The New Zealand Breakers are entering a new era and are under pressure to perform when their season tips off writes Felicity Reid
During a disrupted off season, the Australian NBL side changed coaching team, employed a new general manager, jettisoned an import player and had to fend off attempts to lure their players off shore.
In the weeks before the start of the season the club announced a new general manager in Simon Edwards.
Edwards took over from Dillon Boucher who resigned in September.
Edwards had been around the club in various guises for years - from towel boy to mascot to Corporate Logistics and Operations Manager and most recently Membership and Strategic Partnerships Manager.
As well as his new general manager role, Edwards will also be the game day court announcer.
The club also had another last minute resignation, with long-time assistant coach Mike Fitchett leaving days before the Breakers first game.
However, the rapidly changing Breakers organisation has the full support of captain Tom Abercrombie who is entering into his 12th season with his hometown club.
Abercrombie signed a one year contract extension, which will see the club's all-time leading point scorer stay in Auckland until the end of the 2022 season.
"It is important for me as a player who's been here a long time to show that I'm 100 percent behind the changes at the club," Abercrombie said.
"It's about taking the club in a new direction, it's not about trying to recreate what the Breakers used to be. It's about creating a new more exciting club, that is going to involve some changes and some growth and we've seen there has been some speed bumps along the way, and there will be more, but overall the direction this club is heading is going make this team even better in the future."
New coach Dan Shamir arrived in New Zealand after almost two decades coaching at the elite level in Europe, including being the 2017-18 Israeli League coach of the year.
He replaced Kevin Braswell who left after one season in charge.
Abercrombie credited Shamir's approach as a major reason why he extended his contract.
"He's an incredibly smart coach who demands a lot from his guys, but I think the thing we are seeing is that his style relies on a lot of basketball smarts and experience," Abercrombie said.
For the first time in a number of seasons, international players out number Kiwis in the Breakers' squad.
American teenager RJ Hampton, a player widely considered a first-round pick in the NBA draft next year, arrived with a lot of fanfare and more Instagram followers than all nine NBL clubs combined.
Hampton, joined the New Zealand Breakers via the NBL Next Stars programme. Under the programme overseas players are developed in the NBL to give them the best chance of being drafted into the NBA.
But in his first stint as a professional, the 18-year-old guard will be tested as he will need to shoulder a lot of responsibility for leading his new team on court.
Hampton is joined by fellow Americans, guard Sek Henry and forward Scotty Hopson, who both have extensive European experience.
Hopson had stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA and has played for Shamir before.
"He's pretty comfortable with my style of play, and I'm pretty comfortable with his style of coaching," Hopson said.
Following the NBL Blitz pre-season tournament, the Breakers released Nigerian import Chris Obekpa who was replaced in the squad by American Brandon Ashley.
Ashley who had two spells with the Dallas Mavericks and played for Sacramento Kings in July's NBA Summer League had been on Shamir's radar for while.
Adding to the distinctly international look to the lineup this season is Lebanon international Ater Majok, who like the returning Jarrad Weeks are considered locals because of their Australian passports,
and development player Chinese teenager Terry Li.
The local contingient is made up of Tall Blacks Abercrombie, Corey Webster - who attracted interest from overseas clubs following his performance at the FIBA World Cup - Jordan Ngatai, Finn Delany, Ethan Rusbatch, Tom Vodanovich and Rob Loe who returns for a second stint at the Breakers after a season at Cairns Taipans.
Due to their international commitments the Tall Blacks players had a limited pre-season under Shamir.
The Breakers are latecomers to the 2019/2020 NBL season.
After a trip to United States to take on NBA sides Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City, the Breakers join the NBL action in the third round and play Sydney Kings in Auckland tonight.
Last season the Breakers missed the play-offs, with a 12 win, 16 loss record, and Shamir will be under pressure from fans and the club owners to get the four time NBL champion club back near the top of the competition ladder.