Brandon Rush won’t be playing for one of the most lethal offensive teams ever assembled next season.
After winning an NBA title in 2015 with Golden State, then contributing to the Warriors’ record-breaking, 73-win run through the following regular season, Rush won’t be a part of the revamped Warriors with back-to-back MVP Steph Curry, 2013-14 MVP Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
According to various reports that surfaced Wednesday afternoon, the former Kansas star agreed to a one-year, $3.5 million contract with Minnesota.
Leaving the back-to-back Western Conference champions and a chance to win another — or multiple — rings for the Timberwolves, a franchise that hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2004, likely came down to Golden State’s salary cap situation. With the Warriors adding Durant in a free agency coup, the team couldn’t offer Rush much to stick around.
While winters in Minneapolis will be longer and colder than Rush’s last couple in the Bay area, the outlook for his new team isn’t as frigid. The Timberwolves, though years away from competing for a title, have two key young pieces in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, as well as a new head coach, Tom Thibodeau, who posted a winning record and reached the postseason in each of his five years with Chicago.
During his eighth NBA season, Rush filled in as a starter for Golden State 25 times this past year, and averaged 7.0 points and 3.3 rebounds in 21.0 minutes, while shooting 50% from the floor and 38-for-77 (49.4%) from 3-point range. His moments in the spotlight served as a reminder that the 6-foot-6 wing can still fill an important role in the league.
While the Timberwolves have young perimeter players such as Wiggins (another former KU standout), Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad, they could use a veteran defender and shooter like Rush, who turns 31 on Thursday. The veteran guard knocked down 41.4% of his 3-pointers in his final stint with the Warriors. Wiggins shot 30% from deep in 2015-16, while LaVine hit 38.9% and Muhammad made 28.9%.
Rush will find a familiar face in Minnesota, where he’ll team up with another Jayhawk, fellow 2008 national champion Cole Aldrich, who agreed to terms with the T’wolves earlier this week.
According to basketball-reference.com, Rush made $1.2 million last season with Golden State. He played for a career-best $4 million per season in his fifth and sixth years in the NBA, with the Warriors and Utah.
There never has been a better time to be an NBA free agent.
The league’s salary cap is jumping approximately $24 million dollars this summer, meaning all 30 teams will have room to sign available players to what most expect to be eye-popping and/or head-scratching contracts.
The hysteria officially begins at midnight Thursday for the big names such as Kevin Durant and Al Horford, as well as the league’s role players.
Even though the seven former Kansas players available won’t garner maximum contracts, all of them figure to be on the verge of signing the most lucrative deals of their careers.
Here’s a look at what’s ahead for those Jayhawks — other than constantly listening to Drake and Future’s “Big Rings” while rapping along, “What a time to be alive.”
Age: 27 | Position: Center | Most recent team: L.A. Clippers | Seasons played: Six | 2015-16 key stats: 5.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 59.6% FGs, 13.3 minutes
After playing fewer than 400 total minutes in each of his first four seasons, Cole Aldrich began to carve out a niche for himself as a serviceable backup big man during the past couple of years.
“It just takes an opportunity, and my opportunity took four or five years in,” Aldrich said a few weeks back, while visiting Lawrence. “You get the right opportunity, and for me it was just continue to do what I do, and that was find a way to get better.”
Aldrich played so well in a reserve role for the Los Angeles Clippers this past season, in fact, that he thinks he’s entering the prime of his career, setting up a rather easy decision to opt out of the second year of his contract.
“You kind of look at the situation, and I had to take some time, and you think about what it is,” Aldrich said of leaving $1.2 million on the table to become a free agent, adding he knew the Clippers might have some cap space available to set up a return to L.A.
He is right about that. The Clippers have a little wiggle room thanks to the salary cap jump. But they don’t have as much room to operate as most teams, because more than $63 million of the franchise’s money is tied up in its big three of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
Should the Clippers keep all of their core in place and successfully bring in a role-playing free agent of note, they might have to part ways with the 6-foot-11 Aldrich if other teams are willing to reward him with a bigger contract. Aldrich played well enough in his one season with Los Angeles to prove he can rebound, defend the paint and finish, setting him up to fit in with any team in need of a second-unit center who eats up space.
L.A. even appears to have a safety net of sorts in place in case it can’t keep Aldrich, by drafting Maryland center Diamond Stone in the second round.
According to L.A. Times reporter Brad Turner the Clippers are interested in bringing Aldrich back, and Orlando and Phoenix have expressed interest, too.
The way Aldrich talked, it sounded like he might prefer to stay with the Clippers. But the NBA is a business, so there is no guarantee it will play out in that fashion.
Age: 28 | Position: Power forward and small forward | Most recent team: Denver | Seasons played: Seven | 2015-16 key stats: 7.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 45.2% FGs, 38.5% 3’s, 21.7 minutes
A steady veteran forward who does what coaches ask of him and has added some 3-point shooting to his repertoire, Darrell Arthur, like Aldrich, opted out of the second year of his deal.
