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'Hawks in the NBA

Veteran Paul Pierce goes through new playoff experience

Through the years, NBA veteran Paul Pierce made a name for himself by coming through in the playoffs.

In the 2008 postseason alone, the former Kansas star scored 20-plus points 11 times. Pierce went for 41 points in a series-clinching victory over LeBron James and Cleveland, scored 27 points in the decisive game of the Eastern Conference Finals against Detroit and went on to be named NBA Finals MVP, as Boston defeated the Los Angeles Lakers.

Now in his 18th season, with 159 playoff games behind him, the cagy small forward known as “The Truth” went through a whole new postseason experience in the L.A. Clippers’ Game 2 victory over Portland. For the first time in his illustrious career, Pierce watched an NBA playoff game from the bench, and never checked in.

It almost seems impossible for a player of Pierce’s stature. He has averaged 19.8 points in the playoffs for his career — Pierce even scored 14.6 a game for Washington one year ago. Still, next to his name in the box score it read: DNP-Coach’s Decision.

Los Angeles Clippers' Paul Pierce warms up prior to an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Los Angeles Clippers' Paul Pierce warms up prior to an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

This came three days after Pierce played just 11 minutes, made 1 of 2 shots and had an assist in a Game 1 win.

The 38-year-old future hall-of-famer spoke about the unprecedented move with Chris Mannix, for Yahoo’s NBA site, The Vertical.

"It is what it is. It's difficult,” Pierce said. “As a competitor, you want to compete and help your team win. A close game – I've been in those situations lots of times. When you have competed at a high level, it's difficult."

Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who coached Pierce with the Celtics and is well aware of the aging small forward’s ability to come through in the clutch, told The Vertical he almost subbed Pierce in against the Trail Blazers in Game 2.

"A guy like Paul,” Rivers said, “you always want to use him."

Pierce, of course, isn’t nearly as lethal as he used to be. With more than 47,000 minutes on his NBA odometer, no one would expect him to start at this stage of his career and come out and score 30 points.

But he can still play. Earlier this month, Pierce scored 18 points and shot 4-for-5 from 3-point range in a Clippers win at Utah.

According to Mannix’s report, Rivers is just having trouble finding minutes for Pierce because the Clippers’ bench unit began to flourish, oddly enough, when Pierce moved into the starting lineup in place of injured Blake Griffin. Once Griffin returned, Rivers didn’t want to hinder the progress of backups Jeff Green, Wesley Johnson, Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers, all of whom had played well, along with former KU big man Cole Aldrich.

Pierce, though more accomplished than all of those role players combined, became the odd man out.

Still, Pierce remains a valuable part of the team. According to The Vertical, all-stars Griffin and Chris Paul trust him and look to him for guidance.

"When I see stuff," Pierce said, "I'm going to talk about it."

Plus, Rivers predicts we haven’t seen the last of Pierce this postseason.

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"He's going to help us," Rivers said. "I have no doubt about that. There's a lot left in him."

But will this, Pierce’s 13th trip to the NBA Playoffs, be his last? He signed a three-year deal with the Clippers last summer, but Pierce has contemplated calling it a career before.

"The last few years it has been an end-of-the-season decision," Pierce told The Vertical. "I'll make that decision after this season, too"

Before that day comes, maybe Pierce will remind the league he still can play the role of playoff hero.


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com


Reply 4 comments from Humpy Helsel Plasticjhawk Rabia Roobi Jay Scott

Cole Aldrich emerges as key contributor for Clippers in playoffs

When the Los Angeles Clippers signed Cole Aldrich in free agency last summer, the move didn’t exactly generate buzz in the NBA, or even among the Clippers’ fan base.

Even when the regular season began this past fall, the non-response seemed appropriate, as Aldrich, a former standout center at Kansas, barely played at all.

Yet, here we are in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs, and the 6-foot-11 reserve has morphed into a critical contributor for the Clippers, who now have a 2-0 series lead against Portland.

According to teammate Blake Griffin, Aldrich’s relentless work ethic turned him into an important cog in L.A.’s rotation.

“He’d be the first guy in here,” Griffin told Rowan Cavner for the Clippers’ website. “Doc (Rivers) challenged him to get into better shape, and he accepted it and it paid off.”

Los Angeles Clippers' Cole Aldrich, bottom, gets the ball against Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard in the second half in Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series Sunday, April 17, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 115-95. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Los Angeles Clippers' Cole Aldrich, bottom, gets the ball against Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard in the second half in Game 1 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series Sunday, April 17, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 115-95. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Early in the season, Aldrich didn’t play in 23 of L.A.’s first 27 games, but he consistently showed up to the Clippers’ practice facility more than two hours early to run on the treadmill, lift weights and work on his game.

