Written for nbl.com.au by Liam Santamaria
With free agency set to open in less than a week, now is the calm before the NBL’s off-season storm.
And with so many questions swirling around the NBL Twittersphere, what better time than now to crack into our first mailbag column?
Q: Who will be the top five most sought after free agents come April 1?
—Jack Chung (@tjchung)
LS: Boom! That is the perfect question to kick things off. Here’s my top five:
- Nathan Sobey
- Kevin Lisch
- Tai Wesley
- Shawn Long
- Casper Ware
Yes, I know some of these guys are imports but they’re also known quantities, making them heavily targeted players in the free agency market.
Sobey is on the move, Lisch is exploring his options and Wesley is hot property despite being classified as an import next season. In fact, I’m hearing Melbourne, Sydney and South East Melbourne (SEM) have all expressed initial interest in Wesley as have, of course, New Zealand who are keen to re-sign the two-time champ. You’d have to think Cairns and Illawarra would both at least ask the question, right?
Most of the league is keen on Long – as they should be – while Casper Ware is also a huge target after yet another outstanding season with United.
The Perth Wildcats have a number of champions out of contract – including club legends Damian Martin and Jesse Wagstaff – but there seems to be a feeling around the league that most, if not all, of their guys are likely to re-sign.
Adelaide’s Majok Deng is an intriguing free agent while Brisbane have not yet taken up their option on Cam Bairstow’s contract, meaning the former NBA big is a genuine chance to hit the open market next week.
The Taipans, who are basically building from scratch again, will surely be looking to re-sign Nathan Jawai fairly quickly. They’ve also announced that they won’t be picking up their option on the final year of Lucas Walker’s contract but remain open to the possibility of re-signing the veteran forward in free agency.
As for the Hawks, they’ve got some decisions to make regarding veteran free agents AJ Ogilvy, Kevin White and David Andersen. In the meantime, I’m hearing they’re likely to pick up their option on youngster Marshall Nelson, locking him up for next season.
Q: Is Sobey in Melbourne? If so, with the three signed already, they could have the best starting five in the league… and that’s before any imports are signed.
—Will (@Will03492470), Victoria
Q: If Sobey is to leave Adelaide do you think they should look at a gun point guard? If so, what type?
—Nate Turner (@wookie026)
LS: Okay, let’s get into these two questions together.
Firstly, the word on Sobey is that there is pretty much no chance he will be re-signing in Adelaide, making him the hottest player on the market as we head towards April 1.
So, where will he land? Well, a number of clubs are interested but the two at the top of the tree are SEM and Brisbane.
The opportunity to return to his home state and play a key role with an exciting new team is part of SEM’s appeal but there is also plenty pulling Sobey to Brisbane as well. Not least of which is the chance to work with the national coach ahead of this year’s FIBA World Cup and next year’s Tokyo Olympics. Sobey also has established relationships with guys like Cam Gliddon and Jason Cadee from their time together in the green and gold as well as soon-to-be re-signed centre Matt Hodgson
It’s a bit of a shock, but my sources tell me the high-flying guard is actually leaning strongly towards inking a deal with the Bullets and is poised to become Brisbane’s new starting PG once free agency officially begins.
Where does that leave the 36ers? The obvious answer is: in need of a point guard and you can expect them to hit the import market over the off-season to fill that spot. They’ll need someone who can defend at a high level, get buckets and orchestrate Joey Wright’s up-tempo offensive system. That kind of guy is not easy to find but Joey will find him.
As for the Phoenix, if Sobey does sign in Brisvegas they will need to change course immediately and you’d imagine their next target would almost certainly be….
Q: Kevin Lisch… if Sydney don’t lock him, where do you feel he may fit nicely and who might chase him most in your opinion?
—Heavy Doodle (@DoodleHeavy)
LS: Firstly, Heavy Doodle? C’mon now… whose burner account is this? This you, Kev?
Anyway, my understanding is that Lisch won’t re-sign with the Kings prior to April 1 and will instead explore his options on the open market.
So, where would he fit? Well, the two places he’d probably fit best, in my opinion, are either back in Sydney or south of the border with the Phoenix.
