its suddenness. It made them the second team, after the Gold Coast Blaze, to go defunct in the current 40-minute era.
Losing a franchise cheapens the competition and discourages people from deep emotional investment in one of the remaining teams. The clubs and the league seem like more of a year-to-year proposition when it happens.
In this case, in a sense, the loss is insignificant. The Bullets are back and the league can probably think of better ways to spend effort and money than on stabilising the Crocs.
Even if the post-Townsville future is bright, however, no team with the Crocodiles’ past will be part of it. The Croc, the 2009 quarter-final in Perth, Rimas Kurtinaitis—nothing else will join them as part of the club’s history.
One of the enjoyable recurring NBL subplots, the Crocs’ pursuit of their first championship, has been snuffed, as has their quest back up the ladder under Shawn Dennis.
He can’t defend his Coach of the Year title as it stands now, and Clint Steindl has gone to Belgium. Others from that last Crocs team will still be around though, helping other NBL clubs. Mitch Young is with the Bullets, and Mitch Norton and Nick Kay joined the Illawarra Hawks.