NBL’s huge expansion call as bids for new teams flood in

NBL owner Larry Kestelman has revealed when new clubs will be added to the league — and it could be more than one as bids flood in from all over Australia.

The NBL could be a 12-team competition as soon as 2026 as owner Larry Kestelman revealed the demand for new licences had never been higher.

Potential new franchisees are beating down Kestelman’s door in the hope of securing the next NBL team with pitches flooding in from all over Australia.

Kestelman is in the early stages of selling Tasmania, the league’s newest franchise, and will then ramp up his efforts in choosing the most-suitable bidders and locations for new teams.

On Kestelman’s desk are expressions of interest from Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Newcastle, Gold Coast, Townsville and Darwin — some with multiple groups keen to get their hands on a slice of NBL action.

“I’m completely blown away at the interest,” Kestelman told News Corp.

“It’s just great to be in a place where there is such demand and excitement about the NBL.”

Kestelman ruled out issuing any new licences in the next year — he wants to take his time in securing the most-sustainable outcome for the league.

But he’s planning on “one to two” new licences to be issued between 2024-26.

“A reasonable lead in time is a year-and-a-half to build a team from the ground up, build the back office and the on-court performance, without rushing it,” Kestelman said.

“I don’t want more teams for the sake of having more teams if they’re going to be struggling.

“We need to make sure there is support from fans, from business, from government to ensure it is commercially viable and it actually grows the game and the NBL.”

The JackJumpers, in just their second season, are fast-becoming bulletproof in Tasmania after last year’s grand final appearance and another run to the finals.

South East Melbourne is in a similar boat, but is in the throes of rebounding from two years of Victoria’s Covid lockdowns that bit the club hard.

It’s left the Phoenix to somewhat rebuild in NBL23 and, while he would love to see new teams in the league, chief executive Tommy Greer is wary of the potential for a third in Melbourne.

“We are very supportive of the league’s ambition to continue to grow and add new teams,” Greer said.

“However, we hope that, when considering potential locations, they take into account the need to provide recent expansion franchises time to grow and consolidate themselves in their market, unimpeded.”

New franchises would need to tick boxes at ownership level and have access to world-class venues.

“Venues are really important for us so we need to make sure that that area has the right venue for us to be able to play and it needs to present well because we’re a global product, now,” Kestelman said.

“It’s not just about that community or that city within Australia, it’s how do we present our product on all stages? It needs to be great for broadcasting and great for fans in attendance.

“We’ll also have to have a look at who the right owners are so that’s a really important process for us in the off-season.

“It’s a lot of work when you’ve got a dozen bids on the desk. You have to analyse the business models, have a look where is the right next step, what’s the timing, venues, so there’s a lot of work being done in assessing where that can actually happen.”


The fans have spoken.

Your NBL23 MVP is Sydney star Xavier Cooks.

The versatile Kings’ big man won more than half of the vote (54 per cent) in a News Corp poll, well ahead of South East Melbourne gun Mitch Creek (29 per cent) and Perth triple-MVP Bryce Cotton (17 per cent).

Cooks is the best player on the best team in the league, leading the reigning champions to a top-of-the-table regular-season finish.

In the most-controversial award, fans are split, with reigning Defensive Player of the Year Antonius Cleveland (39 per cent) just edging Breakers big man Dererk Pardon (37 per cent).

The Kings blew up when both Cooks and teammate Justin Simon were missing from the top-three finalists, in favour of United’s Shea Ili (24 per cent), who missed half the season through injury.

Not that it bothered Simon.

“That was not what I came to Sydney for, I’ve won that award already, I’m trying to win a championship,” the American said, following the Kings Friday loss to Adelaide.

They say vote with your head and not your heart but readers took some licence with the Next Generation Award after it replaced the Rookie of the Year gong.

Sam Waardenburg would have been guaranteed the former award but, with the Next Gen open to all players under 25, the popular belief is Illawarra and Boomers big man Sam Froling would win it this year — and probably next.

But fans stuck with the Cairns’ giant, backing him with 39 per cent of the vote, ahead of Froling and then Perth’s Luke Travers.

Cairns mentor Adam Forde is the fans’ runaway Coach of the Year pick, garnering 46 per cent of the vote as he led the Taipans back to the NBL finals for the first time since 2020. He was well ahead of New Zealand’s Mody Maor and Sydney’s Chase Buford.

Voters preferred Breakers sparkplug Barry Brown to JackJumper Rashard Kelly and Bullet Tyler Johnson in the Sixth Man of the Year race, while emergent Taipans beast Keanu Pinder is the pick to claim back-to-back Most Improved Player distinctions.

The Andrew Gaze NBL MVP Awards Night will be held on Tuesday, February 7 at Crown Palladium, watch on Kayo Sports and ESPN from 8.30pm.


Basketball Australia has responded to stinging criticism after reports emerged the sport’s governing body had withdrawn its request to fast-track a citizenship application by Perth Wildcats’ American Bryce Cotton.

