Grant Chapman: NZ Breakers body count climbs, as general manager Dillon Boucher walks

OPINION: When Dillon Boucher retired as a Tall Blacks player in 2008, then-coach Nenad Vucinic was desperate to make him his assistant.

It was an Olympic year and Boucher had never coached a game in his life, so Basketball NZ wasn't ready to promote him without spending time on the pathway.

But Vucinic knew what Boucher was capable of - he knew that if basketball didn't grab him immediately, someone else would and he might be lost forever.

So Boucher was eased through the side door as 'video analyst' - which was how he broke onto the Tall Blacks playing roster in the first place - and his offcourt potential was recognised by the NZ Breakers, who eventually made him their general manager.

This week, Boucher walked away from that role with nothing else lined up. 

If you have four kids, you don't quit your job without knowing what your next move will be, unless your position has become absolutely untenable.

But that seems to be how the Breakers roll these days.

The Aussie NBL organisation established to help foster basketball in New Zealand, off the back of the Tall Blacks' breakout 2002 world championship performance, has systematically separated itself from its roots, since new ownership took over last year.

First, coach and foundation player Paul Henare was let loose. Then, captain and club icon Mika Vukona was gone, along with many of the homegrown players and staff that had helped the Breakers to titles over recent years.

Ownership hired rookie coach Kevin Braswell - who also played on a champion Breakers team - to replace Henare, but couldn't dump him fast enough, after his first campaign fell short of the playoffs. 

Fourteen years ago, the Breakers persevered with another rookie coach - Aussie Andre Lemanis - through two seasons and a combined 18-win/46-loss record, before he finally made the post-season and, ultimately, rewarded that faith with three straight championships.

Boucher fans make their feelings known
Boucher fans make their feelings known. Photo credit: Photosport

The way these fan favourites have been dispatched has simply lacked class, which used to be a hallmark of the club under previous management.

While fans were still mourning Henare's departure, the Breakers posted a downtown billboard, purporting to lure NBA superstar LeBron James to Auckland. The gleeful publicity stunt felt like someone dancing on the grave of a dead family member.

Vukona's revered No.14 singlet - surely destined for retirement at some stage - has been handed to hot-shot NBA prospect RJ Hampton, who is strictly a short-term rental at the Breakers. 

While that may be correct - Vukona hasn't retired yet, so why should his number? - his exit is still too fresh for it to sit comfortably with hardcore fans.

Within days of Hampton's signing, Tall Blacks point guard Shea Ili also left the team, probably sensing he was surplus to requirements.

On top of that, one of the four development spots on the Breakers roster - designed as a route for local school-age talent into the top team - has been gifted to Chinese guard Terry Li for three years.

Some decisions have been pure economics. The club's spiritual home of North Shore Events Centre has dropped off the schedule, because its spectator capacity was the smallest in the league.

Boucher was a party to all these changes and he would have quickly found, if you want to be popular, don't get a management job. Many of these moves jeopardised personal relationships with mates he had gone to war with over the years.

His front-office days were probably numbered when new ownership hired a chief operating officer - a general manager by any other name.

Dillon Boucher directs traffic for the Breakers
Dillon Boucher directs traffic for the Breakers. Photo credit: Photosport

But Boucher is smart. As a player, he had uncanny court vision and contributed all the intangibles that made champion teams.

Many of the top Aussies to join the Breakers came here specifically to serve alongside him, because they knew he was a winner.

When NZ basketball turned professional, he was the first to recognise the value of charming media and schmoozing sponsors.

He could still become Tall Blacks coach one day, as long as he isn't snaffled up by some high-paying corporate that lures him away from his beloved game.

The jury is still out on the Breakers though - they desperately need oncourt wins to justify the unacceptable body count.

Grant Chapman is Newshub online sports editor.

 

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