Former Kansas post players Tarik Black and Thomas Robinson aren’t the type of big men who can take over an NBA game with their offensive abilities. Still, every team needs post players willing and able to do the far-less-glamorous dirty work.
In fact, they both play their bit parts well enough that first-year Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton decided to utilize a two-headed hustle monster of Black and Robinson against Toronto on Sunday. While the combination of backup bigs weren’t enough for L.A. to defeat one of the league’s better teams, their coach — in need of some help in the frontcourt with Larry Nance Jr. out until the end of the month — came away pleased with the experiment.
“They brought us an energy and toughness that we lack a lot of the time on the defensive end,” Walton said Monday, as detailed on the Lakers’ website. “So it was nice to have them out there fighting and battling and watching the other team get mad at each other for not matching that level of intensity.”
In 17 minutes off the bench against the Raptors, Robinson, who has seen his playing time increase in Nance’s absence, scored 12 points and grabbed 9 rebounds.
Black, while playing his first prolonged stretch in nearly a month after suffering an ankle injury, added 9 points and 9 boards in 14 minutes for the Lakers.
“It’s kind of similar to what me and Larry Nance did,” Black said on Lakers.com. “Larry Nance got a lot of highlight dunks and tip dunks, because guys are trying to box me out, and vice versa. … T-Rob’s super-tenacious on the boards, so it works out.”
The duo combined for 10 offensive rebounds in the loss to Toronto, and Walton told reporters he anticipates going to them again in the Lakers’ next game, Tuesday night against Memphis.
As many who watched Black and Robinson at Kansas will recall, they have similar personas when they step foot on the court.
“(Black) goes hard like I do every possession,” said Robinson, who is averaging 8.2 points and 8.4 rebounds, while shooting 71.4% from the field in just 17.8 minutes, during the past five games. “He gives me the comfortability of knowing that I got somebody that’s gonna go hard with me playing out there.”
As Robinson alluded to, the two spent some time manning the frontcourt simultaneously versus Toronto. It only lasted five minutes, as detailed at SilverScreenAndRoll.com, but the two seemed to feed off each other.
“We’re both Jayhawks ... and we’re the best in the world,” Robinson said. “We both play with high energy, and so I think that was effective, especially in the first half when we first did it.”
Walton said the Lakers wanted to see what a bench unit with two traditional bigs would look like, instead of using a stretch-4. Exactly how long L.A. (12-25) sticks with the Kansas tandem remains to be seen. But Black and Robinson like the idea of teaming up for more grunt work as long as it remains part of the game plan.
“We have a connection because we come from the same university. Honestly, it’s pretty cool playing with him, to be real with you,” Black said. “I watched him play at Kansas and I went there right after him, so now playing together and being out there on the floor with him, it felt good.”
As the 82-game, nearly six-month-long marathon known as the NBA regular season begins this week, the league’s 30 team rosters feature 15 players from the University of Kansas.
In order to get KU basketball fans up to speed on what they should expect from the Jayhawks representing their beloved program at the highest level, we decided to rank KU’s current pros, counting down from No. 15 to No. 1, in terms of which players will be the most interesting to follow in the months to come.
We now move to Nos. 10-6. A couple of these former Kansas stars are entering the primes of their career and poised to make real impacts as key reserves.
Another’s days in The Association are numbered, one is attempting to finally establish himself and the other is just getting his feet wet in the NBA.
No. 10: Tarik Black — Los Angeles Lakers
After he went undrafted in 2014, who would have thought Tarik Black would be in the league two years later, let alone playing a crucial reserve role for one of the most recognizable franchises on the planet?
True, this is not the Showtime Lakers of the glory 1980s nor the Shaq and Kobe Lakers of 15 years ago. At best, L.A. is a young team building toward what it hopes can become another era of title chases. Those days, if they return, are years away. For now Black will try and be a building block for the future, along with young recent lottery picks such as D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram.
If you watched the 6-foot-9 center play at KU, you know his game: utilize that bulk in the paint to defend and rebound, work hard, finish strong. Those characteristics already have turned Black into a bit of a fan favorite and secured him a guaranteed contract for this season.