“That was just kind of my thing,” Aldrich told the Clippers’ website. “When I was going through that period of time and I wasn’t playing, it was just knowing at some point in time it was going to happen. I had to be in shape and be ready and kind of run with the opportunity.”

According to Aldrich, he has lost 25 pounds since the beginning of his sixth NBA season. That has transformed him into a much more agile defender and finisher in the paint. Wednesday night, in L.A.’s victory over Portland, Aldrich scored 8 points, grabbed 8 boards and blocked 2 shots in just 12 minutes of action.

“Maybe we should write down the Cole diet,” Clippers head coach and president of basketball operations Doc Rivers said, “because I don’t know what he did. But, he really worked his butt off.”

In Aldrich’s limited minutes he helps the Clippers get defensive stops. According to basketball-reference.com, Aldrich is securing 31.4% of available defensive rebounds and blocking 9% of Portland’s shot attempts when he is on the court.

None by J.A. Adande

“He’s blocking everything that comes in the paint,” said DeAndre Jordan, L.A.’s starting big man. “He’s gobbling up every rebound, he’s running, he’s dunking now, which is nice to see. He definitely helped our second unit out a lot.”

Aldrich, far from ever being mistaken for the most athletic player on the floor, has even been described as “clumsy” in a feature by Shaun Powell for NBA.com.

None by Anthony Slater

Still, his progress and small contributions can’t be ignored.

"He's been outstanding for us, really all season, doing everything asked of him," Rivers told NBA.com.

Just before the playoffs began, Aldrich turned out his best stretch of the season, averaging 9.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.6 steals in 19.4 minutes off the bench, while converting on 75% of his field-goal attempts.

In the midst of the Clippers winning six of their final seven games, Aldrich started at Utah, played 40 minutes and went for 21 points and 18 boards in a road win.

"This has been great for me and hopefully great for the team," Aldrich told NBA.com of his recent success. "My teammates have been very supportive and shown a lot of confidence in me, and I think that's played a huge part in how this season has turned out."

One of the most demanding players in the league, Clippers point guard Chris Paul appreciates what the 27-year-old veteran has brought to the team, as it tries to advance through the playoffs.

“I think Cole is a lot better than a lot of people realize,” Paul told the Clippers’ website.


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com


Reply 9 comments from Rabia Roobi David Lara Joe Ross Steve Macy Janet Olin Pius Waldman Titus Canby Dale Rogers Creg Bohrer

Marcus Morris ready to put up fight vs. LeBron James and Cavs

Making his NBA Playoffs debut this spring, former Kansas star Marcus Morris isn’t going home without a fight.

A starting forward for Detroit, Morris came out firing in his first professional postseason game, scoring 20 points in a loss to the Eastern Conference’s top seed, Cleveland. And although Morris only managed 11 points in another Pistons loss Wednesday night, he made a statement of sorts by not backing down from one of the best players in league history.

By the time Cleveland secured a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, a clip of LeBron James from Game 2 started making the rounds on Twitter. James, holding his ribs after Morris banged into him down low during the fourth quarter, had some choice words for the Pistons forward.

According to social media lip-reading experts, James could be seen saying of Morris: “I’m gonna [expletive] that [expletive] up.”

Detroit Pistons' Marcus Morris, right, drives past Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James in the second half in Game 2 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Wednesday, April 20, 2016, in Cleveland. The Cavaliers won 107-90. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Detroit Pistons' Marcus Morris, right, drives past Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James in the second half in Game 2 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Wednesday, April 20, 2016, in Cleveland. The Cavaliers won 107-90. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Apparently the threat didn’t exactly frighten the 6-foot-9 forward from Philadelphia, who doesn’t mind embracing the old “Bad Boys” image of the late 1980s Pistons.

“I know for a fact he wasn’t talking to me,” Morris said in a report from the Detroit Free Press. “You can quote me on that.”

That wasn’t the only time King James took umbrage with Morris, either. At one point, James gave Morris a dirty look, apparently feeling disrespected by Morris’ decision to leave one of the NBA’s greatest players so open for a 3-pointer.

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The eighth-seeded Pistons have a long way to go to turn this into a series, but if they find a way to win a game or two in Detroit don’t be surprised if Morris plays a key role in making that happen.

As ESPN’s NBA expert Zach Lowe said this week on his podcast: “Marcus Morris has been like a flaming volcano for about six weeks.”

That might be going a bit overboard, but Morris did put up some impressive numbers against playoff teams down the home stretch of the season, as Detroit secured the final available postseason berth in the East.

