Entries from blogs tagged with “NBA”
Some of the other biggest names of his generation have retired, but Paul Pierce will forge ahead and play one more NBA season.
After a summer of contemplation, the former Kansas star, entering his 19th season in the league, announced Monday on The Players’ Tribune his intentions to play this coming year with the Los Angeles Clippers — and then retire. Pierce’s decision comes in the same offseason that saw such legends as Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Pierce’s former Boston and Brooklyn teammate Kevin Garnett call it quits.
“You know, I’ve played a lot of years in this game. I’ve given this game all I’ve had all my life,” Pierce said in a recorded speech. “And just like any difficult decision that you’ve ever got to make in your life, I think you’ve really got to be at peace with yourself to make a decision like this. I realize that it’s time to move on from the game of basketball. It’s the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life, but this is it. This is my final season.”
As the 10-time all-star indicated on The Players’ Tribune post, Pierce remains hopeful the Clippers — led by younger stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin — can help the soon-to-be 39-year-old be a part of a championship level team in his final go-round through the NBA.
Pierce, of course, won a title with the Celtics in 2008, when he earned NBA Finals MVP honors.
For his career, “The Truth” has averaged 20.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists, while shooting 44.5% from the floor. But his numbers have been on a steady decline since Boston, the team that drafted him 10th overall in 1998, traded him away to start rebuilding.
This past season, Pierce’s first with L.A. after stints with the Nets and Washington, he averaged career lows in minutes (18.1), points (6.1), field goals attempted (5.8), field goals made (2.1), field-goal percentage (36.3%), rebounds (2.7), assists (1.0) and steals (0.5).
“I think I’ve had an illustrious career,” Pierce said in The Players’ Tribune video. “I’m very satisfied with the work that I’ve been able to do over the past 18 years, and I realize that you can’t play forever. You know, this is a young man’s game, and as I get older and not being able to be as efficient and do a lot of the things I do, you know, the signs, you know, they’re there. You can’t reach the goals that you put out there for yourself like you’ve done in the past and it gets harder as you get older and the players get better. And I feel like I have one more opportunity on a great team and something to give on and off the court.”
— Watch Pierce’s entire announcement video below:
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.
Joel Embiid, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft, has yet to play an NBA game, due to significant foot injuries.
Because of the aforementioned two seasons worth of missed action, Embiid tends to be the butt of social media jokes — sometimes just for the fun of it and other times in response to those who still believe there is greatness on the horizon for Philadelphia’s 7-foot-2 rookie-to-be.
So if you happened to see Embiid’s name pop up on Twitter today it would’ve been safe to assume some wisecracking fan thought it would be funny to say Embiid is so far removed from the actual sport of basketball that he spends his time arm-wrestling Justin Bieber.
But apparently that actually happened.
As detailed by a Twitter account called JustinBieberCrew.com, the fun-loving Embiid began this past weekend by not only kicking it at a club with an international pop star, but proceeding to dominate the much smaller multimillionaire in an impromptu battle of strength.
Check out the video below. I mean, this is why the Internet exists, right? (Embiid is the one who doesn’t look like a Canadian teenager.)
All jokes aside, Embiid, still just 22, has been cleared for actual basketball activities with the Philadelphia 76ers, and just a few days ago showed up on social media doing much more impressive things than defeating a tiny singer/dancer/whatever in arm-wrestling.
Embiid’s offseason hoops trainer, Drew Hanlen, posted an Instagram video of a recent Embiid workout. The Cameroon native not only looks to be in great physical shape, but back to his old ways of incorporating fancy footwork into monster dunks.
On and off the court, Embiid appears to be well on his way to becoming the NBA’s most entertaining big man.
By all accounts, Cole Aldrich, the newest member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, has no say in the NBA franchise’s uniform design. Still, the former Kansas center couldn’t help offering up a slight adjustment to the team’s look during his introductory press conference Thursday.
Seeing as how Aldrich is one of three Jayhawks on the roster, along with rising star Andrew Wiggins and recently signed veteran Brandon Rush, the 6-foot-11 big man suggested the Wolves add a Kansas patch to their jerseys, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Admittedly, the Burnsville, Minn., native feels pretty good about life in general these days, what with that freshly signed three-year $22 million contract to play for his hometown organization. As Aldrich, a six-year NBA veteran who already has played for Oklahoma City, Houston, Sacramento, New York and the Los Angeles Clippers pointed out, the free-agent deals he reached over the past few years were neither longterm nor as lucrative as his new contract with Minnesota.
“It’s great to have security, in a sense, where I have a three-year deal,” Aldrich said in the Star Tribune’s report. “For me, I’ve gone through pretty much my career on one-year deals (since a guaranteed contract as a first-round pick).”
A backup post player since leaving KU to become the 11th overall pick in the 2010 draft, Aldrich never averaged more than 3.3 points a game until the 2014-15 season, with the Knicks, when he put up 5.5 points in just 16.0 minutes. He matched that 5.5 average with the Clippers this past year, despite playing fewer minutes (13.3 a game).
“I finished six years in [the NBA] and sometimes I wonder how the hell I even made it this long,” Aldrich said. “Because the average career is three and a half. It’s just a blessing.”
A self-proclaimed lifelong T’wolves fan, Aldrich also considers himself lucky to be back home. He recalled attending several games during the 2004 playoffs, when Kevin Garnett led the franchise to its first Western Conference Finals berth. Minnesota hasn’t qualified for the playoffs since, but Aldrich said his affinity for the organization never wavered.
