The first week of the 2018-19 NBA season has been completed, and it’s always hard to not overreact to what you’ve witnessed after just three or four games played by each team.
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It has often been noted that “a week is a long time in sports.” If a week is a long time, then for Melbourne Tigers fans this past month must have seemed like an eternity.
On April 28th, the Tigers announced that they had signed former Townsville Crocodiles mentor Trevor Gleeson as their new head coach on a three-year deal.
For most basketball fans, signing the reigning NBL Coach of the Year would have been something to celebrate, but not so in Tigerland.
Having sat through a dismal 2010/2011 season that cost long-time club servant Al Westover his job, Tigers fans took to the social media platforms to vent their anger that Westover’s interim replacement Darryl ‘D-Mac’ McDonald, himself a Tigers stalwart as player and assistant coach, had not been elevated to the top job on a permanent basis.
On his first day on the job Gleeson added more fuel to the fire, quickly informing the Tigers star import point guard Corey ‘Homicide’ Williams that his services would no longer be required.
While it came as shock to Tigers fans, it is unlikely that it was a surprise for Williams himself, as this was the second time Gleeson had shown Williams the door, having given Homicide his marching orders from Townsville back in 2009.
The fact that Corey had claimed the league MVP award that past season seemed to not carry any weight at the negotiating table back then, so it wasn’t going to help his cause in 2011. Less than 24 hours in, two native New Yorkers were seemingly out of a job. Not a great result for the so-called ‘World Hoops Capital’.
While the Tigers never released an official statement regarding Williams, Gleeson did hint that the club would seek an Australian point guard to lead their charge into the future.
With current Australian Boomer Adam Gibson a free agent and his girlfriend residing in Melbourne, most experts assumed that ‘Gibbo’ would be running the point for the Tigers for the years to come.
However, in early May, Gibson announced that he was staying with his current team the Gold Coast Blaze, so Plan A was suddenly out the window and the Tigers quickly scrambled to put together Plan B.
This consisted of contacting Perth championship point guard Damian Martin about his availability, even though Martin was never really considered to be any chance of leaving the Wildcats, or his long-time mentor Rob Beveridge.
So with neither plan coming to fruition, and no other star Australian point-guards available, the Tigers went back to the drawing board, with Gleeson stating that the Tigers would now seek an import point guard.
In social media land, this announcement was met with a combination of surprise, anger, outrage and confusion, as Tigers fans lamented the fact that they had just sacked an import point guard, a former league MVP no less, and a man that was dubbed ‘the coolest guy in Melbourne’ by Nova FM’s breakfast radio hosts.
To make matters worse for Gleeson, in mid-May he announced his assistant coaching panel, preferring to stick with just one assistant, Rohan Short, who has been Gleeson’s sidekick previously in Townsville.
This meant that another Tigers legend, Warrick Giddey, would be leaving the Tigers bench despite having served many years as an assistant coach, not to mention many more years logged with the club as a player.
This decision sparked more anger from fans, and also drew harsh criticism from Giddey’s former team-mate and one time Tigers CEO Nigel Purchase, who said the Tigers management were “chipping away at the club’s history and today they announced that the claw hammer has been replaced by a wrecking ball.”
The decision about Giddey’s future overshadowed Gleeson’s first recruiting triumph with Liam Rush and Daniel Dillon, both fringe Australian representatives, agreeing to long-term contracts with the club.
Are you still with me? As stated in the opening, it was a long month!
Fast forward a couple of weeks, and the Tigers have completed their recruiting for the coming season, announcing that former Cairns Taipans imports in floor general Ayinde Ubaka and athletic swingman Ronald Dorsey had agreed to join the club on multi-year deals.
As one prominent basketball journalist noted, the Tigers have pinched 60 per cent of Cairn’s starting line-up (Dillon being the other).
The Taipans went all the way to the grand final in 2011, only to lose to New Zealand, so the recruitment of three of their starters is quite a coup.
Also re-signing with the club was young athletic forward Lucas Walker, runner-up in the 2010/2011 Rookie of the Year award, and quickly becoming a fan favourite due to his aerial displays above the rim.
Walker’s signature rounded out the Tigers roster at 10 – returning players Matthew Burston, Daryl Corletto, Tommy Greer, Bennie Lewis, Cameron Tragardh and Lucas Walker joining the recruits.
On confirmation of the roster Gleeson commented that “The team is extremely athletic, and we can shoot and play defence in every position. The team will play exciting, high scoring basketball which the fans will want to come and see.”
Melbourne CEO Seamus McPeake excitedly added “We had an impressive core group of players to build on and Trevor has certainly done that, bringing in scoring punch, athleticism, and defence to every position. It is testament to the strong reputation of both Trevor and the club that players want to play in Melbourne.”
The Tigers pre-season officially begins on July 25th, and for all the changes and upheaval, it would appear that they have put together a team that is capable of contending in season 2011/2012.
Whether that is enough to win back disappointed fans remains to be seen. Perhaps it will take time for the fans to adjust to this new era, one where the club needs to function more as a professional business to survive, meaning tough decisions need to be made.
The Tigers first and longest serving coach, Lindsay Gaze, used to say that the only time winning was important was in surgery and war.
While their is some truth to this, unfortunately in modern sport it can no longer be applied. For professional sporting teams, winning generally means more people in the stands and more sponsors willing to invest. The combination of the two means more dollars in the owners’ pockets.
The fans have every right to have their say, but at the end of the day, it’s up to the ownership and management to make the decisions and the buck stops with them. Its the fans’ job to support the team through thick and thin, good times and bad. Cheer for the name on the front of the singlet, not the one on the back.
It’s a new and unfamiliar era for Tigers fans. Let’s hope they get on board, as with high flyers such as Walker, Bennie Lewis and ‘Ronny Real Nice’ Dorsey running out in red this season, the Tigers will be an exciting team to watch.
And if Gleeson’s long-term vision comes to fruition, then the Tigers’ next championship banner might not be too far away.