Breakers' Great Predicts New Era for Club under Maor
The New Zealand Breakers will be hoping their incredible run to the NBL Championship Series isn’t a one time only, flash in the pan occurrence.
With the key quartet of Will McDowell-White, Jarrell Brantley, Barry Brown Jr and Dererk Pardon all out of contract at the club heading into NBL24 there will almost certainly be large-scale changes to the playing group.
After finishing NBL22 on the bottom of the ladder, first-year head coach Mody Maor led his side to an unlikely appearance in the competition’s final two, where they fell to the Sydney Kings in just the fifth Game 5 in NBL history.
“It's going to be an interesting off-season for both of those teams with Cooks going, McDowell-White for the Breakers is a free agent, and a lot of teams around the NBL have made it quite clear they’re going after him,” four-time NBL champion and Breakers legend Alex Pledger said. “If the Breakers want to keep him they’re going to have to put quite a few zeroes on that cheque.
“All of Brown, Brantley and Pardon were all on one-year deals, so [it’s] not just interest from other NBL teams, but from European clubs and other areas around the world. They’ll be highly sought after.
“If they bring back the same types of players in terms of their mindset and bringing a team first defensive mentality – they’ll probably lose some of their players this year – but I can’t see why they can’t be in the thick of it for the next several years.”
With the Kings finishing on top of the pile for the second straight season, discussions around whether it’s the start of a new dynasty are beginning to run rampant.
Sydney won its first three championships in three straight seasons between 2003 and 2005, before earning two further Grand Final appearances in 2006 and 2008 – both of which they lost to the Melbourne Tigers.
Despite earning back-to-back title wins, Pledger doesn’t believe the Kings are head and shoulders above the rest of the competition.
“They’ve been the cream of the crop the last two seasons, but I don’t think they’re so far ahead of the league that anybody else can’t catch up,” he said.
“Teams like Perth – they haven’t had a great run of it the last couple of years but they’re only a few pieces away – the Breakers are right there, teams like Melbourne United dealt with a lot of injuries to key players this year but they were one position away from making the Play-In, South East Melbourne have a lot of dangerous pieces as well.
“Sydney have been the best of the best the last two years but there are a lot of teams knocking on the door and I think having that parity and not going into the season going ‘well this team is going to win it again’ is good for the league.
“There are the teams that are right at the top but there are several other teams that are only a piece or two away.”
With the Championship Series now done and dusted all focus turns to the impending free agency.
There’s a fifth crucial name at the Breakers that is up for contract renewal this off-season. Captain, four-time champion and 2011 Larry Sengstock Medal winner Tom Abercrombie.
Abercrombie – now 35 years old – has spent his entire NBL career at the Breakers, as well as representing the Tall Blacks at international level and off-season stints in France, Spain and Turkey.
New Zealand captain Tom Abercrombie watches the Sydney Kings lift the NBL23 championship trophy.
Game 5 of the Championship Series saw him make his 399th career appearance in the NBL and Pledger, who played with the Breakers captain for a decade, believes his former teammate has the ability to go around again.
“He’s been through ownership changes, coaching changes, players come and go, but he’s been that one constant,” Pledger said.
“He probably can’t jump quite as high as he used to but he’s still a pretty phenomenal athlete, has great leadership qualities, [and is a] a very good defensive player.
“Being that close to 400, I’m pretty sure he’ll go round at least one more time … if I played 399 games and then retired that would just be a little itch that would annoy me for the rest of my life.
“But we’ll have to wait and see.”