COVID-19 pandemic halts Taipans’ free agency

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Cairns coach Mike Kelly has revealed the COVID-19 situation has numerous Taipans locked down across the world, as the club’s free agency and offseason plans come to an unexpected halt.

With a majority of Cairns’ playing group already settled in different cities globally to begin their winter programs, the COVID-19 lockdown has thrown a spanner in the works and forced the Taipans to adjust their methods.

After a stunning NBL20 campaign, where Cairns fell one win shy of qualifying for the Grand Final, Kelly wants his side to stay connected while staying apart – a new reality for all in these unprecedented times. 

“It’s tough on everybody, everywhere,” Kelly said.

“We’re in the same boat as everyone else in the world, and in Cairns, as far as trying to be smart, and safe and stay as isolated as possible. It’s been difficult, but our strength and conditioning guy has sent out a program to all our guys – we’ve got guys locked down in Sydney, Geelong, Philadelphia, Sacramento and here in Cairns.

“They have a program strength wise and are doing their best to keep working out, somehow. But some guys can’t get on the floor, anywhere – so we’re just trying to do our best to stay fit and stay locked in with each other online.

“We got a little group chat and I’m finding out who thinks Married At First Sight is a good show and what kind of movies guys are watching. We are trying to stay safe and sane, but it has slowed us down physically. We are trying to stay together anyway we can.”

The NBL free agency period has been postponed until at least May 1, which will cause every team to modify and tweak their roster planning and recruitment strategies for NBL21.

Kelly’s Taipans aren’t immune to the changes the new free agency timeline will create but the reigning Coach of the Year says it hasn’t stopped his team brainstorming what the squad could potentially look like next season.

“It has put us on hold and got us continually changing our roster builds and looking at all the different possibilities and scenarios,” Kelly said.

“Without going down a rabbit hole about it, we are trying to be smart and continue to talk with Jamie (O’Loughlin), Brad (Hill) and Lennon (Smartt), our coaching staff, and also Mark (Beecroft) and Troy (Stone), our admin, about the possibility of who we are able to re-sign from this team and then also where would we bring new players in.

“Everything is on pause and we are trying to be smart with the scenarios. There are so many scenarios that could happen right now with the league, and sports in general around the world. And, because we have players, both Australian and imports, that go overseas and play in different leagues and NBL1, it’s changed everything.

“Everybody right now, is stuck where they are for a little while, and not sure where this thing is going for next year as far as exactly when we will play.”

Another element of Cairns’ offseason calendar that has been influenced by COVID-19 is the cancellation of all three NBL1 conferences – NBL1 North, NBL1 South and NBL1 Central.

A host of Taipans players and coaches were preparing to don Cairns Marlins colours during the NBL1 North season, a vitally important platform for development and growth amongst the team’s youth.

“It’s a shame NBL1 around the nation has been cancelled,” Kelly said.

“The Marlins team was looking really good. It’s such a great chance with Jamie O’Loughlin, Brad Hill and Lennon Smartt all coaching that team, which was going to have Majok Deng, Anthony Fisher, George Blagojevic, Fab Krslovic, Mirko Djeric and then some of our younger guys as well.

“It was a great chance to get a leg up on people with that part of our roster. It changes things because now we don’t get to see those guys train and play every day, but I think we have a good feel for those players.

“So, it doesn’t really change our make-up for our roster next year, but it was an opportunity for those guys to play more basketball and play together. We are still staying in touch and still have a lot of different ways we can go with that roster.”

The NBL continues to monitor and assess the COVID-19 situation, one that is changing on a global scale daily. As for what it means for the structure of NBL21, Kelly concedes nobody has concrete answers at the moment, but he trusts the league to make the correct and appropriate decision. 

“It’s hard to say what’s going to happen with the NBL as far as dates and I haven’t been in those conversations with the NBL administration,” Kelly said.

“I think they’re doing everything and looking at every scenario to safely do that and make sure that everybody is looked after.

“The NBL, the product over the last few years has been amazing, and I think Larry (Kestelman) and Jeremy (Loeliger) and their team has done a really good job of being on the front foot. I think they’re going to do everything in their power to make it happen, I just don’t know what the dates will be and if they have to squeeze it into a reduced calendar.

“That’s the hard thing, like everyone else in the world, when do you push start on this thing and stop the pause button. We are in that same mode as everyone else.”

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