By now, you surely all have heard about the massive contract signed by former Kansas center Joel Embiid, who on Monday inked a five-year, $148 million contract to stay with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Not bad for a guy who has played in just 31 NBA games since leaving Kansas as the No. 3 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Granted, those 31 games produced some pretty impressive results — 20 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists per game — and nearly led to Embiid being named the rookie of the year last season despite the small sample size.
And those numbers, while solid, don’t even tell half of the story as the former KU standout whose college career ended early because of injury has rejuvenated an entire franchise and city and become a sort of cult hero across the country for his skills, confidence and never-ending social media presence that has provided some of the best NBA entertainment of the past three seasons.
But forget for a second about his game or the future. The big question now that Embiid has signed the deal is simple: Was he worth it?
The NBA world seems to be mixed in its response and who could blame anyone for questioning whether that kind of max deal, which, according to reports, could grow to as much as $178 million by the end of it, is the right move for an oft-injured player such as Embiid.
There’s no question that when he’s healthy and on the floor, Embiid is a game changer, the kind of player you can build a team around and ride to enormous heights.
But staying healthy has been a struggle and, with that frame and the way he uses such explosive movements to play the game, it’s certainly fair to question whether he will remain healthy and become the player the Sixers need him to and hope he will become.
With Embiid and the Sixers slated to be in Kansas City, Mo., for an exhibition game on Friday night, this topic certainly figures to be hot around this area for at least the next few days.
And while the Sixers did include some language in the contract that offers them some measure of protection against injury, it’s still a massive commitment for a player who, as of today, has to be considered at least somewhat of a question mark.
To that end, here’s my favorite recap of the Embiid situation, from Paul Flannery at SB Nation, who spells out the five appropriate responses to Embiid’s contract extension.
It seems as if Flannery covered all of the emotions and opinions that many had after hearing the news about the extension, but, knowing Embiid, it’s certainly possible that his career path will take us on an unexpected journey that nobody has talked about thus far. You know, like him playing point guard or becoming Philly’s player-coach.
Anything is possible with The Process.
Let's just hope that most of what we see during the next five years is Embiid on the court wowing the world with his skills and ability and earning every dime of that lucrative contract.
It’s safe to assume NBA executives and head coaches won’t be jostling for position at the front doors of any former Kansas basketball players before the stroke of midnight Friday night, when it officially becomes July 1 and the league’s anticipated free agency period commences. But some of the biggest names in recent KU history will hit the open market this summer.
To get a sense of the demand — or lack there of — for the Jayhawks looking to sign new contracts, peruse Matt Moore’s list at CBSSports.com of the top 60 available free agents. You won’t find a single former Kansas player.
Still, six one-time KU stars whose college successes paved the way to lucrative careers in basketball figure to either re-up with their current employers or find new niches with other organizations as they ink new deals. Here’s a rundown of the available Jayhawks.
Every time former KU All-American Thomas Robinson joins a different NBA team, it’s easy to think the change of scenery and/or playing for a new staff will help him achieve the breakout season that has eluded him since Sacramento made him the No. 5 overall pick in the 2012 draft. Five seasons and six teams into his career, though, the 6-foot-10 power forward has yet to emerge as a consistent contributor.
It took until September, just before training camps opened, for Robinson to sign with the Lakers in 2016, and some uncertainty likely awaits the explosively athletic 26-year-old again. After averaging 5.0 points and 4.6 rebounds in 11.7 minutes (48 appearances) for L.A., Robinson said following his end-of-season exit interview with Lakers brass they neither told him they wanted to re-sign him nor that they didn’t.
What he did learn, however, from Lakers president Magic Johnson, general manager Rob Pelinka and coach Luke Walton was that Robinson, in his fifth season, began to pick up on the smaller nuances of the game. The free agent big said he used to overlook such details, and heard from Lakers brass those areas should be his focus this offseason.
“I plan to commit myself to getting better at the mental part of the game and seeing the game a little better,” Robinson said, adding he wants to reach the level of a grizzled veteran who knows it all. “I want to get that part of my game better, and I think that’ll take me to another level and also help me in helping the team.”
Which team that will be next season remains to be seen.
After four seasons of toiling with the Kings, Ben McLemore’s days in Sacramento are all but officially through. The organization declined to extend a qualifying offer to the shooting guard, making him an unrestricted free agent, capable of reaching terms with the franchise of his choice without the fear of the Kings having the right to match an offer and retain his services.
