As NBA teams continue early posturing for Thursday's draft, one theme is emerging where the Milwaukee Bucks are concerned: A former Kansas Jayhawk may be in their future.
The Bucks are interested in guard Kirk Hinrich and forward Nick Collison -- both recent Kansas University products -- should either be available when Milwaukee uses its No. 8 pick in the first round.
"If I had to guess right now, I would say Hinrich or Collison," said an executive from one NBA team, asked about the Bucks' interests in this year's draft.
Milwaukee, which has no need for a shooting guard or small forward, has two game plans going into the draft.
Plan A would be to draft a guard to protect itself in case Gary Payton leaves through free agency or Sam Cassell is traded. It's reasonable to believe at this point that, one way or another, the Payton-Cassell backcourt will not re-surface again next season.
Plan B would be to draft a big man, which would be logical since the Bucks ranked dead last in the league last season in total rebounding percentage. And, keep in mind that Bucks coach George Karl was very fond of Collison when Collison was an alternate on Team USA during the World Championship in Indianapolis last summer.
Bucks general manager Ernie Grunfeld said the team wouldn't necessarily be drafting to fill any specific need.
"We'll get a nice player," said Grunfeld. "It's always been my philosophy to go for the best player available. We'll have our list, and then when we pick at 8, we'll take the best player left."
What makes the 6-foot-3 Hinrich and the 6-10 Collison particularly attractive is that they would be able to contribute more quickly to a pro team than many of the younger players in the draft.
Of the two, Hinrich might be the more likely to end up with the Bucks. Partly because of the Payton factor but also because the Los Angeles Clippers are interested in using their No. 6 pick on Collison. There are teams drafting behind the Bucks such as Golden State, Orlando and Phoenix, who have an interest in a point guard, but are convinced that Hinrich won't get past Milwaukee at No. 8.
"He's a four-year college player," Grunfeld said of Hinrich. "A tough defender and great athlete. He has four years college experience in a very good program."
Grunfeld then added: "Collison is another one (with) four years of college experience."
Collison said at the recent Chicago pre-draft camp that the Bucks were a team he would be keeping an eye on come draft night.
"It's hard to tell this early (where he will be drafted), but there are some teams I am going to watch closely," he said. "Milwaukee at eight, New York at nine, Seattle at 12 and 14, but who knows?"
Said Hinrich: "Everybody is projecting stuff. It's hard to deal with. It's overwhelming. You just try to stay grounded while you wait for it to be over."
The Bucks had both players in for pre-draft workouts, along with about 23 others, including point guard Luke Ridnour, 6-11 Polish forward Maciej Lampe and Central Michigan center Chris Kaman.
The executive said that if Collison did go to the Clippers, the only way he could see the Bucks passing on Hinrich was if Texas point guard T.J. Ford or Marquette University's Dwyane Wade dropped to the No. 8 spot.
Ford is considered to be the best point guard in the draft, but is undersized at 5-foot-10 and could drop. Wade is a highly regarded player, and while he will probably be long gone at No. 8, there are various scenarios where he possibly drop to the Bucks.