There was a lot to like about the Sydney Kings in Round 8 of the NBL. They couldn’t take a trick, though, and that’s precisely why the predicament they’ve put themselves in means it’s too late for them to impact the 2017-18 season.
I would love to see the Kings be a real factor in the NBL. Don’t mistake anything I have written as suggesting anything else. Andrew Gaze has to be one of, if not, the most likeable Australian athletes of all time.
I grew up not a Melbourne Tigers fan, but a huge admirer of what the combination of Gaze and Lanard Copeland did. That fondness grew as I aged and by the time I was working in this industry I found both men to be engaging, receptive individuals only too happy to accommodate any request.
So if there was any coaching duo I’d love to see have some success in the NBL, it would be Gaze and Copeland. To see two players who were such a remarkable duo as teammates translate that into coaching success would make for one of the great highlights in NBL history.
That’s where the frustration comes in that they haven’t been given a genuine chance to succeed like they did as players with the Tigers where a stable playing group was the order of the day through most of their run together.
Last season, the Kings used an unsustainable 17 players in total, including five different imports. That’s a recipe that’s never going to work.
The squad the coaching staff was handed this season was simply never going to work, even without superstar captain Kevin Lisch tearing his calf.
The reasons why are well-documented and I don’t need to go into detailing them here, but not having a genuine point guard to run the team and non-rookie or project player at centre was a recipe for disaster despite the team having plenty of high-class talent through the two and three man positions.
When the Kings bit the bullet and pulled the right reins to rectify their squad by replacing combo guards, largely shooting guards, with a genuine point guard in reigning NBL MVP Jerome Randle and potentially dominant centre Jeremy Tyler, there was reason for excitement.
The question was always going to be whether it was too late though. Randle and Tyler didn’t play together until the Kings had already played nine games and lost seven.
There’s no question the Kings have looked significantly better since. Randle has provided a new focus and direction to the team and while Tyler has had his problems adjusting to the league and officiating, particularly through the double in Round 8, he showed signs he could dominate.
The problem with that duo starting to play together with their team already at 2-7 is that it left precious room for error and that means they can’t afford to go through a weekend like they have just had, where plenty of things have conspired against them.
Following the FIBA break for the World Cup qualifiers, the Kings looked terrific on Thursday night, beating the Cairns Taipans 81-72 at home.
The problem was Perry Ellis, undoubtedly their standout player this season to date, injured a shoulder and another important member, Todd Blanchfield, suffered a nasty concussion.
The Kings were still able to win that game but both players were ruled out of the return clash in Cairns against the Snakes on Saturday night.
Tom Garlepp was the man given the chance to step up in the absence of both Ellis and Blanchfield, but when he unluckily was ejected from the game with two technical fouls, it left the Kings remarkably shorthanded.
They did keep fighting hard with Randle and Tyler more than holding up their end combining for 45 points and 12 rebounds. There was nothing about the nine-point loss in Cairns that meant the Kings should have been too disappointed with their effort or unhappy with the positives there were.
The problem is because this group is now only starting out on their journey despite being at the halfway mark of the season, meaning it’s too late for them to remain genuinely in the hunt for a playoff position.
Saturday night’s loss saw the Kings slip to a 3-10 record on the season. There’s every chance at least 15 wins will be required to make the finals. That means Sydney would need to go at least 12-3 the rest of the way. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen.
I say unfortunately and I mean it, because this current Kings line-up had a real chance to be something if this group had been together from the start. With a pre-season to build on their chemistry and game plan, and time to bond, they could legitimately have contended for a championship.
If you have a backcourt of Randle, Lisch and Jason Cadee, your small and power forward positions shared between Brad Newley, Blanchfield and Ellis, and then Tyler backed up at centre by Isaac Humphries, it seriously is a great looking team.
There’s every chance after what we saw in Round 8 in terms of what Tyler is capable of, that Randle is finding his feet again and is helping Cadee be even more dangerous, and with Lisch to return, that the Kings can go on and win ten more games this season.
They just have too much work to do to win enough to make the playoffs in a league so competitive and where they now have no room for error to deal with problems with injury or officiating that pop up like they did across the weekend.
Their first half Thursday night against the Taipans is as good as any team has looked at any point this season. They should be able to repeat that form for a lot of the rest of the season. It’s going to be fun to watch, yet unfortunate we missed out on seeing it from the start of 2017-18.
Gaze, himself, is fully aware that the job is ahead of them but right now his focus is on getting the best out of his team immediately and letting the rest take care of itself down the line.
“Every team has got some hard luck stories and we’ve got our fair share at the moment, but our team can be transformed with the three guys that are on the bench not playing,” Gaze said following Saturday night’s game in Cairns.
“You bring Kevin Lisch, Perry Ellis and Todd Blanchfield back into your team and it makes for a different look, but Cairns would be saying the same if they bring Stephen Weigh, Nate Jawai and Michael Carrera back. They are three very good players for them too.
“It’s about how you weather the storm and we’ve given up a hell of a head start, but we’ve seen enough fight and determination in our team that hopefully we can get on a bit of a run. But right now we seriously can’t look further ahead than the next training session, let alone game.
“You look at the short-term goals and how to get through this, and not worry about the big picture because that’s too far away to think about. If we are going to get some wins and get ourselves in a position where we can contest, we have a lot of work to do before we can even have those thoughts.”
NBL Round 8 fixtures (AEDT)
Sydney Kings 81 defeated Cairns Taipans 72
New Zealand Breakers 73 lost to Perth Wildcats 89
Adelaide 36ers 84 defeated Brisbane Bullets 83
Cairns Taipans 80 defeated Sydney Kings 71
Brisbane Bullets 81 defeated New Zealand Breakers 76
Melbourne United v Illawarra Hawks – Hisense Arena 7.30pm