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Handicapping the field for 2009-10
Well, that’s it.
Thanks to the complete meltdown of the supporting cast around King James, we now know that a former Jayhawk will not be winning an NBA title this season, therein ending the Jayhawks’ streak at two in a row.
I can’t say this is all that surprising. As soon as Round 1 came and went, it became quite apparent that Cleveland's Darnell Jackson probably represented the Jayhawks' best hope of winning a title this season.
What is surprising is the play of LeBron James’ teammates in that series against Orlando. Props to the Magic for taking care of business in that one. They clearly were the better team. The way the rest of the Cavs performed — save for sporadic shining moments from Delonte West, Mo Williams and Daniel Gibson — would they have been that much worse off giving Jackson some minutes? Sure doesn’t seem like it.
Anyway, what’s done is done. That loss is in the past and there’s no time like the present to start thinking about the future.
With that in mind, here’s a handicapper’s hunch at the chances each former Jayhawk has of winning it all heading into the 2009-2010 season.
Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics
I don’t see any way you could rank someone ahead of Pierce when talking about former Jayhawks with the best chance to win it all next season. Sure the Celtics were bounced in the second round this year and, yes, they will have to compete with LeBron and whoever the Cavs decide to add in the offseason (they have to add someone, don’t they?), but Pierce and Co. will be getting Kevin Garnett back next season and there’s still a big part of me that believes we might be looking at a Lakers-Celtics rematch in the Finals if KG didn’t go down this year. Odds: 4-1
Mario Chalmers, Miami Heat
Here’s the deal... I’m calling this the year of the Heat. That roster is loaded with talent and has a perfect combination of youth and experience without being too young or too old. Dwyane Wade is as good as it gets and Jermaine O’Neal, Udonis Haslem and the rest of the crew all have been there and done that. The thing that will take this team to the next level is the fact that budding superstars Chalmers and Michael Beasley will enter the season with a year of experience under their belts. That bodes well for Miami, as does the direction of the legendary Pat Riley. Odds: 6-1
Darnell Jackson, Cleveland Cavaliers
Whether he plays or not, Darnell figures to be in good position to challenge for the title again next season. There’s also an outside shot that his minutes will increase — second year in the league, more familiar with the system, a year bigger, faster and stronger. But don’t expect him to play a lot. He’ll be lucky to be sit on the bench, push the starters in practice and pick up spot duty from time to time. If the Cavs add someone in the offseason to complement LeBron, the odds will go up. Right now, though, the Cavs are too incomplete for me to see them winning it all. Odds: 7-1
Drew Gooden, Jacque Vaughn, San Antonio Spurs
There’s no part of me that thinks the Spurs will be as “off” next year as they were for most of this season. The biggest reason for that is I just can’t see this team being hit by so many injuries for a second straight season. They’ll get Manu Ginobli back, and he’s really the key to this team. Tony Parker’s still young, Tim Duncan’s still Tim Duncan and, if they want him to, Drew Gooden can become a force. Of course, there’s probably just as much of a chance that Gooden will be in a different uniform next season (same goes for the aging Vaughn, really) but, right now, the Spurs should figure into the mix in the ultra-competitive West. Odds: 9-1
Kirk Hinrich, Chicago Bulls
The Bulls were the feel-good story of the playoffs in the early going this season. If they want to get back there, they’re going to need a much stronger start than they got this season. I’m a believer in the Bulls’ ability. Young guns Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon are incredible talents and the athletic front line of Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng is as active and impressive as any its age. The big questions here are: What does this team do with trade-deadline addition Brad Miller and where does Hinrich fit into their plans? He proved his value in the playoffs by being the kind of guard who could spell either Rose or Gordon off the bench. But will they be willing to pay all three guys? That’s the only thing keeping this team from jumping the Spurs. Odds: 10-1
Julian Wright, New Orleans Hornets
I refuse to believe that a team led by Chris Paul is not a contender. That guy simply is too talented and has too much drive and desire to not be a factor. That said, Paul needs a little more help than he had this season to make it happen. It starts with a healthy Tyson Chandler and ends with the NBA Draft. The Hornets have to add an impact player — preferably a scoring guard — if they want to take that next step. David West’s a nice player, Peja Stojakovic is solid and Chandler, when healthy, can be terrific. That’s a pretty good nucleus but the Hornets need more. According to Wright’s Twitter page the day after the team lost Game 5 to the Nuggets in the first round, the former KU standout is prepared to go into “beast-mode” this summer. We’ll see if that equates to more playing time for the former lottery pick. Odds: 13-1
Brandon Rush, Indiana Pacers
As our own Gary Bedore wrote last week, Brandon Rush is ready for a prime-time role. Question is.... Are the Pacers? This team was as hot as any down the stretch, but they still lack a proven inside game and remain young and unproven on the wing. Danny Granger and Rush could be a potent one-two scoring punch, but does this team have enough — in all areas — to be a real contender? Odds: 22-1
Nick Collison, Oklahoma City Thunder
The No. 3 pick in this month’s draft (whoever it is) certainly will help the cause and the Thunder have a few other nice, young pieces — most notably Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook — but, realistically, this team is still a long way from challenging for an NBA title. If this nucleus stays together and develops and if they can find a way to add a veteran presence somewhere down the road, this team could be one of the hotter clubs in 3-5 years. But for now the thought that Collison and Co. have a shot at winning it all just seems ridiculous. Odds: 35-1
Darrell Arthur, Memphis Grizzlies
The facts are this.... Memphis won one more game than OKC during the 2008-09 season, but I just don’t like what I see out of Memphis the way I do in Oklahoma. Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo are pieces to be proud of, but I’d rather have Westbrook and Durant every day of the week. This isn’t about Memphis vs. OKC, nothing probably ever will be, but I had to have a reason to put one ahead of the other and I like the Thunder’s direction a little more. Odds: 41-1
Raef LaFrentz, Portland Trailblazers
Because he’s listed as the team’s third-string center, behind Joel Pryzbilla and Greg Oden, and because he’s already logged 11 seasons during his career, it’s hard to know if LaFrentz will even be playing in the NBA — or at least with Portland — next season. His contract, which made him the 36th highest paid player in the league last season has expired and Portland is free to release him. Does someone else take a chance on the journeyman center who can stretch opposing defenses or has Raef reached the end of the road? I’m guessing he’s done. If he is back with Portland, though, his odds shoot up significantly, as the Blazers are one of the league’s most impressive up-and-coming teams. Right now, though, the future is just too uncertain. Odds: 50-1
The Field (Billy Thomas, Keith Langford, Aaron Miles, Sasha Kaun, etc.)
None of these players have NBA roster spots for next season, but all of them — and perhaps a few others — are still out there fighting, hoping to get another shot at the NBA. Thomas, because of his history, and Kaun, because of his size, figure to have the best chance of landing on a roster, but both are longshots for next season. Langford, because of a great season in Italy, will get a shot on an NBA summer squad and he could parlay that into a roster spot when the regular season begins. Like with LaFrentz, though, it’s just too early to tell on these guys. Even if any of them do make a team, what are the odds that that team will win it all? Not good. Still, they’ve gotta be in the conversation. Odds: 100-1