This has been a… weird offseason for the New Zealand Breakers. The second year under new ownership is bringing about some serious changes as Matty Walsh and mates begin to properly stamp their mark after a transitional year last time out. Some of those changes are bloody exciting. Some are frustrating and isolating. Hence: a weird offseason.
When the new ownership first took over, they were all about the manufactured headlines… thanks largely to the Barstool jokers. At this point anything those fellas do is just annoying, chatting on their little podcast about their little basketball team with absolutely zero recognition that it existed long before them with an established fanbase but whatever, they can be ignored. The manufactured headlines still exist but now they’ve got some actual basketball purpose. And the Breakers are churning through the headlines so fast it’s hard to keep up.
THE SKY SPORT BREAKERS
For one thing, they’re not called the SkyCity Breakers any more. They’re the Sky Sport Breakers. Big difference. Supposedly SkyCity are still a minority sponsor but they no longer have the naming rights which spells out a strange new dynamic. Because this team are now sponsored by their home broadcaster.
As far as the Breakers go, no worries. They’ll just do their thing and there shouldn’t be much of a conflict of interest here. Commentators are gonna call what they see and Andrew Mulligan and Casey Frank are one of the best duos in kiwi sports broadcasting these days. They strike a great balance between honesty without being critical – it’s always annoying to me when you get those overly negative commentators (English football is pretty bad for them) and I’ve never understood why broadcasters employ people to trash their product in public like that. Just tell us what’s happening, paint in a little colour, and leave the heavy analysis for the paper the next morning. But yeah, Mulls and Case are top notch so there’s nothing to worry about there, nor should the Breakers feel too much pressure from the situation.
This gets more frisky when you ponder why SkyCity aren’t carrying on. Perhaps they were outbid, perhaps they weren’t willing to keep on going at the same level of investment. There had been rumours about them considering their situation a few weeks earlier so it wasn’t a complete surprise and those rumours are maybe a little concerning for the Breakers as they head in this new direction. But without knowledge of the financials it’s all just speculation so best not to dwell on it.
It’s a power play for Sky Sports though. They’re consolidating their local sports coverage (about time) just as Spark Sport are stepping into the arena and opening up the Aotearoa market to the delights and annoyances of subscription live streaming. Just in time, too. Sky Sports will do anything it takes for their rugby crowd but other sports have been getting stiffed as rights packages around the world go through the roof. Basketball in particular was very much in the balance thanks to the kiwi NBL being both live streamed and carried on Sky Sports (not that Sky are putting too much into that, to be fair). So yeah, as a statement of intent from them this is definitely a positive for the sport in this country.
LATER BO, SHEA ILI
It’s been billed as a shock departure by the usual suspects within our kiwi sports media but really Shea Ili was always in a tricky situation from the second that RJ Hampton went on ESPN and announced his decision to play for the team. Before that, even: Ili was the 2017-18 NBL’s Most Improved Player and Kevin Braswell was so impressed by his efforts off the bench that he promoted him to start last season. Safe to say that one didn’t quite go as planned.
Ili re-signed on a two year deal before that campaign but while his defence was as good as ever he struggled badly coming back the other way, averaging 7.9 points and 2.8 assists per game while shooting a pretty damning 23.1% from the perimeter. Frankly, when you’re missing that many shots from outside and you’re such a dangerous player when you can get a lane to the basket… no defence in the league is gonna be dumb enough to give you that lane. They’ll stand off and dare you to shoot and Ili’s problem was that he couldn’t either hit those shots or facilitate for others around him (whose spacing was also affected by Ili’s lack of range). Curiously he’s been pretty lights out from deep for the Wellington Saints for the last four years so we now he can do it. He shot 36.5% coming off the bench for the Breaks in 2017-18 too. But for whatever reason he had a bit of a disaster year as the starting point guard and he might not be the only one to feel the ramifications from that.