Moving on from Denver could be a course of action for the 6-foot-9 forward, who has only played for Memphis and the Nuggets since leaving Kansas early as a national champion.
Denver has plenty of cap space to re-sign Arthur if it wants. But if Arthur desires an increased role and a change of scenery, he could leave behind a crowded Nuggets frontcourt that includes Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic.
Arthur’s reputation will keep him employed in the NBA. Where that happens is up to him. As reported earlier this week, Washington is interested in him as a backup to fellow former KU forward Markieff Morris.
Age: 24 | Position: Center | Most recent team: L.A. Lakers | Seasons played: Two | 2015-16 key stats: 3.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 54.8% FGs, 12.7 minutes
Tarik Black serves as a nice reminder to recent KU draft snubs Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden Jr. and Brannen Greene that entering the league as an undrafted free agent can work out in the long run.
The 6-foot-9 post player proved in two years ago in summer league Houston should keep him around. Even when the Rockets waived him during his rookie season in order to go after a veteran, the Los Angeles Lakers quickly claimed him and added Black to their inexperienced core.
However, the fact that L.A. only played Black 12.7 minutes a game during the 2015-16 season makes one wonder how interested the organization is in bringing him back. If the Lakers are married to the idea of keeping him around, they can match any other team’s offer, because Black is a restricted free agent (unlike the rest of the former KU players on this list).
The good news for Black is the Lakers have just two post players under contract for next year: Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. If the once dominant franchise whiffs in free agency on more established big men, re-signing a hard-working, familiar face might appeal. Conversely, should L.A. spend an absurd amount of money on more alluring names, the team might need to bring back Black on an affordable contract to complete the roster.
The real question is: Do other teams value Black as a potential big man?
Age: 30 | Position: Guard | Most recent team: Memphis | Seasons played: Eight | 2015-16 key stats: 10.3 points, 3.8 assists, 1.4 steals, 2.6 rebounds, 41% FGs, 30.9% 3’s, 22.5 minutes
Had Mario Chalmers made it through his eighth NBA season unscathed, he would be the most attractive KU free agent this summer by far. And even while recovering from a ruptured right Achilles tendon, Chalmers could still draw the most interest.
Teams will want to take their time and have their medical staffs make sure vitality still exists in the 6-foot-2 veteran’s knee before OK-ing a deal for Chalmers, but the way he played in Memphis prior to the injury setback will keep him as an intriguing choice for organizations in need of a backup guard who can shoot and distribute.
In his 55 games for the Grizzlies, following a trade from Miami, Chalmers thrived as a sixth man coming off the bench to put up points. Throw in his defensive ability and championship experience while playing with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, and you quickly realize how coveted Chalmers would be to a playoff team in search of backcourt assistance.
Chalmers recently said in an interview he is two weeks ahead of schedule with his knee rehab, and the hope is he would be back at 100 percent before the regular season begins.
Age: 35 | Position: Guard | Most recent team: Atlanta | Seasons played: 13 | 2015-16 key stats: 3.0 points, 1.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 38% FGs, 38.7% 3’s, 13.7 minutes
As Hinrich began to find out early this past season with Chicago, there simply isn’t much demand for the veteran guard anymore, in terms of minutes. That notion later became reenforced for Hinrich upon arriving via trade in Atlanta.
The longtime Bull only appeared in 11 of a possible 26 games with the Hawks to close the regular season, averaging a paltry 0.5 points, 1.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 6.9 minutes.
Those numbers make one wonder about Hinrich’s future in the league. But there will be roster spots to fill in the months ahead for a number of teams. Though 35 and nearly done as an on-court contributor, some organization might find value in having him around the locker room to guide young players and almost serve as a player/assistant coach.
Former Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau seemed to love Hinrich in Chicago. Could they join up again in Minnesota, with Hinrich helping to bring along youngsters Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins?
Age: 25 | Position: Power forward | Most recent team: Brooklyn | Seasons played: Four | 2015-16 key stats: 4.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 44.7% FGs in 12.9 minutes
The No. 5 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Thomas Robinson still hasn’t made his mark in the NBA. A star at KU, Robinson has turned into a nomad backup power forward. So far, the explosive, 6-foot-10 big has played for Sacramento, Houston, Portland, Philadelphia and Brooklyn.
In all likelihood, Robinson will add a sixth team to that list this summer, after opting out of his contract with the Nets. At 25, one would assume his best years in the league are still ahead of him. And Robinson does bring a valuable skill to the floor, to go with his athleticism and energy. The guy competes on the glass.
Robinson didn’t log enough minutes with Brooklyn to qualify as a league leader in such categories, but his defensive and offensive rebound percentages are up there with the best bigs on the planet. He grabbed 27.8% of available defensive boards this past season, which would have ranked him 10th in the NBA had he played more. Even better, Robinson secured 16.4% of possible offensive boards. Oklahoma City’s Enes Kanter led the league in that category, at 16.7%.
