Breakers from champions to NBL bad boys

Daniel Gilhooly
New Zealand Breakers have won just two of their 10 NBL games this season under coach Dan Shamir

Mika Vukona was the heartbeat of the New Zealand Breakers when they dominated the NBL.

The New Zealand captain was a quiet but unflinching force in the No.14 singlet as the Breakers club claimed four NBL titles in five seasons.

These days that same number is adorned by RJ Hampton. The precociously talented American teenager bringing hype and headlines but, so far, not many wins.

The transition perfectly symbolises an extraordinary metamorphosis the once dominant club has undergone since new American ownership took charge 18 months ago.

The Kiwi outfit has become the black sheep of the NBL and not just because they reside on the lowest rungs of the ladder this season.

A spate of off-court scandals over the past week have hit the Breakers like a sledgehammer.

Troubled American import Glen Rice Jr faces assault charges after an early-morning arrest in Auckland.

Rice has been suspended by club management in a stance that contrasts with their original plan to field him against the Wildcats in Perth on Sunday just days after his arrest, a move blocked by the NBL.

Forward Tom Vodanovich then had to answer to police awaiting his arrival at Auckland airport a day later because of drunken behaviour on the flight home from Western Australia.

Owner and CEO Matt Walsh tried to defend the pair but his credibility is on shaky ground after a very public blow-up with the NBL commissioner, resulting in a fine and suspension.

The Breakers of 2011 to 2015 were insistent throughout their dynasty that success was built on team culture, believing a set of wholesome values set them apart.

Long-time Kiwi owners Paul and Liz Blackwell were massively respected - the philanthropic husband and wife focused on fostering young local talent - and treated the players like family, generating club-fan harmony.

Financial success was down the priority list.

Among their principles was a "no d***head" recruitment policy and creating pathways from within for future coaches and management.

The Blackwells sold up last year to the US consortium headed by 36-year-old former NBA player Walsh.

A sign all wasn't well came early when Paul Henare surprisingly stepped down as coach after 15 straight years playing and coaching at the Breakers.

It kickstarted a Kiwi exodus which included Vukona among a host of seemingly unwanted homegrown players and coaches, many of whom had connections to the glory years.

An American satirical sports website came on board as a major sponsor but there was outrage when it was revealed to be best known for its crude language and misogynistic humour.

This season's overhauled roster features just two noted Tall Blacks - Corey Webster and captain Tom Abercrombie.

An unhappy Webster wanted out in September but his request to play in Turkey was blocked by Walsh.

General manager Dillon Boucher, an iconic New Zealand basketball figure, gave no explanation for his abrupt pre-season departure. The father of four had no job to leave for.

Boucher issued a fleeting critique of the new management when he later said he would never have agreed to the signing of Rice, who boasted a chequered off-court CV.

Assistant coach Mike Fitchett exited a week before the season began, later explaining he had no chemistry with the club's new Israeli coach Dan Shamir.

Getting former Breakers or basketball identities in New Zealand to comment on the record about the club's direction has been a futile task.

AAP has been turned down for numerous interviews, including from Basketball New Zealand, which is known to be uncomfortable with the Breakers' move away from Kiwi youth development.

Walsh has always maintained he'd try to brighten the club's finances.

In an interview with NewstalkZB on Tuesday, Walsh questioned the definition of success when measuring the final seasons of the Blackwell era.

He pointed out this year's home crowds had swelled to record levels, attracted by the excitement generated by stars such as Hampton.

"I'm not the Blackwells and I'm never going to be. I'm not apologetic about that," Walsh said.

"There's a reason the Blackwells were trying to find a buyer for this team for over a year.

"That's because the business was not successful, the business was failing, there was going to be no Breakers.

"There was no New Zealander who was going to touch it."

Walsh admits he gambled and lost by signing Rice but won't rule out taking more risks in a bid to resuscitate a winning record that has flatlined.