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Grading every NBL team's off-season

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Ezi Magbegor on what it will be like to play with LJ on her comeback (2:01)

Opals and Seattle Storm star Ezi Magbegor talks to Holly Rowe about the opportunity to play with the returning Lauren Jackson in a home FIBA World Cup. (2:01)

The NBL off-season was as busy as ever.

Once again, the league proved to be a springboard for a number of its players, meaning most teams had a heap of retooling to do.

Going into NBL free agency, the salary cap for the 2022-23 season was set at 1,703,239.36, sources told ESPN; just over a 4 percent increase from the previous season. And we've seen the fruits of that, with many high-level signings executed over the last few months.

Aron Baynes is now an NBL player and will look to lift a franchise with so much potential, while Melbourne United had to go through a complete revamp after losing a pair of players to NBA teams. Out west, the Perth Wildcats responded to a historically disappointing season with a bang.

The NBL also recently introduced a new rule to allow formerly fully-rostered players to join teams as development players, sources said.

But, how did each team fare? With only a few end-of-roster decisions left to be made, we've graded every team's off-season.


Adelaide 36ers

Who's in: Sunday Dech (re-signed) Hyrum Harris (re-signed) Anthony Drmic (free agent) Kyrin Galloway (free agent) Deng Acuoth (free agent) Craig Randall II (free agent; import) Robert Franks (free agent; import) Antonius Cleveland (free agent; import)

Who's out: Isaac Humphries (signed with Melbourne) Mojave King (signed with G-League Ignite) Dusty Hannahs (free agent) Todd Withers (signed with Rytas Vilnius) Cameron Bairstow (retired) Tad Dufelmeier Jr. (free agent) Emmanuel Malou (free agent)

The 36ers' philosophy going into this off-season was clear: get proven NBL talent and don't be shy about filling that cheque book with zeroes.

They were quick to re-sign Dech to a significant deal, then went and poached two of last season's most impressive imports: Cleveland and Franks. Both are known commodities in the NBL but Cleveland is particularly worth highlighting; last season's Best Defensive Player, and a wing who seemingly gets a better feel of NBL basketball with every game he plays.

The signing of their third import, Randall II, will likely be the one that makes or breaks CJ Bruton's team. On one hand, the 36ers needed an aggressive-as-hell guard presence to make up for some of the team's passivity we saw last season, so adding a guy who shoots with no conscience and is always in attack mode was a must. Whether Randall II can do that efficiently and consistently at the NBL level is the big question; he sure has shown glimpses, and the scoring potential around him means it may not even matter.

Drmic is coming off a big NBL1 North season and should provide a solid spark for a sneakily deep squad, while Galloway should be able to earn minutes as a defensive presence for a team that definitely needs it in his position.

The question is how all of these new pieces fit together - Daniel Johnson seemed to be freelancing on both ends during the 36ers' two preseason games against the Wildcats, for example - but executives around the league are generally in agreement that this was an extremely successful free agency period for Adelaide.

Grade: A-


Brisbane Bullets

Who's in: Nathan Sobey (re-signed) Taner Krebs (re-signed) Aron Baynes (free agent) DJ Mitchell (free agent) Harry Froling (free agent) Gorjok Gak (free agent) Tyler Johnson (free agent; import) Devondrick Walker (free agent; import) Rasmus Bach (free agent; nominated replacement player)

Who's out: Anthony Drmic (signed with Adelaide) Deng Deng (signed with Illawarra) Robert Franks (signed with Adelaide) Isaiah Moss (free agent)

The Brisbane Bullets have finally spent money in free agency that's commensurate with the history of the franchise and the city it exists in. For that alone, they get some kudos.

Aron Baynes was the obvious big get, and adding a legitimate NBA-level guard like Tyler Johnson to play next to Nathan Sobey in the backcourt was also a really impressive coup for Sam Mackinnon. Sobey signed a three-year deal to return to the Bullets and, given his recent injury troubles, the team did well to negotiate a club option on that final year.

The addition of Baynes meant only bringing in two imports, so the Bullets looked to the NBL1 West competition and signed a really adequate off-guard in Devondrick Walker. There's a sense the team isn't done, though. Walker's contract isn't guaranteed for the entire NBL season, sources said; the understanding is that the Bullets are keeping their options open while they continue to scour the import market.