Black apparently wasn’t valued by former Lakers coach Byron Scott, who only played him 12.7 minutes a game last year, but Black seems to be in a better situation with Luke Walton taking over, and he’ll back up L.A.’s starting center, Timofey Mozgov.
No. 9: Paul Pierce — Los Angeles Clippers
This is it for Paul Pierce. His 19th NBA season will be his last. And, realistically, at 39 years old, there is only so much the former perennial all-star’s legs will allow him to do on the basketball court at this point.
We won’t see “The Truth” take over fourth quarters like he so often did for Boston in his 15 seasons with the Celtics. Last year with the Clippers, Pierce only played 18.1 minutes a game and scored 6.1 points — both by far career lows. Though a future hall of famer, Pierce has reached a point where the Clippers are better off playing guys such as Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and, at times, Wesley Johnson at small forward in their otherwise superb starting lineup.
The intrigue in watching Pierce play this season comes from knowing it’s his last. What does he have left in that tank? Will he play better this year than last, knowing he can give it all and spend the rest of his life resting?
You know he’s going to have a night or two when he catches fire and looks like vintage Pierce for a stretch, and that will be fun to see, as will the tributes he gets from various organizations as he plays in visiting arenas for the final time.
Here’s one date you’ll want to mark on your calendar for the Clippers: Sunday, Feb. 5. It will be the final time Pierce plays in front of a Boston crowd that adores the 2008 NBA Finals MVP.
No. 8: Cole Aldrich — Minnesota Timberwolves
Last season, while playing with Pierce in L.A., Cole Aldrich established himself as a valuable reserve center in the NBA. Even while playing only 13.3 minutes a game, the burly 6-foot-11 Aldrich routinely made a positive impact in the paint as a rebounder and rim protector and averaged 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds, while converting 59.6% of his shot attempts.
Aldrich’s best pro season to date came at an ideal time, too, with the big man hitting the free agent market this past summer. He signed with his hometown Timberwolves, one of the league’s up-and-coming franchises for three years and $22 million.
Now 27 years old, Aldrich gets to take his enforcer role to Minnesota’s second unit. When the team’s young star Karl-Anthony Towns or Gorgui Dieng aren’t in the game to control the paint, it will be up to Aldrich to make sure the T’wolves’ interior defense doesn’t experience much of a drop-off.
Minnesota is expected to become one of the more exciting teams in the league to follow, and for KU fans, there is no better bandwagon to hop onto, with Aldrich teaming up with fellow Jayhawks Brandon Rush and Andrew Wiggins.
No. 7: Thomas Robinson — Los Angeles Lakers
We don’t know how much — or how little — former KU star Thomas Robinson will play during his first season with the Lakers. Honestly, it seems another Jayahwk on this list, Black, will feature far more prominently in L.A.’s plans.
Robinson, playing on a one-year, non-guaranteed contract, didn’t even know during the preseason whether he’d make the team’s roster. So he has a long way to go before breaking into the rotation. The months ahead seem intriguing for Robinson, though, because this is his sixth team in five seasons. Organization after organization has passed on retaining the backup power forward. Will the Lakers do the same? Will they even keep him around for the entire season?
The answers to those questions have a lot to do with how the 6-foot-10, 25-year-old Robinson approaches his place in the roster hierarchy. The Lakers have far more invested in bigs Julius Randle, Mozgov, Larry Nance Jr. and Black than Robinson. He’ll have to prove himself more deserving of playing time than one or two of his frontcourt teammates to feature prominently on this young team building for the future.
It might take an injury to one of those other post players for Robinson to get a long look from Walton and his staff. How will Robinson respond when his chance comes? That’s what will be compelling to observe. He has yet to live up to his position as a lottery pick — will this be the year he finally does?
No. 6: Kelly Oubre Jr. — Washington Wizards
A year ago, appropriately, Kelly Oubre Jr. looked like a 20-year-old rookie not quite skilled enough to make a sustainable impact on an NBA floor.
Now in his second season with Washington, Oubre, who will turn 21 in December, is starting to fit in much better. Whether that’s the result of learning from his first-year struggles, the Wizards hiring a new head coach in Scott Brooks or a combination of the two, look for the 6-foot-7 lefty’s production to spike upward in Year 2.
