The Brisbane Bullets have been pretty quiet this off-season.
Throughout the wildest NBL winter in recent memory, last year’s semi-finalists have, for the most part, kept a low-profile.
After declining their option on power forward Cam Bairstow’s contract, the Bullets were active prior to free agency when they re-signed starting centre Matt Hodgson and extended head coach Andrej Lemanis.
They then made a massive splash in early April by landing highly-sought-after free agent Nathan Sobey.
Since then, however, the Bullets have flown under the radar.
While the league’s other teams have been grabbing headlines with celebrated Next Stars recruits and landscape-changing import additions, it’s been three months of silence from the South East Queensland club.
In a multi-faceted statement released earlier today, the Bullets revealed that All-NBL First Team forward Lamar Patterson will not be returning next season.
In his place, Brisbane are currently finalizing terms with a new import wing – a versatile player with considerable international experience.
That leaves two more fully-contracted spots to fill on the Brisbane roster for NBL20.
Just before heading to the States to recruit at the NBA Summer League, Bullets General Manager Richard Clarke spoke with Liam Santamaria about the roster, moving on from Patterson and Bairstow and what kind of player they’re looking to sign next.
After taking a great leap forward last season in making the finals, what did you identify that you needed to improve heading into free agency?
We needed to win more games [laughs].
We particularly looked at the question: ‘what do we need to do to beat Perth?’
Now obviously, where Perth are really strong is with Bryce (Cotton) and Nick Kay. So we looked at getting depth in the guard spots and then also being more athletic across the board.
Nathan (Sobey) was a big part of that, being the key free agent available, so being able to bring him on board set the direction a little bit in terms of where we could go with the rest of it. Having him on board, we then had a strong desire to increase our athleticism across the board, to make sure that we make the most of his talents as well.
It’s official, the H?TTEST property on the #NBL20 Free Agency market is relocating to River City.
— NBL (@NBL) April 5, 2019
You guys made it clear from the outset that re-signing Patterson was a priority. What are your thoughts on ultimately having to move on without him?
That priority was based on the facts that he was a really good player – he was very good for us last year – and he was a good fit culturally with the team. But we also need to be realistic about where we are budget-wise.
We are not one of those top three or so teams who have that extra spending ability and, while we offered Lamar an increased deal from what he was on with us last year, we had to be a little bit realistic around what his potential earning capacity was and where his agents were trying to get with him, whether that’s in the NBL, Europe or elsewhere.
It was a priority but not to the point of compromising other things at the club.
Do you think you might play against him at some point this season?
There’s always a chance. You never know what happens, particularly with him playing in the Chinese NBL competition that is running now, that finishes the same time we start.
Depending on how deep different teams are, you don’t know which players will be available at different times and sometimes their availability changes based on what else is available at that time too.
Who knows? It’s a possibility.
Where are things at with Cam Bairstow? You guys obviously declined the club’s option prior to free agency but are you interested in potentially resigning him?
Where things are at with him is he’s getting married right now. I think he’s currently in Fiji.
It is unlikely that we would bring Bair back. Bair, again, was very good for us. He had a really strong season coming back off his ACL, but just in terms of what we want to do as a team and changing that athleticism and how we can play – particularly having that four man being able to get up the floor on defence and switch onto guards, etc. – we’re looking at a bit of a different skill-set there.
What can you tell me about the new small forward you’re finalising a deal with?
Yeah we’re just waiting on approval of it but he’s a very different type of player from Lamar.
He’s a guy who has had good success in the (German) Bundesliga, in Italy and most recently he was in Israel last year. He’s a really versatile player.
He won’t do some of the things Lamar did, but that is not what we are asking him to do. He is able to impact the game in a whole lot of different ways on both ends; an elite-level defender, a good rebounder, scores in a number of ways and comes highly recommended by people we respect.
We went through a lot of feedback on him and it was all very consistent as to his quality as player and as a person.
Is Tyrell Harrison fully contracted this season?
Yes he is, or he will be. He will be stepping up off his development contract.
Okay so by my calculation the new import small forward will take your fully-contracted roster to nine. What are the spots you’re still keen to fill?
We obviously have the starting power forward role and that will be the key focus of Andrej, myself and CJ (Bruton) at Summer League. We’ll be evaluating players for that spot.
The other remaining spot will be a bench guard or wing. Pretty much the role Jeremy Kendle would have stepped into if he hadn’t been injured playing 3×3.
With regards to that import starting four, what type of player are you looking for in that spot?
An athlete. Someone who can play up the floor on defence, can switch and is a good rebounder. Someone who can do everything, really. Just like everyone, we want an NBA player who will play at our budget.
Part of that is just looking at who is available, looking through our relationships through different NBA teams or through Europe and through our network of agents and seeing what is the best fit.
Essentially we’re looking for an athletic player who can get up and down the court and just help us get better.
Is that a difficult spot to recruit on the import market?
It is. Big men are the most expensive on the market because everyone wants the same thing pretty much. So you’re often battling with the big European clubs but also NBA two-way contracts have complicated that. That’s part of the test of being patient and letting other things play out and seeing who is available.
We won’t bring our imports in until September this year. We have the World Cup as a complication to manage around as well with Andrej away and potentially maybe no Sobey or (Cameron) Gliddon and then Mika (Vukona), Reuben (Te Rangi) and maybe even Tyrell with the Tall Blacks.
The preseason is going to take some management but we have put a lot of work into the planning on that to make that work. We will be bringing the imports in during the start of September so that does give us a little bit of time to allow other things to play out.
You spoke about recruiting that power forward but what are your other goals for the upcoming trip to the NBA Summer League?
The priority focus is on the recruitment of that four man but a lot of it is also just an ongoing relationship process.
A lot of the benefit is actually meeting the agents face-to-face and continuing to build those relationships.
The Next Stars program creates some different opportunities too, so it is a chance to maybe view players who may be eligible for that program, either now or in the future.
There are a number of different things and for CJ this year he has a really exciting opportunity in terms of his professional development in being on the Raptors coaching staff for the Summer League. So that is a massive opportunity for him.
Do you anticipate having a Next Star at the club this year?
We are open to it. Provided it is a player who we think can either help us or who we can develop into someone who can play a role on the roster.
We are not committed to have one just for the sake of having one but we are definitely looking at some different options.
You mentioned Jeremy Kendle before, it’s clear you guys were keen to sign him again this year and I noticed that he is still working out within the club. Are you hoping to keep him as part of the club moving forward?
Yeah Jeremy is Brisbane-based. He and his wife are based here and they’re due to have twins in November. Basically Brisbane is their home now. We’re supporting him through his rehab and we’ll look to keep him engaged in the club.
After tearing his ACL at the 3×3 Hustle, @Kendle_Bball7 has wasted no time in getting back to training and preparing for his recovery process, targeting a return to the court in January 2020.
But knowing how hard JK works, he’ll be back sooner than that. pic.twitter.com/8sdN1qI0Dh
— Brisbane Bullets (@BrisbaneBullets) June 17, 2019
We’ll probably get him involved in our community and coaching programs. He is starting to look at things like up-skilling himself in some of those coaching areas.
It is really unfortunate for him, that injury, and the earliest that he would potentially be able to return to basketball is January so he is more than likely ruled out for the season. But he’s a great guy and a guy we would like to have around the club, be that in the roster or in the broader club in terms of that community or coaching area long-term.
I will keep working with him and keep him engaged as part of the group.
Thanks heaps for the chat mate and good luck in Vegas. Looking forward to catching up with you further over there.
Thanks mate, see you then.