The NBL’s bottom-placed side in the Cairns Taipans has this morning announced their decision to end Mike Kelly’s reign as coach after this season.
The call was made following the Taipan’s 101-76 point loss to the ladder-leading Melbourne United, which confirmed Cairns will finish in last place.
It’s been an up and down few years for the Cairns Taipans in the NBL, rebounding from the bottom of the table to play-offs action in the 2019/20 season before slipping back down this year.
In a season where injuries have demolished Cairns’ prospects of backing up their 2019/20 play-offs finish, last night’s 25-point loss proved enough for the Taipans to make the call on Kelly, who looked exhausted in the post-match press conference.
“I think it’s been a season of ups and downs where we have had to get through adversity, like every other team,” Kelly said.
“I think we feel bad about how we finished the game.”
Kelly’s exit will signal a new era for the Taipans, who will be keen to fight for consistency in their performances after mixed results in the past few seasons. Following their Friday night upset win over South East Melbourne Phoenix, Cairns looked a different team against United, who quickly broke down their zone defence with quick passing.
The loss was compounded by poor shooting numbers, as the Taipans could only shoot at 37 percent from the field and was comfortably out-rebounded by the stronger United big men.
The big loss proved the final straw for Kelly, who is the reigning NBL coach of the year and still has another season left on his contract. But nine losses out of Cairns’ last ten matches proved too much.
Despite the shock news, Kelly was optimistic about the experience given to younger players throughout the second half of the NBL season due to injuries to starting members of the squad.
“It’s tough when you’re missing players – players that have great experience at this level and who shoot the ball well,” Kelly said.
“But it’s been a great opportunity for some guys to get more minutes, it’s good to see that they’re ready, especially against United – the best opposition you can go up against.”
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The eventual margin may have been substantial in the neutral setting of Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena, but periods throughout the second quarter proved Cairns has a good future ahead of them.
Centre Nathan Jawai was his usual self with ten points and six rebounds, while young Majok Deng (13 points and two blocks), Mirko Djeric (16 points) and Tad Dufelmeier (13 points and five rebounds) could also hold their heads high in the loss.
But the biggest sign of development came with New Zealand-born Jordan Hunt, who was gifted more minutes in an attempt to offset United’s dominance. He may not have starred, but Hunt’s enthusiasm for taking on the NBL’s top-placed team proved where the Taipans can gain improvement from.
“Playing against Melbourne, the quality and depth of their team is really awesome to go up against,” Hunt said.
“It’s a good challenge – I’m just trying to go out there and play as hard as I can to contribute to the team.”
Young players like Hunt will be key for Cairns, who will no doubt be left reeling after the axing of Kelly.