Free Agency – State of Play

Photo credit: Joe Allison

With tip off for the Sal’s NBL 2024 season fast approaching, all eyes over the last eight weeks have been on free agency while the battle to win player signatures has been red hot. 

While many players are returning to familiar surroundings and will be running it back with the same team as a season ago, there has been quite a lot of player movement with top level kiwis Hyrum Harris, Tom Vodanovich and Sam Timmins among those in new colours this year. 

Familiar names yet to be announced, and perhaps still on the market, include Anzac Rissetto, Derone Raukawa, Alex McNaught, Tohi Smith-Milner, Taane Samuel, Reuben Te Rangi, Nikau McCullough and Denhym Brooke.  

The League’s salary cap system, now in its fourth full season, continues to spread talent across the competition. In fact, since the introduction of the league’s Competitive Balance System (salary cap), only one team hasn’t made the playoffs – bonus points if you know which team that is. 

If you guessed the Manawatu Jets, you’re right! (Sorry Jets!) 

But there remain unknown factors in 2024 for many teams, namely – imports. Each team is permitted three international players, or as the rules state, players who do not qualify for New Zealand at international (FIBA) level. 

Only the Jets have announced their full quota of three imports to date, so a lot can change from here if you’re trying to predict who will (or won’t) make the Final 6 this season. 

And, in case you missed the news, this season in the Sal’s NBL you will see three very significant changes to the comp and the way a team recruits will have an impact on all three newly introduced facets.  

A mid-season Trade Window, the Sky Broadband Rapid League, and teams playing finals on their home court are exciting inclusions and each require an element of strategic planning when gathering player signatures. 

While we wait for the picture to get a little clearer let’s look at how each team has progressed through free agency and how each roster looks so far.

We’ve invited Sky Sport commentators Casey Frank and Justin Nelson to give their thoughts on every team’s progress, and what they need to do from here prior to the season tipping off on March 27. 


Rob Loe (returning) 
Cam Gliddon (import returning) 
Tom Vodanovich (from Saints) 
Chris McIntosh (returning) 
Reuben Fitzgerald (returning) 
Nick Barrow (returning) 
Tukaha Cooper (from Jets) 

Casey Frank: First and foremost, the MVP is back. Rob Loe was playing maybe the best basketball of his career last year and will be a focal point once again. The partnership between him and Tommy V will be difficult to contend with as a great contrast in style of play that will keep defenses guessing. Cam Gliddon has a flamethrower that has been kept in the holster during the Breakers season so should be fully fit. I like the local core and think they could be among the strongest the Rapid League (RL) has to offer with Nick Barrow providing a real post threat surrounded by shooting, but they also provide trusted depth when needed in the NBL as well. With import spots to go (or high-level Kiwi’s) the squad will only improve and their fans should be hopeful of a return trip to the finals.

Justin Nelson: The core has returned for the 2023 runners-up, so we already know we are looking at a competitive outfit. Throw in the addition of Tommy V who will form an exciting pairing with Loe, both of whom can play inside and outside and might end up being the best front court in the league, plus a couple of import spots still to fill. Cam Gliddon is also back, and I think he will be hungry to take on big minutes after being under-utilised by the Breakers (in my opinion). I also like how the Tuatara has gone with tried-and-true depth players, who will all no doubt help this team to be a force in Rapid League. Young Cooper will relish the introduction of Rapid League as well. From here, having missed out on Russo-Nance and McNaught (if those rumours are true), this is a team that desperately needs to land a high-calibre import point guard. I wouldn’t be surprised if Reuben Te Rangi is somewhere in the mix to return as well.  


Isaac Davidson (returning) 
Ethan Rusbatch (from Hawks) 
Sam Timmins (from Nuggets) 
Dom Kelman-Poto (returning) 
Jordan Hunt (from Hawks) 
Dru-Leo Leusogi-Ape (from Sharks) 

Casey Frank: A highly talented kiwi core has taken a bit of hit with the injury news on Jordan Hunt (fractured fibula playing in England) which is unfortunate for Jordan and the Bulls depending on the severity. But even with Hunt most likely missing the bulk of the season the Bulls have recruited a multi-faceted kiwi core that plays well off each other. Timmins signing is a coup, he will set the foundation for the interior defense while swallowing up boards. DKP looks fit and will make opposing defenses suffer in the post while the perimeter will benefit from the deep ball provided by Ethan Rusbatch. Dru Leusogi-Ape will look to reset a promising career up North and he currently provides all the athleticism on the wing with Davidson providing the only hint of roster stability so far. With a new coach as well, this will be a vastly different squad that on paper looks to play off each other’s skills nicely.  

