Any hopes the new year would provide a clean slate for the NBL in a coronavirus-hit world were dashed long before the delayed season got close to tipping off.
Rapidly changing travel restrictions threw teams' preparations into disarray and forced countless rewrites of the schedule, and the league is braced for more.
But when the light switch is flicked on Friday night, basketball, finally, takes centre stage again - a full 10 months since COVID-19 brought the 2020 grand final series to an abrupt halt.
Boom recruit Jock Landale's bold suggestion that talent-stacked Melbourne United could win the championship undefeated will be put to the test against the Adelaide 36ers in the season opener.
An unavoidably disjointed round-one fixture sees the 36ers back up against South East Melbourne on Sunday, while Cairns have home games against Sydney (Saturday) and The Hawks (Monday), who also visit Brisbane (Saturday).
Strict quarantine rules in Western Australia mean Perth's quest for a third-straight championship won't start until round two, resulting in their would-be first round opponents New Zealand will also sit out the opening week.
Boomers star Landale's return home, which the 25-year-old power forward hopes to use as a launch pad into the NBA, has been hailed as the biggest NBL signing since that of Andrew Bogut - who recently announced his retirement.
NBL MVP Bryce Cotton has returned in a massive boost for the Wildcats and master coach Brian Goorjian is back in the league after 11 years away, taking charge of the Wollongong-based Hawks.
The appointments of Goorjian, Conner Henry (Adelaide) and Adam Forde (Sydney) mean one-third of the league's teams will have new coaches at the helm.
Picking a title winner will be as tough as ever, especially in the face of ongoing uncertainty around the season's progression and what possible disruptions may mean for each of the contenders.
"That's how it's going to be all year," United coach Dean Vickerman said, with his team entering the season as the nominal favourites.
"If you can keep your mindset narrow about the next game or next practice and then be ready for change, they're the teams that are going to be successful this year."
The Next Stars program that launched the professional careers of LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton last season has allowed local NBA draft hopes Mojave King (Cairns) and Josh Giddey (Adelaide) a chance to shine.
Golden State draftee Justinian Jessup looks like an MVP candidate for the Hawks, Didi Louzada is back for a second year with Sydney while Landale heads the list of local talent eyeing possible NBA futures.
The pandemic hasn't stopped the flow of imports, who see relative safety in playing in Australia.
Notre Dame college star John Mooney promises to be a beast on the boards for Perth and athletic swingman Tony Crocker will bring excitement to Adelaide.
Brisbane signed Vic Law to replace NBA-bound Will Magnay and secured swingman Orlando Johnson, who played more than 100 NBA games, in a huge coup.
Phoenix recruits Keifer Sykes and Ben Moore look like guns, while Cairns retained their dangerous imports Cam Oliver and Scott Machado.
Forde faces a difficult task to keep the Kings - last year's minor premiers - in title contention after losing Jae'Sean Tate (Houston Rockets), Kevin Lisch and Bogut (both retired).
But he has former NBA big man Jarell Martin at his disposal alongside Louzada and sharp-shooting point-guard Casper Ware.
Proven NBL star Lamar Patterson has joined the Breakers as a replacement for swingman Scotty Hopson, who signed with Melbourne.
The Breakers' resilience will be tested as they face the prospect of playing the entire season on the road if the trans-Tasman border remains closed.
Australian Associated Press