The Manawatu Jets' National Basketball League title hopes have taken a body blow with the loss of star import Josh Pace.
Pace was the league's leading scorer last year and was one of the driving forces behind the Jets reaching the playoffs, but he has signed for the Nelson Giants for 2013.
Jets chairman Nolan King had not been in contact with the former Syracuse swingman but his agent had let the Jets know the American would be returning to the franchise he played for in 2006 and 2007.
"I haven't had anything 100 per cent definite about that, but players look around, don't they, and go for the best deal."
King said they had a contingency plan in place and, to soften the blow, the Jets are chasing veteran Wellington Saints shooting guard Troy McLean.
"He plays the same position but he's certainly not Josh, we know that," King said. "But he is a very good player, he stretches the floor well and can shoot the three - an area we were looking to strengthen from last year. You have that option to stretch the floor and give your bigs something to work with."
King said it would be a shame to see Pace go but they have a good core and they may strengthen another area of the team with him gone.
Pace, who King said was the best import in the league last year, is a former league MVP, NBL title winner and NBL All-Star, not to mention his NCAA ring.
After Pace led the team so well last season, averaging 23.1 points per game, the Jets roster does not look as formidable.
McLean would fill Pace's shoes at shooting guard but, although King was pretty certain McLean would wear green this year, he was waiting to see a signed contract.
If Chris Hagan returns he may not be back from Canada until late in the season and Perth Wildcats big man Jeremiah Trueman will miss the start of the season with the Australian NBL playoffs.
That leaves captain Nick Horvath, last year's MVP, shouldering a large burden as the only big man for a while unless they find another import.
Veteran Miles Pearce, who was supposed to be the assistant coach last year, will probably have to get through a lot of court time again.
King did not think having coach Ryan Weisenberg in the United States affected their off-season recruitment while other teams such as Wellington and Southland were throwing cash around to entice players.
- © Fairfax NZ News