“Whether it was in another city, playing for New York or Oklahoma City or wherever, I always tried to keep tabs. You root for your city,” Aldrich told the Star Tribune. “For me to be home, I’m going to go out there and play hard. I’m not going to guarantee a championship or anything like LeBron [James], but I’m going to try to do all I can to help us win games.”
Minnesota’s addition this offseason of Tom Thibodeau, new head coach and president of basketball operations, is expected to give the middling franchise a significant boost as all-stars-in-the-making Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns continue to expand their games. Aldrich, a projected backup center with the T’wolves, said he’s eager to work for the famously tough-minded coach.
“The grit and the grind basketball,” Aldrich responded, when asked why he will fit in well with his hometown team. “I love to get my nose dirty. As you can tell, I’ve got a few scars, and I’ve got a missing tooth.”
Many NBA players would look back at a six-month-long season that included merely 104 shot attempts with contempt. Tarik Black isn’t wired that way, though.
During the young center’s second season with the Los Angeles Lakers, he only played in 39 games, logging just 12.7 minutes off the bench in those sparse appearances. But the former Kansas big man, who this summer agreed to a two-year deal to stay with L.A., thinks his trials should only help him.
“You can look at the negatives. You can look at the positives. I choose to look at the positives from every situation,” Black told the Los Angeles Daily News. “The positives of that was it built my character.”
Under former Lakers coach Byron Scott, Black saw his playing time with L.A. drop by about 9.0 minutes a game from the 21.7 he averaged as a rookie. Of course, his productivity took a hit, too. Black’s scoring with the Lakers went from 7.2 points a game in 2014-15 to 3.4 this past season, while his rebounding numbers dipped from 6.3 an outing to 4.0.
Still, Black prefers to plow ahead in his career with a minutes-half-full approach.
“It taught me so much and prepared me to be the player I’m going to be moving forward,” Black said. “I definitely learned patience and perseverance. It’s tough mentally to still work hard in all situations. Throughout the season, I continued to work and always stayed competitive when I got on the floor.”
What else would you expect from a guy who drove from L.A. to Las Vegas earlier this week just to support his young Lakers teammates at the NBA’s Summer League.
Black’s character and work ethic figure to serve him well as the Lakers try to change course, under new coach Luke Walton. When Black, a 6-foot-9 big, reached a deal to stay with the Lakers, an increased role next season seemed implied. At the very least, the 24-year-old backup has a pretty good idea of what he’s getting into with the new regime.
As Black told the Daily News, he already had a good relationship with Walton, from their days together with the Memphis Tigers. Walton served as an assistant one season during Black’s time there, before the sturdy post player transferred to KU. In fact, Black said he has kept in touch with Walton since.
That relationship had to help Black feel great about his chances moving forward. And it had to make it easier to have an honest conversation with his new head coach. The Daily News reported Black spoke candidly with Walton about his role for the upcoming season.
“‘I don’t ask to be given anything. I just ask for a fair shot,’” Black related. “‘If I earn something, give it to me.’”
“‘I respect that, appreciate that and will honor that,’” Black shared.
Of course, none of that means you’ll suddenly see Black playing 30 minutes a game for the rebuilding Lakers, who just went 17-65. There will be competition for frontcourt minutes, with newly acquired projected starting center Timofey Mosgov, as well as young forwards Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr.
Not that any obstacles would faze Black.
“I see a world of potential for myself,” he said. “I can’t wait to get back in the gym and get back to work. It’s going to be a whole lot of fun.”
Paul Pierce, in his 18 NBA seasons following three years at Kansas, has seen it all in the game of basketball. The 38-year-old forward recently imparted some of his hoops wisdom with a young prep player for a feature on The Players’ Tribune.
Pierce, a contributing editor for the site, met with a high school guard named Oscar Lopez, who plays for a team in Pierce’s “The Truth” AAU program. The two of them broke down video and ran through some drills for a segment called “Scouting Myself.”
Before meeting Lopez for the recurring piece, which in the past has featured NFL players Greg Olsen and Clay Matthews, Pierce explained the origins of his interest in AAU basketball and how his own experiences led to him setting up a program.
“In the AAU circuit, you get to play against all type of players. You know, you’re playing against the best of the best,” Pierce said. “There’s some guys on my AAU team that I still talk to today, because we were able to develop that family atmosphere, and that’s what I want to have in my program.”
In particular, the Los Angeles Clippers forward said he wants to give kids a sense of direction.
“I just want to be somebody who they can come to who has no other agenda for them,” Pierce explained.
After surprising the youngster with a visit, Pierce turned into a coach of sorts, watched some game footage with Lopez and gave him some constructive criticism, while also praising him for his pump fake and balance on a move that led to an open jumper.
The two then went out to the court to work on some drills that Pierce told Lopez would help him in the long run. Among other tips, the veteran recommended the prep take jump shots with a band around his lower legs, forcing him to work on his balance.
The session closed with Pierce providing a pep talk, advising Lopez to focus off the court, as well, with an emphasis on the importance of staying on top of school work and “doing the right things.”
Pierce is reportedly leaning toward returning for a 19th season in the NBA, and has two years remaining on his contract with the Clippers.
— Watch The Players’ Tribune’s entire “Scouting Myself” video with Pierce below:
A regular at the draft lottery for more than a decade, Minnesota might finally be on the brink of NBA relevance again. Just ask one of the franchise’s young faces, 21-year-old forward Andrew Wiggins.