- March 6 vs. Portland: 19 points, 2-for-4 on 3’s

- March 9 at Dallas: 20 points, 7 rebounds, 2-for-3 on 3’s

- March 25 vs. Charlotte: 20 points, 7 rebounds, 3-for-7 on 3’s

- March 29 vs. Oklahoma City: 24 points, 7 rebounds

- April 1 vs. Dallas: 31 points, 12 rebounds, 6-for-8 on 3’s

Morris averaged 16.1 points and 4.5 rebounds in March, while connecting on 50.8% of his 3-pointers. In April regular-season games, he averaged 14.3 points and 6.5 rebounds while making 44.4% from downtown.

After exploding for 19 points in the first half of Game 1 against Cleveland, Morris has cooled off on offense, putting up just 12 total points in the past six quarters of the series. He shot 2-for-10 in Game 2, making just 1 of 5 from downtown.

The Pistons will need Morris to rediscover his scoring touch in the games ahead to keep Detroit alive.

Lucky for them, Morris has the type of personality to remain confident, play with fire and not back down from the NBA’s king. The series continues Friday and Sunday, in Detroit.


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com


Reply 4 comments from Rabia Roobi Janet Olin Adam Bengtson Armen Kurdian

Tarik Black adjusted to lesser role in second season

Tarik Black didn’t play nearly as much in his second season with the Los Angeles Lakers as he did as a rookie.

But the 24-year-old who spent his final season of college basketball at Kansas isn’t complaining.

For one, Black had both a courtside seat and an on-court role in a historic performance by Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, who scored 60 points in his NBA finale for the downtrodden franchise.

Black, a backup center for L.A., is one of the few players not named Kobe Bryant who can say he made a highlight-reel play during the Mamba’s farewell show. The 6-foot-9 big man went up high to deny Rodney Hood a jam, setting up a Showtime-worthy fast break for the miserable Lakers (17-65, worst record in the Western Conference).

During Black’s exit interview with L.A. media members, he said the young players on the roster unified in making Kobe’s last game memorable for everyone who watched it.

“It definitely sparked something for us and opened our eyes to something that previously we hadn’t focused in on, and it happened to be Kobe Bryant’s last game, and doing whatever it took for him,” Black said.

“But no young person has ever come into this league like, ‘Oh, OK. I’m already a champion. I already know what it takes to win this ring,’ or ‘I know what it takes to keep the legacy going, of this organization.’”

Consequently, Black understood the franchise had to do everything within its power to try and determine which direction it is headed, post-Bryant. That likely led to a dip in Black’s minutes.

After starting 27 of his 38 games with the Lakers in 2014-15 and averaging 21.1 minutes, Black appeared in 39 games during his second season, logging just 12.7 minutes as a full-time reserve. He spent a chunk of the season inactive and never checked in during 22 games in which he suited up.

On the year, Black averaged 3.4 points and 4.0 rebounds — both numbers down from his rookie averages with the Lakers: 7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds.

Los Angeles Lakers' Tarik Black dunks in front of Dallas Mavericks' Justin Anderson, left, and Dirk Nowitzki, right, during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Mavericks won 92-90. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

Los Angeles Lakers' Tarik Black dunks in front of Dallas Mavericks' Justin Anderson, left, and Dirk Nowitzki, right, during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Mavericks won 92-90. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

“They’re rebuilding,” Black said of the Lakers. “They’re finding out slots, they’re finding what players work best together… because we’re trying to build this thing back up. It’s tough, definitely. But that’s something that’ll inevitably be said, that it’s tough. You need minutes. But at the same time I understand, because you’re trying to find out: What is the dynamic of this team? Who needs to play together? What spots need to be filled? That’s what we’re finding out right now. We’re just going through the process.”

Although Black only spent 496 minutes on the court for L.A. this past season, a small sample size for sure, basketball-reference.com shows that the Lakers’ team numbers improved with the second-year center in the lineup.

Of particular importance to Black, L.A.’s rebounding percentages improved when he played, while the Lakers’ opponents saw their rebounding success drop off.

If Black returns to the Lakers next season (more on that to come), there are some aspects of his game L.A.’s brass would like to see him address. According to the young post player, his season-ending exit interview with the organization included a list of areas that needed improvement, while they also see potential in him.

“One of the big things for them was finding consistency on the floor — consistent energy and consistent tough play,” Black revealed.

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Early in his second season, coach Bryon Scott (who may not be around much longer with the Lakers) urged Black to unleash the “beast” or mean streak within him. The center thinks he got closer to doing that in his limited minutes.

“I believe it’s about being comfortable, finding your comfort on the floor. I definitely play hard. I don’t think anybody questions whether I play hard… But it’s a controlled ‘beast.’ You don’t just go out there and just run crazy. You have to understand what you’re out there on the floor to do, the spots you need to be in in order to do it,” Black said.