McLemore played a career-low 19.3 minutes a game this past season, when he averaged 8.1 points and shot 43 percent from the field (38.2 percent on 3-pointers).
At 24, the 6-foot-5 guard remains young and athletic enough for teams to take interest in him as a backup guard. The Kings’ poor reputation within the league means some decision-makers will give McLemore a pass on proven shortcomings with the plan to stimulate his career.
Another career NBA backup from KU, center Jeff Withey spent the past two seasons in a limited role for Utah. The 7-footer appeared in 51 games for the Jazz both years, but Withey only played 8.5 minutes a night in 2016-17, averaging 2.9 points and 2.4 rebounds.
Nonetheless, Withey recently told the Journal-World he’s open to re-signing with Utah, where he would continue to make cameo appearances, playing behind Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors.
“Utah, in general, is just a great organization,” Withey said. “I love my time there.”
The 27-year-old big man likely would take on similar playing time for another franchise, should he sign elsewhere.
Looking to join up with a team to become a 10-year veteran in the league, Brandon Rush, who turns 32 in July, is in the latter stages of his career.
Even so, Rush is coming off a season in which he played 21.9 minutes a game for Minnesota — his highest average since the 2011-12 season — putting up 4.2 points and 2.1 rebounds.
That doesn’t mean the Timberwolves will bring Rush back as a bench wing capable of defending and knocking down an occasional 3-pointer (44-for-114 in his ninth year). The team already made a big offseason splash by trading for all-star Jimmy Butler, and free agency provides Minnesota with a chance to bring in another major contributor. In order to facilitate the cap space, though, role players such as Rush likely won’t be re-signed.
With 13 NBA seasons behind him, veteran power forward Nick Collison won’t play much in Year 14, but the longtime Oklahoma City reserve plans to stick around for at least another season.
Considering Collison’s days with the franchise date back to before the Thunder relocated from Seattle, it would be strange to see him in another NBA uniform. The 6-foot-10 big who will turn 37 before the start of next season indicated following his OKC exit interview a couple months back he had a strong enough relationship with the front office that they should be honest with each other about their expectations once negotiations begin.
“I think both sides just have to find the best thing,” Collison said, “and we'll figure it out.”
Mario Chalmers missed the entire 2016-17 season as he rehabbed a torn Achilles tendon in his right foot. But the former KU star is only a little over a year removed from averaging 10.8 points a game for Memphis.
Back in Lawrence earlier this month to play with and against current and former Kansas players, Chalmers said he felt close to returning to the NBA this past spring as a late-season signing.
“But within myself I just wasn’t comfortable,” Chalmers added. “So I was the one who told my agent, ‘I’m going to shut it down for the year and just get healthy.’”
Any number of teams in search of a veteran guard would put a healthy Chalmers on their lists of possible targets. Now 31, the combo guard who made a name for himself with Miami and LeBron James, should resurface next season.
He said he’d be open to taking on a starting or reserve role, and will be searching for the best overall opportunity.
Debating where basketball players rank in the annals of history is a time-honored tradition in the NBA — like Marv Albert yelling “Yes” on a broadcast or the Los Angeles Clippers failing to advance past the second round of the playoffs.
So you can imagine the arguments ignited by The Washington Post’s newly published list of The Top 40 players since the ABA/NBA merger, 40 years ago, as constructed by Tim Bontemps. The Michael Jordan-LeBron James disputes, of course, are inevitable. But so, too, are the “Why isn’t Player X on this list?” and “Who put THAT guy on here?” dissensions.
Although others might debate his inclusion, University of Kansas basketball fans will be glad to know the Jayhawks are represented among The Post’s top 40 of the past 40 seasons, with Paul Pierce coming in at No. 36 — even ahead of a pair of hall of famers, Kevin McHale and Reggie Miller.
A recent retiree and future hall of famer himself, Pierce averaged 19.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.3 steals over the course of 19 seasons, after Boston made him the No. 10 pick in the 1998 draft. “The Truth” was a 10-time all-star, four-time member of one of the three tiers of all-NBA teams and the 2008 NBA Finals MVP.
Bontemps explains his place in NBA history:
“Pierce’s quiet end to his career with the Los Angeles Clippers shouldn’t diminish what was a remarkable run, largely with the Boston Celtics, where he partnered with (Kevin) Garnett and (Ray) Allen to usher in a new era in the sport. He also had the most duels with James, and came out on the winning end more times than just about anyone else, too.”