Say goodbye to the days of Oubre playing only 10 minutes and averaging 3.7 points. Though still playing a reserve role, behind Otto Porter Jr., Oubre looked better suited to contribute during the preseason. He played 25.5 minutes a game for D.C. this past month in exhibitions, and scored 13.1 points while making 49.2% of his field goals.
To take the next step in his career, Oubre will have to develop a better 3-point shot. He only made 25 of 79 last season (31.6%). During the preseason, it didn’t appear a drastic improvement is coming in the months ahead, as Oubre shot 6-for-17 (35.3%) from downtown.
Still, it seems Washington is far more interested in utilizing Oubre's growing skill set now than when he was a rookie.
No stranger to adversity, Thomas Robinson might be in for a few of the most stressful days of his professional career.
A bonafide college basketball star by the time he finished up at Kansas in 2012, Robinson months later became the No. 5 overall pick in the NBA Draft. Since then, though, the tough-nosed, explosive power forward has yet to carve out a niche for himself.
As of Tuesday morning, Robinson could call himself a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. However, there is no guarantee that will be the case when the regular season starts next week.
The Lakers have 17 players on their preseason roster. As reported by Mark Medina of The Orange County Register, L.A. has to trim that number to at least 15 before embarking on the quickly approaching 82-game grind.
Robinson is one of three Lakers on non-guaranteed training camp deals, along with the artist formerly known as Ron Artest, aka Metta World Peace, and center Yi Jianlian.
First-year NBA head coach Luke Walton told The Register that Robinson, a free agent this past summer, impressed the Lakers in workouts.
“The way he was working and the way he was winning, we thought we at least have to bring this guy to camp,” Walton said. “He looks great out here.”
The coach seems to like him, so that’s a positive for the 6-foot-10 25-year-old. Still, Robinson hasn’t played much off L.A.’s bench in the preseason:
- 7 minutes, 8 points, 7 rebounds vs. Sacramento
- 9 minutes, 0 points, 1 rebound vs. Denver
- 9 minutes, 1 point, 2 rebounds vs. Denver
- Did not play vs. Portland
- Did not play vs. Sacramento
- 7 minutes, 7 points, 4 rebounds vs. Golden State
In total, Robinson has produced 16 points and 14 rebounds in 30 preseason minutes, which doesn’t look too bad if you forget about the 8.1 minutes a game part of the equation. According to RealGM.com, Robinson’s preseason PER is 27.61. This of course is from a minimal sample size, but just to provide a reference point only five NBA players had a PER of 27 or higher last season.
Also helping Robinson’s cause, The Register reported he often wins drills at Lakers practices, getting his name atop what they call the “winner’s board.”
“I’m just trying to be who I am as a player,” Robinson said. “Those are exactly the things coach said.”
Drafted by Sacramento, Robinson also has played for Houston, Portland, Philadelphia and Brooklyn. He hopes the 2016-17 season will be his fifth in the league for his seventh different franchise. He told The Register he learned quickly not to take personnel decisions the wrong way or look at teams that moved him or declined to retain him with any malice.
“It’s never been anything personal,” he said. “When you get older, things don’t bother you as much.”
Oddly enough, Robinson likely would have an easier time sticking with L.A. if not for the presence of another former Kansas big man, Tarik Black. The Lakers already have a backup big to crash the glass, play with energy and do other dirty work assignments in the paint. Black, who has played each of the past two seasons with the organization, is averaging 7.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in 16.2 minutes this preseason, while shooting 59.1% from the floor.
Between Black, Julius Randle, Luol Deng, Larry Nance Jr., Timofey Mozgov and even early second-round pick Ivica Zubac, the Lakers have a lot of front court options. Robinson would have to leapfrog at least one or two of those players, as well as Yi, for L.A. to keep him around.
It seems the little things have held Robinson back through his years in the NBA. Take this example of JaVale McGee dunking on Robinson earlier this week. The former KU star deserves credit for rising up and contesting the jam. But he wouldn’t have been in that position had he stayed in the middle of the paint in proper help position, denying McGee the easiest route to the hoop in the first place.