“And I think, for myself, I’m a second-year player, too. I’m one of the younger guys, as well. So it’s still a learning process for me and it’s still, even in being an energy guy or taking on that role, I still need to learn exactly what that means,” he continued, “and find my spots and comfort on the floor in order to truly define that.”

The mostly youthful Lakers roster included eight players with three or fewer seasons of NBA experience. Black added, with a large smile, that his name came up with the younger guys during his end-of-the-year meeting. The former KU big indicated he thinks he’ll move forward with that young core.

However, there is no guarantee that will be the case. Black — who according to HoopsHype.com was the 421st-best paid player in the NBA this past season, earning $845,059 — will become a restricted free agent this summer.

When July finally rolls around, and Black is free to talk with other franchises, as well as the Lakers, about his next contract, he isn’t sure what to expect.

“It’s gonna be different, but that’s what makes life interesting, honestly,” Black said. “That’s what makes it worth it. Things like this, the dynamics, the ups and downs and just what’s the next chapter, what’s about to happen. I’m interested to see what’s gonna take place. I haven’t thought about it too much, honestly, because I’m not gonna stress myself over it. Plus, we just got done with our season.”


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com


Reply 2 comments from Janet Olin Greg Ledom

Kelly Oubre Jr. evaluates rookie season: ‘I’m not a bust’

No rookie enters the NBA expecting to spend most of his initial season watching from the bench. Still, that’s the reality of the league — even for many first-round picks.

Such was the case for one-and-done Kansas wing Kelly Oubre Jr., whose first go-round in The Association came to a close Wednesday.

Oubre’s name won’t appear on any All-Rookie team ballots — not after playing just 10.7 minutes a game in 63 appearances for Washington, which, despite postseason expectations finished 41-41, three games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Oubre started five games in December, with injuries forcing then-coach Randy Wittman to start the 6-foot-7 rookie.

Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr., left, takes a shot against Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford (15) and guard Kyle Korver (26) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr., left, takes a shot against Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford (15) and guard Kyle Korver (26) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

At the time, Oubre told The Washington Post’s Jorge Castillo, he thought more would come in the months ahead.

“I was feeling like, ‘I’ve showed I can be in this rotation,’ ” Oubre said. “I can hold my own, so we’ll see what happens next. . . . I was like, I should be able to crack the rotation and be able to play and sustain the whole year.”

However, he only started four more times — going scoreless in the final two such occasions in late January.

The Wizards, according to The Post, had no plan to heavily involve Oubre in the rotation for 2015-16. Castillo reported Oubre would have spent time in the D-League if Washington’s injury issues hadn’t required the organization to keep him on the roster.

With the Wizards unexpectedly out of the playoff picture the final week of the regular season (leading to Wittman’s firing Thursday), Oubre played 20-plus minutes for the first time in nearly three months (a stretch that included 12 DNP’s).

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The 20-year-old responded to his suddenly increased role Monday by scoring 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting on the road against Brooklyn, which finished with the third-worst record in the NBA (21-61).

“You saw how I swagged it out a little bit?” Oubre asked afterward, referring to his buzzer-beating 3-pointer to close the first half.

Two days later, in Washington’s finale, Oubre scored 6 points on 3-for-8 shooting in 25 minutes off the bench.

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On the season, Oubre shot 42.7% from the floor, 31.6% from 3-point range, 63.3% at the free-throw line, and averaged 3.7 points and 2.1 rebounds.

Always confident, and oozing good vibes (as evidenced by his “Wave Papi” social media pseudonym), Oubre, the 15th pick in the 2015 draft, thought he had a solid first campaign.

“I got a chance to play. I showed everybody in the league that I’m not a bust,” Oubre told The Post. “I’m ready. I can play in this league. No matter how many minutes I’ve totaled up the whole year, I got a chance to show everybody that I can play in this league and I can help a team win.”

Individual success is all relative in the NBA. And at least one of Oubre’s teammates, guard Garrett Temple, described to The Post what stood out about the young wing.

“Just his willingness to learn as a draft pick that high that hasn’t been able to play as much,” Temple said. “He was in and out of the lineup, but he was always professional. Getting his work in every day, looking up to guys, asking questions. Being a sponge. It was a successful season in that regard.”


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com


Reply 15 comments from Rabia Roobi Saad Saifeddine Tracey Graham Joe Ross Jay Scott Armen Kurdian Matt Gauntt Janet Olin Shimsham Pius Waldman and 1 others

Brandon Rush part of Warriors’ historic run

For years, the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls seemed destined to reign forever as the greatest team in NBA regular-season history.

The Bulls, as any NBA fan could tell you, went 72-10 that season, before winning their fourth of six championships, with legends Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen leading the way.