Since the dynamic wing left Kansas early and became the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft, Wiggins trudged through a 16-66 campaign before experiencing a 29-53 season. But he doesn’t expect Year No. 3 to be so unbearable.
In an interview with NBA TV while attending the Las Vegas Summer League, Wiggins detailed how the team’s identity is in the midst of an overhaul.
“We are young, we’re gonna be playing hard, we’re going up and down, we’re gonna be all over the place on defense,” Wiggins said. “I feel like we’re gonna be a nightmare to play.”
Many around the NBA expect the Timberwolves to be one of the breakout teams of the 2016-17 season. That optimism for a team that hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2004 began to swell when Minnesota brought on former Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau as its new president and coach. With the fiery, defensive-minded Thibodeau pushing his young stars to new heights, the thinking goes, Wiggins and reigning Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns are poised to make a significant leap, and bring the rest of the team with them.
Wiggins isn’t making any bold proclamations or guaranteeing a playoff berth for the T’wolves in 2017. His first two years in the league have taught him just how difficult it is to compete night after night. Plus, he learned not to weigh himself down with the disappointment of all those losses.
“We’ve just got to trust in the process. Nothing was built, nothing was set in one day. It’s a process,” Wiggins told NBA TV. “And every day, with some new additions and players coming back, we’re gonna be even better this year. New coaching staff, we’re probably gonna have a different kind of style of play. It should be a good year for us.”
Since Thibodeau took over as the new boss this offseason, Wiggins said the team has shown interest in everything the players do, whether that’s with the organization or on their own time. He took that level of involvement as a sign the new regime wants its players constantly evolving during the offseason.
As for Wiggins’ personal growth as a player, he’s honing in on his defense.
“… Especially with a new coach coming in, Thibs, he’s gonna really push defense and playing hard and all of that,” Wiggins said. “We’re all looking forward to it, especially with the new addition, Kris Dunn (Minnesota’s No. 5 overall pick in the draft). He’s a great player, as you can see the last couple of games (in Las Vegas) he’s played. And defensively he’s great, too, so he’s gonna help us with a big push.”
In Minnesota next season, Wiggins will have a couple of new teammates who happen to be former KU players, too, in Cole Aldrich and Brandon Rush, both of whom signed with the T’wovles in free agency. Before too long, Wiggins might be asked to keep all of the Wolves, including his elder Jayhawks, in line. Those are the sorts of responsibilities that come with being one of the faces of the franchise. And Wiggins said he isn’t quite as soft-spoken as he used to be.
“It comes with growth, with experience. I’m going on my third year now, so I have a lot more responsibility than I did before,” said Wiggins, who averaged 20.7 points and 3.6 rebounds in his second season. “I’m becoming more vocal, becoming more of a leader.”
Kelly Oubre Jr. didn’t have the most exciting or memorable rookie season. But now that the NBA Summer League has arrived, the former Kansas wing can try to put that behind him and establish a new tone for Year No. 2.
Washington’s 6-foot-7 small forward went for 20 points, 8 rebounds and 4 steals in his Las Vegas debut Saturday, against Utah. The following day, Oubre posted 21 points, 2 assists and 2 steals versus Atlanta.
Shortly after Oubre’s first exhibition, he told CSN Mid-Atlantic why everything felt a lot easier for him this year, in his second trip to the Vegas summer league.
“Now I know what my defined role is, or can be, on this basketball team,” Oubre said. “I’m just trying to do that and perfect that. I’m just out here playing as hard as I can, trying to get wins. That’s the best I can do.”
Still just 20 years old, Oubre (3.7 points in 10.7 minutes during his first full season) appears to be a long way from molding himself into a valuable NBA shooter. So far this summer, he has attempted 15 3-pointers for the Wizards and connected on only 3 (20%). While appearing in 63 regular-season games as a rookie, Oubre made 25 of 79 long-range tries (31.6%).
But there are other ways to ensure yourself regular minutes, and, as Oubre told The Washington Post recently, this offseason he is treating personal defensive improvement as a necessity.
“I’m an energetic player,” Oubre said. “I come in and I try to first and foremost start on the defensive end because that’s what God blessed me with, length and athletic ability, so I feel that’s kind of my calling card, coming out and trying to get stops.”
Oubre showed off his 7-foot-2 wingspan in his first summer action, playing harassing defense that led to deflections and his 4 steals against the Jazz.
“Defense is the key to winning championships, to our offense, to everything,” Oubre told CSN Mid-Atlantic after that showing. “So if I can bring that, and bring that heart and bring that dog onto the court, then we’re gonna be successful.”
Oubre (as pointed out by The Post) is the only player on Washington’s July squad who has a roster spot for the 2016-17 season. Unlike some other former KU players participating in Las Vegas, such as undrafted rookies Perry Ellis (Dallas) and Brannen Greene (Memphis), Oubre is playing as an established commodity for his team. The 15th overall pick in the 2015 draft, the Wizards want him to squeeze as much development as humanly possible out of these summer outings.
Washington’s summer coach, Sidney Lowe, told CSN Mid-Atlantic after Oubre’s strong start in the opener he likes the way the second-year wing is approaching the game.
“He made a couple of big shots for us, but I thought his defense was outstanding,” Lowe said. “That's what he can do. He's long, he's athletic, he was able to get in the passing lanes and it generated some fast breaks for us."
Oubre and the Wizards play again Tuesday afternoon against Brooklyn.