The Bullets' season will be defined by health and depth. Re-signing Tanner Krebs and bringing back Harry Froling were necessary gambles. Both have shown glimpses but can either sustain it for an entire season? DJ Mitchell projects to have a reasonably large role while Kody Stattmann also adds to James Duncan's versatile bench unit. If Jason Cadee can lead that young second group like he did with several of them during the NBL1 North season, then staying healthy may be the only thing the Bullets really need to worry about.

Grade: A


Cairns Taipans

Who's in: Bul Kuol (re-signed) Keanu Pinder (re-signed) Sam Waardenburg (free agent) Jonah Antonio (free agent) Lat Mayen (free agent) Ben Ayre (re-signed) Shannon Scott (free agent; import) DJ Hogg (free agent; import) Tahjere McCall (re-signed; import)

Who's out: Scott Machado (free agent) Kouat Noi (signed in Sydney) Nate Jawai (free agent) Jordan Ngatai (free agent)

Let's start with the good. Keanu Pinder garnered interest from around the NBL after his extremely impressive second half of last season - the Bullets put forward a particularly strong offer, sources said - so quickly re-signing the big-man, as well as the reigning Rookie of the Year in Bul Kuol, was good business from the Taipans.

Bringing back Tahjere McCall was also a no-brainer, and pairing him with another quality import guard in Shannon Scott should at the very least make the Taipans enjoyable to watch in stretches.

The rest of the decision-making in Cairns was seemingly about going all-in on one of the weaker Australian college classes in recent years, while letting their veterans walk. Waardenburg had interest from across the league but the Taipans were the only team to promise him a starting spot, sources said; given the team's lack of depth up front, that may have been out of necessity as well as being the most effective pitch for the young big-man.

Antonio's shooting was probably worth taking a flyer on, and Mayen is a talented up-and-comer, but the lack of veterans - the team didn't extend offers to either Nate Jawai or Jordan Ngatai, sources said - is concerning and may come back to bite them when inevitable rough stretches occur throughout the season.

Grade: C


Illawarra Hawks

Who's in: Wani Swaka Lo Buluk (free agent) Deng Deng (free agent) Mangok Mathiang (free agent) George King (free agent; import) Justin Robinson (free agent; import)

Who's out: Harry Froling (signed in Brisbane) Antonius Cleveland (signed in Adelaide) Justinian Jessup (signed with Basket Zaragoza) Duop Reath (signed with the Qingdao Eagles) Emmett Naar (signed with Heroes Den Bosch) Isaac White (signed in Tasmania) Xavier Rathan-Mayes (signed in Melbourne) AJ Ogilvy (retired)

Not even the Hawks would deny that they've had the biggest personnel drop-off of probably any team going into the new NBL season.

It started with Brian Goorjian stepping aside as head coach, then losing Cleveland to Adelaide, and while they were hopeful Reath would return to Wollongong, they couldn't compete with the money being offered in Asia. On top of all of that, the Hawks also lost one of their other big advantages: an import-level Next Star. The team lost immense firepower on both ends of the floor, and what they brought in isn't expected to make up for it.

Deng Deng will have his productive moments, but Mathiang is obviously a downgrade at the five-spot. Swaka Lo Buluk brings defensive versatility, but his value is highest as a complementary piece on a team that has the offensive weapons to make up for his deficiencies on that end; like last season's Hawks, for example.

The Hawks will be hoping King can join the recent line of elite import wings to come through Illawarra, but the most optimism should be with what Robinson has shown. Though undersized, he plays with a defensive toughness that'll be needed next to Tyler Harvey, and has shown that he can put the team on his back through cold stretches on the offensive end. Unfortunately, there's a feeling we may see a lot of those; Jacob Jackomas is well-regarded around the league and deserved his opportunity to succeed Goorjian as head coach of the Hawks, but the roster he's been given is unfortunately severely lacking compared to previous seasons.

To make matters worse, Daniel Grida - who missed the past two seasons with back-to-back ACL tears and projected as an important rotation piece for the Hawks - suffered a hamstring injury and is expected to miss the first few months of his 2022-23 NBL campaign, sources said.

The Hawks do have one open spot remaining and are currently scouring the Asian player market, sources said. The team also hasn't ruled out adding a Next Star, sources said.

Grade: C-


Melbourne United

Who's in: Brad Newley (re-signed) Shea Ili (re-signed) Makuach Maluach (free agent) Isaac Humphries (free agent) Rayjon Tucker (free agent; import) Xavier Rathan-Mayes (free agent; import) Jordan Caroline (free agent; import)

Who's out: Jo-Lual Acuil Jr. (free agent) Caleb Agada (signed with Prometey) Jack White (signed with the Denver Nuggets) Matthew Dellavedova (signed with the Sacramento Kings) David Barlow (retired)

Retooling after losing three starters - Matthew Dellavedova, Jack White, and Jo-Lual Acuil Jr. - was always going to be a tough task for United, but they rebounded perhaps as well as any team could.

