No letdown for 'marquee' NBL after successful 2013/14

Season 2013/14 of the NBL had many claiming the return of basketball in Australia.

The points flowed on the court, the crowds grew off it and the league attracted players whose calibre hadn’t been seen on Australian hardwood in over a decade.

The continued growth of the competition and the success it enjoyed in 2013/14 gave the NBL some momentum to use for the first time in a long time, however given the league’s recent form it meant that there was plenty to worry about for the 2014/15 season.

The likes of James Ennis and Sam Young provided huge boosts for the NBL and attracted plenty of much-needed attention for Aussie hoops, but retaining these stars was always going to be very difficult, leaving plenty of room for another letdown by the league in 2014/15.

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The overseas departures of NBA pair Ennis and Young, NBL MVP Rotnei Clarke, and home-grown talent Chris Goulding and Daniel Johnson meant big holes to fill for the league, and in recent years the losses of such talent would have sent the league stumbling backwards a couple of years of growth.

Not in 2014, however.

Finally, it seems, the people in charge at league headquarters have a plan that extends beyond one year.

Over the off-season, the league introduced a ‘marquee player’ rule which allows teams to sign a superstar that can be paid outside of the restraints of the lowly NBL salary cap, eliminating some of the financial problems that clubs have had to deal with when competing with Europe and America for signatures.

The retention of import talent in the way of Jermaine Beal, Gary Ervin, Jamar Wilson and Stephen Dennis is only the tip of the iceberg.

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The loss of Ennis to Perth was offset by the signing of DeAndre Daniels, who earlier this year was drafted at pick no. 37 in the NBA draft and is set to replicate the impact of Ennis on the Wildcats and the league.

Sydney also became industrious after losing Young, with the signing of former NBA forward and no. six draft pick Josh Childress, who is seemingly a like-for-like replacement for Young in terms of talent and NBA experience.

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Townsville used the marquee rule to great effect by securing Mickell Gladness, an athletic and explosive centre who has NBA experience with the Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors.

New Zealand signed a familiar face as their marquee player with the return of former league MVP and electric point guard Cedric Jackson an enormous coup for the Breakers and the NBL.

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Wollongong’s loss of Clarke was immediately rectified by the signing of Ervin from Adelaide; with the former league MVP returning to where he began his successful NBL career.

The newly re-branded Melbourne United, however, have been the most aggressive in the market and offset the loss of Goulding with the signatures of home-grown stars David Barlow and Daniel Kickert, as well as import Dennis who missed the entire 2013/14 season after rupturing his Achilles in the pre-season.

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To top it all off, the Hawks are set to announce what has been touted as the biggest coup in the club’s history in the coming weeks, while United also have another big name in the pipeline who is believed to be on the cusp of playing in the NBA.

The talent pool for the upcoming season, if all goes to plan, is arguably the greatest in the NBL’s history and is set to launch the game to new heights in Australia.

The league has finally got it right, with the marquee player rule allowing clubs to build on their success and attract big names to our shores more consistently.

The NBL has been very much a victim of its own success in recent years, providing cashed-up overseas clubs with ready-made talent who cannot be satisfied by the standard of the league, both on and off the court.

The recent success in attracting big name imports to Australia and luring local superstars back home is doing plenty to reverse that trend and make the NBL an internationally respected league once more.