No stranger to adversity, Thomas Robinson might be in for a few of the most stressful days of his professional career.
A bonafide college basketball star by the time he finished up at Kansas in 2012, Robinson months later became the No. 5 overall pick in the NBA Draft. Since then, though, the tough-nosed, explosive power forward has yet to carve out a niche for himself.
As of Tuesday morning, Robinson could call himself a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. However, there is no guarantee that will be the case when the regular season starts next week.
The Lakers have 17 players on their preseason roster. As reported by Mark Medina of The Orange County Register, L.A. has to trim that number to at least 15 before embarking on the quickly approaching 82-game grind.
Robinson is one of three Lakers on non-guaranteed training camp deals, along with the artist formerly known as Ron Artest, aka Metta World Peace, and center Yi Jianlian.
First-year NBA head coach Luke Walton told The Register that Robinson, a free agent this past summer, impressed the Lakers in workouts.
“The way he was working and the way he was winning, we thought we at least have to bring this guy to camp,” Walton said. “He looks great out here.”
The coach seems to like him, so that’s a positive for the 6-foot-10 25-year-old. Still, Robinson hasn’t played much off L.A.’s bench in the preseason:
- 7 minutes, 8 points, 7 rebounds vs. Sacramento
- 9 minutes, 0 points, 1 rebound vs. Denver
- 9 minutes, 1 point, 2 rebounds vs. Denver
- Did not play vs. Portland
- Did not play vs. Sacramento
- 7 minutes, 7 points, 4 rebounds vs. Golden State
In total, Robinson has produced 16 points and 14 rebounds in 30 preseason minutes, which doesn’t look too bad if you forget about the 8.1 minutes a game part of the equation. According to RealGM.com, Robinson’s preseason PER is 27.61. This of course is from a minimal sample size, but just to provide a reference point only five NBA players had a PER of 27 or higher last season.
Also helping Robinson’s cause, The Register reported he often wins drills at Lakers practices, getting his name atop what they call the “winner’s board.”
“I’m just trying to be who I am as a player,” Robinson said. “Those are exactly the things coach said.”
Drafted by Sacramento, Robinson also has played for Houston, Portland, Philadelphia and Brooklyn. He hopes the 2016-17 season will be his fifth in the league for his seventh different franchise. He told The Register he learned quickly not to take personnel decisions the wrong way or look at teams that moved him or declined to retain him with any malice.
“It’s never been anything personal,” he said. “When you get older, things don’t bother you as much.”
Oddly enough, Robinson likely would have an easier time sticking with L.A. if not for the presence of another former Kansas big man, Tarik Black. The Lakers already have a backup big to crash the glass, play with energy and do other dirty work assignments in the paint. Black, who has played each of the past two seasons with the organization, is averaging 7.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in 16.2 minutes this preseason, while shooting 59.1% from the floor.
Between Black, Julius Randle, Luol Deng, Larry Nance Jr., Timofey Mozgov and even early second-round pick Ivica Zubac, the Lakers have a lot of front court options. Robinson would have to leapfrog at least one or two of those players, as well as Yi, for L.A. to keep him around.
It seems the little things have held Robinson back through his years in the NBA. Take this example of JaVale McGee dunking on Robinson earlier this week. The former KU star deserves credit for rising up and contesting the jam. But he wouldn’t have been in that position had he stayed in the middle of the paint in proper help position, denying McGee the easiest route to the hoop in the first place.
Obviously, no defender is perfect and it sounds as if Walton sees Robinson’s redeeming qualities.
“He never takes plays off,” the L.A. coach said. “He’s a great guy. You want him around. He’s a monster on the offensive glass and has a great attitude with everything we’ve done.”
The Lakers have two more preseason games left before they play for real Wednesday, Oct. 26. We’ll know by then if Robinson will spend the months ahead in purple and gold or be forced to try and catch on with yet another franchise.
Hey, everybody. Joel Embiid played basketball Tuesday night.
Big deal, right? Well, for the 22-year-old center from Cameroon it actually was.
Those familiar with Embiid know of his constant run of ailments dating back to his one-and-done season at Kansas. A back injury robbed the promising young big man of completing his freshman year on the court with the Jayhawks, and days before he became the third overall pick in the NBA Draft he fractured a bone in his right foot.
Before his preseason debut with Philadelphia, Embiid missed two consecutive seasons due to his foot issues. In total, he went 948 days without appearing in a game.
So, yeah, just playing in an otherwise meaningless exhibition seemed significant for Embiid and the 76ers.
"At the beginning, I was pretty nervous," Embiid told reporters after scoring 6 points, grabbing 4 rebounds and blocking 2 shots for the Sixers against Boston. "I think I had trouble breathing, so it was hard. But once I got the first bucket, everything started to slow down. I saw the game easier. I just felt like I was myself again."
As chronicled by Keith Pompey of The Inquirer, Embiid started for Philadelphia but played on a minutes restriction as the organization eases him into his return to normal life as a basketball player. The big man missed his first three shot attempts before checking out for a breather.
