Perth Wildcats coach Rob Beveridge is confident he can lead the club to a 27th consecutive play-offs appearance despite being forced to release Luke Nevill and reduce the size of his squad.
Giant centre Nevill fell victim to the salary and player points cap squeeze, while Drew Williamson was told to look elsewhere this week following a disappointing season.
The Wildcats are in advanced talks with New Zealand-born guard Everard Bartlett and are expected to announce the re-signing of local forward Greg Hire and Kiwi international Jeremiah Trueman to complete a 10-man squad next week.
Seven players from last season’s squad will return and attempt to atone for last season’s grand final series defeat to the New Zealand Breakers.
Beveridge predicted the Wildcats would challenge for another title and moved to allay fears over the club’s perceived lack of height without 218cm Nevill.
“It’s not a big league,” Beveridge said. “Two years ago we were the best rebounding team in the league (without Nevill) and last year we were third.”
Nevill is eyeing a lucrative move to Europe or a potential NBA career, but the door has been left open for the local product to return if the stars align in the future.
The Wildcats had been eager to sign a three-point specialist but will instead back their existing players to improve in that area.
They had also targeted an enforcer in the mould of American forward Galen Young, who played a key role in the 2010 championship team, but are unlikely to sign a player capable of giving them that harder edge.
Instead they will bank on Matt Knight returning to full fitness following two injury-plagued seasons in Perth.
Knight will have surgery to repair damage to his left shoulder next week after suffering a subluxation of the joint in February.
He played under duress for the final two months of the NBL season but was forced to withdraw from the preliminary Australian Boomers squad for the London Olympics this week.
Knight was a long shot to be selected for the Olympics and, with one year remaining on his Wildcats contract, opted to undergo surgery to give himself the best chance of returning to his best in the 2012-13 season.
“He’s the best big man in the league when he’s fit,” Beveridge said.
Bartlett temporarily replaced the injured Damian Martin in the Wildcats line-up last season and joined Adelaide when the first-choice point-guard returned.
He impressed in 16 games with the Sixers, averaging six points and two assists.Before breaking into the NBL, Bartlett had been part of Perth’s extended training squad and spent time under Wildcats assistant coach Shawn Dennis in the New Zealand national league.