The loss of Dellavedova gave the team a ton of money to work with, so the front office leant into the import market. Tucker is the obvious standout and will likely be one of the most dynamic guards we've ever seen in the NBL, while Caroline follows the recent trend of undersized bigs who rely on toughness and a high work-rate to be effective. The pair will have prominent roles in Dean Vickerman's starting group, alongside Goulding and Ili, both of whom re-upped with United this off-season.

Melbourne then went with two swing signings: Humphries and Rathan-Mayes. Humphries looks in the best shape of his career and it was less than two years ago when he was playing at an MVP level in the NBL, but how he looks coming off a long rehabilitation of his knee is a question mark. The same goes for Rathan-Mayes, United's final import signing and the likely point guard for Vickerman's second unit, who's prone to freelancing at times. If he can lean in to Vickerman's philosophy and focus on being a pass-first creator, then he should provide a big lift for United.

Grade: B+


New Zealand Breakers

Who's in: Sam Timmins (re-signed) William McDowell-White (re-signed) Dan Fotu (free agent) Tom Vodanovich (free agent) Cameron Gliddon (free agent) Rayan Rupert (free agent; Next Star) Izayah Le'Afa (free agent) Dererk Pardon (free agent; import) Jarrell Brantley (free agent; import) Barry Brown Jr. (free agent; import)

Who's out: Peyton Siva (free agent) Hugo Besson (signed with Metropolitans 92) Ousmane Dieng (drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder) Yanni Wetzell (signed with Alba Berlin) Kyrin Galloway (signed in Adelaide) Finn Delany (signed with Telekom Baskets Bonn)

The Breakers were extremely aggressive over the off-season and have ended up with a really well-rounded and balanced group, and could surprise some people.

Re-signing McDowell-White was a particularly good move, considering the Australian Boomers campaign he went on to have, and also because there's a sense he'll actually be used as a primary ball-handler this time round. Throw in names like Brown Jr. and Le'Afa - who the Breakers poached from the Phoenix - and New Zealand looks to have done a repeat of last season by loading up on ball-handlers and creators but, this time, it doesn't feel as much of a logjam. The perimeter scoring and off-ball ability of all three guys lends itself to them playing with each other, as opposed to taking away from one another.

Gliddon and Vodanovich are low-risk, high-reward bench-signings - both can get hot from deep in a minute - while Rupert, the team's young Next Star, has the potential to grow into his skillset as the season progresses and be a versatile two-way presence.

Matt Walsh and co. opted to go big for the final two import spots, and we've seen glimpses of what Brantley and Pardon can do. Both do their work inside the paint; Brantley looking to play bully ball while Pardon looks like an effective target in the low post. Whether the Breakers imports get to that elite level is the big question and may be what defines success in New Zealand but, from top to bottom, this team is very well-put-together.

Grade: B+


Perth Wildcats

Who's in: Bryce Cotton (re-signed; import) Majok Majok (re-signed) Kyle Zunic (re-signed) Todd Blanchfield (re-signed) Jesse Wagstaff (re-signed) Corey Webster (free agent) TaShawn Thomas (free agent; import) Brady Manek (free agent; import)

Who's out: Vic Law (free agent)

After missing the postseason for the first time in franchise history, the Wildcats needed to respond in a big way. And boy, it looks like Danny Mills delivered.

Re-signing Cotton to a long-term deal was a must, and that was done relatively quickly. Securing the local rotation pieces was next on the list - Blanchfield and Wagstaff were the key names there - while bringing in Webster as an extra high-level creator was almost a no-brainer. With Luke Travers always expected to be stashed in Perth, an impressive local core was in place, ready to take on imports who can fill those empty spots.

Thomas is slightly undersized for a centre in the NBL, but makes up for it with his athleticism, ability to stretch the floor, and impressive mobility. He's a versatile screener and is quite switchable, giving the new head coach John Rillie a plethora of options on the defensive end. Then, there's Manek, whose skillset for his position brings a whole new dimension to what the team can do on the offensive end.

The Wildcats' free agency was nearly flawless. It's not just about the talent they were able to secure, either, but also how balanced the roster appears to be. They may just be the favourites to win it all.

