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Phoenix CEO Tommy Greer backs coach Simon Mitchell, NBL23 resurgence

With just three seasons in the bank as an NBL franchise, South East Melbourne Phoenix refuse to shy away from their championship ambitions.

One half away from a Grand Final berth in NBL21, the Phoenix failed to reach the postseason last season after a disappointing back half of the year.

If reaching the playoffs was the new bar for success, was South East Melbourne's season a failure or did the league simply get better?

"It's probably a little bit of both. It's never as simple as one thing," Phoenix CEO Tommy Greer told ESPN.

"We finished with the same record we had the year before and we didn't make the finals so simplistically you could look at it like we just stagnated, but I don't think that is the case. The league definitely got better last year."

Not only were the records similar across both campaigns, but the club's winning percentage was actually higher last season (keeping in mind the season dropped from 36 to 28 games with the absence of the NBL Cup).

"We feel like when you look at what's going on in the offseason this year, we're taking strides compared to the rest of the league so we're feeling confident going into the next season," Greer continued.

Playoffs or not, the Phoenix continued to struggle on the defensive end, in what has been a continued issue throughout the short three-year history of the club.

According to SpatialJam.com, the Phoenix held the third worst defensive rating in the league, surrendering 111.8 points per 100 possessions, a mark that left them 11.7 points worse than the No. 1 ranked Melbourne United.

Speaking with ESPN in March, head coach Simon Mitchell conceded the rollercoaster ride through NBL22 left his future with the club in a tenuous position.

"If we win enough games everything will be fine, if we don't, I know this is a performance-based industry. I'm not shying away from us underperforming to people's expectations, we certainly haven't performed to ours because ours would be higher than others," an honest Mitchell conceded.

Despite not picking up the required wins to extend the season, SEM retained Mitchell, with Greer revealing the decision was a simple one after the dust had settled post season.

"We did our reviews. We went through the process. Simon is right, winning is really important to this club, what he said isn't inaccurate. We had all the conversations, and it became clear in the process that Simon is the right man for the job. We're fully supportive of him and we think we're in for a big season with him," Greer said.

Shuffling the import decks at the guard position, SEM have inked Gary Browne and Trey Kell for the upcoming season, with the club confident the duo have the ingredients to rectify the team's defensive woes, while also producing for an offence that has sputtered at times in the fourth quarter.

"The guards are a big part. I think last year we were lacking a true point guard and that's what we've tried to bring in with Gary. Someone who can control the tempo of the game and his focus is distribution and getting teammates involved. That was really a focus, also someone who prides himself on the defensive end of the floor as well," Greer told ESPN.

"We feel like we've really ticked a box with him, then with his counterpart in Trey Kell, it's another player who's proven himself on the defensive end of the floor for Milan in the EuroLeague, applies pressure full court and also gives us that weapon offensively. He's going to be one of the best scorers in the pick-and-roll and is going to give us an option late in the game. We struggled in the last five minutes of games last year; we feel like having a piece like Trey will go a long way to remedying that part."

While many clubs around the league still have significant roster additions to fill, the Phoenix have one major slot left, with the centre position open after the departure of Chinese star Zhou Qi.

"The Zhou Qi experience was incredible. We loved having Zhou out here, he loved being out here. To be honest, I don't think our relationship at South East Melbourne with Zhou Qi is over. I feel like there's more chapters to be written in future seasons.

"We think he was a big part of the team last year and was really effective at times. There's no question if we kept him for this season or in years to come, how he assimilated with the league and the style and the refereeing and everything that goes on would have got better."

With a number of big-name Australian centres yet to commit to team's at home or overseas, Greer admitted there are plenty of candidates and contingencies for the open spot, with a third import not necessarily a lock.

"We've got both (locals and imports) on the list. We are going down that path, we hope to have something done in the not-too-distant future, but you can miss on a situation and be back to the drawing board, so we hope to have something done soon."