Kings need drastic NBL changes immediately

Chris Pike Columnist

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    It’s only three rounds and five games into the NBL season but things are at rock bottom for the Sydney Kings and drastic changes must be made this week.

    The Kings are coming off humiliating losses in Round 3 losing to the New Zealand Breakers by 17 points and the Adelaide 36ers by 30.

    That highlighted problems in the coaching structure and personnel with a team that is built wrong. The two foundations for any basketball team are a playmaking point guard and a centre with an inside presence.

    The Kings have neither.

    The coaching and personnel problems fall on management. But a lack of effort and an unwillingness to compete is on the players. You can go out there and battle unconditionally whether you have the right player mix, and whether your superstar captain Kevin Lisch is there or not.

    The Kings are not putting in the required effort in a league that will make you pay if you are slightly off 100 per cent.

    There is plenty of great things to talk about with the NBL right now with the growth of the league, the drastically improved product on the floor and, most importantly, the work done to rebuild the profile among the general public.

    Corporate support has come back to the league too and there has perhaps never been such excitement around the NBL in 20 years. But that isn’t translating to the Kings.

    The Kings have stunk since returning to the NBL for the 2010-11 season but never more than now. Change is needed quickly or else things will deteriorate to the point where it’s irrecoverable.

    Having a poorly performing and dysfunctional team in Sydney will dramatically hurt the bottom line with crowds at Kings home games, television ratings in the nation’s largest city and ultimately the overall bottom line of the NBL.

    Andrew Gaze looking on for the Kings

    The signs were bad going back to the second half of last season. The wheels fell off in Andrew Gaze’s first season as coach after a promising start and despite having a big budget, it only translated to a second last place finish.

    The off-season proved a horrible one in terms of management decision-making and much of that falls on the shoulders of GM Jeff Van Groningen.

    The biggest loss was assistant coach Dean Vickerman who got the head coaching job at Melbourne United. While Gaze and assistant coach Lanard Copeland were the face of the Kings, Vickerman was the brains behind that coaching staff and team.

    Logic would suggest the Kings needed to replace Vickerman, but they didn’t. Instead, Gaze and Copeland are now the two main coaching forces while former Kings guard Luke Kendall was promoted to third assistant coach.

    If Kings management decide to keep Gaze and Copeland in charge, they need help. The Kings could still add someone like Liam Flynn, Mark Radford and Adam Caporn or the super experienced Gordie McLeod, Phil Smyth and Alan Black this season.

    If the Kings decide to part ways with Gaze either during the season or at the end of it, there are three standout choices to get things back on track:

    The first is the Kings’ all-time games record holder and leading scorer Matt Nielsen, who is ready to go as a head coach after his time at the Perth Wildcats.

    The second is Mick Downer, who has done a long apprenticeship now and deserves a chance. He is currently assistant to Andrej Lemanis at the Brisbane Bullets.

    The third is Shawn Dennis, who was the Coach of the Year at the Townsville Crocodiles in 2015-16 before the Crocs folded, and he is currently coaching in Japan.

    All those currently have jobs with teams in-season so it’s unlikely they can help this campaign.

    While the coaching staff needs help, it’s on the playing roster where the most dramatic changes need to come.

    It’s inexcusable to come into a season with a roster not featuring a genuine big guy who can have a presence at both ends of the floor.

    That’s nothing against current bigs Isaac Humphries and Amritpal Singh, who they are only ready for limited minutes.

    It’s not fair on Todd Blanchfield, Perry Ellis and Brad Newley to play so far undersized and out of position because of poor personnel decisions by management.

    They need to sign a big man import. He doesn’t even need to be a star, but just someone who can work hard and rebound, give a post presence and influence shots defensively.

    Guys we’ve seen in recent seasons Eric Jacobsen, Akil Mitchell, Jameel McKay, Hakim Warrick, Charles Jackson or Omar Samhan would be fine. But the Kings can’t continue without a genuine big.

    They need to cut current imports Travis Leslie and Jeremy Kendle. Their skill sets just aren’t what this group needs. One of those import spots needs to be used on a big and then the other on a point guard.

    Even when Lisch returns, that point guard will still be needed. Lisch can run the point, but is best suited to being the secondary ball handler. The same can be said for Jason Cadee, Leslie and Kendle.

    They need a genuine point guard and that will remain the case even with Lisch back.

    He will tell you this himself, but even current Fox Sports commentator and former Townsville Crocodiles and Melbourne import Corey ‘Homicide’ Williams would be a better fit than those four combo guards.

    The disrespect shown to leave the heart and soul of the club Tom Garlepp on the bench can’t be ignored either. He has given everything to the Kings in some horrible times and more importantly, he could actually help on the floor.

    It’s a stark comparison to the way Shawn Redhage was used last season at Perth, and how Alex Loughton at Cairns, Anthony Petrie at Brisbane and Mika Vukona at New Zealand are treated.

    The Kings are lucky they have until Sunday to play again and they need to have a massive week to be any chance of getting things back on track.

    Adding an experienced coaching voice, replacing imports Leslie and Kendle with a centre and a point guard are the bare minimums of what has to happen before the Kings play Illawarra in Wollongong on Sunday.

    NBL Round 3 results
    THURSDAY
    New Zealand Breakers 90 defeated Sydney Kings 73

    FRIDAY
    Brisbane Bullets 83 defeated Cairns Taipans 78
    Perth Wildcats 89 defeated Melbourne United 84

    SATURDAY
    Adelaide 36ers 114 defeated Sydney Kings 84

    SUNDAY
    Melbourne United 76 lost to New Zealand Breakers 88
    Illawarra Hawks 105 defeated Brisbane Bullets 96
    Cairns Taipans 90 defeated Perth Wildcats 69

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