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Melbourne United in limbo as stars light up Summer League

For NBL front offices heading to Las Vegas Summer League, the climate has changed. No longer simply scouring the hardwood for potential import acquisitions, teams are now keenly aware that the eyes of the NBA have turned on their own players.

With a record amount of Australian and NBL connections suiting up for the annual July hoops frenzy, several teams are waiting to find out if their roster could be flipped on its head.

None more so than Melbourne United.

With NBL23 opening night approximately ten weeks away, United are yet to sign an import and have already lost starting centre and MVP candidate Jo Lual-Acuil to another league. Now, they sit in limbo as star forward Jack White impresses for the Denver Nuggets, while Matthew Dellavedova has recently spent several days working out with the Sacramento Kings.

While other clubs finalise big name signings, United play the waiting game.

"We don't have a choice; I've got to the point where I can control what I can control," head coach Dean Vickerman told ESPN from Las Vegas during White's game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday morning.

"There is some potential that regardless of what happens with Jack and Delly, there are some signings that we could possibly make that would make sense. If we think we find the right guy before we get to a decision on those two, I think we'll be able to pull the trigger on something."

While the situation may leave Vickerman and United at risk of missing out, there is a genuine sense of pride with the way the club has helped foster opportunities for talented locals to take the next step.

"That was the direction of the club the last few years when we went and recruited Jack and Mason Peatling. We didn't know what Lual-Acuil could get to, but we knew he had a great college career and then we put them in positions that maybe other teams would use imports.

"Essentially the role they played for us is an import role, we went with fewer imports, and we needed these guys to get to a level. Now, if you play well, you get this opportunity and you say you're ready. We're happy to have helped them to be ready by giving them a major role at our club to get to this point.

"When it's your own guys, I want them to do great, I want them to prove that they're ready for the next level. I haven't had those moments where I didn't want to clap, I'm definitely cheering for them."

In White's case, the NBA came knocking halfway through the NBL22 season, with the Nuggets locking in the versatile two-way player well before the end of the season.

"Once he got over the hump of understanding that the (achilles) was fine and his body was going to be good and he could build you could start to see it," Vickerman recalled.

"They locked him in really early and you could see there was genuine interest in what he was doing. I'd sit with NBA scouts to talk about Ariel (Hukporti) and they'd always come back and want to know more about Jack, it felt like everyone had him on their radar."

Dellavedova has never taken his eyes off the NBA, with the veteran guard repeatedly stating a return to the league was his grand plan when signing with United prior to last season. A Kings union would make some sense, with newly appointed head coach Mike Brown leading Dellavedova as a rookie in Cleveland back in 2013-14.

"When (Dellavedova) left the other day, we had lunch and he was so pleased with what he put out on the floor in the workouts. They were both individual workouts, he was involved with the Summer League team, they had a lot of their roster out here too so they got him some different runs.

"It was quite a comprehensive five or six days that he had out here with his workouts. He was super pleased and went home knowing he did everything he could while he was out here."

Another complicating factor is potential open salary slots. While player and team salaries are not publicly available, if Dellavedova was to head back to the NBA, United would have significant room to move in attempting to attract talent that haven't inked deals elsewhere.

"If we lose him and he makes the NBA we'd be proud. Obviously, we would have salary to go and replace him with a very talented player as well. Jack is difficult to replace, he's not on the salary of Delly but just the makeup of the roster could change.

"If we have Delly, how many marquee players can we have? If he's not, what can we do with the number of imports we can have? There's a lot to do."

One positive for United is that talented Next Star and 2023 draft prospect Ariel Hukporti is in Melbourne working out, with Vickerman confirming he will be with the club for NBL23. Reports had surfaced that German clubs had been circling the talented big man, but the road to the draft will lead through NBL23 for the 20-year-old.

Regardless of whether Dellavedova and White return, you can expect United to add another explosive scorer, with the offence wilting in the postseason once Chris Goulding went down with a calf injury. Vickerman revealed a conversation with legendary coach Brian Goorjian provided some insight on the path forward for the club.

"I had a really good talk with Goorj after the semi finals and he was referring some teams that he put together where you totally believe in the defence, and you continue to collect really great defensive players.

"Sometimes you just miss having that guy who can go get a bucket. We needed that from someone when Chris went down, and we just didn't have that guy so we've just got to replace it and make sure we've got an absolute go to and if we have an injury, we have another player we can certainly go to as well to get that bucket."

For a club that sets the bar at a championship, United has plenty of work to do, but first they simply need to fill out a roster.