There could be one less ’Hawk in the NBA for Kansas basketball fans to follow next season.
Washington waived veteran power forward Drew Gooden, a fan favorite in D.C., according to CSN Mid-Atlantic’s report on the move.
One of the league’s charismatic journeymen, Gooden has played for 10 different teams since leaving Kansas and becoming the fourth pick in the 2002 draft.
The Wizards, who signed Gooden late into the 2013-14 season, helped revitalize his career after he spent most of that season out of the NBA.
Now 34 years old (Gooden will turn 35 before next season begins), he only played in 30 games this past season with Washington. The backup big man was inactive for eight games during his 14th season — the other 44 he suited up but never checked in.
Gooden averaged just 10.2 minutes a game when he did play, contributing 2.7 points, 2.8 rebounds and a career-low mark of 32% shooting from the floor — impacted negatively by his 7-for-41 (17.1%) season from 3-point range.
CSN MId-Atlantic reported the Wizards waived Gooden to create salary cap space for the free agents they attained this summer. The franchise couldn’t afford to pay a seldom-used sub $3.6 million next season.
While what kind of market exists for Gooden remains to be seen, he told CSN Mid-Atlantic after the season ended he had no plans to retire.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Gooden said in April.
Now the question is: Will another team be interested in picking him up for what would be Gooden’s 15th season, and potentially 11th franchise.
According to ESPN's Marc J. Spears, Gooden had received inquiries from New York, Toronto, the Los Angeles Lakers and the L.A. Clippers within hours of being waived.
The Wizards still have two other Jayhawks on their roster: outspoken power forward Markieff Morris, and second-year wing Kelly Oubre Jr.
After having more former KU players on its roster than any other team last season, Washington will relinquish that very unofficial title to Minnesota. The Timberwolves agreed to deals with Cole Aldrich and Brandon Rush in free agency, and, of course, they have third-year rising star Andrew Wiggins — the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft who went on to win rookie of the year.
Though he plays in the Eastern Conference for a team that didn’t make the playoffs last season, Washington forward Markieff Morris didn’t mind sharing his thoughts on back-to-back Western Conference champion Golden State adding superstar Kevin Durant in free agency this summer.
When reporters prodded the former Kansas star on the NBA’s biggest news of the offseason, Morris didn’t hold back his criticism of Durant, sharing the opinion with some fans that the former MVP didn’t need to join forces with reigning back-to-back MVP Steph Curry and the Warriors, who just won a record 73 games in the regular season.
“I don’t think it’s right,” Morris began, in a video interview captured by Kyle Weidie of truthaboutit.net, who covers the Wizards. “But it is what it is.”
As reporters tried to get more out of Morris on the move that caught the entire NBA’s attention, he obliged, following up with his judgment of the situation.
“You don’t do that, man,” Morris said of Durant, Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green forming a super-team that appears destined to win the 2017 NBA title, or at the very least earn a rematch with LeBron James' Cavaliers.
Trying to put himself in KD’s Nikes, Morris explained he didn’t understand why Durant, who just lost to Golden State in the West finals with Oklahoma City, would then join forces with the Warriors.
Morris claimed there would have been a “fire inside” him to come back and beat Golden State next season.
“But a lot of guys are different,” Morris added. “ I just didn’t expect that from Durant. I know him a little bit, and I didn’t expect that.”
Watch Morris’ comments in their entirety below.
This past spring, Marcus Morris got his first taste of the NBA Playoffs. Now the Detroit forward wants to make sure his next trip to the postseason will feel more like a feast.
Five years removed from his standout college career at Kansas, Morris finally reached the league’s biggest stage with the Pistons, his third team. The versatile 6-foot-9 forward even played fairly well, averaging 17.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists, while shooting 46.8% from the field and 38.9% from 3-point range.
Those numbers, however, weren’t nearly enough for Morris and Detroit to upset the Eastern Conference’s top seed and distinct favorite, Cleveland.
LeBron James and the Cavaliers, the eventual NBA champions, disposed of the Pistons in four games. The opening-round exit left Morris eager to get back to work immediately during the offseason.
“I really didn’t want to get swept, but it is what it is,” Morris told the Pistons’ website. “I promise you next year, we won’t get swept again. That’s for sure.”
Still just 26, Morris sounds committed to pushing himself during the league’s vacation months in order to advance deeper into the playoffs next spring.
“I thought I prepared better last year, but I think this year, summertime, I’ve gotten into it earlier,” Morris said last week. “I’ve been working right now and I think once we get past that first round next year, I think I’ll feel better.”
In his fifth season — Morris’ first with the Pistons — he put up career-best averages in points (14.1), rebounds (5.1), assists (2.5) and minutes (35.7), while setting new personal marks in free throws attempted (271) and made (203).
Since Detroit’s first playoff appearance in seven years ended in April, Morris said he has spent much of his time working out in his hometown of Philadelphia and nearby Washington, D.C., where his twin brother Markieff now plays.
The Pistons went 44-38 and were seeded eighth in the East, with Morris as a key contributor, along with Reggie Jackson, Andre Drummond, Tobias Harris (acquired before the trade deadline) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Reportedly, Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy appreciated Morris’ ability to hold himself accountable to his teammates.
Now feeling more at home in Detroit, Morris plans to address some personal on-court inefficiencies before the Pistons reconvene for training camp this fall.
“Toward the end of last season, I feel like I fell off a little bit on defense,” Morris said. “I’ve been watching a lot of film and breaking down my shot a lot more. Improving my handle.”