So he was already in a tough spot and likely to move back to the bench where Jarrad Weeks was so impressive last time… and that was before RJ Hampton rolled into town with a contract stipulation that he’d get a certain amount of minutes in order to keep his draft stock high. It makes sense for Ili to want to leave, especially with Corey Webster there also and the likelihood of an import shooting guard being signed. This town wasn’t big enough for the lot of them. So Ili asked for a release and has been granted it, with reports being that he’ll join Melbourne United – where he’ll be reunited with head coach Dean Vickerman, assistant Paul Henare, and former teammates Alex Pledger and Shawn Long.
On the face of it, this just makes sense. Ili is leaving for a better situation and the Breakers are keeping the two point guards who’ll be the most impactful for them on the court. But this does look ugly from a wider perspective, when you consider the motivations of the American owners lately and then look at this where a Breakers development player and one of the recent success stories of the club has been effectively ousted to squeeze in a high school graduate who is leveraging this situation for one year in order to get himself into the NBA Draft. A lifetime club man replaced by a single-year import who won’t even arrive in the country for the first time ‘til August.
The RJ Hampton thing is the best thing the new owners have done yet, the first time the hype has met the reality, and that should be a very exciting situation not only for the Breakers but for the whole league with LaMelo Ball also joining the Illawarra Hawks on a Next Star deal (just quietly, RJH > LMB and it ain’t close). But of course there was going to be a domino effect and unfortunately that’s made to look worse because this team has already struggled to retain (or chosen not to) a number of its best players from recent years including a couple other New Zealand internationals. As the kiwi heart of this club appears to erode, losing Shea Ili is a bad look. (But yeah, understandable in isolation).
WHO THE HELL IS DAN SHAMIR?
Speaking of changes and speaking of ramifications, a 12-16 season was not what was expected from the Breakers last time and Kevin Braswell has already paid the price if reports are to be believed. It was one of the first signs of unease under the new ownership when Paul Henare parted ways with the club but despite some tenuous links to Rick Pitino they went with the pleasant local option of promoting the best performing coach at NZ NBL level in Kevin Braswell. Ol’ Kev then made a boo-boo by over-promoting his boy Shea Ili, as discussed, and with all the inconsistencies of that team as they tried to reinvent their playing style into a more modern, flowing, attacking system (only to blowout their own defence and watch dudes miss open jumpers) there was no doubt he was under pressure to make amends going into next season.
But it seems he won’t even get that chance because after one bad year, his first at that level, he’s about to be sacked and replaced by Dan Shamir. Now, Shamir is a quality coach for sure, in fact he was the coach of the year in his native Israel last season with Hapoel Holon (the latest season only just wrapped up). The 44 year old is a career coach so he’s got buckets of experience in his own country. Not a lot outside of it… although he did do a year’s apprenticeship under old mate Rick Pitino in 1999. Dunno who it is in the Breakers ownership that shares an agent or whatever with Pitino but can’t say it’s too surprising to see.
Anyway, Shamir has already been agreed upon according to sources on both sides of the Tasman Sea and strong hints from in Israel, so even if nothing has been announced almost three weeks after that one first broke, don’t get your hopes up. There was a word in St*ff.co.nz that Braswell’s holding out over the money that’s owed to him – he still has two years on his contract after all. Mate, better hope that Sky Sports deal was bigger than anticipated. But yeah, that’s what’s happening. A foreign coach with no known ties to New Zealand is coming in to replace a locally promoted one who replaced a literal local who coaches the national team. Guess we’re getting used to these kinds of decisions now though. Shamir’s probably an excellent coach so we’ll see how he goes.
HOW’S THAT ROSTER COMING ALONG?
Contracted: Finn Delany, Corey Webster, Tom Abercrombie, Jordan Ngatai, Jarrad Weeks
Incoming: RJ Hampton, Rob Loe
Off-Contract: Majok Majok
Departed: Shea Ili, Shawn Long, Tai Wesley, Patrick Richard, Armani Moore
So that’s seven players locked in, room to sign up to three imports plus another local who will ideally be a New Zealander and not an Australian, just saying. Chances are Coach Shamir will have had a few belters come under his guidance in the Israeli league that might want to pop down under.
But hey, this is pretty cool…
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