That historic Chicago team so enthralled the league’s fan base that even now, 20 years later, most die-hards could rattle off the names of all the Bulls’ role players, too. Not just Dennis Rodman, Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper, Luc Longley and Steve Kerr, but Bill Wennington, John Salley and Jud Buechler, as well.

Wednesday, of course, on the final night of the 2015-16 season, Golden State made history, supplanting those Bulls as the best regular-season team in league history, with an astonishing 73-9 mark.

While Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson serve as the collective faces associated with the Warriors’ greatness, the names of the members of their supporting cast will live on, as well, just like all of those lesser known Bulls — particularly if Golden State goes on to win its second consecutive NBA title.

Golden State Warriors' Brandon Rush brings in a rebound against the Los Angeles Clippers during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

Golden State Warriors' Brandon Rush brings in a rebound against the Los Angeles Clippers during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

Regardless of what happens in the upcoming playoffs, Brandon Rush’s name just might live on perpetually as one of the contributors to the most successful regular-season team of all time. (Seriously, can you imagine any team going 74-8?)

The former Kansas star already is associated with greatness in Lawrence, where he played for Bill Self’s 2008 national championship team. But now Rush can add an NBA ring (from the 2015 Finals) and a piece of history to him enviable résumé.

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Rush, now a 30-year-old veteran, only averaged 4.2 points in 14.7 minutes for Golden State during its record-setting run. But the backup wing knocked down 41.4 percent of his 3-pointers and actually served as a starter in 25 games during the Warriors’ record-breaking run over the past five and a half months.

You can start watching Rush chip in to the Warriors’ 2016 title push beginning this weekend, when Golden State takes on Houston, on Saturday.


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com


Reply 1 comment from Janet Olin

Joel Embiid’s future remains a mystery

He’s the NBA’s mystery man. Sporadically seen on social media clips with a basketball in his hands, often just making low-stress moves while wearing practice gear instead of a uniform, Joel Embiid hasn’t played in an actual game since 2014, during his one-and-done stop at Kansas.

Will Embiid become Philadelphia’s savior — a perennial all-star and franchise center? Will injuries rob him of ever becoming a productive NBA player? When will he finally make his professional debut, now almost two years removed from the 76ers taking him third overall in the draft?

No one really knows for certain how the years ahead will play out for the 7-foot phenom from Cameroon, still just 22 years old, and projected to suit up for Philadelphia during the 2016-17 campaign.

Two surgeries on the navicular bone in Embiid’s right foot have meant two full seasons of watching from the sidelines for a big man who many scouts and analysts didn’t mind comparing to legendary center Hakeem Olajuwon.

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid of Cameroon (21) reacts prior to the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, in Philadelphia. The Clippers won 98-92 in overtime. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid of Cameroon (21) reacts prior to the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, in Philadelphia. The Clippers won 98-92 in overtime. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

The intrigue surrounding Embiid remains a popular topic, mostly because Philadelphia has performed historically poorly over the past three seasons:

  • 19-63 the year before drafting Embiid

  • 18-64 in what would have been Embiid’s rookie season

  • and 10-68 with four games to play this year, a.k.a. would-be rookie year Part 2

Even if Embiid had been able to play the past two seasons, it’s unlikely he would have vaulted the Sixers into the playoffs. But whispers of his potential greatness linger, amid the doubts that come with his history of injuries. (Remember: a stress fracture in his back forced him to miss the final month of his one season at KU.)

Former 76ers GM Sam Hinkie, who appeared on ESPN’s The Lowe Post podcast on Tuesday and happened to resign his position with Philadelphia on Wednesday, openly discussed the unknown surrounding Embiid’s future.

Lowe asked Hinkie, What’s the most likely outcome for Embiid?

A.) Multi-time all-star

B.) Nice starter/rotation player

C.) Never becomes a productive NBA player because his injuries are too repetitive and bad

“You’re gonna think I’m dodging it,” Hinkie replied, “because we don’t know.”

Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, center, meets with the Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, left, and Sonny Hill ahead of a basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, center, meets with the Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, left, and Sonny Hill ahead of a basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Instead of choosing one of the three scenarios, Hinkie took the philosophical route with the first option, asking: How likely is it for any NBA player who has yet to be an all-star to do so multiple times?

“Generally, I’d say those numbers are really small for everybody. … Here’s one way to think about Joel: If you simplify it into two variables — which I think is too much, but for these purposes it works all right. Likelihood he can play at a really high level. And likelihood he is available to play at a really high level.

“I think since drafting him — and everybody had slightly different sets of information at the time — but since drafting him, I’d say likelihood that he can play at a really high level is way higher. We’ve seen a lot of evidence in our practice gym, and a lot of evidence with other NBA players and a lot of evidence with his teammates like, ‘Whoa. That is interesting.’ The likelihood of him being available to play has gotten worse. Clearly. He was thought to miss one season and has missed two. There is wild uncertainty on that one.