The Pistons, competing in the relatively even playing field of the East (outside of Cleveland), will need all they can get out of Morris to get back to the playoffs or make a jump toward the conference’s upper echelon.
“I’m looking to get better. I feel like I’ve got to go to another level for the team to go to another level,” Morris said.
Brandon Rush won’t be playing for one of the most lethal offensive teams ever assembled next season.
After winning an NBA title in 2015 with Golden State, then contributing to the Warriors’ record-breaking, 73-win run through the following regular season, Rush won’t be a part of the revamped Warriors with back-to-back MVP Steph Curry, 2013-14 MVP Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
According to various reports that surfaced Wednesday afternoon, the former Kansas star agreed to a one-year, $3.5 million contract with Minnesota.
Leaving the back-to-back Western Conference champions and a chance to win another — or multiple — rings for the Timberwolves, a franchise that hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2004, likely came down to Golden State’s salary cap situation. With the Warriors adding Durant in a free agency coup, the team couldn’t offer Rush much to stick around.
While winters in Minneapolis will be longer and colder than Rush’s last couple in the Bay area, the outlook for his new team isn’t as frigid. The Timberwolves, though years away from competing for a title, have two key young pieces in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, as well as a new head coach, Tom Thibodeau, who posted a winning record and reached the postseason in each of his five years with Chicago.
During his eighth NBA season, Rush filled in as a starter for Golden State 25 times this past year, and averaged 7.0 points and 3.3 rebounds in 21.0 minutes, while shooting 50% from the floor and 38-for-77 (49.4%) from 3-point range. His moments in the spotlight served as a reminder that the 6-foot-6 wing can still fill an important role in the league.
While the Timberwolves have young perimeter players such as Wiggins (another former KU standout), Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad, they could use a veteran defender and shooter like Rush, who turns 31 on Thursday. The veteran guard knocked down 41.4% of his 3-pointers in his final stint with the Warriors. Wiggins shot 30% from deep in 2015-16, while LaVine hit 38.9% and Muhammad made 28.9%.
Rush will find a familiar face in Minnesota, where he’ll team up with another Jayhawk, fellow 2008 national champion Cole Aldrich, who agreed to terms with the T’wolves earlier this week.
According to basketball-reference.com, Rush made $1.2 million last season with Golden State. He played for a career-best $4 million per season in his fifth and sixth years in the NBA, with the Warriors and Utah.
Those days of watching from the bench as older, more experienced players compete on the court are over for Cheick Diallo. At least for the time being.
As New Orleans gears up for its trip to the Las Vegas Summer League, it’s hard to imagine any Pelican being as excited for the opportunity as Diallo, a second-round draft pick who only played 7.5 minutes a game for Kansas during his one-and-done season in Lawrence.
When New Orleans begins its summer schedule Friday night against the Los Angeles Lakers (all Vegas exhibitions will be available to watch via one ESPN platform or another or NBA TV), Diallo will find himself on the floor, playing as meaningful minutes as are available in a summer league contest.
While speaking with reporters Tuesday, Diallo’s face lit up with a smile upon the mention of increased playing time on the horizon.
“Oh my gosh. I can’t wait,” Diallo said in a video posted to the Pelicans’ website. “I’m so excited right now. I just want to go out there and show everybody what I can do.”
Diallo, a 6-foot-9 forward selected 33rd overall in this year’s draft, will get a long look from the Pelicans this month, in the setting of the development-focused summer league, before the reality of a lesser role returns during the regular season.
But that’s months from now. In Vegas, Diallo hopes to display not only his trademark energy in the paint, but also his defensive versatility.
“I can guard multiple positions,” the ever-upbeat 19-year-old said. “I can guard point guard, 2-man, even like a 3-man. Not (just) big men.”
Even though some of the players Diallo will practice with and play against this summer are older than him and more experienced, he doesn’t care about his age or what perceived advantages might be enjoyed by his competition.
Instead, the power forward who will team with fellow rookies Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Jameel McKay (Iowa State) and Anthony “Cat” Barber (North Carolina State) and others this summer has embraced his growing reputation as a vigorous competitor.
“I just want to give my teammates everything I’ve got,” Diallo said, adding he understands that is a major reason New Orleans drafted him. “I don’t really get tired. I just want to keep doing my thing.”
While practicing with the Pelicans in preparation for the upcoming Vegas league, Diallo left the court feeling great about his first professional training sessions, because he was communicative and vibrant in his approach.
“I just want to keep working hard every day and keep learning from my teammates, my coach, all my staff,” he said.
A native of Kayes, Mali, Diallo recently sat down for an interview with the Pelicans’ website to talk about how far he has come, literally and figuratively, since first playing basketball in Africa in 2010.
“Right now, I’m wearing all these nice clothes and have all kinds of stuff,” Diallo said. “It’s really hard to get even a few things in my country — you are not getting any of this stuff. You have to spend a lot of money to get what you want. Back home, no way you are going to get something like this. No way you’re getting a backpack like this. No way you’re getting an iPhone. It’s not easy to get. So today I thank God and my parents, too. Where I am now, if it wasn’t for my parents and God, I wouldn’t be here.”
Skype provides Diallo with an easy way to keep in touch with his parents, brothers and extended family back in Mali, he said, noting those talks remind him of the responsibility he feels to deliver in the NBA in the years ahead.