It seems any team in need of a high-energy rebounder would have to consider Robinson.
Age: 30 | Position: Shooting guard and small forward | Most recent team: Golden State | Seasons played: Eight | 2015-16 key stats: 4.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 42.7% FGs, 41.4% 3’s, 14.7 minutes
Back-to-back NBA Finals appearances, a championship ring and a role on the record-breaking 73-win Warriors. Life has been pretty good for Brandon Rush the past couple of years.
Now Rush’s contract is up, and the free agency hullabaloo in the days ahead could determine his place going forward with the defending Western Conference champs. Golden State values defensive versatility and Rush definitely gives the team that as a backup. But if the Warriors return all of their core perimeter players — Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Shawn Livingston and Harrison Barnes — would they really need Rush?
Rush proved this season, while starting 25 games, he can fill in and mesh well. In December, Rush averaged a season-high 20.3 minutes and put up 5.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists while knocking down 40.5% of his 3-point attempts.
By no means is he a game-changer, but he isn’t going to shoot your team in the foot, either. Whether it’s with the Warriors or another franchise, Rush figures to find a spot as a veteran role player.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com
For years, the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls seemed destined to reign forever as the greatest team in NBA regular-season history.
The Bulls, as any NBA fan could tell you, went 72-10 that season, before winning their fourth of six championships, with legends Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen leading the way.
That historic Chicago team so enthralled the league’s fan base that even now, 20 years later, most die-hards could rattle off the names of all the Bulls’ role players, too. Not just Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper, Luc Longley and Steve Kerr, but Bill Wennington, John Salley and Jud Buechler, as well.
Wednesday, of course, on the final night of the 2015-16 season, Golden State made history, supplanting those Bulls as the best regular-season team in league history, with an astonishing 73-9 mark.
While Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson serve as the collective faces associated with the Warriors’ greatness, the names of the members of their supporting cast will live on, as well, just like all of those lesser known Bulls — particularly if Golden State goes on to win its second consecutive NBA title.
Regardless of what happens in the upcoming playoffs, Brandon Rush’s name just might live on perpetually as one of the contributors to the most successful regular-season team of all time. (Seriously, can you imagine any team going 74-8?)
The former Kansas star already is associated with greatness in Lawrence, where he played for Bill Self’s 2008 national championship team. But now Rush can add an NBA ring (from the 2015 Finals) and a piece of history to him enviable résumé.
Rush, now a 30-year-old veteran, only averaged 4.2 points in 14.7 minutes for Golden State during its record-setting run. But the backup wing knocked down 41.4 percent of his 3-pointers and actually served as a starter in 25 games during the Warriors’ record-breaking run over the past five and a half months.
You can start watching Rush chip in to the Warriors’ 2016 title push beginning this weekend, when Golden State takes on Houston, on Saturday.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com
As the NBA showcases five Christmas Day games, Kansas basketball fans looking to mix in some Jayhawks with their holiday festivities will have a chance to catch a glimpse of as many as seven former KU players.
Here’s a rundown of ’Hawks in the NBA taking the court while most of the country takes the day off.
Chicago at Oklahoma City — featuring Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison
If you love veteran role players and stars from Roy Williams’ last years at KU, well, you better send the NBA a thank-you note for this present. Both Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison will get some national air-time Christmas afternoon (1:30, ABC) when Hinrich’s Bulls play at Collison’s Thunder (though most promos for the game probably feature Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook).
Now 34 years old, Hinrich plays a backup role for Chicago (15-11) and averages just 16.2 minutes a game. But this is his 11th season playing for the Bulls, the team that drafted him seventh overall in 2003. As pointed out recently by SI.com, the veteran 6-foot-4 guard now leads the franchise in career 3-pointers (1,040) and ranks third all-time in games played (730). The only Bulls who have played more games for Chicago are Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
Hinrich also sits third all-time in steals (853) and assists (3,779) for Chicago — again, behind Jordan and Pippen — and eighth in points (8,486).
“The young guys, they’re joking all the time, ‘Did you play with Bill Cartwright?’” Hinrich told SI.com.
More of a facilitator and defender these days, Hinrich’s best game of the season so far came in November, when Rose was injured and he played 34 minutes. Hinrich scored 17 points and helped limit reigning MVP Steph Curry to 3-for-11 shooting.
“He’s a guy that goes out and does the little things,” first-year Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He organizes everything on both ends of the floor.”
Hinrich’s old running mate at KU, Collison also plays a limited role (13.6 minutes) as a 35-year-old substitute big man for one of the NBA’s premier teams. And like Hinrich, the 6-10 forward ranks pretty high on some of Oklahoma City’s all-time lists.
Drafted by Seattle before the franchise relocated to OKC, Collison is third in games played (841), behind Fred Brown and Gary Payton. He ranks third in offensive rebounds (1,709) and total rebounds (4,566), behind Jack Sikma and Shawn Kemp. Collison also is third in field-goal percentage (.534), sixth in blocks (459) and ninth in minutes played (18,042).
