Tell you one thing, there’s been no shortage of drama around the Breakers organisation in recent times. Good drama, bad drama, and ugly drama. A little bit of everything to keep everyone engaged. But despite some of the concerns about the off-court direction of the club (been there, done that), the fact remains that this is an extremely talented roster that should be challenging for the semis in an NBL that just keeps on going from strength to strength.
Not everyone cares about off-court things and that’s sweet as. Season ticket sales are apparently up thanks to the prospect of maybe getting a seat next to an NBA scout there to geeze at RJ Hampton doing his thing in the Breakers singlet. And up until recently none of the off-court things had any real negative impact on the actual basketball – Kevin Braswell was let go under extremely weird circumstances but they replaced him with Dan Shamir, a guy who is very well regarded over in Europe for his coaching abilities (not sure what the rep is for his Directorship abilities but okay). Shea Ili is gone thanks to the logjam of point guards but he swiftly found a home in Melbourne and he was already in a tricky personal situation after failing to lock down that starting gig last time. The RJ Hampton bandgwagon could get silly but the early signs are of a player mature beyond his years who is happy to do his job and sacrifice for the team rather than show off for the scouts.
But this Corey Webster situation is different. This was the first one that really had the potential to rock the boat. As always there are a couple ways to look at it and it really depends where your personal priorities lie… so let’s keep it even and look at it from the two perspectives then…
THE COREY WEBSTER PERSPECTIVE
The short story of it all is that after absolutely dominating at the World Cup for the Tall Blacks he got a bit of interest from Darüşşafaka in Turkey, who were willing to pay some big bucks if he could get a release from the last two years of his contract in Aotearoa. Tai Webster also plays in Turkey for Galatasaray so it wasn’t just an opportunity to cash in at 30 years of age with a young family but it was also a chance to play closer to his brother too. Plus he’d get to play some EuroCup stuff outside of Turkey, travelling all around the continent playing high level basketball (Darüşşafaka were a EuroLeague team last season except they finished bottom of the standings… but EuroCup’s still more than decent).
At this age and coming off a shop window opportunity like the World Cup this could be his last chance to flourish in Europe. And you know it’s a financially lucrative offer because he was willing to pay $100k of his own money to help get a buyout from the Breakers – with Daçka Basketbol, as they’re know, paying another $25k on top of that (stingy buggers). But despite him being so keen to embrace this opportunity that he was willing to put A HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS OF HIS OWN MONEY into making it happen… the Breakers took one look at that number and said: double it.
Webster has publically said that he wants this done and that the obstacles have been incredibly frustrating for him. Which, yeah, they really must be. Every aspect a player is looking for is covered: financial security, competitive standards, family benefits… and the deal is right there in front of him but he’s not allowed to take it. It’s a ruthless position to find himself in.
And it probably didn’t help things when word came out that Matt Walsh had called Webster the worst starting guard in the league – another tilt towards Webster’s favour in the public arm-wrestle. It wasn’t a completely fair representation of what happened, as Walsh then clarified that those comments weren’t made to Webster but to his agent (not really much difference, tbf) and he didn’t say he was the worst starting guard in the league, he said “statistically he was the worst starting two-guard” in the NBL, which… haha, yikes, sorry.
No, I get what he’s trying to say, he’s saying that they supported him at a time when he was struggling for fitness and form, that they stuck by him then so he should stick by them now… but it doesn’t sound like much of a clarification. Take out the context of the worse statement that was initially reported (by TVNZ which is funny since they were the ones who got tossed the softball exclusive of the Dillon Boucher resignation) and this is still a pretty brutal thing to say to a player who thrives on confidence like C-Web does. Even if he believes that then there’s a more tactful way to say it… but whatever, it’s all water under the bridge at this point. Webster then went on ahead and played great at the NBL Blitz because he’s a professional and a veteran who understands the scene and won’t mope around when there’s basketball to be played. Which is helpful because, well…
THE NZ BREAKERS PERSPECTIVE
The Breakers haven’t budged though. It’s too close to the season and he’s under contract as an important player. Important but not an import, which is a huge factor because it makes him infinitely harder to replace. Ethan Rusbatch was hovering around and they’ve since picked him up on a deal of sorts – more on that in a sec – but there are no local players on par with Corey Webster who just happen to be available at this moment in time and that’s just a fact.
The Breakers do have a little congestion on the wings with Sek Henry looking like he might come off the bench behind Webster and obviously Scotty Hopson is the absolute truth, not to mention Tom Abercrombie and Jordan Ngatai, so maybe they could absorb the loss from within… but let’s not forget that he’s under contract for two more seasons too, not just this one. He’s committed beyond RJ Hampton. The Breakers don’t seem massively bothered with the long term at the moment, it’ll sort itself out when it comes around, but while contracts are slippery things in sports these days, they do still mean something. Matt Walsh already said on the telly that they’d never stand in his way if the LA Lakers or whoever came calling but this isn’t quite that, is it?
So it’s easy to see both perspectives here. Webster is well within his rights to indulge the offer and the Breakers are within theirs to deny it. Look, my own perspective on the state of the Breakers has been made pretty clear in recent articles (and not so recent articles) but credit will be given where it’s due. You can’t expect to agree with the head honchos at every club you support but you can at least hope for consistency with decision making because consistency reflects a cohesive vision. All these moves that the Breakers have made recently which have had the collateral effect of shrinking the club’s connection to its kiwi identity and its historical legacy have come with the intention of creating the most competitive team possible for this season. After all this is the one year that RJ Hampton will draw in overseas eyes to the club.
The old Breakers would probably have released him to further his career (they already did once before). It would be the player-first approach to the dilemma, the culture-first approach. But the new Breakers have already made a coach redundant to further their chances of winning this season – so if they’re confident he won’t be a negative influence in the locker room and confident that Dan Shamir knows what he’s doing then why would they possibly release Corey Webster now? It’d be taking the piss out of everything else they’re doing these days. Walshy even said this himself, you can’t tell people you’re serious about winning championships and then release one of your best players this close to the start of the season for less than his value in return. Not saying either way is right or wrong but at least this way is consistent.
And ultimately the club still own that contract so it’s their decision to make… and the decision has been made.
THEY SIGNED EAZY BATCH!
Hey and how about this, aye? Someone finally signed Ethan Rusbatch! After a breakout tour with the Tall Blacks flowing on from an excellent kiwi NBL season with Hawke’s Bay, he’s been reunited with Zico Coronel at the Breakers on Nominated Replacement Player terms. Which effectively means he will be on a full-time contract and remain with the squad throughout the season but won’t be on the actual roster, instead being designated injury cover if that comes to pass. Currently Tom Abercrombie is out with a quad injury that could cost him most of preseason (including the NBA games) so Rusbatch is a straight replacement for him in the short term and will be a sort of glorified development player from then on.
Is this hedging bets for if the Corey Webster situation takes another turn? Perhaps, though I get the feeling it’s more of an olive branch to folks who have been disillusioned by the trend away from kiwi ballers under this ownership. Which, like, okay maybe it’s a little bit of an exaggerated gesture… but Ethan Rusbatch is good enough to be on an NBL roster and if this what it takes then no worries. It’s possible that Rusbatch won’t play a second of NBL action this season and it’s not like this is on par with an actual roster spot… but it’s a foot in the door for a former Breakers development guy and that can only be a good thing. Again: credit where it’s due… even if they got the hashtag wrong…
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