Grade: A


South East Melbourne Phoenix

Who's in: Reuben Te Rangi (re-signed) Mitch Creek (re-signed) Junior Madut (free agent) Grant Anticevich (free agent) Gary Browne (free agent; import) Trey Kell (free agent; import) Alan Williams (free agent; import)

Who's out: Adam Gibson (retired) Cameron Gliddon (signed in New Zealand) Izayah Le'Afa (released; signed in New Zealand) Xavier Munford (signed with Hapoel Tel Aviv) Zhou Qi (free agent)

The Phoenix missing out on last season's playoffs was a disappointment, given the fact that they were relatively talented and had solid depth. A focus seemed to be placed on the top-end talent going into free agency, so re-signing Creek to a multi-year extension was necessary and the first thing on the agenda. Tommy Greer's attention then turned to nailing the team's imports.

On one hand, the trio of Browne, Kell, and Williams is expected to perform better than the Americans the Phoenix put on the floor last season. Kell, in particular, looks like the dynamic off-guard who can put up a ton of points in the NBL. The question is whether all fit the mould of the type of import we usually see succeed in this league; Browne doesn't have the same tier of three-level scoring game that we've seen from elite import point guards in the past, while Williams has an impressive skillset but is undersized and is the type of big-man who may take some time to adjust to NBL officiating.

With Kyle Adnam and a healthy Dane Pineau the known commodities on the Phoenix bench, the team decided to go young with rounding out that second unit, adding Junior Madut and Grant Anticevich. Madut was a nice pickup for Greer; the incoming rookie had interest across the NBL and could turn into a formidable three-and-D type of wing in this league.

Grade: B-


Sydney Kings

Who's in: Xavier Cooks (re-signed) Dejan Vasiljevic (re-signed) Angus Glover (re-signed) Shaun Bruce (re-signed) Kouat Noi (free agent) Derrick Walton Jr. (free agent; import) Justin Simons (free agent; import) Tim Soares (free agent; import)

Who's out: Wani Swaka Lo Buluk (signed in Illawarra) Tom Vodanovich (signed in New Zealand) Jarell Martin (signed with Maccabi Tel Aviv) Jaylen Adams (signed with Crvena zvezda)

Chris Pongrass did his work early in free agency by locking up the Sydney Kings' two key local players, Xavier Cooks and Dejan Vasiljevic, on long term deals. Those two re-signings were big wins for the Kings. That was followed up by bringing back a pair of the other rotation Australians: Bruce and Glover.

The team obviously had a setback when they weren't able to bring back any of the three imports from last season's championship run, but they were able to rebound and retool quite well in all three spots. Bringing in Walton Jr. as their Adams replacement, and Simon as their wing import choice, points to a defensive focus the team is going for, instead of the all-out offensive firepower we saw last season. Soares is less refined and doesn't have the same mobility as Martin, but brings a similar skillset and projects to be an effective floor-spacer on the offensive end.

Noi is a low-risk, high-reward signing, and the loss of a defensive presence in Swaka Lo Buluk likely won't affect the Kings too much considering the introduction of Simon.

The Kings have zoned in on depth and defence, which is generally a recipe for success in order to be a high-level team in the NBL, but the team clearly took a dip from a scoring and shooting perspective. This is the type of roster we normally see handed to a Dean Vickerman style of coach, so it'll be interesting to see how Chase Buford handles a squad that's not expected to be as high-octane as he's used to.

Grade: A-


Tasmania JackJumpers

Who's in: Josh Magette (re-signed; import) Rashard Kelly (free agent; import) Milton Doyle (free agent; import) Isaac White (free agent; injury replacement) Tristan Forsyth (free agent; injury replacement)

Who's out: Josh Adams (signed with Cedevita Olimpija) MiKyle McIntosh (free agent)

The JackJumpers were complete from a local perspective going into free agency, so nailing their imports was the primary task in order to attempt a repeat as grand finalists. Locking up Magette was quite rightly priority No. 1, and credit to the team for quickly ticking that box. The next step was replacing Josh Adams, and they did that by adding Doyle who, thus far, doesn't appear as dynamic, but has high-level self-creation tools this offensively-challenged team needs.

Kelly looks to be an impressive like-for-like replacement for McIntosh, so that'll likely pan out as a shrewd pickup for Scott Roth's team. The same can be said for Clint Steindl's (shin) injury replacement, Isaac White, who scored in double digits in both of the JackJumper's preseason hit-outs against the Phoenix while fitting into the team's high-work-rate, scrambly defensive identity.

Grade: B