The New Zealand Breakers say only an offer from the biggest league in the world will prevent marquee player Kirk Penney suiting up for them throughout the 2010-11 season.
With less than a month before tipoff of the rejuvenated nine-team Australian NBL – a new sponsor and TV deal putting it on the firmest footing in years – the Auckland-based club has had an anxious moment or two hanging on to its world-class shooting guard.
Penney showcased himself superbly at the recent world championships in Turkey, when he finished as second leading scorer at the tournament.
The Tall Blacks were eliminated in the round of 16 by Russia, but won many fans with plucky wins over France and Canada and an emphatic victory over the Tab Baldwin-coached Lebanon.
Since then there has been media speculation in Europe that powerhouse Israeli club Maccabi Tel Aviv (for whom Penney has played previously) were about to make a major offer for the Kiwi star.
It's understood Penney's US-based agent has received considerable interest for the New Zealander, but it seems Penney is content exactly where he is for now.
"He's here, he's training today and his wife is due to arrive any day," Breakers general manager Richard Clarke said.
"The only reason he would leave now is for a guaranteed NBA job."
Clarke confirmed that the club would not stand between Penney and realising his NBA dreams, and he has a clause in his contract that allows him to exercise that right.
There's no doubt Penney is now cropping up on a few radars, and there's still a chance an NBA club could pounce before the season start in late-October.
Respected Sports Illustrated NBA writer Chris Mannix recently rated Penney as one of the standout figures from the world championships.
However, it's thought NBA teams are concerned about his ability to defend the athletic guards in the league. It's been a side of the Kiwi's game he has been working hard at, but remains a weakness at the highest level.
Breakers coach Andrej Lemanis said international interest, and big-money offers, were part of the deal in an international sport like basketball for any club developing players to a high level.
"Certainly all indications to me from Kirk have been that he's staying.
"He loves being in New Zealand, he loves being a Breaker, and unless something extraordinary is put in front of him he's going to be a Breaker."
Penney's national and Breakers team-mate Tom Abercrombie, who himself is starting to generate interest in Europe, said he felt Penney deserved a chance on the brightest stage.
"He's a special player," Abercrombie said. "He's one of the top shooting guards in the world right now. If he keeps doing what he's doing he'll get an NBA spot in the near future, which is what he deserves."
The Breakers start their Australian NBL campaign on October 16 with a visit to the Sydney Kings.
- © Fairfax NZ News