The Manawatu Jets are back in the New Zealand National Basketball League, and new league rules await them on their return.
The Jets pulled out of the competition in 2015, due to reduced funding and an unsustainable business model, but their application to return impressed the NBL board, who have given them the green light for the 2018 season.
Basketball New Zealand CEO and NBL chairman Iain Potter is confident the Jets have the requisite finances and support to be a sustainable long-term entity.
"The most impressive part of their bid was the support they have from the council and the business community, and the basketball community in Manawatu is really going from strength to strength with the increased numbers of young people playing," Potter told the Herald.
"The single bit which was given most scrutiny by the NBL board was the financial projections that the Jets have put forward. It remains a concern across the whole NBL, it is a tough gig running the teams, but the Jets have got some solid support behind them and we just hope that if they have a good first year, then that support will grow."
Jets board member Dave Craig is thrilled with the NBL's decision, noting that the Jets board overcame "obstacles that at times we thought we'd never be able to navigate around."
"Over the course of the last 24 months, we've rebuilt trust, paid off legacy debt and have put the franchise on a strong footing for the future. This was not easy, but we never gave up. Our core board persevered so our Manawatu youth have a basketball team to aspire to once again."
Palmerston North mayor Grant Smith supported the Jets' bid, and knows there is plenty of work ahead to ensure the franchise is successful.
"The hard work begins now to confirm sponsors, assemble a competitive team and ultimately gain home town support, but I'm confident the city and region will rise to the challenge," said Smith.
The Jets' return coincides with an increase in the amount of restricted players allowed in the league, with each team now able to use three imports (players unable to represent New Zealand) in their side.
However, that change will not drastically reduce opportunities for Kiwi players, with the NBL also scrapping the rule which allowed Oceania players to play in the league as locals. Six Oceania players suited up last season, of which Tai Wesley would be the only lock to be a restricted-level player in 2018. As a result, the amount of non-New Zealanders in the league will remain steady, and should be of a higher talent level.
This season, Kiwis took up 65 of the available 84 roster spots; next season that figure will be 72 of 96, although the amount of Kiwis playing major roles could decrease if teams load up on three high-usage imports.
Potter says that 75 per cent of the NBL teams were in favour of the rule change, and believes that it will increase the standard of the league, and therefore aid the top Kiwi players.
"We hope that for some of the teams who struggled in 2017, this will help strengthen their roster. It's a really level playing field, it's the same rule for everyone, it's very clear and easy to understand.
"Everyone agrees that the most important players in the league are the top Kiwi players. Everyone wants to have the best Kiwis, the question becomes what comes after that, and the view of the NBL is that allowing three restricted players will strengthen the roster; it won't be the focus of the roster.
"We want the league to be entertaining, we want to raise the skill levels of our local players, and we think it'll contribute to all of those things."
Each team must also now have three players aged 22 or under, with the NBL's eligibility criteria to be reviewed annually as the league evolves.
One evolution could be the slew of Kiwis playing at US colleges returning to New Zealand shores. Currently, very few players under the age of 24 play extended minutes in the NBL, with the majority of the top young talent going to college.
That could provide a pipeline of players back to the NBL in the near future; players not quite good enough to make the NBA or Europe, but good enough to contribute in the NBL with a prospect of becoming a full-time professional in the ANBL.
"A lot of the teams are talking quite excitedly about the players they're hoping to recruit in two to three years' time - young Kiwi guys who have gone to the US," said Potter.
"We're really positive with how the NBL is heading, we feel it's moved up a gear in the past couple of years and we're aiming to move up another gear, it's quite an exciting space."