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Thursday, 14 May 2020 16:27

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Pioneers Hire New Assistant, Face Uncertain Offseason

KANSAS CITY, MO (AP) -- The Kansas City Pioneers today announced the hiring of new assistant coach Thomas Rousseau to a 3 year contract. Rousseau, 56, -- a former star guard for the French men's national basketball team -- brings over 25 years of experience coaching in the LNB Pro A league, the top-tier professional basketball league in France. This will be Rousseau's first time coaching in the OBWL. He replaces former assistant Joseph Bricker, who at age 63 retired in the offseason.

"Thomas has a great reputation as a player's coach and in particular in developing players' shooting and handling skills" said Pioneers GM Ben Johnson, speaking with reporters in a scheduled conference call. "He came highly recommended to me by some old contacts in Paris and I was impressed by his interview. We're excited to bring him over here to the OBWL and think he'll be a tireless worker and real asset to our staff."

After discussing the new hire, Johnson answered questions about the team's future. By his account, the Pioneers had an unexpectedly strong season, winning 62 regular season games before getting swept by the eventual champion Tampa Bay Tritons in the Conference Finals. "When the season started, we traded Mack Lavoie and drafted Ambrose Vela with the #10 pick. We figured we were in for a transition season, and in the preseason we were focused on trying to win 50 games and stay in contention for the division title."

"To the credit of the coaching staff, several new players, and our returning veterans, they exceeded those expectations. We dealt with some extended injuries and had nine new players on the roster, all of which were a part of the rotation at some point in the season. Despite all that we were still able to win the division, win 60-plus games for a sixth straight season, and made it all the way to the Conference Finals. We're disappointed we got swept, we really wanted to try to bring home a championship, but the Tritons were flat out better than us. Better than everyone, really. We wish we had a better showing against them but overall it was a memorably great effort by our team last season" said Johnson.

The Pioneers head into the offseason in more of a state of flux than any other time during Johnson's 14 year tenure. They currently have only four players under contract (Charles Cazares, Joe Turner, Mark Marble, and Vela) heading into the rookie draft. The Pioneers hold picks #27 and #55, so there's no expectation they'll be able to add an impact player via the draft this year, unlike the previous season when they added Vela, who played well in limited minutes as a rookie and was named OBWL All-Rookie Second Team.

The Pioneers declined the team option on SG David Kitchen's contract this offseason, and league insiders are saying it is very likely that Kansas City will buy out the final year of the 5 year, $87.9 million dollar contract that Mark Marble signed as a free agent in July 2023. Those moves are expected to clear enough room (about $22 or $23 million) for a max contract offer to a veteran free agent.

A max salary slot that large is enough to allow the Pioneers to pursue top tier free agents like seven-time MVP Charles Flowers, three-time champions Jose Owens and Val Crumley, or 2023 Playoff MVP Domenic Baum. The question remains though, who would those superstars be coming to play with in Kansas City? Is All Star center and All Defense 1st Teamer Charles Cazares and a raw-but-talented wing like Vela enough to lure a game-changing free agent to wear Pioneer purple and gold?

The Pioneers still retain the Bird rights of veterans like Kitchens, Richard Hardee, Johnnie Bechtel, and Blake Cobb so it's possible that they could get a star player to sign and then resign those players to fill out the roster -- if those players are still available if or when a prize free agent is secured. That's a big "if."

When questioned about these scenarios Johnson, who is prevented by league rules from publicly commenting on other team's players until free agency officially begins, was non-committal: "The upside, if any, to having several players on expiring contracts is that at least you have roster flexibility. You can be assured we'll do whatever we can to make the most of that flexibility and make good decisions for the future of the team. But as for specifics, I can't even speculate because there is no way to know how things will play out. For now, everything is wide open" said Johnson.


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