Vukona set to bite the bullet
With no cast-iron deal in front of him from the new Breakers management, club legend and five-time 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.
Vukona played 13 seasons all told with the Breakers in two stints, and under Lemanis’ tutelage won a three-peat of championships between 2011-13.
He also won a title with Melbourne’s South Dragons in 2008-09.
Fox Sports are reporting that the 35-year-old Fiji-born Kiwi has signed with the Bullets who are in the process of remaking their roster.
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 told Stuff.
‘‘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.’’
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,’’ added Boucher. ‘‘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 percent from the free-throw line.
‘‘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,’’ added Boucher. ‘‘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.
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.
Mika Vukona is said to be heading back across the Tasman to play his Australian NBL basketball.