NBL Commissioner: Illawarra Hawks Have 'Plenty' of Suitors Amid LaMelo Ball Buzz

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistApril 5, 2020

FILE - In this Nov. 17, 2019, file photo, LaMelo Ball of the Illawarra Hawks carries the ball up during their game against the Sydney Kings in the Australian Basketball League in Sydney.  LaMelo Ball's bone bruise on his left foot is expected to keep him out of the Illawarra Hawks lineup for the remainder of the National Basketball League season in Australia. The 18-year-old American, who joined Illawarra as part of the NBL's Next Stars program, is expected to be a first-round pick in this year's NBA draft.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, File)
Rick Rycroft/Associated Press

NBL Commissioner Jeremy Loeliger said Sunday that the Illawarra Hawks have "plenty" of suitors after LaMelo Ball's manager, Jermaine Jackson, erroneously announced the teenager and projected top-three pick in this year's NBA draft had purchased the team.

According to the Australian Associated Press (h/t ESPN), the team's long-standing sponsor, Tory Lavalle, had "miscommunicated developments," leading to the premature announcement Thursday.

"We own the team," Jackson told ESPN's Jonathan Givony. "It's a done deal."

Loeliger clarified the situation Sunday, classifying it as an "honest mistake."

"It was a bit of misunderstanding and a miscommunication and I don't think there was any malice intended," he said. "I don't think anyone was trying to leverage the situation. I think it just snowballed and it got a little bit out of control but we've all had conversations and there's certainly no bad blood out there between anyone."

Loeliger added that the NBL is still in discussions with Ball and Jackson.

"We're continuing to have discussions with them, which is great, but there are plenty of others in the background also," he said. "It may be that we come to an agreement with one of them, it may be that we come to an agreement with multiple of them and that they decide to do something together. But we'll take our time now to make sure that we get the mix right."

The club, which was facing financial collapse, has been temporarily taken over by the NBL while it seeks out new ownership.

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"'Melo loves the Illawarra fans," Jackson noted. "He loves that community. They opened their arms to him. They made us feel like we are at home. When we started hearing about the issues they were going through, we talked about it and decided, 'Let's own the team.'"

The 18-year-old Ball spent the last season with the Hawks, winning the league's Rookie of the Year award. B/R's Jonathan Wasserman has compared him to both a hybrid of Ricky Rubio and Caris LeVert and of Penny Hardaway and Jason Williams.

And The Athletic's Sam Vecenie has Ball as the top player on his Thursday big board, noting that "there was no single player in this draft class that consistently left me in awe as much as Ball."

Vecenie added that Ball had the most upside in the class of 2020, noting that Ball "is a good enough passer that it's my opinion he'll enter the league as one of the 10 or so best passers and playmakers for others from day one."

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