Wildcats embarking on new NBL era, but expectation remains the same

Expectation: "It's the elephant in the room."

New Perth coach Scott Morrison has inherited the keys to the NBL's most successful club, but with the Wildcats comes pressure to deliver immediately.

Morrison's introduction to the NBL hasn't been smooth.

A drawn-out process to even get to Australia, injuries, illness and coaching his new roster via Zoom until the NBL Blitz, has made the transition challenging, but the former Boston Celtics assistant isn't shying away from the Red Army's demands.

"I'm pretty sure there are about 15,000 people that are going to say the goal is to win the championship, so I can't really argue with that," Morrison told ESPN.

"(The delayed arrival) was something that was really hard to be honest, as a family. And I think that it helped us and showed that we can get through some tough things if we work together.

"As a coach, I think it was good for me just to try and improve my communication skills and my organisation. Trying to explain things that I was looking for from that far away is a unique, unique situation to deal with."

Over 12 years, Perth has claimed six championships, reached nine Grand Final series' and their 35-straight postseason winning streak is a world record -- one which some predict will end in NBL22.

Five-time championship-winning coach Trevor Gleeson's departure to Toronto, with his flex offence, signified a new era in Perth and for the first time in a long time, one of the Cats' strengths has been nullified: familiarity.

Fortunately, the team's offensive anchor Bryce Cotton was part of Morrison's inheritance.

The three-time NBL MVP is now a Wildcats veteran and showed no signs of quad issues in the Blitz after emergency surgery last season ended his finals campaign.

Jesse Wagstaff is also back for a 13th NBL season. The captain has a record-tying six titles and was part of the original core, assembled by Rob Beveridge, that helped build the club's winning culture.

This year, the 35-year-old and senior players, like Cotton and point guard Mitch Norton, have had to help maintain the new-look line-up's mindset as they learn a new system from scratch.

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"I think we've done pretty well," Wagstaff said, "we were still doing Zoom film pretty much every day, and (Morrison) was running that. And then we obviously had Mike Kelly, Luke Brennan and Keegan Crawford (assistant coaches) running practice and implementing (Morrison's) system.

"Early on in the preseason, some of the new guys have had to ask me what are we doing here? In years past, I would know because I'd been in that system for eight years, but we just had to work it out together and shoot Scott a text. So it was certainly different."

Morrison's arrival coincides with a change in ownership as well.

Aging mining magnate Jack Bendat was the perfect owner, donating millions to charity while helping grow basketball in WA. He's been replaced by the Sports Entertainment Group, led by Craig Hutchinson.

From philanthropy to flash.

Wagstaff is adamant this change has had the least impact on day-to-day preparations and with the season opener on Friday against Adelaide, there are more pressing issues front of mind.

Starter Todd Blanchfield is a week away from playing, guard Kevin White and young star Luke Travers both missed Monday training due to illness, but the biggest blow was Norton's knee injury which has proved far worse than first anticipated.

The Wildcats' court general sat out the NBL Blitz but was expected to play against the 36ers; he will now miss around five weeks.

"On Friday morning when we see who is healthy, we'll finalise the plan and go from there. I'm wary of jinxing anything," Morrison told reporters. "I don't want to put the hex on anyone right now." There have been positives.

The Wildcats' improvement could be seen in real time in Tasmania.

Their 25 turnovers and just 53 points in game one was defendable considering the lead-up and just meeting your coach in person, but the side's response was a great sign for fans.

Finishing 2-3 in Tassie, big-name signing Vic Law had the same ability witnessed in Brisbane last season before an injury, averaging 17.8 points and 8.2 rebounds.

Law and Cotton could form the strongest 1-2 punch in the NBL and like the rest of the Cats line-up, looked increasingly comfortable in the fast-paced and free flowing system.

"I don't think we run a very complicated offense, so it doesn't take long to catch on," Morrison said.

"It's just a matter of basically finding your comfort zone within it. And if the last couple of games are any indication, we're getting there."

Morrison has also had to make his own adjustments to the Australian game.

"The timeouts are way longer in the NBA," he said, "I realised that in the first game and I hadn't even got to the huddle yet, and the referee was calling us our first timeout."

"There's going to be a lot of pressure on the games to move faster here than they do in the NBA."

A welcome surprise was the impact of the young Wildcats during the Blitz.

With Norton and Todd Blanchfield (knee) resting and import wing signing Michael Frazier II going down with a groin injury, the Cats were forced to test their bench and development players.

Guard Kyle Zunic looked comfortable at the NBL level and will get an opportunity early in the season, centre Oliver Hayes-Brown exploded for 13 points and 11 rebounds, while Luke Travers continued to make highlights.

Much has been spoken about Travers' NBA aspirations, the 20-year-old Rockingham product now fully contracted after an unbelievable run during last year's semifinal series against Illawarra.

His athleticism as a point-forward is remarkable but with injuries mounting and the departure of scorers like All-NBL First-Teamer John Mooney and Clint Steindl, Morrison needs Travers to make another leap as soon as possible.

"I think what we have to do is try and get him to be a little bit more of a killer mentality and especially to start the games," he said.

"That's going to be something that at least until we get healthy, we're going to need them to do, and I think we're going to rely on him quite a bit.

"So, you know, it's quite a bit of pressure on him to perform, let alone the goals that he's kind of set for himself."

Injuries and the stagnated start for the Wildcats aren't the only questions before Friday.

Mooney and Will Magnay's exit has put pressure on Matt Hodgson and Majok Majok to carry centre duties, guard depth will be pushed until Norton returns and the West Australian Government's rigid border policy is an ever-present threat of blowing the season schedule out of the water.

But the 'new core', as Wagstaff put it, have an expectation of themselves just as much as the Red Army.

"I'm not sure how many years I have left, but it's kind of on them to carry that forward, he said.

"And hopefully you leave the club in a better place and that's the goal and you leave it for someone else to carry them."

The standard expected in Perth has come after more than a decade of success.

While some predict the end of the empire out west, the Wildcats have done nothing but win to this point. So why jump off the bandwagon after just a couple of early bumps?