After months of chatter, unbridled enthusiasm and seemingly never-ending league news, the 2019-20 NBL season is finally within sight, with the Preseason Blitz less than two months away.
From the hype of LaMelo Ball, to the rise of a new franchise, let's take a look around the league and catch up on a busy offseason.
The annual roster churn
The NBL's annual player migration period is always a sight to behold. Short-term deals mean the annual churn of talent becomes frothy the moment free agency commences. Imports eye bigger deals elsewhere or chase the NBA. The short tenure of contracts also allows players and teams to pivot direction - agility that can excite the fan.
There are too many roster changes to track here, but we'll focus on some of the biggest names to change jerseys.
Casper Ware jumping ship to the Sydney Kings was perhaps the first major domino to set the trend. The Kings replaced Jerome Randle -- a midrange hesi pull-up savant -- with one of the league's best two-way players who is happy to shoot threes. The Kings also signed a new coach in former Long Island Nets head coach, and current Boomers assistant, Will Weaver.
In response, Melbourne United nabbed Melo Trimble from the Taipans, and further reloaded with Casey Prather and Shawn Long formerly of the New Zealand Breakers.
It's scary to think United could trot out a line-up configurations of Trimble, Chris Goulding, Mitch McCarron, Prather and Long, along with the evergreen Dave Barlow, Shea Ili (Breakers) and one of the league's best backup 5s in Alex Pledger.
In the game of musical chairs, Josh Boone landed with the Illawarra Hawks, which raises some interesting fit issues next to another centre in A.J. Ogilvy. Aaron Brooks (now 34 and who didn't play last year) and LaMelo Ball also join the Hawks.
Earlier in the off-season, Nathan Sobey parted ways with the 36ers and to join the Brisbane Bullets. The All-NBL second teamer, who started his NBL career buried within the straitjacket of Aaron Fearne's disciplined offence before finding himself in the nirvana of a go-go ecosystem under Joey Wright, now finds himself in the Lemanis system which isn't...fast.
Meanwhile, the defending champions, Perth Wildcats, have been strangely quiet, with their splashiest move being the resigning of Grand Final series MVP, Terrico White. Continuity (at least with their domestic core) has long been their ingredient to success.
It's hard to know what's happening with the Taipans and Breakers, who are seemingly oscillating between plans. Whilst the 36ers, after a wayward season last year, look to be much the same - at least stylistically based on the personnel on their roster.
The youngest of the Balls deserves a category all to himself after announcing his decision on ESPN's The Jump to take his talents to Wollongong.
Putting aside the invariable Ball circus to come, the immediate media frenzy that zapped across the NBL world was draining in of itself, like a Kramer all-nighter celebrating a Tony Award. Now think about the wattage when LaVar turns his full attention here.
And the league is no doubt banking on it; their best case scenario is maximum exposure, Stateside, when it comes to this return on investment. The value is in the possibilities.
The real question though is how will the Hawks handle the spotlight?
And perhaps the biggest question of them all: How much is Ball going to contribute on the court?
His size and court vision certainly seem interesting. But how does he fare when he's being harassed by Damian Martin?
A cockeyed optimist would argue that the eyeballs that the LaMelo experiment will attract will far outweigh any potential pitfalls.
Almost lost within Ball-mania was the original splashy Next Stars signing of R.J. Hampton (New Zealand Breakers) - a bonafide lottery prospect.
Talent-wise, Hampton headlines the list of Next Stars which include Ball, Terry Armstrong (Phoenix) and the curious case of Didi Louzada (Kings).
Interestingly, the Hampton/Louzada signings serve as case studies of the Next Stars initiative on the opposite ends of the spectrum. The Hampton/Armstrong/Ball acquisitions followed the original route of NBA Draft hopefuls bypassing college and looking for an alternate pathway - the way Next Stars was originally conceived.
With the NBL recently changing eligibility rules surrounding the program to allow players who were drafted in the most recent draft class, it's enabled someone like Louzada, the 35th pick by the New Orleans Pelicans this year, to essentially join the Kings as an additional import (without the cap hit as the league foots the bill).