Obviously, no defender is perfect and it sounds as if Walton sees Robinson’s redeeming qualities.
“He never takes plays off,” the L.A. coach said. “He’s a great guy. You want him around. He’s a monster on the offensive glass and has a great attitude with everything we’ve done.”
The Lakers have two more preseason games left before they play for real Wednesday, Oct. 26. We’ll know by then if Robinson will spend the months ahead in purple and gold or be forced to try and catch on with yet another franchise.
Thirty-plus days into free agency, former Kansas star Thomas Robinson remains a man without a team.
The fifth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Robinson spent all of last season with Brooklyn, a rarity for the backup power forward who already has played for five different franchises.
If demand for his services was high enough, Robinson already would have signed a new contract. Still, a report from BasketballInsiders.com suggests the 25-year-old big man also wants to take his time and find the right fit. After all, neither Sacramento, Houston, Portland, Philadelphia nor Brooklyn worked out for Robinson, who left KU with so much promise.
In Robinson’s rookie season with the Kings, he averaged 4.8 points and 4.7 rebounds in 51 games. Then Sacramento traded him to Houston, where, in 19 games, Robinson averaged 4.5 points and 4.1 rebounds.
Year No. 2 in the NBA for Robinson, while more stable — thanks to Portland adding him in the offseason and keeping him around for the duration of the year — didn’t bring more production: 4.8 points, 4.4 rebounds.
In 2014-15, Robinson was back on the move, but at least got to better show off his skills on an awful Philadelphia team, averaging 8.8 points and 7.7 rebounds in 22 appearances after the trade deadline.
However, after signing as a free agent with Brooklyn last summer, Robinson only got to play 12.9 minutes, putting up 4.3 points and 5.1 boards in his most recent campaign.
All of those stops around the league and tough lessons learned along the way have changed Robinson’s approach, he told Basketball Insiders. Now he understands he can still make an impact in the NBA, and earn the respect of his peers, by becoming a reliable, role-playing big, such as Bismack Biyombo or Tristan Thompson.
“I’ve matured so much,” Robinson said. “I see things completely different now. Coming in young, I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to hear, ‘Be a defender! Be a rebounder! That’s all you need to do!’ I didn’t want to hear those things. I’m okay at doing things other than just rebounding and defending, so I didn’t want to just do that. But after all of the trades and constantly hearing that, it sold me. I think the biggest sign of my maturity is the fact that I’m not striving for the same things that I was when I came into the league.”
The former King, Rocket, Blazer, Sixer and Net no longer has visions of becoming a superstar or, as he put it, trying to play like Kobe Bryant.
“I know that my job is strictly to be a solid rebounder and defender. I want to make it clear to everybody: that’s all I want to do,” Robinson told Basketball Insiders. “I want to be one of the best rebounders in the league and lock down anyone who comes my way.”
Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders suggests Robinson just needs minutes in order to produce, citing the athletic forward’s averages in seven starts for the Nets this past season: 14.6 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.6 steal to go with 54.4% shooting.
And while Robinson himself admits some people around the NBA might have a misinformed opinion of him — that he’s “standoffish” or a bad person — some of his former co-workers gave him glowing reviews. On BasketballInsiders.com coaches and players used words such as “coachable,” “I loved working with him,” “great competitor,” “fearless rebounder,” and “always a very positive teammate” while describing the free-agent power forward.
Portland guard C.J. McCollum said he connected with “T-Rob” easily, because of the big man’s passion.
“I think he can help every team in this league with his skill set and motor,” McCollum added. “He just needs to get the right opportunity.”
So where will Robinson play in his fifth NBA season? Many teams have used up the bulk of their space under the league’s salary cap. According to sportrac.com, the organizations that still have plenty of wiggle room for larger contracts are Philadelphia, Denver, Brooklyn, Phoenix, Oklahoma City, Utah, Minnesota and Indiana. Now, that doesn’t mean those teams have the roster space or a need for Robinson. They could just afford to pay him more.
Other franchises, though, could still bring Robinson in on a veteran’s minimum deal. One such team reported to have interest in Robinson is the San Antonio Spurs.
