The NBL finals might be just about to tip off but, for many clubs, the silly season is beginning, too. Who are the most-coveted out-of-contract players and who could be on the move?
Brian Goorjian’s uncertain future at the Illawarra Hawks beyond this season could spark a free agency frenzy across the NBL.
Off-contract Goorjian is yet to re-sign with the Hawks, and players and clubs are keeping a close eye on the master mentor’s next move.
While the NBL is set to crown a champion for another season, the beast that is free agency never sleeps.
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As four teams prepare for a tilt at the title, clubs are also making big moves behind the scenes in an attempt to secure or release players.
Matt Logue and Michael Randall take a look at the key off-contract players as we approach the business end of NBL22.
JO LUAL-ACUIL JR (Melbourne United)
Signed a ‘prove yourself’ one-year deal at the end of last season after Jock Landale left for the NBA and boy has the big fella delivered. It would be a surprise if the most dominant big in the NBL doesn’t get a proper off-season look in with an NBA club. United will be in the box seat to secure the 27-year-old’s signature If he doesn’t catch on in the US. He will be highly coveted by other clubs and is virtually guaranteed a long-term deal — at a hefty price rise.
MITCH CREEK (South East Melbourne Phoenix)
Put this one to bed, Creek is going nowhere. Lashed “keyboard warriors” amid rumbles the Brisbane Bullets would make a play for the former Brooklyn Net. There is always the lure of Europe — and he hasn’t given up on the NBA — but the Phoenix have stuck by him through tough times and he has publicly affirmed he will remain loyal.
ISAAC HUMPHRIES (Adelaide 36ers)
Somewhat of a forgotten man, his season wrecked by an injuries that never allowed him to really get going. Looked a shell of the player he was before he was shut down. Huge question on fitness, but not ability. Humphries could be among the best players in the NBL — if he can get his body right — and that will be enough for a team to take a chance on him, if Adelaide decides not to re-up.
CAM BAIRSTOW (Adelaide 36ers)
One of the last players signed to the 36ers’ roster at the beginning of the season, the ex-Chicago Bull had somewhat of an Indian Summer, becoming an important cog in the struggling Sixers’ team. Teams were scared off by his injury history when Adelaide took a chance and the fact he hasn’t played since mid-March, due to an ankle injury, is a spanner in the works, but his rebounding prowess and post scoring are good enough for starting four-man money.
VIC LAW (Perth Wildcats)
Churned out an incredible season in Perth despite an ankle injury ending his campaign before the finals. The unique inside-outside threat that Law poses at his size is something teams will covet in the off-season. But he’s the perfect foil for superstar Bryce Cotton and, if he doesn’t end up in the NBA or Europe, the 26-year-old is expected to remain at RAC.
XAVIER COOKS (Sydney Kings)
Described by Boomers coach Brian Goorjian as the Dennis Rodman of the NBL, Cooks’ ability at both ends of the floor has attracted high praise this season. The Ballart-born forward is a beast on the boards while his offence has improved tenfold this season, largely on the back of an injury-free campaign. The Kings have made Cooks a priority signing, but it feels inevitable that he’ll end up in the NBA if the cards fall his way. The Sydney star has scouts watching him closely, and a strong finals series for the Kings could decide his future moving forward.
JAYLEN ADAMS (Sydney Kings)
If the Kings had their way, they’d hand Adams the keys to the Harbour City and sign him for life. The former Milwaukee Buck has been brilliant for the Kings in his maiden NBL season, averaging big numbers across the board to be in the MVP conversation. NBA scouts know Adams is capable – now it’s on him to secure a contract, otherwise the Kings will happily put pen to paper for another NBA season.
DUOP REATH (Illawarra Hawks)
The Boomers centre has looked right at home in his first NBL season following successful stints in Europe. Reath is one of the league’s most efficient big men, averaging 15 points and 7 rebounds to become a Hawks hero for the Illawarra faithful. The Hawkheads would love for Reath to stay in Australia, and Illawarra officials are doing everything in their power to make it happen. The main stumbling block could be Illawarra coach Brian Goorjian – and whether he re-signs in the Gong. Reath may not want to stay at the Hawks if Goorjian isn’t there.
NATHAN SOBEY (Brisbane Bullets)
For Brisbane to climb up the ladder, they need to secure Sobey’s signature. The Boomers guard is the club’s best player, but the Bullets have failed to fire in the past two seasons. I’m told the likes of Adelaide are sniffing around Sobey for a 36ers’ reunion, which would break Brisbane. The Bullets must throw the bank at their star guard to build a brighter future around him.
TAHJERE MCCALL (Cairns Taipans)
The Snakes have struggled this season, but McCall is the bright spark to help them slither up the ladder. The Philadelphia-born shooting guard was in the MVP conversation earlier this season, according to NBL legend Chris Anstey. McCall is capable at both ends of the floor and the type of player the Taipans need to become a legitimate contender.
Originally published as NBL22: Who are the biggest NBL free agents?