As much of a mentor as a statistical contributor, Collison helps the Thunder (20-9) on and off the floor. He leads by example by defending, rebounding and taking charges.
And he’s helped 22-year-old protégé Steven Adams develop the Thunder’s pick-and-roll into a legitimate weapon.
“The teams that are really hard to guard in this league are the ones where you have a big threat rolling down the middle and you’re really put in a bind,” Collison told Oklahoma City’s website. “We’re trying to get in those situations on the offensive end as much as possible.”
Cleveland at Golden State — featuring Sasha Kaun and Brandon Rush
An NBA Finals rematch? How about the first ever professional meeting between Cleveland’s Sasha Kaun and Golden State’s Brandon Rush (4 p.m., ABC) — teammates on KU’s 2008 national championship team.
A member of the nearly unbeatable defending champion Warriors (27-1), Rush has played more this year (14.9 minutes, 5.2 points) than he has since the 2011-12 season. Golden State made the 30-year-old forward a starter when Harrison Barnes injured his ankle and became unavailable.
“I’ve been waiting for this opportunity to show that I can still shoot the ball and can still play at a high level,” Rush told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I feel so much better than I did last year — with my shot and just being able to move around the court.”
Rush’s best game to date came against Sacramento, when he nailed 4 of 5 from 3-point range and scored 16 points. In December, he is averaging 6.8 points and hitting 50 percent of his 3-pointers (14 of 28).
A major knee injury in 2012 derailed Rush’s career a bit, but now he finally appears to be back on track.
“It’s been up and down, especially these past two or three years,” Rush told the San Francisco Chronicle. “But now, everything is looking up. Things can’t get any better. I’m shooting the ball well, we’re the best team in the league, and we’re on the verge of trying to get another championship. I’m definitely in a great place right now.”
Kaun landed in a pretty good situation to start his NBA career. Cleveland, home of superstar LeBron James, is 19-7 and the prohibitive favorite in the Eastern Conference to return to the NBA Finals.
The Cavs don’t exactly need Kaun, a 30-year-old, 6-11 center that much, though. After spending most of his professional career overseas, Kaun has played in just seven games in his rookie season, with eight total points in those cameos (4.4 minutes).
"But, you know, his game is very simplistic,” Cavs coach David Blatt told Northeast Ohio Media Group before the season began, “so it's not like he has to do a lot of things that would require him to adjust. He just has to get used to the size and the length of the guys and the speed of the game."
L.A. Clippers at L.A. Lakers — featuring Paul Pierce, Cole Aldrich and Tarik Black
This NBA nightcap in Los Angeles (9:30 p.m., ESPN) seems like it would provide the most bang for a KU fan’s buck, with three Jayhawks in the mix.
But even longtime NBA star Paul Pierce isn’t expected to participate all that much. The 38-year-old forward sat out the Clippers’ previous game to rest his sore back, and coach Doc Rivers said his veteran forward will be limited in the battle of Los Angeles.
Pierce has played less for his new team of late, averaging only 10.8 minutes and 3.0 points in December (16.3 minutes, 4.1 points on the season).
On the other hand, another Jayhawk this week suddenly found himself in a more active role.
Reserve center Cole Aldrich, after not registering a single minute in 11 straight games, has played in each of the Clippers’ last two games and even played in the fourth quarter of a one-point loss to Oklahoma City earlier this week. Aldrich finished with five points, four rebounds and two blocks in 14 minutes.
"I think that was a prime example of being a star in your role and not trying to reach outside of that," Blake Griffin told the Los Angeles Times. “(Aldrich) just did what we need him to do and that's huge."
Rivers told the L.A. Times he turned to Aldrich to give the Clippers (16-13) an energetic boost. That’s what the 27-year-old did, playing in just his seventh game of the season (1.7 points, 2.1 rebounds in 5.3 minutes).
"If we play this way the rest of the year, we're going to win a lot of games," Aldrich told the L.A. Times. "We played with a lot of heart and a lot of enthusiasm and it was fun out there."
Meanwhile, the struggling Lakers (5-24) could use a similar spark from second-year big man Tarik Black. The 6-foot-9 center hasn’t played for the purple and gold since Nov. 24, but just got called back up from the team’s D-League affiliate on Wednesday.
Black put up 25 points and 14 rebounds in his final appearance with the D-Fenders. The 24-year-old big averaged 18.5 points and 11.8 rebounds in a four-game D-League stint, coming off an ankle injury.
Lakers coach Bryron Scott didn’t play Black Wednesday, while utilizing three other big men off the bench in a 35-point loss to the Thunder. So there is no guarantee Black will see the floor versus the Clippers.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com
During the past few days, players for the NBA’s 30 franchises posed for photos, answered questions and took in media day festivities with varying degrees of seriousness.
