Michael Burgess asks: Is the Magic of a championship title enough to hold star players as the purse strings tighten?
There are fears that better pay deals elsewhere will see one of the 'Big Four' quit the championship-winning Magic. The franchise is struggling to secure third party deals necessary to top up the salaries of star players Irene van Dyk, Leana de Bruin, Casey Williams and Laura Langman.
Without external investment one of the core group may be tempted to shift teams next season where they will be able to earn considerably more.
The players enjoy the environment created by coach Noeline Taurua and are loyal to the franchise but financial pressure is biting at the Magic.
The so-called Big Four are the Magic's best paid players, believed to take up more than half the total wage bill. Their pay packets are topped up by third-party deals but the Magic are struggling to secure that external investment for 2013.
The salary cap has increased from $350,000 this year to $380,000 but it has also become a 'harder cap', where some additional player payments must be included, unlike in previous years. It also means the thousands spent on flying van Dyk to trainings and games from her home in Wellington will have to be included under the salary cap.
As well, teams next year will be able to contract up to 14 players, up from the maximum 12 this year.
It is believed the players don't necessarily want to leave the Magic but are weighing their options, aware they can earn more elsewhere.
The Mystics have already approached Langman and she would be an ideal fit at the Auckland franchise. The prospect of Julie Corletto and Langman added to their existing stable of stars would probably be enough to push them into championship favouritism.
The Mystics don't have an obvious contender to replace Temepara George at centre (though Kayla Cullen may be asked to step up). Langman is believed to have considered the offer but it would take a lot to prise the Magic captain away from her home base.
A logical destination for van Dyk would have been the Pulse but that is unlikely, as Donna Wilkins looks set to rejoin Robyn Broughton in the capital.
De Bruin would be in demand from franchises around the country and will weigh her options carefully.
"I'm a great believer that if the player wants to play for you, they need to be prepared to wait," says Magic chief executive Sheryl Dawson. "If they want to be part of the Magic culture, they need to work with us while we are waiting for things to arrive that we need. If you really want to play for Magic, that should be the paramount point in your thinking."
Dawson is confident of retaining the quartet but admits it is far from a done deal.
"There is always that worry that [other teams] will chase them," says Dawson."We talk with them and work with them as much as possible but if they choose to go, they choose to go."
Taurua says: "I understand that year in, year out, they do get chased by the majority of the New Zealand franchises. It is not until they put a signature to paper that I know they are definitely with Magic. We have still got a process to work through at the moment and things to tick off in that regard."
Taurua hopes Khao Watts can return as the Magic import but that depends on retention of the Big Four.
"If one of my big ones goes, then the import becomes very important, as the majority of the big ones in New Zealand for the other franchises will already be secured so I will leave that open," says Taurua. "I'm still holding off to see where everyone else is in the mix before we can commit."
One player definitely leaving is former Silver Fern Sulu Tone-Fitzpatrick. The young defender was one of the most promising players in the country last year but struggled for court time in 2012 and is believed to be heading to the Steel.By Michael Burgess Email Michael