Justin Nelson: Wow, the Bulls have been the big free agency movers thus far with a swag of Kiwi signings. It’s believed Kelman-Poto was being chased elsewhere, but he returns (and is in ripping shape) along with Davidson, but from there it’s all about new faces. Timmins, Rusbatch and Hunt are great gets and instantly help make the Bulls a contender. The sublime rim-running Hunt may be a late starter though having just sustained a nasty leg injury in England. I also like the addition of Leusogi-Ape, who needs a big season and should be a genuine contender for MVP in the Rapid League. With no imports announced yet, and provided the Bulls haven’t burnt all their salary cap, there will likely be more quality talent to come. A bit like the Tuatara, and import PG is a must here and a signing the Bulls can ill-afford to get wrong. 


Sam Mennenga (from Cairns Taipans ANBL) 
Jayden Bezzant (from Bulls) 
Te Tuhi Lewis (from Bulls) 
Jett Thompson (from Bulls 2022) 

Casey Frank: The first-year franchise seems to be meticulously putting together a roster (that’s a nice word for slowly) but has found some nice pieces to kick things off. I’m a big fan of Mennenga’s game, his strength will be valuable on both ends and he mixes it well with his skill for the perimeter. Jayden Bezzant returns to his home region and will look for a greater minute’s load than which he has been entrusted up to this point of his career, and with his scoring skill I’ll be excited to see it. Te-Tuhi Lewis showed promise in stints for the Bulls last year and will be eager for greater opportunity on a regular basis while Jett Thompson will offer depth and likely be a key Rapid League contributor. Overall, it’s a solid base for Coach Matt Lacey to start off with but, as with many teams, is dependent on import talent to reach any postseason goals. 

Justin Nelson: I really like the signings of Mennenga and Bezzant for the League’s newest team, they look to be a Kiwi duo who will be very eager to lead this team. In particular, I think we will see Bezzant return to the player who impressed us so much at the 2020 Showdown when he returned from college – it just feels like he was overlooked too much at the Bulls. Imports will be crucial for the Whai, they really need to get it right to ensure they aren’t forced to over-expose their younger players. Fledgling coach Matt Lacey has great connections with players from the North Shore, so expect a few so expect a few more signings to come from those relationships. The key from here will be imports who can score … and score big. 


Sam Froling (import from Illawarra Haws ANBL) 
Carlin Davison (returning)  
Mitch McCarron (import from Adeliade 36ers ANBL) 
Flynn Cameron (from Melbourne United ANBL) 
Tobias Cameron (returning) 
Quintin Bailey (returning) 
Zavier Adam (returning)  

Casey Frank: This is a revamped team that has impressed with it’s recruiting while maintaining a nice local core. Bailey is a nice piece who was vital at times last season and the depth he’ll provide is key, as is a likely Rapid League role. I’m excited to see Carlin Davison’s growth after a full season training with the Breakers, he rise has been steady but he has only scratched the surface of his potential. Tobias Cameron proved to be a valuable 3 and D piece with a bit of scrappiness as well, and that skillset will be of value in RL.  The starting backcourt looks to be McCarron, who will thrive with his multi-dimensional skillset and depth of talent around him, and Flynn Cameron who has the look of a future star and I expect to contribute at (or close to) an all-league level right out the gate. The biggest signing (literally and figuratively) is Froling, he has been dominant in Australia of late and I expect him to challenge for MVP honours while putting his hand up for best big in the comp.  With one import and a local core to go they look like an early pick for table toppers and a return to the postseason and possibly early season favourites.  

Justin Nelson: Possibly the frontrunners through free agency to date, the Airs have made a big splash and look a genuine contender. Sam Froling is MVP material, and I really like the signing of Flynn Cameron, while Mitch McCarron will be given the task of leading this team. We all know the prodigious athleticism of Carlin Davison and I think this will be the season we see him go to the next level (I hope so). With an import spot remaining, it would be great to see Javonte Douglas return if the Airs can get a deal done, otherwise an athletic and scoring wing is on the priority list. This already looks like a team that will run deep and play up-tempo hoops, so keep an eye on them in Rapid League as well.  