That means it’s time to get the old ’Hawks in the NBA blog up and firing again. At this moment 19 former Kansas players draw paychecks in The Association, and they all — well, almost all of them — had their moments in the spotlight at media days.
From rookies just getting started, to veterans joining new teams to role players fitting in, here are some of the KU-related social media highlights from around the league.
COLE ALDRICH, L.A. CLIPPERS
CLIFF ALEXANDER, PORTLAND
DARRELL ARTHUR, DENVER
TARIK BLACK, L.A. LAKERS
MARIO CHALMERS, MIAMI
In case you were wondering, “Spo” is Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, and Chalmers’ “new role” will be him coming off the bench.
NICK COLLISON, OKLAHOMA CITY
JOEL EMBIID, PHILADELPHIA
If you were curious about how Joel Embiid is handling his ongoing injury and rehab process, you’re not alone.
Appropriately enough, the injured-for-another-entire-season Embiid wasn’t a part of the 76ers’ media day, according to The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey.
Presumably, he’ll attend a media day and play in the NBA one of these years.
Embiid’s last known whereabouts? Going to see the Pope.
DREW GOODEN, WASHINGTON
Before looking for Drew Gooden content, I thought, What’s that maniac up to?
Well, he’s up to this:
That dude has to be a blast to cover. Rarely not entertaining.
KIRK HINRICH, CHICAGO
BEN MCLEMORE, SACRAMENTO
MARCUS MORRIS, DETROIT
The Pistons’ Twitter account did a tweet Q&A with a number of Detroit players Monday, but apparently Marcus bounced before they could get one rolling with him.
As a side note, ESPN’s NBA folks ranked Marcus Morris as the 191st-best player in the league. So there’s that.
MARKIEFF MORRIS, PHOENIX
By far the biggest ’Hawks in the NBA news to come out of media days was presumably disgruntled forward Markieff Morris putting on a happy face and stating he wants to be in Phoenix.
That’s not what he was saying back in August, when he told The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey: “One thing for sure, I am not going to be there.”
At the time at least, Markieff was hot and bothered about Phoenix shipping his twin brother and roommate Marcus off to the Pistons. He still might be a little sour with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough about that transaction.
SASHA KAUN, CLEVELAND
Sasha Kaun is Russian. Timofey Mozgov is Russion. Hijinks ensued.
KELLY OUBRE JR., WASHINGTON
Looks like Kelly Oubre Jr. loosened up and got comfortable at the Wizards’ media day.
PAUL PIERCE, L.A. CLIPPERS
THOMAS ROBINSON, BROOKLYN
BRANDON RUSH, GOLDEN STATE
Yes, Brandon Rush won an NBA championship with the Warriors. But, no, there isn’t a lot of media interest in him out in Oakland.
Upon posting this blog, Rush hadn't appeared in any Golden State tweets — or, really, anywhere else in the Twitterverse.
ANDREW WIGGINS, MINNESOTA
Unlike Marcus Morris, the 2014-15 Rookie of the Year was able to answer a few questions on Twitter.
JEFF WITHEY, UTAH
The 2014-15 regular season concluded this week in the NBA, marking the end of the road for the majority of former Kansas players in the league.
Cole Aldrich, Darell Arthur, Tarik Black, Ben McLemore, Marcus and Markieff Morris, Thomas Robinson and Andrew Wiggins? All of them already find themselves in offseason mode.
Even playoff regulars Mario Chalmers of Miami and Nick Collison of Oklahoma City are on the outside, looking in, after monumental injuries derailed their team’s seasons.
So when you start watching the 2015 NBA Playoffs, you’ll only find five Jayhawks playing on the 16 teams chasing a championship.
TORONTO VS. WASHINGTON
As you might have figured, Paul Pierce is the most prominent KU product in the hunt. Even at 37, “The Truth” still finds ways to make an impact on the floor. Now in his 17th season, Pierce averaged 11.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 0.6 steals in 26.2 minutes, and made 44.7% of his shots, 38.9% of his 3-pointers and 78.1% of his free throws.
Pierce proved last season as a member of the Brooklyn Nets he can still come through with game-winning plays during crunch time in the playoffs.
And he also became quite a villain in Toronto in the process.
A pseudo first-round rematch — Pierce vs. the Raptors — should provide plenty of entertainment. Especially when you consider how competitive Pierce is and that he is getting closer to retirement.
The 2008 NBA Finals MVP spoke about the urgency of the postseason with The Washington Post’s Jorge Castillo. As a veteran leader on a team that features an explosive young backcourt in John Wall and Bradley Beal, Pierce’s responsibilities these days aren’t limited to play-making.
“I just try to get the guys to focus in on the task at hand. These are special moments,” Pierce told The Washington Post. “You got to take advantage of these moments. There’s nothing like playoff basketball. The intensity, the smell of the popcorn, the national televised games every night. This is where good players become great players, and you try to relish these moments and that’s what I’m trying to [instill] into these guys, that every moment counts.”
The Wizards, of course, have another veteran from Kansas: Drew Gooden. In his 13th season, the journeyman power forward comes off the bench for Washington and has provided two double-digit rebound games, as well as a pair of double-digit scoring efforts in April.
In D.C.’s last 10 games, Gooden has seen his minutes and production go up: 7.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists in 25.7 minutes.
Compare that with his season numbers: 5.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 16.9 minutes.
If Pierce and Gooden can find some of their youthful bounce inside those high-mileage legs, Washington might have a chance to advance to the next round.
MILWAUKEE VS. CHICAGO
Another old man by NBA standards, 12th-year guard Kirk Hinrich has a chance to play a complimentary role for one of the Eastern Conference favorites, Chicago. That is assuming he is healthy enough to do so.
According to an ESPN.com report, Hinrich didn’t practice Friday and he was listed as uncertain for Saturday’s series opener, while recovering from a hyperextended right knee.
Hinrich, who plays alongside ultra-talented Bulls Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah, sat out the final two games of the regular season. He hasn’t played more than 20 minutes in a game since March 28.
If/when Hinrich plays, he’ll mainly be asked to facilitate and defend. He averaged just 5.7 points this season in 24.4 minutes a game, shot 37.3% from the field and made 34.5% of his 3-pointers. He hasn’t knocked down more than one 3-pointer in a game since Jan. 23.
GOLDEN STATE VS. NEW ORLEANS
Don’t hold your breath waiting to see former KU stars in this series.
Brandon Rush is lucky enough to play for the league’s best team, but Golden State — No. 1 in the Western Conference — doesn’t need to use him much when the Warriors have guys like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala.
Rush, who only played in 33 games this season, last played significant minutes (23) against Denver in mid-March and went scoreless. He didn’t play in five straight games before making brief appearances in three of the last four, highlighted by 5 points, 2 rebounds and 1 steal in 14 minutes in the finale.
The Warriors might advance far enough for Rush to be the last Jayhawk standing in the playoffs, but when you see him it will usually be on the bench cheering on one of the most entertaining teams in recent memory.
The Pelicans’ Jeff Withey finds himself in the same situation (except that his season figures to end much sooner, playing for No. 8 New Orleans).
The former Kansas pivot only played 7.0 minutes a game in the regular season, which ranked him next-to-last on the team. With big men Anthony Davis (an emerging superstar), Ryan Anderson, Dante Cunningham, Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca eating up all the minutes inside, Withey isn’t a part of the Pelicans’ game plan.
The lean 7-footer averaged 2.6 points, 1.7 rebounds and 0.5 blocks this season while shooting 50% from the field.
In theory, he could get some run if New Orleans finds itself on the wrong end of a blowout. Withey last made a field goal on March 20, at Golden State. The Warriors won, 112-96, and he played 29 minutes, going for 14 points (5-for-9 shooting) and 8 rebounds.
Mostly, he should be ready to pose for any celebratory post-game photos quickly, having not expended much energy beforehand.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.
Hunker down, get hydrated and tell your loved ones you will see them next spring.
Hopefully that’s not your mindset, but people should be warned: The at times seemingly never-ending NBA regular season is at hand.
The first handful of games tipped off Tuesday, and nearly every other team played its opener by Wednesday, marking the start of the 82-game grind.
Thankfully for us, all we have to do is sit back, watch and enjoy. To make sure you’re fully prepared for the 2014-15 campaign, we’ll be rolling out a season outlook for each former Kansas University player who currently calls The Association home.
Brandon Rush — Golden State Warriors
6-foot-6 Shooting guard | Seventh season
2013-14 numbers: 38 games | 11.0 minutes | 2.1 points | 1.2 rebounds | 33.3 FG% | 34 3pt% | 60 FT%
Injuries and a bad situation made Brandon Rush’s past few years in the league forgettable.
He only played two games before suffering a season-ending injury in 2012-13. Then Rush got traded to Utah, where the Jazz never integrated him into the rotation or game plans last year.
As our Gary Bedore wrote earlier this month, when he caught up with the former Jayhawk in Kansas City, Missouri, Rush described his previous two years as “brutal.”
Good news for the on-again, off-again Warrior: He is back in Golden State, playing with one of the top teams in the Western Conference — as opposed to, you know, the Jazz.
The Warriors inked Rush to a two-year free agent deal this summer and he is more than happy to not only put on those snazzy blue and gold uniforms again, but also have a complimentary role off the bench.
Golden State has one of — if not the most — talented starting backcourts in the NBA, with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. So Rush’s minutes could be sporadic, with Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa also backcourt options.
Rush actually missed Golden State’s season-opening win Wednesday night, at Sacramento, because he was inactive with a back injury.