“I decided that I have to start taking basketball seriously, so that I can take care of my family one day,” Diallo said of how he became driven to succeed. “So that’s in my mind every day that I wake up. I’m thinking of my family, that I have to take care of them. Everything I’m doing, my family comes first, no matter what.”
The NBA might be evolving away from traditional big-man focused lineups, but interior toughness remains valued. For proof, look no further than the Los Angeles Lakers’ desire to re-sign third-year big man Tarik Black.
Late Sunday night, the former Kansas center, who went undrafted in 2014 but worked his way into the league the hard way, agreed to a reported two-year, $12.85 million deal with the Lakers.
A 6-foot-9, 250-pound center, Black only played 12.7 minutes a game for L.A. in his second season, during which he averaged 3.4 points and 4.0 rebounds and shot 54.8% from the floor.
But, as referenced in Yahoo’s report of the deal, Black has played with both toughness and enthusiasm when called upon during his 77 appearances in purple and gold over the past season-plus, making him a desirable, inexpensive role player on the open market.
Black, who finished his college career at KU as a graduate transfer following three seasons at Memphis, didn’t get selected in the league’s rookie draft out of college. Hoewever, he forged his way into a career by impressing Houston enough during a summer league stint two years ago to earn a regular-season roster spot. When the Rockets had to waive him during his rookie year to pave the way for another transaction, the Lakers claimed the undersized center.
Known for his humble, blue collar approach to the game, Black announced his new deal late Sunday night by simply tweeting out a picture of a Lakers hat.
Although Black didn’t receive much playing time during his second season in L.A., speculation has mounted in the hours since he agreed to re-sign that former Lakers coach Byron Scott didn’t utilize the backup center as much as those running the organization desired.
Black became a fan favorite for the struggling Lakers over the past couple of years and many wondered why he didn’t play more. It appears that will no longer be an issue, as the 24-year-old returns to L.A. to work for a different head coach, Luke Walton. As pointed out in Yahoo’s report, Black actually played for Walton in 2011, when the new Lakers coach was a college assistant at Memphis.
The Lakers just agreed to a four-year, $64 million deal with free-agent center Timofey Mozgov, so Black won’t enter next season as a starting pivot. But all signs point to an increased role for the hard-working big man as the primary second-unit center.
During Black’s rookie year with the Lakers, he averaged 7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds while playing 21.1 minutes. In that season his per 36-minutes projected averages came out to 12.3 points and 10.8 rebounds.
It’s not exactly LeBron James returning to Cleveland, but NBA free agency provided former Kansas star Cole Aldrich with an opportunity to go home and play for a franchise that means a lot to him.
According to various media reports Sunday, the 6-foot-11 Burnsville, Minn., native agreed to a three-year, $22 million contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Drafted 11th overall in 2010 after a standout college career with the Jayhawks, Aldrich struggled to earn playing time in his first few seasons in the NBA, before enjoying some breakout success this past year with the Los Angeles Clippers.
After two seasons with Oklahoma City, Aldrich split the 2012-13 season with Houston and Sacramento, then signed with New York in 2013. A year ago, he signed as a free agent with the Clippers, and averaged 5.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 13.3 minutes a game. But even his one relatively effective season in L.A. got off to a bumpy start. Aldrich didn’t check in off the bench in 22 of the team’s first 27 games.
“It’s not easy,” Aldrich said in June of remaining patient while waiting for a legitimate chance to prove he belonged in the NBA. “It’s not. I just tried to see the big picture. The season is long, and you never know when somebody can twist an ankle or, whatever happens, somebody gets sick and somebody’s out for a few games. You’re gonna have to be ready to go in and produce.”
With Los Angeles, Aldrich saw a significant uptick in his minutes following a December quad injury to then-teammate Blake Griffin. The center parlayed the on-court production that followed into a deal with the Timberwolves.
As a teenager, Aldrich starred at Bloomington Jefferson High, roughly 20 minutes away from his new home NBA arena, the Target Center, in downtown Minneapolis.
Now 27, Aldrich, embarking on his seventh season, thinks the best years of his career are ahead of him. He told the Star Tribune playing for the organization he grew up watching will be special.
“You always kind of think it’s a possibility,” Aldrich told the Star Tribune. “You never really know. I’m just really excited.”
Although the Timberwolves haven’t reached the playoffs since Aldrich was a high school freshman, many around the league see the team on the verge of something special, with a pair of young stars in the making — Karl-Anthony Towns and former KU wing Andrew Wiggins — and a new head coach, Tom Thibodeau.
At this juncture, Aldrich projects as a backup big for Minnesota. The Star Tribune reported he’ll likely share minutes inside with Towns and Gorgui Dieng.
Last season, according to basketball-reference.com, Aldrich earned $1.1 million with the Clippers before opting out of his contract to test the open market. He’s set to bring in nearly seven times that much this coming season.
Previously, the burly pivot’s biggest paydays came in the third season of his rookie deal, which paid him $2.4 million for the year. The following season, he made $981,084 with the Knicks.
This summer, the NBA’s salary cap jumped up by roughly $24 million, meaning each franchise has more money to spend than ever before. Players such as Aldrich are reaping the benefits.
Darrell Arthur staying put
Aldrich was the second former Kansas star to cash in on this summer’s league-wide spending spree. Seventh-year forward Darrell Arthur, who won a national championship at KU with Aldrich in 2008, agreed to terms with Denver — electing to stick with the team that he played for the previous three seasons.
The Denver Post reported Arthur’s contract, which like all free-agent deals can’t become official before July 7, will be worth $23 million over three seasons.
