MELBOURNE Tigers hope to spark a run at back-to-back NBL titles by signing fan favourite Dave Thomas in a shock move.
Recently released by the financially stricken Cairns Taipans, Thomas returns to the Tigers to replace Rod Grizzard in one of the import spots, while the starting line-up may also undergo a shake-up.
The move to bring back Thomas, who played in the Tigers' past two championship teams, will please the fans.
But it is tough on Grizzard, who was cut yesterday just hours after scoring a team-high 25 points in the 109-91 home loss to the Adelaide 36ers.
Facing 14 days until they play again and with the playoffs looming, the inconsistent Tigers (11-8) decided to make the import switch in the hope Thomas would be a better fit for their roster and would have a better feel for the offensive structure.
"It's hard to be critical of Rod," Tigers coach Al Westover said yesterday.
"We just need to shake things up a bit and DT can come in right away and be ready to go. With the change we're making, the guys haven't clicked and everyone knows DT and he knows everyone."
Signed from the Singapore Slingers in the off-season, Grizzard (12.5 ppg, 6.2 rebounds) was expected to add to the Tigers' offensive weaponry in a line-up some touted as potentially the best in NBL history.
But the Tigers failed to play with any consistency and sometimes appeared to be lacking chemistry and urgency, while failing to live up to the expectations of a team that has won two titles in the past three seasons.
With Thomas back there is sure to be a buzz among the players, while a decent reshuffle of the starting unit might also wake up the Tigers, whose longest winning streak of the season is just three games.
Westover is already looking at bringing Nathan Crosswell and Tommy Greer into the starting five while moving David Barlow from guard to forward, with Stephen Hoare reverting to his sixth-man role.
That means Thomas, who is coming off a knee medial ligament injury, will start his second stint with the Tigers coming off the bench.
He is likely to be a starter in the off-guard position for the playoffs in February.
"We might change things around," Westover said.
"It's a bit of a shake-up so we'll see if it gets the group going."
It comes at a time when the third-placed Tigers are desperately looking for answers.
Not only are they suffering a performance malaise, illness is hampering centre Chris Anstey.
Westover described the loss to the Sixers as the worst Tigers performance he had ever known, at a time when his team was putting out spot fires on several fronts and needed to have them under control over the next month.
Putting an end to the Tigers' inconsistency is one thing Westover has been constantly addressing, while Anstey's apparent lethargy in recent games is a major concern, not only for his health, but for Melbourne's chances of winning back-to-back titles.
"He's not 100 per cent and it's been tough for him wanting to play and not being able to play as well as he wants," Westover said.
"He's had some blood tests done, but he's tired and we're not sure what it is. So we're going to give him some time off to try to get it right.
"Unfortunately, Chris feels a lot of pressure because we feed off him so much and when Chris is down everyone seems to be down."
With Anstey (12 points, 12 rebounds) only playing 29min 30sec out of 48, the Tigers looked to imports Ebi Ere (20 points, 10 rebounds) and Grizzard) for the bulk of their scoring, but it was to no avail.
After outstanding Sixers import Julius Hodge (31 points, 13-19 FG, eight rebounds) sparked a 35-19 first-quarter lead that turned into a 62-38 halftime advantage, there was little the Tigers could do to get back into the game.
"It was as bad as it gets," Westover said.
"I can't recall us playing that badly. We just seemed flat and lethargic. It was a big game and a chance to do something, but we weren't there.
"I can deal with losing, but we didn't seem to have any focus and desire and passion. Even if you lose, you want to be known for playing as hard as you can."
Of added concern to the Tigers will be the fact they are only 6-4 this season at The Cage, once a fortress for them.
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