“But the truth is the outcomes are a multiplication of those two (scenarios). Hey, he might be X-percent likely to be a really good player, but he might be only Y-percent likely to be available to play. And the actual outcome is the multiplication of those two. I actually think that’s sort of where he’ll be. He will be really interesting. Or unavailable.”

As happens from time to time, video of Embiid practicing/rehabbing surfaced earlier this week, as the big man took some jumpers at the Sixers’ practice facility during a period open to the media.

None by Keith Pompey

None by Keith Pompey

“He’s like the backup quarterback at Alabama,” Hinkie joked, referring to the excitement that comes on such occasions. “Every time the guy throws a touchdown in the spring game all the fans freak out. ‘Oh my gosh.’”

Philly.com’s Keith Pompey reported earlier this week that Embiid just returned from his second rehab-focused trip to Qatar, where the big man visited a hospital known for its orthopedic and sports medicine expertise.

"It was a little bit more comfortable" for him, Sixers coach Brett Brown told Philly.com of Embiid’s latest trip to southwest Asia. "It's a little more familiar. The resources that they have there, and we help cultivate, sending over some of our own staff, I think just made it an easier second trip from a familiarity aspect."

According to Brown, some of the trip involved formulating a perfect diet for the 7-footer with a history of injuries. Embiid and his Sixers entourage also learned of preventive measures that could keep his foot healthy.

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid shoots during warmups before his team plays the New York Knicks, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Philadelphia. (Yong Kim/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid shoots during warmups before his team plays the New York Knicks, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Philadelphia. (Yong Kim/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP) by Yong Kim | The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP

One offseason report this past fall indicated Embiid formed some bad health habits in his first season of non-basketball existence in the NBA. However, Brown told ESPN.com earlier this year the center has bought in to changing his ways.

"He is doing great. I feel like I see an older player, a more committed, excited player,” Brown said of Embiid’s approach following his second foot surgery, a bone graft procedure on his foot. “The recognition that he hasn't played basketball in a while, he can't miss a bit, he can't miss a step. The circle of people we've put around him is massive."

The ESPN.com report painted the picture of a much healthier Embiid, too, with him utilizing a personal chef, and enjoying freshly-squeezed mango juice which waits for him at the Sixers’ facility.

Clearly, the organization wants the best for Embiid. The 76ers knew they took a gamble on the big man when they selected him third overall in the draft, days removed from him suffering a stress fracture in his foot.

Still, the question remains, nearly two years later: Was it worth the risk?

Reply 1 comment from Lance Hobson

Late-season reminder: Andrew Wiggins closing in on stardom

No one denies the talent of Andrew Wiggins, nor the promising future the 21-year-old Minnesota guard has in the NBA.

But even the reigning Rookie of the Year, less than two years removed from being selected first overall in the draft, can go forgotten during the marathon regular season while playing for a downtrodden franchise that doesn’t reside in a major market.

Tuesday night, though, Wiggins reminded the league and its fans that he isn’t too far away from existing in the NBA zeitgeist. The Timberwolves (26-52) shocked The Association by winning on the home floor of the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors, as Wiggins scored 32 points in an unlikely overtime victory.

Minnesota Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins (22) dunks against the Golden State Warriors during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. Minnesota won 124-117 in overtime. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Minnesota Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins (22) dunks against the Golden State Warriors during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. Minnesota won 124-117 in overtime. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The league’s best team, Golden State had only lost one home game all season prior to the Minnesota victory. The Warriors, led by MVP-to-be Steph Curry, are in pursuit of surpassing the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (72-10) for the best mark in NBA history. Golden State figured to attain win No. 70 against the downtrodden T’wolves. Instead, the Warriors (69-9) will have to win each of their final four games to eclipse the Bulls.

“They were playing for history,” Wiggins told the Star Tribune. “We were just trying to get in the way of it.”

In hitting 11 of 19 shots (2-for-3 from 3-point range), securing 5 rebounds, distributing 4 assists and stealing the ball 6 times against Golden State, Wiggins reminded everyone just how far he has come since his one season at Kansas.

In an SI.com feature written by Rob Mahoney, Wiggins admitted he hadn’t yet realized how to effectively attack a variety of defensive looks when he was a one-and-done wonder at KU.

“I was just all over the place,” Wiggins told SI. “I didn't know my exact game.”

When the high-flying Canadian prospect arrived in Minnesota, via a trade with Cleveland involving Kevin Love, Wiggins received directions to start utilizing his 6-foot-8 frame in the post on offense, to his and the team’s benefit. Wiggins went on to average 16.9 points as a rookie, while getting to the foul line for 5.7 free-throw attempts per game (76% FT shooting).

