The league is in a precarious position, trying to elevate it's status while also ensuring financial stability. By moving to a "every team for itself" model, it's feared the big cities would dominate and leave behind the smaller cities, who in general have really been the backbone of the league for the last decade.
So how did we get here?
Going back decade by decade paints an interesting picture.
In 1983, the league featured 16 teams.
That's double the amount of teams we have in 2013 and only 3 (Adelaide,Perth,Wollongong) still exist under the same name. Somehow Tasmania and Adelaide both had 2 teams. 10 of the teams were from "second cities" or regional towns. At the same time the NBA featured 23 teams. The league's star imports included.....
-Michael Jones, who averaged 32pts on 54% shooting
-Al Green, who averaged 29pts at 56%
-George Morrow, who pulled down 15boards a game to go with 20 points
-James Crawford (24 and 10)
-Leroy Loggins (24 and 8)
-League MVP Owen Wells (24/6/4)
Fast forward 10 years and the league was right in it's "purple patch". The league was down to 14 teams, with 4 from Victoria, 3 from New South Wales and 3 from Queensland. The title went to the Melbourne Tigers, who started one of the best 5 in league history with Aussies Andrew Gaze, Rob Sibley and Mark Bradtke being joined by imports Lanard Copeland and Ben Simmons' dad (Dave).Simmons and Copeland were two of the league's finer imports but had plenty of competition eg
-Leroy Loggins (still)
And so on.
The NBA was up to 27 teams and also on the cusp of another boom, with college stars such as Chris Webber and Penny Hardaway entering the league. Basketball globally was also growing, with the NBA Dream Team from the 1992 Olympics drawing huge interest to the game. The only way was up. Seemingly.
Another 10 years saw another two teams drop from the NBL, with the most notable change being the addition of the Breakers. The Sydney Kings were in the middle of their three-peat in a league undergoing massive change. The MVP (Matt Nielsen) was an Aussie, the NBL All-First Team was all Aussie. Notable imports included....
Some good players in there, but a clear drop from just 10 years ago. The NBA had jumped to 29 teams and was again ready for a spike in interest thanks to the 2003 Lebron/Anthony/Wade draft. Internationally, the landscape had shifted with Argentina winning the 2004 Olympic Gold Medal.
Jump another 10 years and the NBL has undergone one of the most tumultuous off-seasons in it's short history. The league is back to just 8 teams with much uncertainty surrounding it's governance, free-to-air rights and expansion. Globally, the game continues to be strong.
So what happened?
A BRIDGE NOT TOO FAR
In the 80's, the NBA and even the powerhouse Euro clubs seemed a bridge too far. The biggest individual achievement was Andrew Gaze cracking the Seton Hall roster and leading them to the title game. He'd averaged over 36 points a game in the 1988 NBL season before and over 23pts a game at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
In 1991 Luc Longley was drafted as the 7th overall pick. This was seen as a massive development for the game both here and overseas. Longley was joined in the NBA at various times by Shane Heal, Mark Bradtke,Chris Anstey and Andrew Gaze. 1997 was a boom year, with 4 Aussies (Anstey,Pepper,Rogers,Bruton) although only Anstey logged NBA minutes.
The 2000's brought with them more growth, with Andrew Bogut becoming the first ever Number 1 pick in the 2005 Draft. Other Aussie drafted between 2000-2009 were David Andersen, Brad Newley, Nathan Jawai and Patty Mills with all but Newley getting decent court time.
Since 2010 only Ater Majok has been drafted by "The Show" but that will soon change with Dante Exum projected to be a Top 3 pick in whichever draft he chooses to come out in. There's plenty of other high calibre talent not far behind either.
In the last 20 years we've seen a huge jump in the number of Australian kids who choose to develop their game in the US college system. The days of seeing an Anstey or Jawai type drafted purely on their NBL form seem over with the college game clearly being the best way to develop and get noticed.
In the 90's, the only Aussies who really ventured to Europe were the stars looking for an off-season, short-term large pay cheque. That has shifted largely, with players such as Brad Newley, Joe Ingles, David Andersen and Matt Nielsen being clearly comfortable living in another culture, playing high quality basketball and earning much more than they could in today's NBL.
So how do we lift the NBL? Is 3 imports the answer?
It's a good one but here's a few other ones.
1/ Improve links to NBA clubs
Thanks largely to Brett Brown, the San Antonio Spurs have often looked to Australia to help fill roster spots. Andrew Gaze, Shane Heal, Aron Baynes and Patty Mills have all logged minutes with the Spurs. With Brown now moving to Philadelphia, don't be surprised if these links continue.
The Wildcats signed second round draft pick James Ennis just this month and this could open the door to assisting with the development of raw college players who NBA clubs look to stash for a year or two. I wrote in this article nine months ago that the league could perhaps look to link up with a club and get a summer league tryout for each "Player Of The Month". It seems that former league player such as Anstey and Longley could reach out to their former clubs and form something of a relationship with their clubs.
2/ Change the points systems for imports
Not all imports should be a "10". Jonny Flynn should, Scott Christopherson shouldn't. A system like this would be fairer and assist with clubs who want to get a name player as opposed to clubs who want to develop a college kid. Points could be......
10- Player drafted by NBA or played in NBA
8- Player coming straight from a Div 1 US College or Euroleague team or has been selected in an NBL All-Star game
7- Players who have played 2 or more years in the NBL
5- All other players recruited, including second tier Australian and New Zealand leagues.
Each team gets 20 import points, so they could get two players with NBA cred or three players from the other criteria.
3/ Change the point system for local kids
I've gone crazy! 20% of all players points and accounted salary for players who play for their hometown team (born or spent over 50% of their youth in said city). This year Adelaide only suits up Luke Schenscher as a local. Fans want to see homegrowns on their team
4/ Marquee player
Outside points, each team should have the ability to sign a marquee player "outside the cap".
The decade-by-decade run through above shows how the landscape has changed and how the league needs to move with it. Keeping kids is getting harder, Europe is a lot more attractive now to Boomer-level players and bringing in fringe NBA guys is getting harder too.
It's time for change.