If SEM miss out on Sobey, which I think they will, signing Lisch would be an excellent response as the two-time MVP would bring valuable championship experience to the NBL’s newest club.
— NBL (@NBL) March 3, 2019
Lisch will turn 33 in a couple of months which means this may be his last big pay day in the NBL. Truth be told, that could potentially work in SEM’s favour with the purse strings apparently tightening somewhat during the post-JVG era in the Harbour City.
Watch this space.
Q: When coaches scout summer league are they conscious of timing/when to approach players? Say a player still thinks he has a shot at NBA or a 2-way deal do they get offended if an NBL coach says hey come to Aus. early on?
—BTK CallYou Jon snow (@BTKJon)
LS: This is a great question because so much happens at Summer League each year that ends up having a major impact on the NBL. It’s where guys like Torrey Craig and Mitch Creek get NBA opportunities but it’s also where a whole bunch of moving and shaking takes place between NBL decision-makers (coaches and GMs) and American player agents.
The fact is: the vast majority of NBL imports arrive Down Under after being either directly recruited at Summer League or via contacts made at the event.
Guys like Jacob Wiley, Melo Trimble and Terrico White all become highly influential NBL players last season after being recruited in Las Vegas last year.
Perth re-signed Bryce Cotton at Summer League two years ago and last year, Melbourne successfully courted Casper Ware back for their (ultimately unsuccessful) championship defence.
And yes, timing is very important. Approach your guy too early and you risk being instantly dismissed if he and his agent are confident of getting an NBA deal. Approach too late and you’ll probably miss the boat – your guy will already be deep in negotiations with a rival NBL team or big-money clubs in either Europe or China.
You also hit the nail on the head, Jon Snow (man, what is with these usernames?), when you mentioned two-way contracts as they have definitely complicated the process in recent times. In fact, NBL coaches and GMs were getting pretty frustrated in Vegas last year as players, hopeful of securing a two-way deal late in the tournament’s second week, were taking longer than ever to entertain international offers.
How that changes things moving forward will be interesting to watch.
Q: With a ninth team next year, there are at least eight more spots for locals (five more with SEM signings). Are we likely to see the return of a few guys that missed out on jobs in NBL19? If so, who is on the radar?
—Daniel Coyne (@dancoyne86), Western Australia
LS: Yeah I think there’s potential for a guy like Cody Ellis to bounce back into the league this year while I’m told Shaun Bruce, who played briefly with Adelaide during the second half of last season, is on the radar of at least a couple of clubs.
The other guys to consider are the dudes who have been playing overseas.
As you alluded to, SEM have already signed Mitch Creek (NBA G League), Ben Madgen (Germany) and Chima Moneke (France) but teams will also be making enquiries about others from overseas as well.
Cleveland Cavaliers two-way signing Deng Adel, Jock Landale (Serbia), Brock Motum (Turkey), Xavier Cooks (Germany), Mangok Mathiang (Italy) and Tai Webster (Turkey) are probably all a little out of reach at this stage. But others such as Isaac Fotu (Germany), Isaac Humphries (NBA G League), Duop Reath (Serbia) and Jo Lual Acuil (Israel) would definitely be worth exploring.
The remaining spots will likely be snapped up by rookies returning from college. There are a few seniors who will likely get opportunities but also keep an eye out for underclassmen who may look to come home and turn pro early. Reigning NBL Rookie of the Year Harry Froling is the most recent example of a guy who did that and instantly made an impact at the NBL level.
Q: How good is Chima Moneke? Underrated signing?
—Josh Garlepp (@JoshGarlepp), Western Australia
LS: Fox Sports’ own! Congrats on a great debut season on the coverage, Josh.
Moneke is certainly an exciting prospect and he will definitely provide some awesome highlights… but expectations should be kept realistic about his overall impact in year one.
He’ll play with great energy, block a number of shots from across the lane and get well above the rim but there are elements of his game that need refining before he’ll have a consistent impact in a high-minutes role in the NBL.