As referenced by Bontemps, Pierce and LeBron put up some classic battles before the former KU star hit the declining years of his career arc. Pierce and the Celtics knocked James and the Cavaliers (the pre-Miami, pre-Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love incarnation) out of the playoffs in both 2008 and 2010. And although LeBron’s Heat teams would later defeat Pierce and company in three other postseasons (once after Boston traded him to Brooklyn), giving “King James” a 3-2 advantage over Pierce in terms of playoff series won (17-13 in postseason games), this generation’s greatest talent, who has since won three titles, learned much from his early battles with “The Truth.”
"Obviously he gets a Cliff note or a couple notes in my book as far as guys that helped me get over the hump or kept me where I was at the time," James said in 2015 of Pierce. "I knew I had to become much better individually. He's one of those guys."
That praise, along with Pierce’s many accomplishments, some may — you know — argue, should be enough to rank Pierce higher than 36th on this compilation of all-time greats.
Check out The Post’s interactive top-40 graphic and decide for yourself.
Among the 40 players highlighted, Pierce ranks 26th in points, 27th in rebounding, 25th in assists, 24th in steals and 25th in blocks.
If you ever wondered what former Kansas big man Joel Embiid would look like in George R. R. Martin’s fictional world of Westeros, you now have your answer — in cartoon form at least.
Finally, after four seasons worth of parodies, BleacherReport’s NBA-meets-“Game of Thrones” mash-up is trusting the process.
On the latest episode of “Game of Zones,” posted Thursday at BleacherReport.com, Embiid plays a central role as the popular online video series pokes fun at the Philadelphia 76ers’ run of tanking and selecting big man after big man near the top of the draft.
While Embiid missed most of his twice-delayed-by-a-year rookie season with more injury setbacks, he is expected to be back on the floor next season. If his ‘Game of Zones’ persona is true to life at all, some Shirley Temples should help speed up the 7-foot-2 prodigy’s latest recovery.
Embiid and the Sixers will find out at the league’s inaugural NBA Awards, on June 26, whether his 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists in just 25.4 minutes a game (in only 31 games) was enough for him to win Rookie of the Year.
In the meantime, enjoy Embiid’s likeness in “Game of Zones.”
Philadelphia’s favorite 7-foot-2 Cameroonian is returning to the court soon. Even though the Sixers don’t have a game on their schedule for more than five months, any time Joel Embiid has good news on his basketball well being, it qualifies as a significant development for the potential franchise center.
Although he put up Rookie-of-the-Year numbers in his debut season, the former Kansas center remained a victim of the injury bug that already had cost him two entire NBA seasons. Embiid at times dominated offensively while playing 31 games for Philadelphia, but had his rookie season cut short in late January due to a meniscus tear in his left knee.
Embiid’s most recent rehab stint, at least, has gone well, he reported Tuesday, during an appearance in New York for ESPN.
“I’m doing great,” the 23-year-old big man told Michael Smith and Jemele Hill. “… I’m supposed to be back on the court in about two or three weeks. But I’m doing good. It’s been going good.”
In town to represent his franchise at the NBA Draft Lottery, in which the 76ers could end up with two choices near the top of the board, Embiid felt typically confident about serving as a lucky charm of sorts.
But if he and the organization have their way, Philadelphia will break into the playoffs in 2018 and no longer have to count on the bounces of some Ping Pong balls when planning for their future.
“Hopefully this is the last time we’re gonna be doing this,” Embiid said. “I hate losing.”
Already an NBA social media superstar, despite his limited in-game chances to date, Embiid also explained why he stays authentic to himself when he posts on Twitter and Instagram.
“Social media is a way for me to connect with fans, and I love being on social media. I love being funny on there,” Embiid said. “… Especially in Philly they show me a lot of love, and it goes all over the world, too. So I love social media.”
On that front, Smith and Hill brought up Embiid’s longstanding aspirations to go on a date with music superstar Rihanna, and because singer Kelly Rowland also was in attendance for the event, asked him to make his case to Rihanna through her friend, Rowland.
“Why should Rihanna give you a shot?” Hill asked.
“I mean, look at myself,” a grinning Embiid responded. “… I’m 7-2. I’m good-looking. You know, women usually love my accent, because I’m from Cameroon, in Africa. And I’m pretty intelligent, too.”
Seriously, though, now nearly three years removed from becoming the No. 3 pick in the draft, Embiid, who averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists for the Sixers in just 25.4 minutes a game, appears on schedule to return for the 2017-18 season. For him, that’s an even better development than Rihanna accepting his open invitation.
And — who knows — if the lottery shakes out the right way, Embiid might end up with another one-and-done KU prodigy as a 76ers teammates soon.
If Embiid is able to play a whole season for Philadelphia next year, along with 2016’s No. 1 pick, Ben Simmons, a run at a playoff berth and an end to the team’s spring lottery tradition just might be possible.
(Insert your own “Trust the Process” joke here.)
Suspended for Game 4 of his team’s second-round playoff game on Sunday, Washington forward Kelly Oubre Jr. had to watch from afar — at his home, with his father — while his teammates handled Boston without him.
The former Kansas wing’s Game 3 run-and-shove retaliation on pesky Celtics screener Kelly Olynyk earned him a flagrant 2 foul, an ejection and a seat next to Kelly Oubre Sr., due to the NBA’s decision to suspend him.
The 21-year-old, second-year pro told CSN Mid-Atlantic his natural inclination was to enjoy viewing what turned out to be a 121-102 Wizards blowout. Good old dad had to keep junior in line when a big play had him “going crazy.”
"He wasn't in a bad mood,” Oubre Jr. said of senior, “but he would just constantly remind me if I was joking about something, he would be like, 'It would be easier if you said that on the court.' But that's my dad. That's my dad for you. It's tough love and I love it."
The 6-foot-7 backup forward will be a much more active participant in Game 5 of the Boston-Washington series, tied 2-2, on Wednesday night. Oubre anticipates Celtics fans not being as excited about his return as he is. During Game 4, in D.C., Wizards supporters, who also relentlessly booed Olynyk, chanted Oubre’s name during one dead stretch. Wisely, he’s expecting the opposite response from fans in Boston for his return.
"If a whole stadium full of people are chanting my name, that's a blessing,” Oubre told CSN Mid-Atlantic. “I see what we did to Kelly Olynyk, so I'm not going to be surprised by anything."
"I've played in all the loudest arenas and against a lot of the best fans," Oubre added. "I just have to stay focused and lock in."
His coach, Scott Brooks, had some advice for Oubre, who scored 12 points apiece in his first two games at Boston this series:
"Oh jeez. Bring some ear plugs,” Brooks said. "They're definitely gonna let him have it."
Added Washington big man and fellow Jayhawk Markieff Morris:
"Man, I feel like we all should bring ear plugs. But if you ain't booing then you ain't doing something right, then. That's how I look at it."
As it turns out, Oubre said his time at Kansas prepared him for what awaits him in Boston.
"I went to Kansas University," he told Washington Post reporter Candace Buckner Wednesday, "so I'm used to all the booing."
Oubre identified a certain Big 12 arena in Manhattan as one place where he heard plenty of boos.
"Kansas State is the worst," he said. "They've got a whole student section that hates your guts."
In Oubre's opinion, K-State fans "want you dead."
"Shoutout to Kansas State, but rock chalk, man," he added.
Game 5 tips at 7 p.m. Wednesday, on TNT.
Kelly Oubre Jr. never has been the type of player who cares what people think about him or his game, and it doesn’t sound as if an on-court playoff altercation is about to change that.
A half-day removed from his Game 3 ejection, after he shoved Boston’s Kelly Olynyk to the floor, Oubre on Friday spoke with media in Washington, D.C., for the first time about what prompted such an outburst.
The second-year Washington forward said it wasn’t the first time Olynyk — called for an illegal screen while delivering an elbow to Oubre on the play that incited the squabble — and the former Kansas wing clashed.
“I’ve been hit in the head multiple times by the same person,” Oubre said in a video posted by The Washington Post’s Candace Buckner. “I’ve confronted him about it. But the last time it happened, I fell, I felt pain in my head and my jaw, and I got up and I ran to him and I bumped him. That’s all that happened.”
While Oubre, a key reserve for the Wizards, said that type of physical reaction with an opponent won’t happen again, because he learned his lesson and has to control himself, he also insisted that won’t change his hard-playing approach to the game.
“But I’m gonna keep raging on the court. I’m gonna keep screaming at everybody in the crowd and I’m gonna continue to do me,” Oubre said. “So nothing’s gonna change from this incident.”