BA had asked the Australian Olympic Committee to help Cotton jump the queue but that request has reportedly been withdrawn “after discussion about the requirements for the AOC’s support.”

Under FIBA rules, international teams can only feature one naturalised player, a spot occupied at the Tokyo Olympics by Philadelphia 76er Matisse Thybulle.

It’s a decision that has left many flummoxed, including Boomers GOAT Andrew Gaze.

“That, to me, makes zero sense,” Gaze said on Kayo Sports.

“How BA wouldn’t want to get him his citizenship … even if, stupidly, they think, ‘well we’re not sure he’s good enough’.

“Why they’d be calling up the AOC to say ‘just back off fellas, we’re OK’, that is outright stupidity.

“I don’t think Basketball Australia would be that stupid to do something like that.

“Get it done and have it as an option.”

Gaze has since tempered his strong stance on Cotton after being told there is a reason Basketball Australia withdrew its citizenship application for the star Wildcats’ guard.

The AOC can only lodge a “special circumstance request” to fast-track citizenship for athletes who will compete in an Olympics.

As Basketball Australia is unable to confirm Cotton would be in an Olympic squad for 2024 at this time, his application can’t proceed.

However, BA has also sought clarification from the AOC that if the Wildcats guard makes the Australian team for Paris 2024, the organisation will have the opportunity to reapply for citizenship.

Boomers head coach Brian Goorjian and BA high performance boss Jan Stirling have provided multiple letters to support Cotton’s application.

“We respect Bryce’s contribution to basketball in Australia and have made every effort to support his application,” BA chief executive Matt Scriven told News Corp.

“Unfortunately, his application doesn’t meet the requirements for the AOC’s support at this time.”

Cotton married Australian Rachel and the pair has an Australian-born daughter but the 30-year-old is set to wait until after next season for approval, which means he is not eligible to represent the Boomers and cannot qualify as a local in the NBL.


Sydney Kings import Derrick Walton Jr has enjoyed a brilliant debut season in the Harbour City, underlined by a classic floor-general performance against Adelaide on Friday night.

In just 20 minutes, the former Detroit Piston dealt a league season-high 13 assists as coach Chase Buford deployed some “funky line-ups” with top spot already stitched up.

Xavier Cooks didn’t take the floor at all in the game and Buford said on Friday night, health was a priority over wins in the last round.

There is a worry over a potential wrist injury to Walton Jr, but Buford said the Michigan native would be OK.

“He’s good, he just aggravated one that’s maybe been giving him some trouble,” Buford said.

“The plan was always for him and DJ (Dejan Vasiljevic) to not play so much tonight, go out and get one more stint in the third and then rest up and get ready for finals.

“Winning games is great but we need to be healthy and ready for round one of the playoffs so that’s the biggest priority for us coming out of this weekend, for sure.”

Walton Jr has been among the best passers in the NBL this season, averaging more than six per game.


Injured United Next Star Ariel Hukporti has ticked off another milestone in his recover from the ruptured Achilles that ruined his NBL23 season.

The 20-year-old completed his first run up and down the court during the week, a simple moment that sent a thrill through the United camp.

The German-Togolese seven-footer has NBA chops but wants to come back to Melbourne United next season.

United coach Dean Vickerman said the club had already been in talks with Hukporti’s management about a return for NBL24.

“he’s already spoken about the prospect of being back with us next (season) and we want to continue to help him with that rehab and hopefully we do see him in a United uniform,” Vickerman said.

“It’s on the cards, and obviously with the league as a Next Star as well, about what that looks like.

“We also want to make sure he spends his time and gets back to Germany. We’re just looking at what the off-season looks like and hopefully we get all those parts right and he’s ready to go for the start of pre-season, if we can get a deal done.”


If taking the New Zealand Breakers from last to second doesn’t win Mody Maor the NBL’s Coach of the Year award, we’ll be stunned.

Maor has done a stellar job to transform the Breakers into championship contenders following two Covid-interrupted seasons, spent mostly on the road.

The New Zealanders have won 18 games this season to secure a top-two position, and home court advantage in the semi finals.

Maor was overwhelmed with emotion after the Breakers’ overtime win against the Bullets in Brisbane on Saturday night.

“Because second place is awesome, man,” Maor said.

“We talked about this and I brought to the coaching staff the predictions before the season.

“They (Brisbane) were supposed to be champions and we were supposed to be going home.

“To come here and win in this way in a tough, hard-fought game, I couldn’t be happier and prouder.”

The Breakers have a week off before facing the winner of the Cairns v Tasmania play-in game in the semis.

The Taipans will be without star big man Keanu Pinder (eye injury), who won’t return this season unless Cairns qualifies for the grand final.

Tasmania has its own injury concerns.

The JackJumpers’ big win over Illawarra on Saturday night came at a cost, with star guard Josh Magette suffering what appears to be a serious facial injury.

Will Magnay and Clint Steindl also left the game with lingering injury questions.

Originally published as Crosscourt: All the news and whispers out of the final round of NBL23

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