Dan Fotu (from Bulls) 

Casey Frank: Not a ton to talk about just yet but despite the FA silence I expect the local core to mostly return, albeit a bit younger and quicker than we have seen in past years. Fotu was a great piece to start as the past couple of seasons have seen the Giants struggle at times in the post. Dan changes that on both ends while I also see him stretching his perimeter skills as well. Assuming a local Nelson core returns Sam Dempster and Tom Ingham they will be competitive both in RL and in the Sal’s NBL.  Rumours have circulated around McNaught, but his defensive talents should land in Nelson again where an improvement in his stroke from deep will be key to reaching the next level in his career. This is another team for whom imports will decide the realistic level of achievement, but Mike Fitchett has consistently found talent in this space.  With all that said I might be most excited to see (likely signee) Hayden Jones develop. An age group star he has a smooth game that is well developed for his age and when combined with sneaky athleticism makes him a key contributor for the Giants hopes this year.  

Justin Nelson: It’s been very quiet progress so far in Nelson, but we know the likes of Sam Dempster and Tom Ingham will be in uniform, and I wouldn’t be surprised if coach Mike Fitchett has a few aces up his sleeve with the region’s blossoming young talent. Dan Fotu is an elite get, and despite being chased heavily further north, it’s likely Alex McNaught will be back with the Giants. But from there this team remains a bit of a mystery. Imports will be crucial, and while we know coach Fitchett usually lands serviceable internationals, he really needs to nail it this year and find a scoring stud. A centre is badly needed, and if possible, a bruising power forward to ensure Fotu can roam free would be a nice addition. How good would it be if Finn Delany returned home? One to watch will be Dempster, who might move to the second unit and lead the chase for a Rapid League title and, as a future coach, we know only too well that the young guys in Nelson will gladly follow him into battle (and learn a lot on the battlefield). 


Marcale Lotts (import) 
Brayden Inger (returning) 
Ben Hall (returning) 
Connor Coll (returning) 
Scott Telfer (from Airs) 
Callum McRae (from Giants) 
LeGerald Vick (Import) 

Casey Frank: After a couple of years in the wilderness the Sharks need to bounce back to re-ignite what has traditionally been a powerhouse programme. Of the returning players I’m most interested in seeing if Brayden Inger can find his stroke and passion after a down year, at his best he can be a Tall Black level player which would help the Sharks get to where they expect to be. Ben Hall was solid in spurts a year ago and a larger role could be expected to come his way and is a nice addition but it will be the new recruits who will determine if a post season is in the cards. Scott Telfer has proven defensive chops and an improving offensive game to go with it. Callum McRae is a big get, and his size proved a handful in the post for opposition bigs a season ago, but his ceiling will be determined by how effective he can be defensively, especially when pulled into on ball screening action. He and import Marcale Lotts will be the bulk of the interior force but of the current signings it is LaGerald Vick is front of mind, especially with his 45% 3-point shooting at Kansas during his NCAA days. If he can find that type of form with the Sharks the geometry of the court will shift opening up space inside for the big talent to shine through. With an import and key local spots to go this should be an improved squad, but as with many teams currently the heights of their achievements will be reliant on the load that the imports can carry. 

Justin Nelson: Surely, we are going to see a better version of the Sharks in 2024 after two (uncharacteristic) seasons of missing the playoffs. There are big wraps on Lotts, and McRae is a really good addition after his second half showing with the Giants last season. But it’s the signing of LaGerald Vick that has me the most excited. The former Jayhawk averaged 14pts per game in his senior year and has since built an impressive international career. Vick actually signed with the Jets last season before deciding to play elsewhere. Scott Telfer heads south to take on the role of doing the ‘grunt’ work, while Inger will be hoping for an injury-free run. Expect Alonzo Burton to be announced soon, and you would expect Ton Cowie will also be back. This already looks a much better Sharks team, but they have to get it right with an import PG – no shortcuts please.  


Taylor Britt (returning) 
Max Darling (returning) 
Walter Brown (returning) 
Taki Fahrensohn (from Tuatara 2022)  
Kaia Isaac (returning) 

Casey Frank: The champs are back baby! Last years winners kept a young local core intact which was job one. Taylor Britt has proved to be a steady hand in the backcourt and at times can lift the play of himself and his team to greater heights. Max Darling was invaluable in the title run and with an off season spent with the Breakers he will be able to hit the ground running in 2024. I’m hopeful this is the year we see a leap from Kaia Isaac statistically, the young wind has shown great promise and in my opinion could be entrusted with a bigger workload that takes advantage of his strong frame and outside in skill set. Walter Brown looks set for a big year after taking on the role of defensive stopper during the title run. His combination of twitchy athleticism and perimeter skill sets him up to make another jump after taking huge strides a season ago. There hasn’t been too much recruiting just yet, nor should there be for the defending champs, but Taki Fahrensohn is a great start. He will mesh nicely with the talent on hand and combines with Brown to offer lock down defense on the wings. Judd Flavell isn’t done recruiting yet, and players who want to improve their games will want to develop under his tutelage. With all import spots to go this is a team in a good spot, but with the final make up of the team yet to be revealed its hard to pinpoint how good they can be just yet.  

