The Sydney Kings are entering NBL season 2019-20 as one of the favorites to win the championship after bolstering an already strong squad led by league MVP Andrew Bogut with the off-season signings of Casper Ware and NBA second-round pick Didi Louzada.
Sydney's championship drought extends back to 2005, but despite that, first-year coach Will Weaver says he's "thrilled" with the steps taken by the team this off-season to put them into a position to once again challenge for a title.
"I feel like the group of people we've assembled - players and staff - gave us a chance to really get better and really build on the foundation that was started over the past several years by coach [Andrew] Gaze, Brad [Newley], Daniel Kickert," Weaver tells ESPN.
"The guys who have equity in the program and have helped get it to where it is now, they've been making the finals and now everybody's ready to take the next step.
"This off-season was about filling out the roster and filling out the coaching staff, medical teams, our performance group, with really quality team-first people that can help deliver what the players need to achieve what are really high expectations."
Weaver is coming off a season in which he helped lead a Long Island Nets team to the finals of the G-League; the Nets had failed to make the playoffs the year before he took charge. With the Kings, though, Weaver is expected to help turn a championship contender into champions. The difficulty in this is that of the team that got swept by Melbourne United in the semi-finals last season, only four players are returning. Weaver says he's essentially getting a whole new squad.
"With the Kings we have four returning players, so that means you have nine new guys to integrate. Some of [those] guys have never stepped foot on Australian soil before," he says.
"For us, when we thought about the puzzle in the off-season about how to take a team that had made the playoffs but were beaten in their only two playoff games, it started for us by trying to think about, 1) we have one of the truly most unique players in the league in Andrew Bogut and so, who are the kinds of people, and kind of skillsets that fit around him?"
Weaver says the team identified United point guard Casper Ware as their primary target. Ware torched the Kings for 52 points and eight assists over their two game series in last season's playoffs. The Kings' coach likes what he's seen from his new floor leader so far.
"Early on when we looked at the possible free agents we identified Casper Ware as the creme de la creme, [a guy] who plays the right way and has a skill set that complements Bogues. I thought those guys would play well together and so far it looks like we were right," he says.
Sydney opened their preseason camp prior to Weaver leaving with the Boomers for the World Cup in China. It should come as no surprise who he was most impressed by during those camps - the team's anchor.
"Hard not to say Bogues," Weaver states. "I know his game for a long time playing against his teams in the NBA. I'm just a huge fan of his approach: he's pushing the ball up the floor; he's playmaking for others; he's rolling aggressively. That's added into the other things that were already world class - screening, offensive rebounding, shot-blocking, communication - those things, in combination, make him one of the best big men of the planet. That's a nice place to start if you're walking in as a first-year head coach in any league."
It may be a great situation to walk into, but with great expectation comes immense pressure, especially for a team in Australia's largest market with the biggest names in the NBL on its roster. They're expecting results. Immediately.
Weaver doesn't believe there is any added pressure on the squad this season.
"I think when you come to Sydney, you have to embrace the fact that this is a global capital," he says. "A place where the media scrutiny, the fan base, there's just gonna be pressure that comes along with that. I don't shy away from the fact that we've got high expectations and we're building something to try and fulfill those."
The Kings open their season Oct. 4 away to the Cairns Taipans on ESPN.