It all started with Kevin Braswell.
Head coach of the New Zealand Breakers last season, the former fan favourite was forced out after just one disappointing campaign, with two years left on his contract – one year guaranteed, and one a team option. The resulting legal ramifications saw new
head coach Director of Basketball Dan Shamir required to be appointed under a different title – a muddled process that for most clubs would have been the messiest part of their off-season.
Not the Breakers. Oh no, they had plenty more mess to make.
First, their owner and media manager stirred up a plot to leak fake information . Then, standout player Corey Webster tried to leave but was blocked from doing so - told, in an interesting contrast to Braswell, that his contract must be honoured . General manager and club legend Dillon Boucher quit a month before the season , and assistant coach Mike Fitchett left it even later, resigning six days before the season , right at the conclusion of their NBA pre-season trip.
These are not the actions of a functioning franchise.
All the while, the Breakers have become the basketball embodiment of the This is Fine meme , insisting all is well. Could the mass exodus of former club stalwarts have an underlying message? No, they say. They just wanted to move on (Boucher), or couldn't handle the culture (Fitchett). The owner himself couldn't be happier with the direction the club is going .
That direction includes yesterday's announcement, a move that might be their most bizarre yet.
You may have missed it, as – NBA excursions and mysteriously quitting personnel aside – the Breakers aren't getting an overwhelming amount of media coverage right now, one day out from their ANBL season opener. An understandable reality, given the New Zealand public's unquenchable thirst for Rugby World Cup content and comparative lack of interest in Kiwi basketball coverage, but it's the reality nonetheless, which is quite possibly why they decided to hand Tom Abercrombie a one-year contract extension.
Presented only with that fact – a one-year extension - it makes for an understandable decision. Abercrombie has been a Breaker his entire career - going on a decade now – and he's a solid contributor, by all accounts a great locker room presence, beloved by the fans, and possesses a Kiwi link, not to mention a link back to the title teams of old, of which he is one of the few left standing.
No, the problem comes with the nature of the extension. Abercrombie, 32 years old, was already signed until the end of the 2021 season. Now, he's locked in until 2022, at which point he'll be going on 35.
Breakers chaos: Coach quits - six days before season starts
Put aside, for a moment, the question of whether he'll still be a productive player by that point. Instead, there's a much simpler thought to posit – who were the Breakers bidding against?
In what world was another team going to try and swoop in for a player who averaged 8.5 points per game last year? Why the rush to lock in a player's age-34 season when there is no idea how his athleticism (a key part of Abercrombie's game) will decline over the next two seasons? Why not wait until at least this season is over, if not the next, to further evaluate his performance and whether you really want to lock up an aging player for three years down the line? What if he gets injured?
Quite frankly, the underlying philosophy on Abercrombie remaining a starter has arguably been one of the reasons for the Breakers' poor performances the last few seasons, with former Breakers personnel seemingly settling on using particular Kiwi players as starters, and then signing certain imports to come off the bench as role players – an unnecessarily limiting approach to roster construction.
Granted, part of that was due to limited finances, and the usual caveat applies, as it does with every New Zealand sporting league - without available contract figures, it's difficult to precisely judge the value of a signing.
It's unlikely that overwhelmingly Kiwi-centric mentality persists under the new ownership group, but in this instance, for a club that has had difficulties matching the league's big spenders, there is now money on the books in 2022 when there was simply no reason to be. It's a decision which has no basis in basketball sense, which leaves one rather simple conclusion – the Breakers gave Abercrombie an extension to receive good PR.
They desperately needed someone, anyone, with a long-standing link to the club to stand up and quiet the fears of concerned fans, to say that the ownership group aren't merely Lyle Lanley impersonators, and commit to the club and its future.
And, since practically everyone else with any long-term ties to the successful Breakers era has left the building, Abercrombie was their man, and he – perhaps surprised himself by the extra long-term security he had earned, whether it be through merit or ownership desperation – was more than happy to preach to the masses.
"It is important for me as a player who's been here a long time to show that I'm 100 per cent behind the changes at the club," said Abercrombie.
"I am 100 per cent committed to what Dan Shamir and the team are doing and the direction the club is going."
There's no reason to doubt him, nor the upcoming efforts of the entire roster this season. And if they have success on the court, the bandwagon will fill back up, fans will come, and any perceived mistreatment of former legends will likely simmer away.
If they lose – and the early signs aren't overly rosy - well, the Breakers are going to need a lot more than PR spin to stop the rot of a once-proud club.