Reduced budget likely if Waikato Pistons fire again

The Waikato Pistons may be back in the National Basketball League - but fans shouldn't expect to see a star-studded side chasing another title.

The Waikato Basketball Council is investigating the opportunity of obtaining a franchise to enter a team in the 2013 NBL.

Defending champions the Auckland Pirates have pulled out of the competition, with Basketball Auckland saying their financial model was unsustainable.

Waikato Basketball Council acting chairman Chad Hooker said the council was re-assessing last year's decision to not field a Waikato side in the 2012 league, when it gave funding priority to community basketball.

Hooker, who has since taken the mantle of chairman from Maggie Christian, said the council board had to weigh up whether it was prudent to commit financially to a NBL franchise.

"WBC recognise the potential value of the Waikato Pistons in promoting basketball locally and providing a development path for local players, coaches and officials," Hooker said.

"However, at this point in time no decision has been made to enter a team and any decision will be subject to an appropriate business case being developed addressing funding and financial considerations and confirming that there would be no negative impact upon our existing community basketball programmes."

The Waikato Times understands the return of the Pistons is looked upon favourably, but would be run with a reduced budget from previous seasons, when the team were title-contenders every season. The Pistons won back-to-back NBL titles in 2008 and 09 and were beaten finalists when chasing a three-peat in 2010.

In 2011 they fielded a top-drawer lineup featuring imports Jerry Smith (now playing for top Italian side Cantu) and Jason Crowe, along with New Zealand Breakers stars Thomas Abercrombie and Alex Pledger. They were surprisingly beaten in the semifinals by Hawke's Bay.

Although the absence of the Pirates may release a number of Breakers players intending to compete in the 2013 NBL, it's unlikely the Pistons' budget would allow them to pick up many big names, should the WBC field a team.

Breakers assistant coach Dean Vickerman coached the Pistons from 2009-11 but recommended his Waikato assistant Doug Courtney for the top job should the Pistons reform.

"I'd be happy to play a mentoring role or help however I could, but I've told them in discussions they should have a local coach and it seems that's what they want," Vickerman said.

"They'll want someone who's really committed to it, with a team made up of a core of local guys and working on a lower budget."

Vickerman said the league needed to decide what its identity should be.

"Is it a basketball spectacular or more of a development league? At the moment it's somewhere in between, so I think they should look at putting some rules in place at making sure the young players from the local association get a chance to make their mark.

"You look at Reuben Te Rangi with the Harbour Heat last year. He got lots of court time and that helped him get a development spot with the Breakers."