When Embiid returned to the court, he showed off the footwork that so often wowed onlookers when he played for KU before knocking down a fadeaway jumper. Shortly after that, he denied Boston rookie Jaylen Brown at the rim.
"I thought I did better defensively," Embiid said after shooting 2-for-6 and turning the ball over three times. "Offensively, that's going to come. But defensively that was one of my goals, and I think I did better."
Sure to become a hit with the media, the gregarious 7-footer said it caught him by surprise when the Celtics’ defense focused on stopping him in the post.
"I was like, 'That's my first game. Second quarter,’” Embiid said. “‘Y’all really going to double-team, first game, second quarter?’”
The Sixers’ starting pivot said he planned to go back and review video from his debut and learn from the situations in which he felt uncomfortable. Head coach Brett Brown didn’t sound too worried about Embiid afterward.
“In Joel, you see a confidence and a swagger,” Brown said in a Courier Times story.
Brown and the Sixers’ brass limited Embiid to 12 minutes on his long-awaited launch date. The man who hadn’t played a game since KU traveled to Oklahoma State on March 1, 2014, left wanting more.
"Honestly, I thought the 12 minutes I was going to play I was going to score 40 points," Embiid joked (presumably).
He went undrafted. In the offseason following his rookie year, he got cut. Cliff Alexander’s fight to make it in the NBA continues this month, as he plays in the preseason for Orlando.
For the time being, rosters league-wide are overflowing with options. Soon, though, that will change, as each franchise has to trim its list of on-court personnel to 15 for the regular season. What’s more, some organizations prefer to keep their rosters at 14 in order to provide some flexibility.
All of those factors make for a stressful October for players such as Alexander, working on a non-guaranteed contract.
Over at BasketballInsiders.com, Cody Taylor broke down Alexander’s chances of sticking with Orlando — a team that looks pretty set in the post, with Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic.
Alexander, of course, never quite lived up to the hype of a top high school prospect during his one season at Kansas, when he averaged 7.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 17.6 minutes per game. Though Portland picked him up as an undrafted free agent before last season, Alexander played sparingly for the Western Conference playoff team. The 6-foot-8 power forward appeared in just 8 games and finished his rookie season with 10 points and 6 rebounds in 36 minutes, total.
Nevertheless, Basketball Insiders examined whether Alexander could be the training camp player to nab the Magic’s final available roster spot.
“The 6-8 power forward figures to be an option because of his ability to add toughness to the front court,” Taylor wrote. “New Magic head coach Frank Vogel has said in the past that toughness is something he wants to see more of from the team, and Alexander is a player who fits that mold.”
In a recent video interview with Basketball Insiders, Alexander discussed how he ended up with Orlando during the offseason.
“I mean, I didn’t make that decision. My agency made that decision for me,” Alexander said with a smile at the Magic’s media day.
As little as the 20-year-old played for the Trail Blazers last season, he stuck with the organization all year. Alexander said that experience helped him progress.
“I feel like I’m a much better player,” Alexander said of his status entering what he hopes to be his second NBA season, “got a lot more aggressive on the rebounds, working on my 15-, 18-foot jump shot and just running the floor and just being aggressive.”
According to the young big man, Orlando’s assistant GM recently sent him some video clips of Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson and his current Magic teammate Biyombo, asking Alexander to study how aggressively they go after rebounds.
With so many established big men in Orlando’s front court, the former KU forward knows it could be difficult to earn a roster spot.
“Just battle, compete my ass off and just show these guys I ain’t no punk,” Alexander said of his approach. “I’m a young guy. That’s what they figure to realize and try to pick on me a little bit. But I’m from Chicago, I ain’t havin' none of that,” he added, laughing.
In his preseason debut Monday night against Memphis, Alexander only played six minutes off the bench. He connected on his only shot attempt and contributed one rebound, but missed a pair of free throws late in the game.
Considering how little Vogel played him, you have to consider Alexander a very long shot to stick with Orlando. As pointed out by Basketball Insiders, most of the fringe preseason players the Magic has on the roster right now could end up in the D-League. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — particularly given Alexander’s youth and raw skill set.
When newly acquired power forward Markieff Morris realized where the Washington Wizards were hosting this year's preseason training camp, bad memories instant began flooding his mind.
See, the Wizards are conducting this year's camp at the home arena of Virginia Commonwealth University, the same VCU that knocked Morris and the Jayhawks out of the 2011 NCAA Tournament one game shy of the Final Four.
In an interview with WRIC's Mitch Carr, Morris expressed his frustration of having to practice under VCU's Final Four banner.
Now with his third team in his sixth NBA season, the 2011 NBA Draft lottery pick is projected to be the Wizards' starting power forward this season and is looking forward to playing alongside backcourt standouts John Wall and Bradley Beal.
During his first five seasons in the league — with Phoenix and Toronto — Morris, 27, has averaged 11.5 points and 5.4 rebounds in 372 career games.
Morris will be joined on this year's Wizards' roster by fellow former Jayhawk Kelly Oubre, who was the No. 15 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft after one year at Kansas.
Here's a look at the recent interview with Morris inside VCU's home gym:
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: