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
The more Mario Chalmers plays for the Memphis Grizzlies, the more it seems getting traded from Miami might be the best thing that’s happened to his career since LeBron James showed up in South Beach.
Currently a starter for Memphis — in place of injured Mike Conley the past four games — all the former Kansas star did Thursday night was turn out game-highs in minutes (42), points (25), assists (8) and steals (4).
Oh, yeah. And Chalmers hit the game-winning shot against Detroit.
After another ’Hawk in the NBA, the Pistons’ Marcus Morris, had the ball stripped on the opposite end of the floor, it ended up in Chalmers’ hands with the fourth-quarter clock quickly making its way toward 0:00 with the game tied at 101, in Memphis.
Morris and Pistons guard Brandon Jennings nearly swiped the ball from Chalmers at the top of the key before the Grizzlies guard retrieved it off the floor and, in the same continuous motion, got off an awkward jumper that beat the buzzer and gave Memphis a wild, last-second win over the visiting Pistons.
“I just seen it, and I was able to get to it and get to my good spot and release it on time,” Chalmers told FOX Sports Southeast after hitting the improbable shot.
Chalmers embraced his new role with Memphis, as a score-first backup guard, which helped him get over the Heat trading him away, and has carried that over into his temporary starting role, while Conley rests a sore left achilles tendon.
In his past 5 games, Chalmers has played 30-plus minutes an outing and averaged 17.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 2.2 steals, while shooting 41.2% from the floor and 10-for-28 from 3-point range (35.7%).
The Grizzlies are 3-1 with Chalmers in the starting lineup, with wins over Detroit, Boston and Denver, and a loss to Houston. Memphis (22-19) currently has the 6th-best record in the Western Conference.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com
Mario Chalmers returned to Miami Sunday, marking his first time playing at his former home arena since the Heat shipped him to Memphis in early November.
The way his former organization treated Chalmers, who had played every game of his career with Miami before the deal, one would think the guard who famously hit a late 3-pointer to propel Kansas past Memphis in the 2008 NCAA championship game also single-handedly took the Heat to four straight NBA Finals and back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.
Obviously LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had a whole lot to do with Miami’s success during that run, but Miami still acknowledged Chalmers with a hero’s welcome in the form of a tribute video.
Maybe Miami felt bad about shipping away its former guard. Bosh had a long list of attributes when asked by the Miami Herald what the Heat misses now that Chalmers plays with the Grizzlies.
“His length. His defensive capability. His offensive capability. His outside shooting. Being able to spread the floor. His knack for passing and getting guys involved in offense. Getting easy baskets. He’s a very talented player,” Bosh said.
“When you miss those things, you notice. He created so many turnovers for this team. He had a knack for getting his hand on the ball, which was great for this team.”
Or perhaps Miami regretted moving Chalmers without giving him proper notice. The 6-foot-2 role player who gave 525 games of his career to the Heat told NBCSports.com he found out about the trade via Twitter.
“For me being there so long, and nobody had the respect to tell me that I was about to get traded, that’s how it went down,” Chalmers said.
His new role with the Grizzlies certainly has helped him move on, though. Chalmers said Memphis coach Dave Joerger told him before he arrived that the Grizzlies needed him to score.
Against his former team, Chalmers scored 12 points on 4-for-7 shooting, marking the 10th time he has scored in double digits off the bench for the Grizzlies, who are 10-6 with their new backup guard in the lineup.
The Heat won, 100-97, but Chalmers got to enjoy his return, thanks to his former team showing him some love.
As for the real reason the Heat wanted to welcome Chalmers back? Well, as Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald detailed, the role player accomplished quite a bit in his time in South Beach:
Chalmers ranks second in Heat history in steals, third in assists, fourth in games played and three-pointers, sixth in games started and minutes, 11th in points, 13th in field goals and free throws and 15th in rebounds.
He holds the Heat single-game record for steals (nine) and shares the single-game record for three-pointers (10).
Now 29 and in his eighth NBA season, Chalmers is averaging 11.2 points for Memphis — a number that would top his career high of 10.2 ppg, set last season, when he was playing 29.6 minutes for Miami. The Grizzlies, using him as a bench scorer, are getting great returns while only playing Chalmers 19.2 minutes.
And it’s not as if he’s a liability on defense, either, like some substitute scoring specialists. Joerger described Chalmers as feisty and told NBCSports.com about what he expects from his new bench weapon going forward.
“I think the best of Mario Chalmers is yet to come for our team,” Joerger said.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com
For the first time in his seven-year NBA career, Mario Chalmers spent this past spring watching the playoffs from afar, instead of playing on the national stage. LeBron James’ departure from the Miami Heat and some key injuries meant Chalmers had to adjust from his perceived norm.
Year No. 8 will bring another significant modification for the former Kansas standout. A starter in 74% of his 519 career games with the only organization he has ever played for, Chalmers now finds himself as a designated bench player in Miami.
It wasn’t that long ago that Chalmers started at point guard in four straight NBA Finals appearances for the Heat. During the summer months of 2015, though, he became the subject of trade rumors. Now that Miami has starting point guard Goran Dragic signed long-term, the Heat just don’t need to rely on Chalmers as much.
Chalmers told the Palm Beach Post he’s handling his new role for the upcoming season just fine.
“That’s just me,” Chalmers said. “I’m the type of guy who’s willing to do whatever it takes for the team. I’ve always been thrown into different situations and been able to handle it.”
Likely easing his transition is the fact that Miami’s bench could turn out to be one of the best, most offensively effective second units in The Association. Chalmers’ cast of backups includes Amar’e Stoudemire, Josh McRoberts, rookie Justise Winslow and Gerald Green.
“We’ve got ball movers on our second unit and right now we’re really putting it together,” Chalmers told the Palm Beach Post. “Gerald’s our gunner, so we expect him to take those shots. Me and J-Mac are the ball movers and spot-up shooters, then you’ve got Justise as a slasher and you’ve got S.T.A.T. who can do the post work. We’ve got good balance.”
Add that group to a starting five of Dragic, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside, and most around the NBA expect Miami to not only get back to the playoffs in 2016, but finish near the top of the Eastern Conference, with James’ Cleveland Cavaliers.
When talks of a trade out of Miami began to stress Chalmers out at times in the offseason, he told the Miami Herald he reached out to his former teammate and current savior of Cleveland, James.
“Bron, big brother, he told me, ‘Don’t worry — it’s a business.’ ”
Now over all of that and headed into the regular season knowing his role, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told the Miami Herald this season should be easier for Chalmers than last year, when the Heat experimented with using him in different capacities.
In 2014-15, Chalmers averaged a career-best 10.2 points per game, but made just 40.3% of his shots (worst in four seasons) and 29.4% of his 3-pointers (career low).
“Clarity always breeds confidence. Hopefully, Rio will wrap his mind and arms around the clarity,” Spoelstra said. “I care about Rio. We’ve been through so much as a rookie player, a rookie head coach to now we’re both veterans. I’m excited about him embracing this new role. I’m open to changing for more, better, wherever it could possibly go.”
So while his minutes (29.6 last year) and raw per game averages should take a dip, Chalmers could still have a real impact for one of the stronger teams in the East, by running the show and keeping the Heat competitive when Miami needs to give its starters a rest.
“Having this second group is a luxury,” Bosh told the Palm Beach Post. “Thank God for them.”
2015-16 ’Hawks in the NBA Season Previews
— 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
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 tip off October 28, 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.
Mario Chalmers — Miami Heat
6-foot-2 guard | Seventh season
2013-14 numbers: 73 games | 29.8 minutes | 9.8 points | 4.9 assists | 1.6 steals | 45.4 FG% | 38.5 3-pt%
It’s safe to assume we can say goodbye to Mario Chalmers’ run of four straight NBA Finals appearances.
No longer a teammate of LeBron James, who took his talents right on back to Cleveland this past summer, Chalmers and what’s left of Miami’s former championship-contending roster could be good enough to secure a No. 4 or 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. But anything more than a trip to the second round of the playoffs? Don’t bet on it.
Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are now the clear top options for the Heat, and the franchise replaced (a word which might not ever have been more misused than it is in this sentence) James with Luol Deng.
Chalmers started at point guard for Miami during its recent glory years, but it now appears he will be playing more of a combo guard role and possibly coming off the bench.
Also, let’s be honest, he always has been more of a combo guard than a point guard anyway. Apparently Miami and coach Erik Spoelstra are just making that label official.
In a story from the Sun-Sentinel’s Shandel Richardson, Spoelstra said there was a span in Miami’s Friday preseason game against Golden State during which Chalmers played point guard one possession and off the ball the next.
"We forced him to become a point guard," Spoelstra said. "We've developed that aspect of his game for six years … That's six years in the makings. If you're expecting a young player to do that immediately in this league, there's no chance."
According to Richardson’s story, Wade told Chalmers he plays more aggressive as a two-guard. So the at times maligned Miami guard has that going for him.
Plus, taking on this newly defined role shouldn’t be bad for the former KU standout. With Norris Cole and Shabazz Napier — Miami’s first-round pick this year — also contending for point guard minutes, this really gives Chalmers more flexibility, and probably more playing time than if they only used him at the point. Now, in theory, he would be the first guard off the bench if he doesn’t end up starting, and could play alongside Wade, Cole or Napier or whomever else Miami decides to use in its backcourt.
Still, the notion that Cole has somehow surpassed Chalmers in the NBA starting guard department even befuddled Miami beat reporter Ira Winderman, who wrote about his puzzlement with the situation in a reader mailbag. He didn’t have an answer when someone wondered how Cole had moved past Chalmers in the rotation.
Chalmers played a personal preseason high of 33 minutes Tuesday, while coming off the bench against Houston. He went 2-for-5 from 3-point range, scored 13 points, swiped four steals and passed out three assists.
But it seems he never can do enough to impress his Miami critics.
So what do we expect out of Chalmers for the 2014-15 season?
His team won’t be nearly as good as it was the past four years, but the seventh-year guard will probably have more put on his plate. And with more responsibility, Chalmers could put up career numbers while again playing for a playoff franchise.
Plus, with James out of town, Miami won’t garner nearly as much media attention. So maybe people will stop trolling/trashing Chalmers on Twitter.
’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.
Considering his team, the Sacramento Kings, had just selected a shooting guard — the same position at which he started 55 games as a rookie — with the eighth overall pick in the NBA Draft, Kansas University product Ben McLemore played it cool on draft night.
A year removed from his own introduction to the league, when the Kings took him seventh overall, McLemore sent out a welcome tweet to his new teammate (and potential competitor for playing time), Michigan guard Nik Stauskas:
Outwardly congenial, McLemore revealed to the Sacramento Bee's Jason Jones that the choice initially surprised him.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” McLemore told Jones. “At the same time, they felt he was the best available draft pick, so I’m fine with it. At the end of the day, it’s a business, and I’m just going to do what I have to do to get better as a player.”
While his rookie season included flashes of production and promise, such as when the league named McLemore the Western Conference rookie of the month in November, the first-year guard struggled in stretches, too. He finished the season with an 8.8 points per game scoring average and less than impressive shooting percentages: 37.6 from the floor and 32 from three-point range (he missed 202 of his 297 attempts).
As McLemore and other members of the Kings' summer league team gathered in Las Vegas for mini-camp on Monday, head coach Michael Malone indicated to the Bee that McLemore's performance didn't inspire the organization to try and draft a replacement in Stauskas, a 6-foot-6 shooting specialist who drained 44.2 percent of his three-pointers this past season at Michigan.
“There’s only a few LeBron James, Kevin Durants, Kobe Bryants out there,” Malone said. “Most rookies come out and struggle. (McLemore) went through the struggling times. The most important thing for me was February was his toughest month, but in March and April he really got himself up off the mat. He showed resilience and finished the season on a high note (career high 31 points in finale).”
Jones reported Sacramento's Monday practice included some experimentation with playing McLemore and Stauskas side by side.
“It was good,” the rookie told the Bee. “For the most part, we were on the floor at the same time. He’s a great player, and hopefully we can feed off each other well.”
After playing with Stauskas for the first time (they played against each other in the 2013 Sweet 16, when Michigan beat Kansas, 87-85, in overtime), McLemore gave a brief scouting report in a video interview posted on the Kings' website.
"We've kind of got a similar game," McLemore said. "We both can shoot the ball, we can put it down on the floor, you know, (do) different things. I think we'll be a good backcourt."
The Kings play their summer league opener Friday night in Las Vegas, against San Antonio.
'Hawks in free agency
Paul Pierce is in Las Vegas, too. But not for the NBA's summer league. Apparently unfazed by his status as an uncommitted free agent, "The Truth" is working on one of his favorite hobbies at the World Series of Poker.
As for what uniform he'll wear in his 17th NBA season? Pierce could re-sign with Brooklyn. But ESPNNewYork.com's Mike Mazzeo reported the 36-year-old small forward wants $9 to $10 million a year, while the Nets would like to pay him between $6 and $8 million.
According to Mazzeo, Nets general manager Billy King said the Los Angeles Clippers inquired about a sign-and-trade deal for Pierce, who teamed with Clippers coach Doc Rivers to win an NBA title in Boston. However, King didn't like what L.A. offered.
Like Pierce, the six other KU products looking to sign as free agents might have to wait for stars LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh to make their decisions, because so many teams are holding back on contract offers until those pieces of the personnel puzzle fall into place.
Also still in limbo are Mario Chalmers, Xavier Henry, Kirk Hinrich, Drew Gooden, Brandon Rush and Cole Aldrich.
Aldrich told the Journal-World on Monday he would like to re-up with New York. Gooden told the Washington Post's Dan Steinberg he is interested in remaining in D.C., with the Wizards. Hinrich has long stated his desire to keep playing for Chicago.
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.