When he is healthy, Rush figures to give new Golden State coach Steve Kerr some scoring and defense off the bench. Which of course were two things he did very well back in 2007-08 at KU — a time in Rush’s life recently re-visited by Laurence Scott for Warriors.com
So what do we expect out of Rush for the 2014-15 season?
Well, most importantly, he is going to be happy. Even if his role is limited, there is something special about playing with a team that feels like it has a shot to get to the NBA Finals.
When the Splash Brothers need a breather, Rush will be there to provide it. And we could see a lot of Rush in the playoffs if Golden State can secure a top seed and take the next step with a new coach, in Kerr.
’Hawks in the NBA 2014-15 season outlooks:
Considering how much of a grind the 82-game regular season has to be for NBA players, you can’t blame the guys for enjoying the preseason goof-off spectacle that is NBA media days.
Players surely take their interview responsibilities seriously enough, but when it comes time to mean-mug or bring some absurdity to photo and video shoots, they happily oblige.
Believe it or not, it’s actually training camp time in The Association, so the past few days have been light-heartedly busy for most of the former Kansas University players lucky enough to call the NBA home.
Some get to enjoy it a little more than others, as you can see in our social media roundup from the festivities.
Cole Aldrich, New York Knicks
Mario Chalmers, Miami Heat
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Drew Gooden and Paul Pierce, Washington Wizards
Kirk Hinrich, Chicago Bulls
Nick Collison, Oklahoma City Thunder
Xavier Henry, Los Angeles Lakers
Marcus and Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns
Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings
Thomas Robinson, Portland Trail Blazers
Brandon Rush, Golden State Warriors
Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
Media day / throw-down night
Minnesota had an open practice for Timberwolves fans to watch following its media day, nicknaming the fun: Dunks After Dark.
Wiggins delivered a few throw-downs to help it live up to its name.
Paul Pierce must be in the gambling mood this summer.
After surviving for three days at the World Series of Poker Main Event last week in Las Vegas, finishing around 800th, the 16-year veteran out of Kansas University shocked many NBA observers when news surfaced late Saturday night he had reached a deal with Washington.
One of seven former KU players in the expansive pool of available free agents this summer, Pierce, like nearly every other veteran in search of a contract, had to wait until LeBron James made his Decision: The Sequel. Once The King announced his return to Cleveland on Friday, the rest of the league began making moves. The Wizards couldn't re-sign Trevor Ariza, who chose Houston. That left a void at small forward for D.C., which Pierce will happily fill after signing a two-year contract worth $10.8 million.
Prior to the deal, reports indicated Pierce preferred to re-sign with Brooklyn or find a way — preferably via sign-and-trade, for more money — to get on the Clippers' roster and reunite with his former Boston coach, Doc Rivers.
The Nets reached the Eastern Conference semifinals this past spring, and could have made a similar or better run in 2015 with Pierce, Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, aging-in-fast-forward Kevin Garnett and Brooklyn's key role players — assuming all were healthy.
Had Pierce landed in L.A., near his boyhood home of Inglewood, California, he could have joined a team that has to be considered one of the handful of favorites to contend for the NBA title next year, with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin leading the way.
Instead, "The Truth" decided to move in a different direction, to the nation's capital.
Why Washington? Well, it's a lot easier to reach the NBA Finals out of the East. In 2013-14, nine Western Conference teams won at least 48 games. In the East, just four organizations — Indiana, Miami, Toronto and Chicago — managed to do so.
Plus, LeBron's relocation makes the East wide open. Miami is no longer a juggernaut. Indiana faltered down the stretch last season. And Toronto is no longer in position to surprise anybody.
Chicago, which added Pau Gasol and (presumably) gets Derrick Rose back from his second knee injury in two years, will be a favorite in the East, along with Cleveland (any team with LeBron James on its roster is a title contender).
Still, neither of those teams is a sure-fire bet. No one knows whether Rose can still play at an MVP level and LeBron will be surrounded by guys with little to no playoff experience — and that includes Kevin Love, if the Cavs can swing a deal for the coveted power forward.
Washington could unseat the Heat atop the Southeast Division and find itself among the conference's top three seeds. The Wizards (44-38 in '13-'14) advanced to the second round as the No. 5 seed in the playoffs a few months back. And D.C. has one of the best young backcourts in the league, with John Wall and Bradley Beal. Add Pierce, in a complimentary role, to those two, Marcin Gortat and Nene Hilario, and you've got a lineup that can play with any of the East's top teams.
Pierce is betting on Wall and Beal instead of Williams and Johnson. If his latest gamble pays off, he could be cashing in on a deep playoff run in 2015.
The weekend also brought new NBA contracts for 'Hawks in the NBA free agents Cole Aldrich (New York), Kirk Hinrich (Chicago) and Mario Chalmers (Miami), all of whom re-signed with their previous teams.