In Year Two, Mahoney reports, Wiggins’ post-ups have not come as often, as the organization has turned the second-year sensation’s focus to the perimeter, with him handling the ball in pick-and-roll scenarios and taking more 3-pointers.

The internal thinking for this push, from inside to outside, revolves around not only making him a more complete player, but also the belief that Wiggins can be both a dynamic finisher and a steady passer/creator when attacking off of ball screens.

“The game definitely opened up,” Wiggins told SI. “When I come off a pick–and–roll, I just feel like I see everything. I feel everything's going a little slower than it did last year and I can just read everything better because I know where the help is gonna be, who's bumping the roller, who's covering the pop guy.”

The more skills Wiggins adds to his repertoire, the sooner he becomes a force in the NBA and helps turn a middling franchise into a contender — with Karl-Anthony Towns also playing a prominent starring role, of course.

Although Wiggins hasn’t demonstrated over a prolonged stretch that he can be a 3-point threat, he has trended that direction of late, likely striking fear in the hearts and minds of coaches around the league, as they envision him becoming even more difficult to stop.

On his way to averaging more than 20 points a game this year (20.8 ppg with 4 to play), Wiggins’ late-season 3-point success has become an often-cited statistic around the NBA.

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Wiggins shot 38.1% from 3-point range in February, 42.9% in March and is shooting 41.7% in April. As pointed out by Mahoney, for SI.com, Wiggins hit just 31% from 3-point range last season and was shooting 25.7% prior to February.

In the quest to make Wiggins as complete a player as possible, the last step might come on the opposite end of the floor. According to the SI.com feature, the All-Star-in-the-making still has a number of defensive flaws that keep him from sniffing the stratosphere of his seemingly immeasurable potential.

Wiggins’ coaches remind him of that, and it’s something he understands. Still, the organization wants him to approach every night and defensive assignment with the same vigor, not just save his best efforts for matchups against the likes of Kevin Durant or Curry.

If Wiggins finds it within himself to compete at that level every time he takes the floor, well, the rest of the NBA — just like the Warriors — will be in trouble.

“My mindset was we had to win,” Wiggins told the Star Tribune after Minnesota’s upset road victory. “I had to do whatever it took for my team to win, whether it was getting on the floor, making a bucket, making the right pass. I tried to play aggressive but safe at the same time. One mistake and Golden State makes you pay for it.”

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Morris twins detail their disappointment with how things turned out in Phoenix

Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris, right, drives against his twin brother, Detroit Pistons forward Marcus Morris, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Feb. 19, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris, right, drives against his twin brother, Detroit Pistons forward Marcus Morris, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Feb. 19, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Twin brothers Marcus and Markieff Morris essentially found themselves living the dream. They had reached their boyhood goals of playing in the NBA. Not only that, they were doing so as teammates, with the Phoenix Suns.

It was just like their prep days and their three seasons at Kansas, except on the biggest basketball stage in the world. Pretty choice setup.

However, the Morris twins had no idea when they signed 4-year extensions with the Suns in 2014 neither would be playing with the franchise less than a year-and-a-half later.

As has been well documented, a number of issues in the year-plus that followed led to Phoenix first shipping 6-foot-9 Marcus off to Detroit this past offseason, and then sending 6-10 Markieff to Washington before the trade deadline this past week.

But the twins never have shared their side of the story in as much detail as they did for a story published this week by Bleacher Report. Longtime NBA reporter Ric Bucher provided an in-depth examination of both the Morris’ lives and the behind-the-scenes dealings that left their dream of playing as NBA teammates unsustainable.

Marcus told Bleacher Report there are some widespread misconceptions about his and his brother’s issues with Phoenix breaking up the twin tandem.

“Everybody thinking that we're upset because we don't get to play with each other," Marcus said. "Kieff can't deal with adversity? We're from north Philadelphia. This isn't adversity. This is betrayal."

Bucher reports the twins would prefer to traverse through the NBA as teammates, but the way Phoenix handled the split is actually what left them bewildered.

Detroit Pistons' Marcus Morris (13) drives past Milwaukee Bucks' Michael Carter-Williams (5) during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Detroit Pistons' Marcus Morris (13) drives past Milwaukee Bucks' Michael Carter-Williams (5) during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

"What bothers me most are two things," Marcus said. "I sat down with the owner (Robert Sarver) and we agreed guys were going to get paid more (than the twins got — Marcus $5 million/year, Markieff $8 million/year), but they told us, 'Don't get upset, we're a family, we're helping each other.' Everybody in this league is concerned about money. We were looking for stability and the chance to be part of something."

Marcus said he had no issue with Phoenix making a business decision, and moving him to create cap space to pursue 2015 free agent LaMarcus Aldridge. The twins didn’t understand why neither of them heard about the deal until after the fact.

