This Whole Breakers Coaching Saga Isn’t Going Away Quietly (But They Did Make A Couple Sweet Signings)

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The word was that there was going to be a new Breakers announcement on Wednesday, and a big one too. Then the word was that it was going to be a double announcement which makes it even bigger. Not quite the ‘global’ level announcement that we were told to expect ahead of the RJ Hampton news (and to be fair they weren’t wrong)… but still pretty big and when that news arrived, well mate, it might as well have been a quadruple announcement as two players, a ‘director of basketball’, and an assistant coach were all unveiled at once.

Dan Shamir has finally been confirmed as the new coach… although we’re not meant to call him that, apparently. More on that later because that’s where this really gets funky. Aside from that bit it was all pretty sweet. Scotty Hopson is the first proper import on the books for this season and he’s been joined by kiwi baller Tom Vodanovich, while Hawke’s Bay Hawks maestro Zico Coronel has been added to the coaching staff (after Judd Flavell left at the end of last season for expansion side South East Melbourne – Mike Fitchett still remains though).

Tom Vodanovich’s arrival is probably the least important of the quartet of yarns but it’s the most reassuring as the general trend away from the kiwi core of the club has been a major concern over the last few months. And one addition towards the end of the roster doesn’t change that but it does at least show that it’s not all carpet-bagging weirdness going on. Vodanovich is a forward, just turned 25, who is a full international for New Zealand and is coming off a season with the Southland Sharks where he averaged 12.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game with shooting splits of 49.7%/41.7%/75.8%. Plus most promisingly he was a development player last season and given how they just gave one of those D-spots to a Chinese import… this is a welcome development.

Same goes for Zico Coronel who is a bit of an offensive wizard and is coming off an NBL campaign where he coached the Hawks all the way to the final. He’s a great character in the local game and he’s also a well-studied one after six years as an assistant at the Wellington Saints. Here are two of the highest calibre fellas in the local league, one a player and one a coach, and they’ve each been given opportunities by the Breakers at a time when those opportunities seemed to be shrinking under the new ownership. So that’s all bloody cool. It’s great. It’s also necessary if you wanna be a successful club, there has to be that connection with the game on a national and grassroots level and trying to impart an NBA style approach to a non-NBA style team would just be silly. Fair play to the lads for sorting these ones out.

As for Scotty Hopson, he’s a wing player with NBA experience for both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Dallas Mavericks… totalling 15 minutes of on-court action, plus he also popped up on the OKC Thunder roster last season on a 10-day deal but didn’t get to play. He’s 29 years old now stage so chill on the NBA pedigree… however he has strung together a very impressive career at the level below that and in Europe. Playing for the OKC Blue last season, he scored 16.6 ppg in 35 games. Super athletic, should be a plus defender. His shooting is a bit of a mixed bag (Walsh says he can hit the deep ball at >40% but his stats suggest otherwise) – which is a concern after that deep shooting has been an issue for this team in recent times – but damn does he know how to get to the basket and between him, RJ Hampton, and Finn Delany there’s going to be some serious damage dished out to those rims.

All in all a lovely addition and an import who looks like he can be a massive contributor for this team. He might even have All-NBL talent if those shots are dropping… although we can’t make too many predictions at this stage because the balance of this side is completely up in the air right now. There are two more imports to be added and potentially one more player on top of that if they want it. Which they might not considering how prominent RJ Hampton is going to have to be. That RJH situation could easily get weird too, hopefully it doesn’t become a distracting sideshow (from the outside scouting/USA media interest as much, if not more, than anything Hampton might be up to… although he did just signed a multi-million dollar shoe deal). Plus of course we’ve got a new coach and some serious roster overhaul going on and honestly we won’t have a clue of how it’s all going to fit together until we actually see them playing. And playing proper games too because the NBA exhibitions might be fun but it’s hardly a representative opposition of what’s to follow. Speculation is welcome but all binding judgements are hereby reserved.

By the way, where is Scotty Hopson joining from? Well he might have been injured for most of his time there but he was most recently on the books at Hapoel Holon… the very same team that Dan Shamir joins from.