While Washington and other franchises showed interest in Arthur, who averaged 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds during the 2015-16 season, The Post reported the Nuggets made him a priority in their free agency plans.
Arthur must enjoy his situation with the Nuggets, because even though his salary increased from $2.8 million last year to $7.6 million this coming season, The Post reported Arthur might have been able to pull in closer to $10 million a year with another organization.
The 28-year-old forward who began his career with Memphis, made a personal best $3.4 million with Denver during the 2014-15 season. He’ll more than double that figure next season.
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
It’s not often that the name Darrell Arthur comes up in the buzz surrounding the NBA, but with the season over, the draft complete and free agency revving up at the end of the week, rumors regarding Arthur’s future began swirling Monday.
A few days after reports of the former Kansas forward opting out of the second year of his contract with Denver in order to hit the open market, word out of the nation’s capital is Washington could be a destination for the 6-foot-9 veteran who won a national championship with KU in 2008.
According to a report from CSNAtlantic.com, Arthur is on a “short list” of targets for the Wizards, when teams can start negotiating with free agents on July 1.
Arthur averaged 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds in 21.7 minutes a game — mostly as a reserve — this past season with the Nuggets, during his third year with the franchise. While his numbers don’t blow you away, Arthur is respected around the league for his work ethic and ability to defend pick-and-roll action as a 6-foot-9 frontcourt player.
What’s more, Arthur hit a career-high 38.5% of his 3-pointers during his seventh season in the league, making 45 shots from downtown, easily beating his previous season-best of 26 3-pointers.
Besides his valuable skills, which likely on their own merit could’ve earned him more than the $2.9 million he just left on the table for next season, the NBA salary cap is rising significantly this summer. Any player in his right mind would opt out of his contract now if he could, because pay raises will be readily available.
If Arthur were to reach a deal with the Wizards, he’d likely serve as a backup at power forward to another Jayhawk, Markieff Morris.
Plus, Washington would probably become a new favorite NBA team for Kansas fans, with four former KU players on the roster: Arthur, Morris, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Drew Gooden.
Of course, it might not work out that way. Most teams looking for a backup power forward, likely would have interest in a 4 who can stretch the floor and move his feet well while defending — inside and out — in the half court.
Arthur’s name certainly won’t be the biggest one on the market this summer, but he is an important role player to watch amid the free agency frenzy.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com
Thanks to a video recording from Twitter user @CJR16255, we now can all see just how Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James feels about Jayhawks.
Speaking to an estimated crowd of more than 1 million Cavs fans after Cleveland's parade on Wednesday, James shared with the crowd a message he received from former KU star Mario Chalmers, with whom he won two titles in Miami, that mentioned the Jayhawks.
Here's the Tweet and the video, which features James saying some pretty cool things about former KU center Sasha Kaun, who was a reserve with the Cavs this season and did not play in the Finals.
I remember when the Heat and Thunder played an exhibition game in Kansas City during the 2010-11 season, James' first season in Miami. I asked him after the game about Chalmers' pregame claim that it was Chalmers who would get the biggest ovation in KC and not King James.
James, who said Chalmers had been telling him that for weeks, didn't even blink at the question and made it very clear how much he (a) knew about and (b) respected Kansas basketball and the traditions that come with it.
Here was James' quote then....
“I understand how big Kansas basketball is, and, with Rio and Cole Aldrich, I know how huge they were in college, so I understand. The fans were great. It’s always fun coming into cities that don’t have an NBA team, and they get an opportunity to see us live. And to come out here and play as well as we did was great.”
The most interesting man in the NBA is back — at least in interview form.
Joel Embiid, who still hasn’t spoken with Philadelphia media since the 76ers drafted him nearly two years ago, at least got to gab recently with VICE Sports, which published the one-on-one Q&A Tuesday.
As Embiid rode around The City of Brotherly Love discussing his journey from Cameroon, to Kansas, to the NBA, the gregarious big man more known for two seasons worth of foot injuries keeping him off the court proved as entertaining in conversation as he is with a basketball in his hands.
Though, as the 7-foot-2 center explained, he didn’t immediately excel at the sport when he first picked it up, as a youngster in Africa.
“I wasn’t good at all. I used to suck. I used to be ---," a grinning Embiid shared. “My teammates were laughing at me, because I can’t even pass the ball. It was really tough. When I first started playing ball, it was hard. So I came a long way.”
During the discussion, the 22-year-old who played high school basketball in Florida revealed his one season at KU and the influence of coach Bill Self and his staff molded him into a much more effective interior force. According to Embiid, his confidence began to grow as a prep, during his recruitment.
“The Kansas coaches, coach Norm Roberts and coach Self, they came to watch me. Coach Self was like quiet the whole practice and coach Roberts was like worried that he wasn’t going to like me,” Embiid divulged. “At the end of the practice, (Self) was like, ‘Are you ----ing kidding me? This guy’s gonna be the number one pick.’”
Once the developing young big arrived on campus, in Lawrence, Embiid said he played in a scrimmage and, “same thing as high school,” got pushed around in the paint.
“I’m like, ‘Coach, I can’t do this.’ And then (Self) goes, ‘Just keep working. You’ll see.’ I kept working,” Embiid said. “I was getting better each and every day.”
Of course, Embiid progressed so much from the beginning of his freshman season to the end that he learned he would be a top pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and left KU after one 28-game, injury-shortened season.