"You build a relationship,” Marcus told Bucher, “you expect certain things."

As the feature details, the Morris twins have thrived by trusting people in basketball through the years, after a mentor took them under his wings to get them started in the sport and playing for Bill Self at Kansas. They assumed the basketball people around them in the NBA would also look out for their best interests, at least somewhat, particularly after they got the sense of a family-like situation in Phoenix.

Marcus (22) and Markieff Morris (21) celebrate a blocked dunk by Marcus against Oklahoma State during the first half on Monday, Feb. 21, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Marcus (22) and Markieff Morris (21) celebrate a blocked dunk by Marcus against Oklahoma State during the first half on Monday, Feb. 21, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

"For me to sign that contract, I was saying it was about being a part of something," Markieff told Bucher. "A team is more like a family; that's how I grew up. They're not just my teammates."

Bucher also reports the assault charges, which haven’t yet reached trial, on the twins will not hold up, according to “sources close to both the brothers and the (Suns).”

Markieff said he didn’t understand why the Suns didn’t give him and Marcus public support in the matter until the case got settled.

What’s more, former Suns teammates of the Morris twins spoke highly of them to Bleacher Report.

Gerald Green said: ”They're team-first guys. All they care about is the camaraderie."

According to Goran Dragic: ”I had a really good experience with both guys. Everything was fine when I was there. They were professional. Maybe something happened when I left, but I can't comment on that. They're just competitive guys and they want to win."

Of Markieff, P.J. Tucker offered this prior to the trade that sent the leftover twin to the Wizards: "He's one of the best teammates I've ever had. He still talks to guys, he still hangs out. No matter what the media says, he has been as professional as possible."

Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris, left, and Detroit Pistons forward Marcus Morris talk on the court after an NBA basketball game Friday, Feb. 19, 2016, in Washington. The Wizards won 98-86. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris, left, and Detroit Pistons forward Marcus Morris talk on the court after an NBA basketball game Friday, Feb. 19, 2016, in Washington. The Wizards won 98-86. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

As fate would have it, Markieff’s first game with the Wizards this past week came against Marcus’ Pistons. Washington won, while playing its new forward 22 minutes off the bench. Markieff shot 2-for-8 from the floor and missed both of his 3-point tries in a 6-point debut.

Marcus scored 9 points off 4-for-12 shooting in 36 minutes.

Markieff has seen similar usage in two more games with Washington since. He’s averaging 5.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 21.3 minutes as D.C. incorporates him into its system and he gets used to his new surroundings.

Marcus, in his first season with the Pistons, has started all 56 games, and averages 13.5 points and 5.0 rebounds. He’s hitting just 30.1% of his 3-pointers and adding 2.5 assists.

Both twins are under contract through the end of the 2018-19 season, thanks to the deals they reached simultaneously with Phoenix. Perhaps they’ll reunite as teammates for the 2019-20 season. It’s safe to say that wouldn’t be in Phoenix.

— Read the entire Ric Bucher feature: Think You Know What the Morris Twins are All About? Think Again


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com


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Kelly Oubre Jr. honors King of Pop

Washington Wizards' Kelly Oubre Jr. reacts during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in Milwaukee. The Bucks won 99-92. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)

Washington Wizards' Kelly Oubre Jr. reacts during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in Milwaukee. The Bucks won 99-92. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)

Odds are, never in your life have you mentioned legendary singer/songwriter Michael Jackson and Washington rookie Kelly Oubre Jr. in the same sentence — or even came close to thinking about them as having some sort of connection.

(Disclaimer: Unless, of course, you are so into the Wizards that you saw Oubre pull of a Jackson-esque celebration that drew him a fine earlier this season.)

Well, for you non-followers of Washington's NBA franchise, that’s about to change.

Oubre, a rookie out of Kansas, actually posed as The King of Pop for a special project the Wizards organized for Black History Month.

None by Washington Wizards

As a way to recognize the significant historical and cultural contributions of various people through the years, the Wizards had their players “pay homage to these historic figures as part of their commitment to upholding and honoring their legacies.”

From Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King Jr., to Meadowlark Lemon and Michael Jackson, current Washington players re-created iconic images for Black History Month.

Check out all the photos here. KU fans might also want to see Drew Gooden and a couple of his teammates as Run-D.M.C.

On a basketball-related note, Oubre, the 15th pick by Washington in the NBA Draft, has only played 11.3 minutes a game in 46 appearances. Oubre averages 3.7 points per game, 29th among the rookie class.

The 6-foot-7 backup swingman scored a career-high 18 points at San Antonio on Dec. 16, but has only reached double figures once since January 1.


— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com


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