Training camp doesn’t open until September, so there is still plenty of time for Robinson to find a new (or perhaps former) team to join.
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.
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If you don’t remember much about Thomas Robinson’s 2015-16 season, well, you’re probably not a Brooklyn season-ticket holder.
Between the Nets’ general ineptitude (21-61 record, second-worst in the Eastern Conference to woeful Philadelphia) and Robinson’s sparse on-court opportunities most of the year, the former Kansas star’s fourth season in the NBA landed somewhere between blah and forgettable.
That’s one reason, perhaps, that Robinson reportedly is expected to opt out of his contract and test free agency this summer.
Robinson played in 71 games for the Nets in his first — and what could be his only — season with the organization, but only averaged 12.9 minutes a game. The backup big man averaged 4.3 points and 5.1 rebounds and shot 44.7% from the floor.
Those numbers dipped significantly from the ones he put up with the 76ers (albeit on a terrible team) to close the previous season: 8.8 points, 7.7 rebounds in 22 games, 18.5 minutes.
The 25-year-old post player already has suited up for Houston, Sacramento, Portland, Philadelphia and Brooklyn. So what harm could another change of scenery do?
The San Antonio Express-News reported Robinson, who signed a two-year deal with the Nets this past offseason, is expected to exercise the player-option on his contract and give up the approximately $1 million Brooklyn agreed to pay him in 2016-17.
This decision makes sense for Robinson on a number of levels. First, as mentioned, there wasn’t much buzz about Robinson or the Nets, outside of a few late-season games when Brooklyn had multiple regulars injured and he put up a career-high 23 points at Washington.
And the Nets aren’t turning things anytime soon, with their first-round draft picks going to Boston each of the next three years.
Opting out also is a wise financial move. Robinson isn’t going to land a massive contract from any team, but he certainly will seek a longer deal than his most recent one. If a franchise is willing to give the well traveled forward a contract for three years or longer, for example, that would give him more security for his future. If he just stayed with Brooklyn for year No. 2 and then suffered some horrible injury, who’s to say whether he could ever again secure longterm guaranteed money.
What’s more, as anyone who follows the NBA knows, the salary cap is scheduled for a massive increase this offseason. Any player able to get a new contract this summer almost has to do so, with all the money league owners can now spend without worrying luxury taxes.
Which teams should Robinson consider? While reuniting with one of his FOE partners and former KU teammates Markieff or Marcus Morris would be an interesting move, it would make more sense for him to seek out the best financial opportunity or playing situation available to him.
Nothing against Detroit (Marcus’ team) or Washington (Markieff’s team) but if you were an NBA player, wouldn’t you rather suit up for, say, San Antonio.
In fact, the Spurs just might be a realistic option for Robinson. Jabari Young of the Express-News wondered whether Gregg Popovich and company might pursue the explosive backup forward, citing Popovich’s recent remarks that San Antonio needs to get younger.
According to Young, Spurs general manager R.C. Buford, a former KU assistant for Larry Brown, has been a Robinson fan “for quite some time.”
While Robinson played a minimal role for playoff teams in Houston and Portland, joining one of the league’s model franchises and contributing to a championship contender would qualify as totally new professional experiences.
All this speculation might not come true. Maybe Robinson won’t get a chance to play for the Spurs. Maybe some average to mediocre team with money to burn gives him a contract that would set him and his family up for life.
Whichever way it turns out, Robinson still hasn’t lived up to his status as the fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft. Figuring out which team really needs him — and will give him more than the career-high 15.1 minutes a game he played as a rookie — should factor into his decision, too.
— 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
Thomas Robinson didn’t have to wait long to find his new NBA home for the 2015-16 season.
On the second day of free agency, the former Sacramento King, Houston Rocket, Portland Trail Blazer and Philadelphia 76er (who was waived by the Denver Nuggets without playing a game for them) agreed to a contract with the Brooklyn Nets.
Rather than waiting to see which teams misfired on their home-run pitches to the big-name free agents, Robinson on Thursday went ahead and decided to stick with the franchise that already had shown interest in him. The Nets planned to sign Robinson once he cleared waivers in February, but Philadelphia claimed him before that became an option.