The most surprising of those deals, by far, has to be Chalmers' two-year agreement with Miami. A Heat scapegoat in what turned out to be the franchise's last LeBron hurrah, a 4-1 NBA Finals defeat at the hands of San Antonio, Chalmers was yanked from the starting lineup in Game 5 and presumed on his way out of town once Miami drafted UConn point guard Shabazz Napier.
But James' departure left the Heat scrambling, so Chalmers, after averaging 4.4 points, 2.8 assists and 2.0 turnovers in the Finals, finds himself back in the fold with Miami's new Big Two: Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. (Big Three if you count newly signed Luol Deng.)
Xavier Henry, Drew Gooden and Brandon Rush remain on the market. Gooden is expected to re-sign with Washington, which would give the Wizards a pair of Jayhawks.
Rush will work out for some NBA teams Tuesday in Las Vegas. Bleacher Report's Ethan J. Skolnick says the Heat could be one franchise interested in the 6-foot-6 shooting guard, who only played 38 games for Utah in his sixth season.
Recovering from a torn ligament in his left wrist and an abnormality in his right knee's meniscus, Henry said in June he expects to be at 100 percent before the end of the summer.
Most NBA free agents can't wait for July 1. Shortly after midnight, the league's 30 teams can begin their full-court, offseasson press, courting the players they hope to throw multi-million dollar salaries at.
The start of free agency figures to bring equal parts anticipation and uncertainty to unrestricted free agent Mario Chalmers, coming off his sixth NBA season with Miami.
While the 6-foot-2 point guard from Kansas University became a starting lineup mainstay with the Heat, right along with superstar LeBron James and all-stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, his days with the Heat might be over after appearing in four straight NBA Finals with the organization that drafted him in the second round in 2008.
With Miami trying to figure out a way to to bring back the most sought after star in the NBA universe, James, as well as Wade and Bosh — all three free agents themselves — and trying to save every penny it can in the process, Chalmers suddenly appears dispensable. Though the former KU hero averaged 9.8 points and 4.9 assists this past regular season for Miami, but those numbers dropped to 6.4 points and 3.6 assists in the playoffs. Making matters worse for the free agent, Chalmers only put up 4.4 points and 2.8 assists, and averaged 2.0 turnovers in 23.1 minutes a game in the Finals, when San Antonio disposed of the back-to-back champs in five games.
Those five lackluster nights — 33 percent field goals in the series, 1-for-7 from 3-point range — in front of a world wide audience ignited the Twitter trolls, who posted pictures of trash alongside Chalmers' name or claimed his next uniform will be the one issued to Home Depot employees.
Of course, the only opinion that really matters is that of Heat president Pat Riley (who also figures to be keenly aware of LeBron's viewpoint). The night of the draft, James tweeted: "My favorite player in the draft! #Napier."
Shortly after, Miami pulled off a trade with Charlotte to attain the draft rights to Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier.
Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick wrote about Riley's ability to acquire Napier without giving up Miami's other point guard, Norris Cole. Miami's man in charge said the incoming UConn rookie and Cole would compete for playing time, and didn't offer much on where that leaves Chalmers.
"Mario's a free agent, so (we've) got to deal with that," Riley said in the report.
Back on June 17, Skolnick caught up with Chalmers as players packed up for the summer and tweeted that the free agent point guard would prefer to stay with Miami, but was "excited" about free agency.
"Nobody wants to leave South Florida," Chalmers told Skolnick. "We'll see what happens."
He won't be the only Kansas product chasing a new contract. In total, six other Jayhawks are unrestricted free agents: Brooklyn's Paul Pierce, the Los Angeles Lakers' Xavier Henry, Chicago's Kirk Hinrich, Washington's Drew Gooden, Utah's Brandon Rush and New York's Cole Aldrich.
Pierce seemed likely to re-sign with the Nets, but over the past few days, the team's head coach, Jason Kidd, decided he would rather work for Milwaukee. By Monday, the two organizations reached a deal to make Kidd the new coach of the Bucks. A new coach in Brooklyn could mean no more Pierce,
As ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin reported, Henry is recovering from a torn ligament in his left wrist and an abnormality in his right knee's meniscus. He could still be weeks of rehab away from 100 percent.
“All I know is I can play," Henry told McMenamin. "And when I’m 100 percent next season, I’m going to bring the energy and be able to play."
Hinrich stated on more than one occasion during the season that he would prefer to stay with the Bulls. But he might have to do some waiting to figure out if that's possible, as Chicago should be one of the major players in free agency and a possible landing spot for Carmelo Anthony.
Gooden, a late-season addition to Washington's roster might start his 13th NBA season in a striped Wizards uniform. Yahoo's Marc J. Spears tweeted Monday afternoon that the veteran power forward is expected to re-sign with D.C. for the league minimum.
The future, at this point, is far more unpredictable for Aldrich and Rush, though re-signing seems unlikely for either.
The Denver Nuggets' Darrell Arthur could have made it eight Jayhawks in free agency, but exercised the player option on his contract, instead of testing the waters. The six-year pro will make just under $3.5 million this coming season.