Sydney Kings back fresh imports to replicate 2022 success

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The NBL offseason waits for no one. Not even the champions.

While the Sydney Kings rightfully celebrated their 2022 championship, there were more than a few conversations in the hours after the game discussing who would return from the title winning squad.

In the weeks after the sweep of the Tasmania JackJumpers, key role players Wani Swaka Lo Buluk and Tom Vodanovic joined rival clubs, while the Kings were shuffling the decks trying to figure out which of their star trio of imports could return beginning with league MVP Jaylen Adams.

"Finding out the position and priorities for Jaylen was an early focus for us. Trying to save money in the coffers so to speak, to be able to make a run at him. That probably had some impact in the Wani situation and Tommy and those deals that happened quickly," head coach Chase Buford told ESPN.

"We were struggling to commit because we knew we needed to save some money to try and bring back one or multiple of the imports."

Despite having a desire to run it back with as many of the NBL22 roster as possible, Adams, Jarell Martin and Ian Clark will not return, forcing the Kings to pivot to a fresh group of imports.

"Pretty quickly we knew Jaylen had offers we couldn't compete with and that allowed us to pivot and get a guy like Derrick (Walton Jr.), which was huge, we're really excited about him.

"Knowing Jaylen was moving on enabled us to focus in on how we wanted to build our team. To be fair, we were in limbo with both Xavier Cooks and DJ Vasiljevic. Once they got done, we were able to look at our team and see what we needed positionally."

Replacing the MVP is no small task, with Buford admitting the play at the point guard position will likely look a little different compared with the explosive scoring of Adams.

"I think Derrick is going to be a significantly different player to Jaylen. I know Jaylen led the league in assists but for me he's still a scoring guard, he's almost a combo scorer first and foremost. Derrick will be a shift from that, I think he will enjoy getting everyone else involved.

"As much as Jaylen was a defender in Wisconsin, he didn't have to do that as much for us. I get the feeling Derrick will want to attack those defensive matchups."

With the other two import slots, the Kings front office focused on complementary skillsets for Cooks and Vasiljevic, with Justin Simon and Tim Soares inking deals for NBL23.

"I expect a big jump from DJ this year. Coming back from injury he had to fit his way into that lineup. To be fair, they all did that, but I think losing Jaylen, scoring will be a premium with this group and DJ is really the one who can provide that in bunches.

"Getting him and Xav back was gratifying and rewarding, but it was also really exciting because I think we've got two of the best locals in the league to build around. Back to the focus of who we brought in, it had to complement the skillset of those two guys."

Simon is a familiar player for Australian fans, after winning the Best Defensive Player award with the Illawarra Hawks one season before Antonius Cleveland achieved the same feat with the club.

"Credit DJ, he's come a long way with his defence. I don't think anybody in our group feels like he's a liability on that end but getting someone who can really take somebody out of the game the way Wani did for us, was something that we didn't have to get but we wanted to try.

"To come out of that with Simon, we feel like it's a huge steal for us. The guys in this building feel like he can be a better defender than Cleveland on the ball and things like that. Cleveland live is (elite defensively), I think Justin is also (elite defensively), it would be hard to split but our guys here are really high on Justin."

Buford was quick to acknowledge that replacing Martin at the five was no easy feat, though he believes Soares can provide a nice fit alongside Cooks in the frontcourt.

"It was always about pairing Xav with someone that complements his skillset. The biggest thing is shooting. Xav is a great rim protector, but we also want him guarding fours and other positions where he can't be protecting the rim always so someone who can provide that support. One who can protect the rim and one who can space the floor and be a compliment to Xav in that regard."

Overall, the Kings feel they have recovered from significant roster turnover to once again be in the championship mix, while also keeping an eye on the chasing pack, with many clubs pushing their chips in during a busy free agency period.

"I've only experienced one offseason but it certainly feels like teams were trying to throw their weight around a little bit more. There is a salary floor and a salary ceiling in this league, people talk about salary, but most teams operate in a similar world at least. I think a lot of teams decided they wanted to be near the top of that world.

"Brisbane spent like they meant it, Adelaide spent like they meant it, it will be tough to replace Vic Law for Perth, but they look like they got some players to be the same level, South East similar so up and down it's tough to say who will be up at the top.

"There are probably seven or eight teams who feel like they have a chance of top two, so it's going to be a competitive season and I'm looking forward to it."