With a ninth club in the mix, next year’s free agency period could be the most chaotic and ruthless the league has seen in years, and the Phoenix will be looking to make a statement.
Mitch Creek is now officially a member of the South East Melbourne Phoenix for the 2019/20 season, but the NBL’s newest club still has many roster spots to fill. There is also a real chance that Mitch Creek may never set foot on court for the Phoenix for the duration of his reported 3-year deal, with the former Adelaide 36ers star still pursuing his NBA ambitions.
So we take a look at some of the Australian and New Zealand players, both playing at home and abroad, that South East Melbourne should have on their radar to fill out their inaugural team.
Matthew Dellavedova | NBA
As much as Australian basketball fans want Matthew Dellavedova to have a long and successful career in the NBA, the signs are not looking good. His minutes this year with the Milwaukee Bucks have been at a career low 8.1, and with his trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers, his NBA future is in limbo.
The Saint Mary’s alumni has made known that playing in the NBL is something he would love to do when his time in the NBA concludes. That time may be nearing. Only time will tell if Cleveland utilise him going forward, but it seems likely he will continue to bounce around the league until the February 7 trade deadline. Although he won’t officially be out of contract until the 2020/21 season, a buyout may be on the horizon.
It won’t be on the scale of Andrew Bogut’s transition to the NBL, but if South East Melbourne could sign Dellavedova it would be terrific press for them.
However, beyond the marketing benefits, the Phoenix would get a terrific player; someone who could bring NBA knowledge and experience to the locker room. Dellavedova would help establish a hard-nosed defensive identity, and is someone with highly underrated point guard instincts. If he becomes available, the Phoenix should snap him up. The fact that the 2016 NBA Champion is from Victoria also helps their chances.
Deng Adel | NBA G-League
After being overlooked in the 2018 NBA Draft, Deng Adel settled with the Toronto Raptors’ G League affiliate team, Raptors 905.
In his last season playing with the Louisville Cardinals, Adel put up some impressive numbers in showing off his capability to be a highly capable wing player. He averaged 14.9 points, 2.8 assists and 5.2 rebounds, demonstrating his versatility.
It's over ladies and gentlemen. pic.twitter.com/Dzto10NeyJ
— Raptors 905 (@Raptors905) December 5, 2018
Adel is still a bit rough around the edges and has many areas to improve upon, particularly on defence. However, his tantalising upside could make him an appealing long-term project for the NBL’s newest team. The opportunity to play a larger role on a team could also be alluring to Adel.
Adel grew up in Melbourne, so his transition to South East Melbourne wouldn’t be a jarring experience.
Jack Purchase | NCAA
University of Hawaii senior Jack Purchase presents another opportunity for the Phoenix to invest in the future. Melbourne born Purchase is currently averaging 12.1 points and 5.3 rebounds, and has shown signs of being a dangerous stretch forward with a 37.9% three-point shot.
He also has some strong basketball pedigree. His father Nigel Purchase played for the Melbourne Tigers, and he is also the godson of Andrew Gaze.
Purchase isn’t on the NBA radar, and playing limited minutes in the USA or Europe may not hold much appeal. If the Phoenix offer him a chance to play professionaly his hometown they could land a young player with great potential.
NBL Free Agents
The ideal basketball player has a combination of talent, experience, maturity and leadership. This seems a very apt description of two-time MVP, Kevin Lisch.
After a rocky season last year due to injuries, Lisch is starting to look like being able to return to his best in what is his final contracted season with the Kings. He is shooting a career-best 46% from long-range, and his 3.6 assists per game equal the highest of his career.
— Sydney Kings (@SydneyKings) December 6, 2018
It’s not just the former Boomers’ on-court production that makes him a high priority target for the Phoenix. When building a team from the ground up, it is vital to have an experienced hand on deck. Talent is one thing, but Lisch’s leadership is arguably his most desirable characteristic. His presence would help create a winning culture in South East Melbourne, especially if Creek lands a place in the NBA.