“It was really hard leaving Kansas,” Embiid told VICE Sports. “I knew for sure I was gonna go to Cleveland, and be the number one pick, and then, just like that, the injury happened a week before the draft. So I’m like, ‘God!’”
You’ll recall Embiid suffered a fracture of the navicular bone in his right foot, which made both Cleveland and Milwaukee pass on the promising pivot, who also missed games at KU because of a back injury. The pre-draft foot fracture proved serious enough for the Sixers, who selected him at No. 3, to hold him out of the entire 2014-15 season.
Little did Embiid know the same bone wouldn’t heal properly, and he would spend his 2015-16 season going through limited rehab-focused workouts, playing video games and again watching basketball instead of playing.
“When I had a setback this past summer, it was really frustrating,” Embiid remarked. “The foot wasn’t even hurting or anything like that, and then that’s when (doctors saw) that the fracture had been opened again.”
Now 7-foot-2, the friendly giant who has rehabbed himself closer to actually playing NBA games — but won’t be rushed back for Summer League exhibitions — still has seen his popularity grow thanks to his Twitter account, which currently has roughly 392,000 followers.
“Right before the first season (in Philly), I was going pretty nuts on there, and just saying dumb ---- or just being funny, and I think people loved it,” Embiid said of his social media appeal. “I got a lot of comments about it, and people actually wanted me to keep doing it.”
Embiid, who spoke with VICE months ago, during a span in which his Twitter presence seemed to be on hiatus, hinted he might have been encouraged to tone it down.
“When I start playing,” he added, “I think I might go back to my ways, you know. We might see.”
Indeed, the fun-loving big man has rediscovered his tweet game the past several weeks.
Same as his improving health, this is a significant development for everyone following Embiid’s career. The man was born to entertain, as demonstrated during his interview, when asked about what he likes to eat.
“Mainly Shirley Temples. I drink Shirley Temples by the pitcher. I usually drink like three or four pitchers per day,” Embiid joked, mocking a report that surfaced last year about his suspect dietary habits and an alleged infatuation with the sweet, non-alcoholic mixed drink.
“Nobody really cares about the media. They’re gonna have something to say — ‘300 pounds, Shirley Temples.’ I’m just gonna let my game do the talking,” Embiid proclaimed. “I think some people are gonna be surprised. And I can’t wait to show off.
In fact, The Inquirer’s Bob Ford wrote that Embiid’s skills are so awe-inspiring that his Monday workout at the Sixers’ training facility stole the show, even though possible No. 1 pick Brandon Ingram, out of Duke, was in the same gym for a pre-draft session.
"You can see what he's doing on the court," 76ers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo told reporters as Embiid wowed nearby observers. "It looks like he's getting more fluidity every day. He's done some things competitively, two-on-two and three-on-three in controlled situations, but the word 'controlled' is the key there. Everything's got to be done within the process set forth and the timeline set forth by the doctors."
If all goes to plan, and Embiid fully recovers and returns to basketball, Philadelphia just might have a star on its hands — on and off the court.
— Watch the entire Vice Sports interview: Joel Embiid Ride Along (Warning: Q&A is uncensored)
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com
Paul Pierce has experienced just about everything the NBA has to offer in his 18 seasons since leaving Kansas.
In the next few weeks, the 10-time all-star will decide if he is really about that bench life.
This past year with the Los Angeles Clippers, Pierce averaged career lows in minutes (18.1), points (6.1), field goals attempted (5.8), field goals made (2.1), field-goal percentage (36.3%), rebounds (2.7), assists (1.0) and steals (0.5).
Earlier this week, the small forward who earned NBA Finals MVP honors in 2008 with the Celtics told The Boston Globe his most recent season, in which Pierce also started a career-low 38 games, didn’t exactly go as planned.
“I thought I had one more good year [this past season], but obviously I didn’t like how it all went with my role,” Pierce told The Globe. “I’m still just trying to figure it out. A lot has got to do with my role I’m going to play. To come back and sit 82 games, I don’t know if I can do that.”
Injuries to other members of the Clippers pushed Pierce into a fill-in starting role late in the year, but he often didn’t play a starter’s minutes. At 38 years old (Pierce will turn 39 in October, before the start of next season), there is only so much he can bring to the floor in a league filled with world-class athletes in their 20’s.
Plus, at this stage of his playing career, Pierce said offseason training in preparation for the coming 82 games can be just as daunting.
“Really, it’s all about how I feel mentally, getting up and I’m thinking about the grind,” Pierce told The Globe. “People don’t understand, I think a lot of guys retire because of what it takes to each season. You can take the grind once you are in it, but getting ready for the grind is the hard part.”
Whether Pierce decides to go through the process one last time — he said 2016-17 would be his final season should he return — or simply call it a career, a decision is coming soon. The NBA’s 16th leading scorer in history (26,316 points) told The Globe he spoke with former Boston teammate and fellow aging one-time star Kevin Garnett about the pros and cons.
While appearing Thursday on ESPN’s The Jump with Rachel Nichols, Pierce revealed he and his family are taking a vacation in late June, and when they get back he hopes to have an answer to his dilemma.
“I’m gonna take the next three weeks to figure it out,” Pierce said.
Already retired Tracy McGrady jokingly “poured one out” for Pierce’s career during the show and tried to convince Pierce to join the broadcasting game, adding: “Phenomenal career, first-ballot hall of famer.”
Pierce said he is “50-50” right now on which path he’ll take.
“It’s been a long 18 years,” he added.
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