Justin Nelson: The 2023 champions already have a familiar feel about them with Britt, Darling, Isaac and Brown all returning. I like it. Aiden Tonge should do the same. Taki Fahrensohn is a strong addition and should excel under coach Judd Flavell. All three import spots remain open. I’d love to see Tevin Brown return for a second season, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Corey Webster made an appearance at some stage. Right now, though, the Rams need a big centre who can do a heap of damage inside the paint at both ends. Anzac Rissetto might be a target, but I’m leaning more towards an import centre. You can also expect a real push for developing youth in the Rapid League, which is how the Rams rolls (they are a production line). All up, the Rams are again looking like a front-runner. 


Hyrum Harris (from Hawks) 
Ben Ayre (import from SEM Phoenix ANBL)
Rangimarie Dougall-Mita (returning) 

Casey Frank: The recruiting started with a bang as they signed one of my favourite players to watch in Hyrum Harris. He is currently showing the effect he can provide as he has been key to turning the Perth Wildcats season around.  His versatility on both ends of the court means the Saints can recruit in a myriad of directions and still find great fits. Ben Ayre will provide a flame offensively, with the Saints hoping his defensive abilities find a higher level of resilience than last year’s Aussie import was able to provide.  So far just the one returning player, but I expect big things from Dougall-Mita.  He shined in the 2023 3x3 cup and his scoring should translate to the NBL level if given more of a role. The biggest recruit of the off season could be on the side line, with tactician Zico Coronel returning.  His ability to mould a team is proven and will lift the level of play no matter the talent level. Questions remain, both who will complete the import trio and who will be the key local pieces, but Zico and the Saints can be expected to find the answers. 

Justin Nelson: Lots of room still to move for the Saints and you just know they won’t be sitting idle. Hyrum Harris is one of the best free agency signings, and RDM is primed for more minutes, while import Ben Ayre has a real chance to take his burgeoning career to another level with the keys to the 12-time champions. And let’s not forget there is a new (returning) coach in town in the form of Zico Coronell – the professor. As always there are lots of questions with the Saints – will Tohi Smith-Milner, Izayah Le’afa and Taane Samuel return? I get the feeling the Saints are about to make some big announcements – watch this space. An import power forward is likely, and a creative import wing as well.   


Mustapha Heron (import returning) 
De’Riante Jenkins (import) 
Jasper Rentoy (import from Sydney Kings ANBL) 
James Moors (new – Kiwi) 
Angus McWilliam (new – Kiwi) 
Liam Judd (returning) 
Simon Lafaele (returning) 
Lachlan Crate (returning) 
Jackson Stent (returning) 
Campbell Scott (returning) 

Casey Frank: The Jets will look to keep the positive momentum they have been building over the past couple of years and this will be a key year where improvement on the ladder position will be expected from the fan base. The retuning kiwis will need to soak up minutes and 2023 proved they were up to the task. Liam Judd shone at times with his toughness and opportunistic offense proving handy on many occasions. Stent provided good size on the interior and the ability to match up when switched onto quicker players.  Mustapha Heron was the pick of the import trio a year ago and his combo of size, quickness and perimeter skill is a matchup nightmare. De’Riante Jenkins looks to be a good fit as well, with a nice combo of size and shooting that should slip into the rotation seamlessly. Moors and McWilliam will be called upon to maintain the middle and when a team is able to find locals that are up to the task it lifts the level of the team overall, but with this being their first taste at this level in NZ if that is the case remains to be seen. Jasper Rentoy is intriguing as an import, he doesn’t be much of a chance at the ANBL level and his NBL1 stats don’t jump off the page, but if he is able to provide support as the third import and a still to be completed kiwi contingent rises a level this could be the year that the Jets return to the postseason! 