If the Phoenix can establish a hardworking culture early, they may be less likely to go the way of NBL expansion teams of the past. Lisch could be the anchor that grounds the Phoenix’s ethos.
Currently the Adelaide 36ers are in talks to extend their contract with the MVP calibre guard, so it is possible Sobey will not be on the market next year. However, if he does enter free agency as an eligible bachelor, he should be a high priority target for South East Melbourne
The Adelaide guard is in the midst of a career best year, putting up 16.3 points, passing out 5.2 assists and grabbing 4.8 rebounds. All but his rebounding numbers are at career high levels. He also has a history of playing with Mitch Creek, so the possibility of getting a duo with established chemistry would be huge for the Phoenix.
Cleared for take off… ✈ pic.twitter.com/GYMSumqtn4
— Adelaide 36ers (@Adelaide36ers) November 23, 2018
Sobey is a native of Warrnambool, Victoria, so the prospect of returning to his home state could hold further allure.
For a new club looking to establish themselves in a competitive league, Sobey would bring a highly entertaining play style. The level of fan engagement and game attendance will be an important measure of success for the Phoenix in the early stages. The fiery and athletic former Wyoming Cowboy and current Australian Boomer will all but guarantee to fill the stands.
Although a possible prospect line the 6’10 Brock Motum (see below) is capable of playing the centre position, there is nothing quite like having a true seven-footer down low. Alex Pledger is one such seven-footer.
Despite playing only 12.6 minutes for Melbourne United this year, Pledger has made the most of his time on the court. He is averaging 4.9 points and 4.4 rebounds. The numbers don’t leap off the page but the four-time NBL Champion is still one of the best rebounders in the NBL, and is well-known for his willingness to do the dirty work for the sake of the team.
Stars are always important for a team to be successful, but so are role players. The big Kiwi is one of the best bench players in the NBL, and is once again showing off his value as a member of United.
After playing in Europe for the last three years, Brisbane born big man Brock Motum could be well placed to make a return to the NBL. Motum is currently paying for Anadolu Efes Istanbul in the Turkish Basketball SuperLeague and EuroLeague. In July, the team elected to exercise their team option on his one-year deal, keeping him for at least one more season. When his contract expires the big man could potentially be available for a NBL return as soon as next season.
Motum has already proven himself in the NBL in his last stint with the Adelaide 36ers, and would give the Phoenix an intimidating presence in the front court and with an ability to stretch defenses with his three-point shooting.
— Anadolu Efes SK (@AnadoluEfesSK) December 2, 2018
The 28-year-old played 24 games for Adelaide in the 2014/15 season and was a dominant force, averaging 17.5 points and 7.1 rebounds.
Motum has stated that the NBA is still the dream for him, and will likely launch another Summer League campaign next year in the hopes of securing a contract. If things don’t pan out for him in the USA, the Phoenix should consider approaching him with cheque book in hand.
Jock Landale would be another attractive target, but he still has a second year to run as part of his 2 year deal with Partizan Belgrade in Serbia.
Melo Trimble, Casper Ware or Jerome Randle?
Three of the NBL’s top four scorers will be free agents next season. Number one ranked scorer Bryce Cotton is off the table, but Melo Trimble, Jerome Randle and Casper Ware – ranked two to four respectively – will all be free agents.
Trimble (24 ppg), Randle (21.5 ppg) and Ware (19.6 ppg) are scoring machines and will be priority targets for every NBL team with the budget to snap them up. Their ability to imaginatively generate their own offence, as well as create for teammates, will make them highly sort after.
It is difficult to envision Ware leaving United or Randle the Kings, given both teams are considered contenders for this year’s Championship. Trimble may be the most likely of the trio to be persuaded to join the new Victorian team. The Cairns Taipans are currently last in the NBL by a considerable margin. Trimble could be persuaded to leave Cairns to join a larger and more high-profile market, with the tantalising possibility of early success.