Which is where things get funky. Dan Shamir arrived in the country like a month ago so his announcement was no surprise at all… the only surprises are: a) that it took so long and b) that he’s not technically the coach. He’s the ‘Director of Basketball’ … ooh-la-la! What does that mean? There’s some chat about it in the Breakers’ press release about an internal review determining they needed more alignment between the ‘high-performance staff’ and the ‘executive team’. But that still doesn’t make much sense because he’s only one person and wouldn’t a coach be doing that anyway? Of course they would. It’s not like they’ve hired another person, they’ve just altered the job description to reflect what every coach in the NBL is doing. Matt Walsh tried to massage that point to the media by comparing it to how Gregg Popovich is the head coach and also the general manager at the San Antonio Spurs… except Dillon Boucher is the GM of the Breakers and Shamir isn’t being called the head coach despite literally being the head coach, so it’s not the same thing at all.

Nah in reality this a fallout from the Kevin Braswell thing. Details are foggy about all that but while it’s always a disappointment to see a coach sacked after one season, there is at least a realm of thought where it makes sense. The Breakers tried to drastically overhaul their playing style under Braswell and that was a huge risk. One that didn’t pay off as the team played insanely inconsistently on both ends of the court and unfortunately that has to fall back upon the coaching. So either you give him the chance to learn from those lessons while acknowledging how difficult it is to oversee that much change so quickly or you decide that this coach is the wrong one and move on. Matt Walsh and the crew chose the latter.

But Braswell had a three year contract and the first two were guaranteed so he wasn’t willing to go without a pay-out and that’s what’s dragged this whole thing on. Legal action was undertaken and it’s still not sorted either. What happened is that Kevin Braswell was made redundant in order to clear him out of there. Being made redundant means your position no longer exists so Dan Shamir cannot be the head coach if the organisation has determined that role no longer exists – not if they want to be able to back that decision up in a court of law. Hence Shamir’s been given a glamourised title for basically the exact same job all so that they could get rid of Braswell… it’s a very shady corporate-style hit job, to be honest.

There are a couple ways this might have gone. Braswell might be being deliberately obstructing things out of spite, which would be a shame. Or the Breakers might be trying to avoid paying him out for a guaranteed contract that they both agreed to a year ago and that would be much more than a bit of a shame coming back in the other direction. Who’s stiffing who here? I don’t know any more than you do but the way that all the Breakers media has skipped around the issue (including Walsh facing the press instead of Shamir) suggests a deflect-and-ignore approach to the topic instead of just being upfront about it and treating fans with a little dignity. They’d never officially acknowledged Braswell was leaving until now even though it was common knowledge in the kiwi media. And to be fair that might have been because of the legal processes… but here’s how they addressed it at the very end of their press release:

“The new structure has resulted in Head Coach Kevin Braswell leaving the club last month. The SKY Sport Breakers organisation thanks Kevin for the hard work, honesty and integrity he brought to the role and wish him success in the future.”

Obviously you want to focus on the good news first but that’s a real breeze-over right there. Especially the ‘last month’ part of it, considering it was July 31 when it happened so we’re talking literally an entire month since he left the organisation without a bloody peep. No farewell tweets. No quotes from Walshy thanking him personally. You’d hope they at least sent him some flowers and chocolates after doing him that way.

They could have just fired him like a normal team and paid out his contract like happens in sports all over the world. If money’s an issue then maybe you wait a year – why should the Breakers be able to hire a coach they can’t afford? By making him redundant it seems like they’ve skipped over all that and sweet as for shouting out Braswell’s “hard work, honesty and integrity” but if this narrative is the correct one (and it might not be) then the Breakers haven’t shown a lot of those three things themselves in this whole saga… and KB is more than entitled to demand every dollar he’s owed.

Now, Dan Shamir is an extremely well qualified dude who should be extremely proficient in this gig. Corey Webster called him the Jewish Jose Mourinho (which is outstanding, what a line!). But the fact remains that two coaches in two consecutive seasons have left under murky circumstances since the new owners took over. Fingers crossed this next one sticks around the full three years they’ve given him.

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