Considering how the first three seasons of his professional career have gone — never playing more than 15.1 minutes a game over the course of one of them — its easy to see why Robinson would jump at the chance to join an organization who has shown an inkling of belief in him.
The New York Post’s Tim Bontemps reported the addition of Robinson helps Brooklyn meet one of its offseason goals: to add younger, more athletic players. The Nets will sign the 24-year-old power forward to a two-year contract for the league minimum, and he has a player option to become a free agent again next summer.
There are months to go before the season actually begins, but at this point it appears Robinson will be a regular rotation player — likely even the first big off the bench to replace either Brook Lopez or Thaddeus Young.
Perhaps the most important development in all of this, though, is the nature of the contract. Brooklyn could have only been interested in a short-term deal, but that’s best for Robinson, too. This way, he can bet on himself.
In his eyes, he hasn’t yet received a legitimate shot to prove he belongs in the NBA. If he finally gains relevancy with the Nets, he can opt out of his deal next July and get more money from Brooklyn or another team.
Robinson took a step in the right direction during his short, 22-game stay with Philadelphia, averaging 8.8 points and 7.7 rebounds (2.8 offensive) in 18.5 minutes.
Some advanced stats from basketball-reference.com tell even more of the story. Robinson had a player efficiency rating of 19.3 with the Sixers, which was more than 4 points higher than he had posted with any other team. For a reference point, Miami’s Dwyane Wade had a PER of 21.4 for the season, which ranked 20th overall in the NBA.
While wearing a 76ers uniform, Robinson also set new personal marks in offensive rebound percentage (15.8%) and defensive rebound percentage (30.2%). Had either of those come over the course of the entire season, Robinson would have ranked third in ORB%, behind Andre Drummond (18.3%) and DeAndre Jordan (16.2%), and third in DRB%, behind Jordan (32.4%) and DeMarcus Cousins (30.6%).
The No. 5 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Robinson knows he has yet to live up to the expectations that come with that status. Next season in Brooklyn could change all of that, as long as he maintains that high-energy approach and keeps crashing the glass like a maniac.
As he tweeted out upon coming to terms with the Nets, Robinson thinks he’s finally on his way to earning respect around the league.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.
There are far bigger, landscape-changing names on the NBA’s open market this summer than Thomas Robinson. But it’s hard to come up with many free agents as desperate to find the right fit. Robinson needs to find a franchise where he belongs.
After leading Kansas to the 2012 national title game, Robinson entered the league as the No. 5 overall pick. Three years later, the 6-foot-10 forward has been traded three times and waived. Now, for the first time since picking KU, he gets to choose his next team.
An energetic big man who is only 24, Robinson performed rather well in limited minutes once Philadelphia claimed him off waivers late this past season: 8.8 points, 7.7 rebounds (2.8 offensive) in 18.5 minutes over 22 games.
Beginning with Sacramento, which drafted him, and continuing in Houston and Portland, Robinson either hasn’t impressed teams enough or got caught playing behind more effective veterans.
As he tries to find a franchise that both wants him and will use him effectively, Robinson told Grantland’s Jonathan Abrams he’s letting all the doubt about his potential fuel him.
“I can’t stand the politics of it,” Robinson said in the Grantland feature. “I lost all respect for why I thought I wanted to come to the NBA. I’m not here for the same things I had in mind when I got drafted or when I was a kid. My mind-set has completely changed.
“Outside a few handful of players in this league, other than that, you’re up for grabs. Anybody. So right now, I’m not playing for money no more. I’m not playing for love. I’m playing because I want my respect back. That’s pretty much my mind-set until I’m done.”
The Grantland piece provides much more insight from Robinson on the business side of the NBA and his ongoing struggle to establish himself as an important player, and goes into his relationship with his former KU teammates, Marcus and Markieff Morris, their mother’s role in Robinson’s life and much more.
With free agency just under way, Philadelphia has plenty of available money, but its three projected best players, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid, all play inside. So the 76ers seem unlikely to re-sign Robinson. The prevalent rumor is that Brooklyn wants to add him to its frontcourt.
