The Cairns Taipans are looking to sign an import point guard, an import power forward and a non-restricted small forward ahead of the upcoming season, head coach Aaron Fearne has told NBL Media.
With starting power forward Mark Worthington having walked into the basketball sunset at the end of last season, the Snakes are looking to replace him at the four with an impact American. While at the point, Fearne is once again set to sign an import to run alongside Cameron Gliddon in the backcourt.
“We want to try to add some length, athleticism, a perimeter threat. Someone that’s comfortable handling the ball on the perimeter,” Fearne told NBL Media.
“Then obviously a point guard that can make plays like we’ve kind of had over the years here, which is always a huge challenge because our system is really complex and it takes a bit of time to get it down.
“But we have found a way to make that successful so, who that is, who the right guy is, I don’t know we’ll just keep working through that.”
A forward in the model of former Sydney import Greg Whittington would seem to fit the bill while Fearne has not ruled out re-signing dynamic playmaker Travis Trice. The point guard led Cairns in points, assists and steals last season and was named club MVP.
“Travis won us a lot of games. He knows how to score and make plays when we need them made and he got better as the year went on,” Fearne said.
“We will see. I don’t know what his interest is either, I haven’t visited that yet.
I just need to get these Australian guys in place first.”
The Taipans currently have six non-restricted players on the roster for next season; Nathan Jawai, Mitch McCarron, Jarrad Weeks, Alex Loughton, Gliddon and Weigh. They have also re-signed back-up centre Nnanna Egwu as one of their three restricted players.
As a result, the current priority is to recruit a non-restricted small forward who could work in tandem with veteran sharpshooter Stephen Weigh.
While Fearne did not mention any names, there are a couple of intriguing small forwards who are currently free agents, including veterans Tim Coenraad (Illawarra Hawks) and David Barlow (Melbourne United).
Others the Snakes may be looking at include Melbourne United’s Owen Odigie, former Perth Wildcats forward Mathiang Muo as well as athletic Fijian Joshua Fox who plays in the New Zealand NBL with the Taylor Hawks.
Muo is tearing up the SEABL with the Hobart Chargers, leading the league in scoring with an average of 24.5 points per game.
The Taipans made a late run in NBL17, qualifying for the Finals for the second time in three years. Yet despite possessing home-court advantage in the opening round they were swiftly swept aside; knocked out in straight sets by the red hot Perth Wildcats.
In the end, it was another disappointing end to a promising Cairns campaign.
“We evaluate everything,” Fearne said.
“We ask: what did we do well offensively and what did we not do well? What did we do well defensively and what did we not do well?
“What is the culture of our program like? Do we have the right people involved for that? Did our players play to their potential and fulfill their roles? There were some that were great and there were some that didn’t.”
In that respect, the former Coach of the Year is pointing the finger directly at his starting line-up, including returning stars Gliddon and Jawai.
“Where the better teams had very consistent contributions from their starting group most of the time, we didn’t have that. We had patches of it, but patches of it is not good enough,” Fearne said.
“We don’t feel like we are that far off. But we just didn’t have good enough performances from our better players when we needed it.”
One key area for improvement will be on the glass. The Snakes finished second last in rebounding percentage last season, claiming only 47.4 percent of available boards.
“I’m a big believer you’ve got to play defense and you’ve got to rebound if you want to be a championship-winning team,” Fearne said.
“We just didn’t create enough opportunities through offensive rebounding and really protecting our defensive glass.”
That focus – as well as Fearne’s emphasis on ‘culture’ – led to the swift re-signing of bang-for-your-buck import centre Nnanna Egwu.
Despite posting modest numbers, Egwu played a key role off the bench for Cairns last season. He is an elite defender – possibly the best big man in the league at defending the pick-and-roll – and his signature was a genuine priority for the Taipans.
“He is what we like our culture to be,” Fearne said.
“It was really a no-brainer bringing Nnanna back in. He is so mature and the guys love him, so yeah it’s great to have him back.”
“For a second year pro, he’s got the maturity of a ten-year vet,” – Head Coach Aaron Fearne on Nnanna Egwu. pic.twitter.com/UAONLSCcWr
— Cairns Taipans (@CairnsTaipans) April 28, 2017
With their final full-time roster spot the Taipans are likely to re-sign reserve guard Damon Heuir, who turned heads with his impressive play at times last season.
“It would be hard for us not to seriously look at Damo,” Fearne said.
“I thought he was sensational last year. He really has matured and improved and he’s phenomenal in our culture so it would be hard for us to go past that one.”
Fearne will be making his annual recruiting trip to America beginning late next month, where he will spend time in Los Angeles, Orlando and Las Vegas. As well as casting an eye over the NBA Summer Leagues, Fearne will once again be coaching in the Worldwide Invitational in Vegas in mid-July.
“Then I will head home and it will be preseason,” he said.
“It will be a different challenge this year with all those world championship qualifying periods in there so that will be a new experience for everybody.
“The league be tough again and I’m sure some teams will try and do some new things. We will see what happens.”
Written for NBL.com.au by Liam Santamaria