The Sydney Kings have endured multiple changes since the season ended; ones that have evoked mixed emotions from head coach Andrew Gaze.
Speaking with his usual joyous tone, it’s clear Gaze has put the Kings’ indifferent 2016/17 campaign behind him. However, underpinning the 51-year-old’s message was a sense of disappointment, and even frustration, relating to some of Sydney’s offseason shuffles.
The Kings have welcomed Todd Blanchfield into the fold, a move that has pleased Gaze. Although, having seen assistant coach, Dean Vickerman, be appointed as the head-honcho for Melbourne United, and watching Craig Moller follow suit, has been tough for the Kings’ coach.
Gaze explained the Vickerman departure as a “huge loss”, while he poured high praise on Moller’s shoulders.
The former Fremantle Docker appeared in 14 games for the Kings last season, his nine-point, five-rebound and three-block performance against New Zealand at the end of January displaying his multi-faceted skillset.
Playing the role of the proverbial energy guy, Moller provided Sydney with infectious effort and commitment; elements Gaze believes will take the 22-year-old a long way in his basketball journey.
“One of the saddest days I’ve had in a long time is when we were unable to resign Craig Moller,” Gaze said at the 2017 NBL Combine.
“A player last year, who had nothing, had no other opportunities. We saw a lot in him and felt like we made a very solid contribution, but unfortunately the economics of the sport says that he had to move on.
“I think he is going to be a great player, a massive impact player in the competition, could be an elite player, a potential Olympian because of his size and skillset. I know he is a long, long way away from that right now, but that’s the sort of upside I saw in him.
“It was one of those real disappointing days when, unfortunately, we were unable to provide a package for him that was as attractive as the one Melbourne United put together.”
Gaze has confidence in his new coaching staff in Sydney, but didn’t hide from the fact Vickerman’s NBL experience will be missed.
“He is an accomplished coach, and was fantastic for us,” Gaze said of Vickerman.
“He works his tail off. He is really great at developing culture and he is a fantastic pick-up for Melbourne United. It’s a huge loss for us.
“We feel we will be ok with Luke Kendall coming along, he served his apprenticeship last year. With him, Lanard [Copeland] and myself, there isn’t a great deal of experience there as far as NBL coaching, but there is a great deal of experience as far as knowledge is concerned.
“We feel like we can put together a program, which ultimately, extracts the best out of the players, because that’s the most important thing.”
Despite seeing that pair cross the Murray River, Gaze is buoyant about the possibilities he has at his disposal with the arrival of Blanchfield.
The 2015 NBL Most Improved Player endured an inconsistent two seasons with Melbourne, with his role in the offensive framework often undefined. Blanchfield’s talent is undeniable, and now Gaze is presented with the challenge of getting the best out of him, a fact that isn’t lost on the coach.
“He is great,” Gaze said of Blanchfield.
“I think the biggest thing about Todd is his versatility. He can play a two, a three, or a four. We are going to try and play him as a guard a lot of the time. Between him and Brad [Newley], we feel we have got good flexibility in that swingman spot.
“Also, I think that, as a pinch, he can play a bit of the four. Maybe defensively, he might have a few mismatches, but certainly offensively, he is a great athlete, gets up and down the floor, and can rebound the ball.
“I really like his versatility; we just need to find a way to exploit his talents.”
Sydney struggled to maintain their blistering start to last season, as they languished in seventh position to end the campaign. Now, months removed from their final game, Gaze has been able to digest what went right and what didn’t, identifying culture as a key area for improvement.
In terms of on-court structures, the seven-time NBL MVP says it’s hard to implement them when the roster is up in the air.
“I think there are a variety of different areas, a whole host of things,” Gaze said, when asked about the Kings’ areas of focus for next season.
“Not just with the X’s and O’s. I think the X’s and O’s are something we are reasonable comfortable with, albeit, we want to change some things and introduce a few new things.
“Our style of play is going to be dependent on our roster. We still haven’t signed our imports and have a couple of roster spots left. I think right now we only have five contracted players, so we have a bit of work to do. Eventually, I think once we get those guys together, you figure out their skillsets and then put in place your program.
“The biggest thing is also culturally, just about how we want to build the program. I think we made giant steps forward from where the club had been, but we are still nowhere near where we need to get to. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in that area.”