Justin Nelson: The most active pre-Christmas team, the Jets have made some gains compared to 2023. Bringing back import Mustapha Heron is a master move in my view, he will benefit so much from already knowing the league, and let’s face it he was a major force more often than not last season. Imports Rentoy and Jenkins will get all the minutes they can handle, especially with Rapid League set to offer a plethora of Jets’ youngsters a heap of minutes. Liam Judd should again be given plenty of opportunity, and Jackson Stent will need to take another step. I like the addition of young Kiwi bigs Moors and McWilliam, but gauging what they will deliver on the big stage is tough. Not sure what’s left in the salary cap, but I’d love to see the Jets grab a high-level Kiwi – Rissetto and Le’afa both come to mind. And I can’t help but feel Derone Raukawa and Taane Samuel are both in need of new surroundings and could add some x-factor to this team.  And where’s Marcel Jones – has the ageing vet got one more year left in him? 


Donate Russo-Nance (from Perth Wildcats ANBL) 
Ben Henshall (import from Perth Wildcats ANBL) 
Jack Andrew (returning) Matthew Bardsley (returning) 
Robbie Coman (returning) 

Casey Frank: 2024 will bring a new look nuggets squad to try to reach the championship mountain once again. The Wildcat connection has provided once again with a promising (young!) backcourt in Russo-Nance and Ben Henshall. Henshall is aching for more playing time in WA and he’ll get his chance in Dunedin to showcase his mix of quickness and ball skill. Dontae has looked like a future Tall Black for a few years now and the move south should provide the opportunity to prove it. Sam Timmins departure leaves a void in the middle, but it is a void that Jack Andrew has been waiting to fill.  He has proven ultra efficient when given opportunities over the past few seasons and he and Robbie Coman will be looking to prove themselves deserving of the minutes. Matt Bardsley is one of my favourites and his minutes will be key as lunch pail scorer and flexible defender. The core is set but this franchise has shown they won’t stop tinkering until the very last minute, so this team’s identity is yet to be carved in granite. Two import spots are yet to be filled but Todd Withers has touched down in WA so he could be on the cards again. If you include the possibility of Tai Webster, then coach Brent Matehaere will have the pieces to make another deep postseason run.  

Justin Nelson: A mixed bag so far for the Nuggets with the exit of Sam Timmins to the Bulls a major loss, however the addition of Dontae Russo-Nance is a big positive based on what we have previously seen from the teenager – and he’ll be desperate for game time after spending the season watching on for the Wildcats. From here, recruiting some high scoring imports will be critical, while successfully bringing back Tai Webster for the full season would be more than handy. If Todd Withers returns, then we will instantly have another contender on our hands. Young import Aussie Ben Henshall has huge wraps on him and will be one to watch. Some familiar faces return, but all eyes now will be on how the Nuggets replace Timmins, or at the very least if they can add some tall timber to put alongside Jack Andrew. Is Rissetto on the radar? Perhaps an import centre? I would like to see an import guard as well, someone who fits nicely with Russo-Nance and can be interchangeable so as both can play with the ball in hand, and off the ball when needed.   


Jordan Ngatai (returning) 
Keanu Rasmussen (from Adelaide 36ers ANBL) 

Casey Frank: The Hawks look to be an almost total reset with changes in four starting spots and to the head coach providing a new look for a team that had championship aspirations coming into the season a year ago. Jordan Ngatai looks to be the only returning player from the top 6 of the rotation but what a player he is. Currently freezing himself in Finland, Ngatai looks to be given even more responsibility on the offensive end of the court this year. Not a bad choice for a player who dropped 47 in a contest last year and has maybe the best interior/perimeter scoring bag in the league. The Rasmussen signing has stayed under the radar but could provide big dividends if the imports and remaining local spots are filled to their potential. At this point that’s a big if, but with plenty of kiwi talent still available the Hawks identity is yet to be formed. If the right mix of talent is realised the Final 6 will be in reach, if not this could be a rebuilding year with eyes locked on future seasons.  

Justin Nelson: the Hawks have been raided in a major way during free agency, but some of it has been their own doing with a desire to clean shop and rebuild, which I don’t mind to be fair. It’s a new regime at Hawke’s Bay and with change comes fresh opportunities. Jordan Ngatai returning at least adds some level of continuance, but unlike previous seasons when the Hawks boasted an all-Kiwi approach (as much as they possibly could), this year’s team will be one that heavily relies on gun imports. The Hawks ideally need an import PG, a scoring guard, and a bruising big. I would expect a call or two has gone into Anzac Rissetto now that Sam Froling has signed with the Airs, and don’t be surprised if GM Jarrod Kenny has made a call to for Tall Blacks teammate Tohi Smith-Milner. Picking up Rasmussen as a Kiwi is a clever move and, like a few other teams, we have a new coach in Sam Gruggen. Youth development will also be a priority, which Rapid League will help with, and to that end keep an eye out for Jackson Ball. 


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