However, the Nets reportedly agreed to big deals with their own free agent bigs, Brook Lopez and Thad Young. So if they want to pick up Robinson, too, they don’t have much money to offer him without making some other moves.
If that’s OK with Robinson, and Brooklyn promises him playing time, he could decide to sign on for a one-year deal, showcase his abilities and become a free agent again next summer.
Then again, if Robinson wants the added security of a longer deal and more money, there could be plenty of other intriguing opportunities out there.
CBSSports.com’s Zach Harper compiled a definitive list of salary cap situations and team needs for the entire NBA this summer. Using that as a jumping off point, here are some other organizations that could use Robinson and afford to throw some bigger pay days his direction.
Boston has plenty of cap space and had only three noteworthy post players — Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller and Kelly Olynyk — under contract before reportedly reaching an agreement with Amir Johnson. Still, Danny Ainge always seems to be chasing down trades, so there is no guarantee Sullinger, Zeller or Olynyk will remain on the roster.
Detroit also has ample room to stay under the salary cap. The Pistons are expected to let Greg Monroe sign elsewhere, leaving them with Andre Drummond in the pivot and Ersan Ilyasova and Anthony Tolliver as their power forwards.
New York needs starting big men and backup big men. At this moment, No. 4 overall pick Kristaps Porzingis is the only post player set to be under contract next season. The Knicks are rumored to have interest in Monroe, David West and LaMarcus Aldridge. But if they strike out on a couple (or all three) of those guys, why not fill a need and inject some energy with Robinson?
Dallas has money to burn with Mark Cuban calling the shots, and the Mavericks desperately need some interior players, too. Cuban will chase all the marquee names available in free agency or via trade. Even if Dallas lands another post player, aging Dirk Nowitzki could use all the help he can get inside defensively and on the glass.
The Los Angeles Lakers hope they can lure Aldridge or make a deal for DeMarcus Cousins. If those ventures fail, they’ll need depth inside to go with Julius Randle and Tarik Black (Robert Sacre has a non-guaranteed deal).
Phoenix might be the most alluring destination for Robinson if the Suns are interested in him. No doubt, he would love reuniting with his #FOE brothers, the Morrii. But Phoenix reportedly reached a deal with Tyson Chandler and also has dreams of adding Aldridge. With Markieff, Alex Len and Chandler all in line for plenty of minutes, Robinson likely would need assurances of playing time to head to the desert.
Whether all — or any — of those teams want to add Robinson remains to be seen. Plus, new deals are popping up by the minute this time of year, so situations with every franchise remain in flux.
In the young power forward’s mind, he still expects to live up to his top-five-pick status and become an All-Star. One might say he considers himself a diamond in the rough.
“If it happens the wrong way, I know it’s my fault,” Robinson told Grantland. “I’m betting on myself right now.”
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.
When the clock strikes midnight and June turns to July, NBA free agent season officially begins.
With the 2015 draft out of the way, teams can begin attempting to plug the last — or many — holes on their rosters by offering millions of dollars to the players whose previous contracts just expired.
While national attention turns to the rumors and meetings surrounding LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Loves and other marquee names, the coming days and weeks will determine the professional futures of some former Kansas stars, too.
Here is a look at seven Jayhawks in play as free agency begins.
Paul Pierce | Washington | F | age: 37
Pierce might be on his fourth team in four seasons by the time the summer signing frenzy finishes. Now a 17-year league veteran, the former Boston Celtic and one-year Brooklyn Net surprised many last summer by signing on with Washington.
Though the Wizards, who made it to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs as Pierce averaged 14.6 points and 4.2 rebounds this past spring, didn’t expect him to opt out of his deal this summer, the veteran forward decided to give himself some options as he nears retirement.
While D.C. remains a legit candidate to re-sign him, the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston both are reportedly interested in adding the 2008 NBA Finals MVP, who won a title with the Celtics, while playing for now-Clippers coach Doc Rivers.
In a piece from The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg, Wizards coach Randy Wittman remained positive about keeping Pierce in the fold.
“End-of-the-year meetings, talking to him here after the season, I think he was really pleased with the situation that he walked into here, what he was able to help with this team, the future of this team and where we’re headed,” the coach said. “I think those are all great positives. I feel very positive that we’re going to be able to have him back in the fold next year.”