The most recent case of a draft-and-stash prospect was Devon Hall, last season for the Taipans, but he was classified as an import, with the requisite roster and financial machinations in play.
Despite the hype surrounding young American talent choosing the NBL as their preferred destination of development, a note of caution: let's see how the youngsters perform in real games against seasoned professionals in this league first. Far too often, we're too quick to jump on all over the glitz and glamour.
Remember, it's hard to produce immediate results, particularly for those in their first professional experience and still embryonic in their developmental stage - it's also why the draft is such a crapshoot.
The NBL season certainly opens with the proverbial bang with the first installment of the newly-minted Melbourne Derby. The South East Melbourne Phoenix launch their regular season existence with a "Throwdown" against Melbourne United on Oct. 3.
Phoenix opened their recruitment with a bang, with Mitch Creek signing as their foundation star and a tentpole around which to build a team. But since then, the moves have been a little shakier as there are still serious question marks to their depth, particularly with bigs.
It was also a shame that Chima Moneke was also signed before being released after he was unable to qualify as a local player.
But positively, Ben Madgen returns to the league after a four year absence, whilst Tai Wesley will also suit up in green. Both are proven NBL-level scorers.
Dan Trist, Dane Pineau and Deng Acuoth also join the rotation, but they're largely guys who could not crack regular roles in their previous teams. Adam Gibson and Kyle Adnam provide some veteran presence off the bench.
Import guard, John Roberson, looks to have the pedigree; the veteran lead guard has previously played across Europe and will bring some much-needed hardness.
However the real story is the rise of a ninth franchise to the league. The fact that it's in Melbourne, where they share a court with United, only serves to spotlight any early struggles for the fledgling franchise.
So, is there a healthy distaste of one another yet?
"I'll be honest, there isn't yet," United swingman Mitch McCarron tells EPSN. "Once that game comes, everyone's going to be really fired up and you'll start to see that rivalry really build."
Genuine rivalries take time to marinate, especially when one team is battle-hardened with championship DNA, whilst the other is a sapling trying to grow establish its roots and develop a sustainable identity and culture.
It's hard for an expansion team to thrive immediately, despite the best efforts to recruit leaders to mould a franchise in its image. Still, we can't wait to see the Phoenix rise into action.
Another installment of the crossover games marks the third year in a row that NBL teams will face off against NBA competition - it's almost become an expected treat for NBL fans.
With the games scheduled at the start of the NBL season proper, there is a genuine question surrounding how disruptive they are to building early-season rhythm and momentum.
How much impact do these games have in early-season form? What about fatigue?
As an example, McCarron's United travel to face the LA Clippers on Oct. 14, and three days later face off against the Sacramento Kings. They then come home to play the Wildcats on Oct. 20. It may be three games (and the long-distance travel) within a week, but according to McCarron, the players enjoy the challenge.
"You can look at it as a major disruption - you can use it as an excuse," he says. "Or you can just accept this is an opportunity that not many people get to do [play against NBA teams]. And the only way to do it is to fly over there and play."
To navigate those pitfalls, teams rely upon the foundations they've set in preseason - the trust in each other, and buy-in within their roles. That only happens with a strong culture.
"Because if we go away on that trip, and we come back tired," McCarron adds, "and we don't have that foundation, that's when losses can start piling up."
Nevertheless, the games do serve to highlight a blooming relationship with the NBA and the league office can rightfully puff their collective chests out.
This time around, only three teams will do battle with their American counterparts representing the NBL's march along the NBA frontier; like United, the Breakers play twice (Memphis Grizzlies and OKC Thunder), whilst the 36ers play the Utah Jazz.
Speaking of frontiers and expansions, the NBL will take the Blitz to Tasmania this preseason. Is this all but foreshadowing a Tassie team on the horizon? Time will tell.
The 2019-20 NBL season begins on Oct. 3, and you can catch the best of the action on ESPN.