The Australian Boomers know they face a far tougher test in a looming showdown with the star-studded USA team after bouncing back to beat Canada in Perth.
The NBL stint of Patrick Mills unexpectedly came to an end last night, with the locked-out Portland Trail Blazer accepting an offer to play in China.
Three months and nine games after joining the Melbourne Tigers, he announced the news via Twitter.
“Hey everyone! Just wanted to let you all know that I got an unbelievable opportunity to play in China,” Mills said.
“Just want to thank all the basketball fans in Australia for their support while I’ve been here. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity!”
Just like that, it was over. The unusual scenario of having a current NBA player in the NBL was no more.
For the league, the Tigers and fans of both, it was sad news.
Mills generated interest on the road, lifted the profile of the league and – with initiatives like his “Ambush Army” group of supporters – was active in trying to improve the product.
His contribution to the game over the past few months deserves praise.
That said, not all fans were in a grateful mood last night. For some, it was disappointing that Mills didn’t stick around until the end of the NBA lockout, the reason he came here in the first place.
While such criticism was denounced by many last night, the critics need to be given this: Mills himself, at the press conference announcing his move to the Tigers, spoke as though he’d be sticking around until the lockout was over.
“You just go with the flow,” he said. “As a Tiger I’m here to the end so we’ll just have to wait and see.”
“One thing I’ve learnt in the NBA is it’s all about business (and) it’s out of my control. All I can do now is sign with the Tigers.”
Overall, though, no individual in the NBL has generated the same level of discussion that Patty Mills has in a long, long time. The league needed that.
Sure, it didn’t last, but had the situation in the States been different he might’ve been lost to the league way sooner anyway. Heck, if it weren’t for the situation in the States he wouldn’t be here at all.
Even then, it’s hard to begrudge a man accepting a contract reported to be worth around $1 million – especially when that man is facing the prospect of an entire year’s earnings being lost (with the increased likeliness of there being no NBA season).
Tigers boss Seamus McPeake broke down the numbers talking to the Herald Sun yesterday, and they certainly added up.
“The (Chinese) offer is more than our salary cap ($1 million per team) and we couldn’t stop him from taking it,” McPeake said. “He wouldn’t make that money here in 10 years.”
So Mills is gone, but it’s no reason for fans to be angry. A mixture of sad and grateful is a more apt response.
Now, though, the question turns to where the league stands now that it has lost its star player. This news does make the difficult task of getting the NBL in the headlines even harder. Mills leading the Tigers into the playoffs would’ve been a huge story, too.
But with the list of contenders running deep, and plenty of upsets occurring, there are enough story-lines for this to remain a compelling season.
As for the Tigers, they already have a ready-made replacement at point guard in Ayinde Ubaka. Losing Mills will be cause for adjustment, but it’s by no means the end of their season.
On reflection, the club should have no regrets. The ride was fun while it lasted.