From the basketball heartland of Melbourne, the South East Melbourne Phoenix entered the NBL as Victoria’s second team last season as part of the league’s steady resurgence.
- The Hawks and Phoenix are into the NBL playoffs after finishing last and second-last on the ladder last season
- It is only South East Melbourne’s second year in the competition
- Despite being a foundation NBL club, the Hawks started the season under new ownership, a new coach, and almost entirely new roster
After finishing second-last in their first season, they have roared up the ladder to finish in the top four and championship playoffs in 2021.
Expansion clubs are never expected to succeed this early.
“We’ve often said it wasn’t about making finals in our first year, but we wanted to be competitive, play the right way and represent the club and community the right way and that’s what’s put us in the position that we find ourselves in now,” Phoenix CEO Tommy Greer said.
Greer said early success like this is important for ensuring the franchise establishes itself in the market and is financially viable in the future.
“Success is critically important and part of our strategic plan — we want to be competing for championships on a regular basis.”
Goorjian returns to lead Hawks to playoffs
Meanwhile, on the east coast of New South Wales, the Illawarra Hawks started the season with new owners, a new coach, new staff, and almost an entirely new roster of players.
Despite providing the NBA launch pad for US sensation Lamelo Ball, they finished last on the ladder in the 2019/20 season.
The club was sold to an ownership group led by Sydney businessman Dorry Kordahi, who quickly hired his friend and the most successful NBL coach of all time, Brian Goorjian.
With a top four finish for the Hawks, Goorjian’s team has taken him to his 21st consecutive playoffs appearance.
“After 12 years and for me to give him a call, and for him to honour that, was something special, and I wanted to take this journey on with a great friend.
“Brian brings out the best in people and he’s a true leader and I’m proud of what he’s done.”
The coach regarded as the greatest in NBL history said his record is part of his past and the 2021 season feels like his first time in the playoffs.
“I’m excited to be in a new organisation in a great city, starting from last place and pursuing something new.
“I honestly feel like it’s a brand new experience.”
New teams set to shake up perennial powerhouses
Ladder leaders Melbourne United started the season with a roster so strong, power forward Jock Landale suggested his team may even go undefeated.
They finished with a formidable 28 wins and eight losses.
Second-placed Perth Wildcats are bound for their 35th consecutive playoffs appearance.
Phoenix CEO Tommy Greer said people are tired of seeing the same teams in the playoffs.
“I love some of the stuff we’re seeing in the Illawarra with the Hawks and it resonates with us and some of things we’re trying to do,” he said.