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NBL Offseason Winners & Losers
After each round of the NBL season, I'll be taking a look at three 'winners' and three 'losers' from the events of the preceding week.
To quote Leo, aka Crater Face, the rival gang leader from Grease (because that's a not-at-all dated pop culture reference), "The rules are... there ain't no rules." Anyone, or anything, is eligible; from individual players to entire teams, coaches to mascots, on-court strategies to off-court distractions and more.
As a taste of what's to come throughout the season, here's a preview edition looking at the winners and losers from what has been an eventful NBL offseason.
1. The city of Brisbane
On 28 February 2008, the Bullets lost a thrilling overtime semi-final game to the Melbourne Tigers at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. We didn't know it at the time, but it would be 3,143 days until the Bullets would take part in another NBL game.
On Thursday night, when they host the defending champion Perth Wildcats at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre in the season opener, the wait will be over.
2. Larry and J. Lo
It's been a very busy offseason for the head honchos at NBL HQ. Salary cap and player contract reform, NBL All Australian Team tour to China, new apparel deal, revamped preseason tournament, and consolidation of the broadcast partnership with Fox Sports, to be supported by free-to-air coverage on SBS and a new-and-improved NBL TV digital streaming platform. That's not to mention whatever shenanigans they got up to with Brett Brown in Vegas.
There remains much to unravel before a verdict is delivered on some of these initiatives, principally reform to player contract rules and the new NBL TV. Clearly, though, Larry and J. Lo have harnessed the support and goodwill of the Australian basketball community. In their first real offseason, they've continued to push the league in a promising direction.
3. NBL video highlight editors
If the Australian Basketball Challenge was any indication, their job just got a whole lot easier. The level of athleticism infiltrating the league this season is unparalleled.
Terrance Ferguson, Akil Mitchell, Jaron Johnson, Michael Bryson and Mitch McCarron must have been the best collection of NBL Dunk Contest talent ever assembled, and put on a show (despite the questionable judging and illogical format that always detracts from the dunk contest). Add that to the above-the-rim exploits of returning NBL stars such as Casey Prather, Tom Abercrombie, Torrey Craig, Mitch Creek, Nate Jawai, A.J. Ogilvy and the sneaky hops of Nathan Sobey and Jarrad '#Agent97' Weeks. The list goes on and on. Compiling the weekly top ten plays this NBL season will be more fun than ever.
That said, they've all got their work cut out to top this preseason effort from New Zealand's Finn Delany.
1. Croc Nation
On April 14th, the Townsville Crocodiles confirmed that the team would not participate in the 2016-17 NBL season. The news was not the biggest shock, given the organisation's financial struggles in recent seasons. Nonetheless, that doesn't make it any less tragic for the people of Townsville, and the league as a whole.
Over 24 seasons, this franchise contributed enormously to the rich history of the NBL. Their fans were the envy of the league through 69-straight sold out games at The Furnace in the early Townsville Suns days. They suffered one of the more heartbreaking grand final defeats in league history when upset on their home floor by the Cinderella story that was the 2001 Wollongong Hawks. And who could forget the Crocs' upset 2009 elimination final win in Perth, and the riot-inducing celebrations of a certain Corey 'Homicide' Williams?
Thanks for the memories, Croc Nation.
Last offseason, we brought A.J. Ogilvy, Nate Jawai, Kevin Lisch, Kirk Penney and Chris Goulding home from Europe. This offseason, the pillaging continued. Europe, say au revoir to David Andersen, adios to Brad Newley, do viđenja to Aleks Maric, and auf wiedersehen to Rotnei Clarke. And don't think we didn't see you making eyes at Cam Bairstow across the Atlantic. You never stood a chance.
3. The Cairns front court veteran squeeze
An unfortunate consequence of Nate Jawai's return to the Taipans, and their desire to get younger and more athletic, was the squeezing out of veteran bigs Matt Burston and Cam Tragardh. 33-year-old Burston was not offered a new contract, while recently-turned-34-year-old 'Trigger' was left reeling when his contract was terminated despite having a year left to run.
Both failed to land a deal at another club, and an injury replacement spot à la Lucas Walker at Perth seems the only path to an NBL return for each of these league stalwarts.
Burston won a championship with the South Dragons in 2008-09 and the NBL Most Improved Player Award in 2002-03 with the Perth Wildcats. Tragardh won a championship with the Brisbane Bullets in 2006-07 and the Most Improved Player Award in 2007-08 with the Wollongong Hawks, as well as Best Sixth Man for the Taipans in 2014-15. Two very, very impressive NBL careers.