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St. John's Edge gamble on Gabe

Gabe Freeman, shown in this file photo playing against Billy White and the Halifax Hurricanes, has averaged more than 20 points per game over the last three NBL Canada seasons in Saint John, N.B. — Canadian Press file photo/Andrew Vaughan
Gabe Freeman, shown in this file photo playing against Billy White and the Halifax Hurricanes, has averaged more than 20 points per game over the last three NBL Canada seasons in Saint John, N.B. — Canadian Press file photo/Andrew Vaughan

They trade for rights to former league MVP Freeman, but without any guarantee he will actually come here

The reigning National Basketball League of Canada most valuable player has traded for a former league MVP.

But it remains to be seen if Gabe Freeman will play for Carl English and the St. John’s Edge.

On Tuesday, the Edge acquired the rights to Freeman, named the NBL Canada’s top player in 2011-12, from the Saint John Riptide in exchange for the rights to Canadian guard Alex “Superman” Johnson, the Edge’s first-round pick in the league’s upcoming draft and future considerations.

In effect, it’s a swap of veteran players their former teams had protected, but didn’t believe they could re-sign.

Freeman, a 32-year-old, 6-6 forward, was the Riptide’s leading scorer when he left Saint John midway through last season for Baghdad and a team in Iraq’s top professional league.

The Edge probably have a small window of time in which to lure Freeman to Newfoundland. Starting today, any player on the protected lists of NBL Canada teams who haven’t yet come to an agreement with the protecting club, can accept offers from elsewhere in the league.

The original club then has 48 hours in which to match or surpass the offer.

English, the Edge’s star guard who has been acting as the team’s interim general manager this off-season said he has interest in at least four players who were on other team’s protected lists. But once again, he cautioned that signing or acquiring a player in the NBLC doesn’t guarantee that player will be a lock to actually play. Contracts are only effective within the league and can be trumped by outside offers.

“Like I’ve said before, the problem is that if you trade for players or sign them, you don’t ever know if they’ll be here or if you can keep them here,” said English, who said he expects the situation to soon become clearer as other leagues finalize their rosters for seasons that start earlier then the NBLC’s.

But he also predicts there will be changes right up until the start of the Edge’s regular season in November.

“It is what it is, but we’re working diligently to get the best players here. You target them and then see where it goes,” added English.

“You hope you can provide the right (situation) for them to want to come here, and sometimes you get lucky, but the reality is that if they get a job overseas, they’re probably going to take it.”

Freeman is probably a good example. He has played five seasons in the NBL Canada split between the London Lightning and Saint John, but the Arizona native has shown a willingness to market his considerable talent worldwide, which was obvious when he left North America for war-torn Iraq last winter.

Freeman has also played in leagues in the United States, Mexico, the Philippines and Australia, suiting up with 13 different teams in the last dozen years.

Wherever he’s played, he’s been among his club’s best players, if not the best.

In 2012, he led the Lightning to the championship in the NBLC’s inaugural season, earning both regular-season and playoff MVP honours. In 101 games over three seasons in Saint John, N.B., he averaged more than 20 points and just over 9.5 rebounds per game.

As for Johnson, the 30-year-old guard was a second-team NLBC all-Canadian in 2017-18 after starting 40 of 48 games for the Edge. He averaged 10 points per game and led the team in assists, averaging almost five per contest. Besides being an electric performer, he filled one of the mandated domestic slots — NBLC teams must have five Canadians on their 12-man active rosters.

But the Toronto native is believed to want to play closer to home — there are four NBLC teams in Ontario — which means the Riptide, like the Edge, probably have their work cut out for them in attempting to sign their latest acquisition.

brendan.mccarthy@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @telybrendan

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