Vukona set to bite bullet
With no cast-iron deal in front of him from the new Breakers management, club legend and fivetime NBL champion Mika Vukona is reportedly heading to reunite with his old coach Andrej Lemanis at the Brisbane Bullets.
Stuff understands that Vukona was told he was no longer seen as a starter at the Breakers under the new ownership group headed by American Matt Walsh, and reports have emerged in Australia that he is now heading to join Lemanis at the Bullets where he will line up alongside Tall Blacks team-mate Reuben Te Rangi who has just inked a new deal to remain in Brisbane.
Vukona played 13 seasons all told with the Breakers in two stints, and under Lemanis’ tutelage won a threepeat of championships between 2011-13. He also won a title with Melbourne’s South Dragons in 2008-09.
Fox Sports are reporting that the Fiji-born Kiwi, 35, has signed with the Bullets who are in the process of remaking their roster after another season that fell short of their targets. They have also reportedly lured Boomers guard Cam Gliddon from Cairns on a new three-year deal.
Breakers General Manager Dillon Boucher did not want to comment on Vukona’s reported departure because they had yet to receive indications to that effect from the player, but he confirmed they had been happy for the club veteran to test the free-agency market.
‘‘We actually don’t know what Mika is doing. He wanted to go to free-agency, and I put that down to not having a coach in place and him not knowing what the landscape was going to look like,’’ Boucher said.
‘‘His agent is in Austria right now which makes it tough to deal with him. We know he has been talking to teams, and we gave him our blessing to do that. But we don’t know what he’s doing.’’
Boucher confirmed the club had not got to the stage of making Vukona an offer, but he had been told they wanted him back and valued his ongoing role as a senior player. Stuff understands Vukona was informed he would no longer be a starter.
‘‘We told him we wanted him back,’’ Boucher said. ‘‘We said go out and see what’s out there but we want you around. We hadn’t got to the point where we were making offers yet purely because we were waiting to see what he came back with.’’
But Boucher did concede that Vukona’s on-court contribution was not at the level it had once been. He averaged 6.2 points and
6.0 rebounds in 20.9 minutes in the
2017-18 ANBL season, shooting 54 percent from the floor and 42 per cent from the free-throw line.
"We said go out and see what's out there but we want you around."
Breakers General Manager Dillon Boucher
‘‘It’s the progression of a professional athlete: you start out on the bench, make your way up, then end your career winding your way down,’’ Boucher said. ‘‘We saw it with Kirk [Penney], CJ [Bruton] and Pauli [Henare], and the list goes on.’’
Vukona has played 15 seasons all told in the Australian NBL, 13 for the Breakers and one each for South Dragons and the Gold Coast Blaze. He is also into his 14th season of international hoops with the Tall Blacks and returns to Nelson for the upcoming Kiwi NBL.
For a long time he has been regarded as one of the premier power forwards in the league, and a player whose contribution far outweighed what showed up on the stat sheet. His toughness, relentlessness and dogged pursuit of loose balls and rebounds made him a linchpin of the Breakers’ four championships.
Boucher also confirmed the status of young Tall Blacks power forward Finn Delany who showed up on the free-agents list as contracted.
‘‘We’re in negotiations with him at the moment, and hope to announce him very soon. We’re pretty confident we will get the deal done, and the NBL allowed us to keep that one on our books because we were on the cusp of having him signed.’’
The Breakers, under new coach Kevin Braswell, are now set to undergo their own roster makeover after the retirement of Kirk Penney and now the departure of Vukona which will free up a hefty swag of salary.
So far only centre Alex Pledger, small forward Tom Abercrombie and young point guard Shea Ili have been contracted for next season and beyond.
It is no secret that new coach Braswell would love to reunite with former Breaker Tai Wesley who was such an important part of Melbourne’s title run and played for Braswell in the New Zealand NBL at the Saints. Wesley covers the same power forward position as Vukona, and the Kiwi club suddenly has a big hole to fill there.
Wesley is now a free agent and has indicated he is looking elsewhere after Melbourne’s latest offer fell short of what he was looking for.
Mika Vukona, left, is said to be leaving the Breakers and heading back across the Tasman to play his Australian NBL basketball.