Yahoo’s Kelly Dwyer, however, thinks Pierce will chase another title with Rivers, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the Clippers.
Thomas Robinson | Philadelphia | PF | age: 24
Three years removed from Sacramento taking him with the fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Robinson likely will join his fifth NBA franchise this summer. The athletic, raw 24-year-old post player experienced a crazy couple days in February, when Portland traded him to Denver, the Nuggets promptly waived him, Brooklyn planned to sign him and Philadelphia snagged him off waivers before he could become an in-season free agent.
The New York Post’s Tim Bontemps reported Brooklyn, who planned to sign Robinson if he cleared waivers, will target him in free agency.
“He could provide energy and rebounding as a low-cost reserve big, an area where the Nets could use help,” Bontemps wrote.
The decision is all Robinson’s, though. Other suitors could emerge, and he’ll likely take the deal that is best for his financial future.
Upon landing with the 76ers, Robinson averaged 8.8 points and 7.7 rebounds in 18.5 minutes a game.
Cole Aldrich | New York | C | age: 26
While the Knicks figure to actively recruit some bigger available names, Newsday reports Aldrich is one of the Knicks’ own free agents who is likely to return.
Aldrich told the Journal-World a couple weeks ago he didn’t yet know what kind of deals would come his way.
“It’s just nice to get out there again,” he said. “It’s another summer to get better, and that’s all that matters.”
As a young, inexpensive big man coming off a career year (5.5 points and 5.5 rebounds), Aldrich shouldn’t have any trouble finding steady work.
Darrell Arthur | Denver | PF | age: 27
A 6-foot-9 backup big man, Arthur won’t create a lot of buzz, but The Washington Post’s Neil Greenberg put the former KU standout on his list of “sleeper” free agents. Some advanced stats, cited by The Post, reveal Arthur’s worth:
“The Denver Nuggets were 9.6 points per 100 possessions better defensively this season with Arthur in the lineup,” Greenberg wrote, “ and he held opponents to 0.9 points per play when he was called on to defend in the post.”
CBSSports.com’s Matt Moore ranked Arthur as the 37th-best available free agent, ahead of Pierce (40th).
Drew Gooden | Washington | PF | age: 33
Gooden has stuck around the league for 13 seasons, so he must be doing something right. The veteran big man reinvented his game to remain relevant and served Washington this past season as a stretch power forward.
Gooden averaged 6.8 points and 5.5 rebounds in the Wizards’ playoff run. According to The Washington Post’s Jorge Castillo, Gooden had a “we’ll see what happens” approach to his free agency.
“I feel like I was a component to help get to where we at right now,” Gooden said. “… Whether I am here or somewhere else, I will continue to get better and fill this role I have taken with the Wizards. I would love for it to be here but if it is not, this is a business and I can swallow that pill, too.”
Jeff Withey | New Orleans | C | age: 25
The Pelicans haven’t used Withey much (9.9 career minutes per game) in his two seasons of service, but that doesn’t mean they want to dump him in the offseason.
The Advocate reported New Orleans would extend a one-year, qualifying offer to Withey, a restricted free agent. If Withey doesn’t find an offer from another franchise for more money, the Pelicans will keep him for next season and he’ll become a true free agent — unrestricted — in 2016. They can retain him for $1.1 million next season in that scenario, or match any offer another team comes up with for the seldom used backup center (2.6 points and 1.7 rebounds in 7.0 minutes this past season).
Xavier Henry | L.A. Lakers | G/F | age: 24
Actually, Henry has been a free agent since last December. After a breakout fourth season in 2013-14 (10 points per game), the young swingman ruptured left achilles this past November, cutting his fifth season short. The Lakers then cut Henry in order to sign another former KU player, Tarik Black.
Henry’s history of injury problems might scare away some organizations, and no one will sign him until he’s back healthy and cleared by a team’s medical personnel. If he can get back healthy, though, and recapture the kind of play he displayed almost two years ago, Henry could emerge as a wild card addition that no one is mentioning at this juncture. Considering all the variables, the offseason uncertainty figures to stretch on for months for Henry.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.