— South East Melbourne Phoenix (@SEMelbPhoenix) February 21, 2019
The SEM roster is still under construction, obviously, but when all is said and done I think Chima will play somewhere around 15 minutes a night next season, with his athletic, high-energy play making him a Phoenix fan favourite.
From there, we’ll see… his potential is very intriguing.
Q: If you were Melbourne, in what order are you prioritising the re-signing of the three imports? Are any likely to leave or even to not receive an offer? And what Australian would be your priority signing to support the big guns?
LS: That’s easy… Ware then daylight then Kennedy then Boone.
Truth be told, I’m not expecting either of Kennedy or Boone to be back with United next season. That’s not to say they weren’t both highly effective at different times last season. Boone is also a champion of the league and that should never be underappreciated. It’s just that Kennedy was expensive and would need to take much less to return and Boone will turn 35 midway through NBL20 and Father Time, as we know, is still undefeated.
I could see United re-signing Barlow and Pledger and then maybe going after Majok Deng as a potential change-of-scenery guy. Re-sign Ware at the one, bring back Wesley at the four and go get Shawn Long at the five. Jeebus! Look at that squad!
Starters: Ware, Goulding, McCarron, Wesley & Long
Reserves: McDaniel, Deng, Barlow & Pledger
From there you could re-sign Hooley as your back-up PG if you wanted or try again with Daniel Dillon. Adam Gibson could also be an interesting option. The final spot would belong to either Craig Moller or Venky Jois. I think Moller might be keen for a bigger role elsewhere so, for argument’s sake, let’s go with Jois.
Now you’re looking at:
Starters: Ware, Goulding, McCarron, Wesley & Long
Reserves: Gibson, McDaniel, Deng, Jois, Barlow & Pledger
Q: Do you think the Wildcats fill Greg Hire’s spot with a third import or concentrate on home grown again?
—Brett Martin (@Blaydenn67)
LS: The Wildcats will look to bring back as many pieces of their recent championship puzzle as they can and will then see what their roster looks like from there.
If they can get everyone back – something I actually think they might be able to do – then they’ll look to replace Hire with a high-energy local.
Who could that be? Well, he’s not a forward but I know the ‘Cats are really high on Sunday Dech while someone like Jois would be perfect in that role, with the opportunity to grow into more playing time moving forward.
Where things will get interesting, however, is if the Wildcats don’t manage to get everyone back. Clint Steindl is one who will almost certainly receive interest from elsewhere while three-time champion Tom Jervis may look to make a move for family reasons, having spent the 2018-19 season playing away from his wife and daughter. If the Wildcats lose Jervis, an import big may not be out of the question.
Q: Should Cairns go after AJ Ogilvy in free agency?
LS: This is a really interesting question because it speaks to a bit of a larger question about Ogilvy, which is: what does the big fella have left in the tank?
A few years ago Ogilvy was fourth in MVP voting. He ranked inside the top ten in scoring and inside the top three in rebounding, steals and blocks. He was an absolute dominant force – a stat-sheet stuffing supreme – with only Kevin Lisch, Chris Goulding and Jerome Randle earning more MVP votes across the entire season.
Ogilvy then signed with the Hawks for a further three years that off-season and, in year one of that deal, he received All-NBL First Team honours for a third time while helping Illawarra get all the way to the Grand Final series.
Since then, however, his production has seriously dipped. Across his last two seasons, Ogilvy has averaged less than 10 points per game at under 50 percent from the field with his numbers all down elsewhere across the board.
He’s become wildly inconsistent and outgoing Hawks coach Rob Beveridge had him come off the bench for most of the past two seasons after starting every game during his first two years in the ‘Gong.
The things is: Ogilvy’s really talented. He’s big, he’s mobile, he has great touch and possesses outstanding instincts, anticipation and timing at the defensive end.
But… is he hungry? Does he want to get back to his best? Does he want to do the work?
If someone can unlock the code to Ogilvy’s inner drive, they could score themselves a real bargain in free agency this year. And yeah, that’s the kind of risk the Taipans could potentially look to take as they attempt to rebuild their roster.
Want to get involved in the next mailbag column? Drop me a line on Twitter using #SantasMailbag and we’ll get things cracking from there.
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