Oubre, shooting 41.2% from the floor during his first NBA Playoffs, has made 10 of 25 3-pointers in the postseason and is averaging 6.3 points and 2.6 rebounds off Washington’s bench (17.4 minutes a game). After footage of his contact with Olynyk went viral on Twitter and Instagram, Oubre joked his financial adviser told him he got some inquiries from the NFL.
On a more serious note, his biggest concerns now are whether the NBA will suspend him for his actions. Oubre said he didn’t know what to expect on that front.
“Whatever the league does, they do,” he said, “but my job is to be here in Washington, and be with my team.”
Moving past the rush of fury he displayed served as the 21-year-old’s primary message during his media session.
“Whenever my head hurts or I get hit in the face, my initial reaction isn’t going to be pleasant. But I’m pretty mindful. I take my inner peace very seriously,” Oubre said. “When that happened, that’s something that’s very rare and it could only happen in a situation like that.”
Game 4 of Celtics-Wizards is 5:30 p.m. Sunday (TNT).
Second-year forward Kelly Oubre Jr. had his first big moment of the NBA Playoffs on Thursday night. But his name wasn’t on the fingertips of the NBA Twitterverse for a timely basket or steal.
The former Kansas wing, instead, grabbed everyone’s attention by trying to knock Boston’s Kelly Olynyk into next week. The altercation earned Oubre, a key reserve for Washington, a flagrant-2 foul from the officiating crew and a first-half ejection.
The 21-year-old’s outburst of court rage wasn’t completely unprompted. Oubre charged Olynyk and shoved him to the floor a moment after a hard screen — a play on which the Celtics’ big man extended an elbow into Oubre, drawing an offensive foul.
Oubre scored exactly 12 points in each of the previous two games in the series and played more than 25 minutes in both narrow D.C. losses. In Game 3 of what has been a heated and frequently chippy Eastern Conference semifinal, the Wizards easily took the victory in Oubre’s absence, though the 2015 first-round pick only played 5 minutes due to the ejection.
After Washington cut Boston’s series lead to 2-1, Wizards coach Scott Brooks addressed Oubre’s attack of Olynyk and, when asked if it was in retaliation, referenced the Celtics and Olynyk playing an overly physical style of basketball in the series.
“One, I think we’ve got to control our emotions. We can’t respond that way,” Brooks started off, in response, during his post-game press conference. “But when you get hit in the head a few times — I mean, we’re very competitive guys out there. Two teams are very competitive. You keep getting hit in the head, you might respond that way. I think that’s what he did. I’m not saying that was the right thing to do. We have to focus on playing basketball. We can’t control what they’re doing. We just have to control within our gameplan and stay focused.”
Brooks said at that point he hadn’t yet spoken with Oubre, but said he would let his player know he has to let the officials make those calls, and the referees got it right before Oubre lost his cool.
Asked about Oubre’s clash with Olynyk, Boston star Isaiah Thomas said, “I don’t know what he was doing. I mean, the screens we’ve been setting … for the most part, I feel like they’ve been legal. It’s just those guys fall and the refs call an offensive foul. I don’t know why (Oubre) reacted like that, especially to Kelly (Olynyk). Kelly’s not trying to make anybody mad — not to put anything on (Olynyk), but he’s just not like that. I guess you can pick and choose who you want to do that to.”
On NBA TV following the game, Stu Jackson, formerly the league’s vice-president of basketball operations, discussed Oubre’s flagrant-2 and automatic ejection. Jackson predicted the league offices would not suspend Oubre for Game 4 of the series, but anticipated a fine coming the second-year forward’s way.
Markieff Morris’ first foray into the NBA Playoffs was going smoothly until he badly rolled his left ankle on Sunday, in Game 1 of Washington’s second-round series against Boston.
Morris, a former standout at Kansas, played a key role in the Wizards’ first-round victory over Atlanta, but only logged 11 minutes in his team’s opening game versus the Celtics, after rising up for a jumper and landing on Al Horford’s foot during the second quarter.
The sixth-year forward made the shot — and even remained on the court for a successful free throw after writhing in pain — before exiting the game for good due to the severity of the ankle roll, with his team up three points. In his absence, the Celtics went on to win, 123-111 to take a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
After the game, Morris told Candace Buckner of The Washington Post he feared he had broken his left ankle on the play.
“This was my worst one. I kind of tend to twist my ankles,” Morris told The Post. “That’s my injury. Ankle-twisters. This was by far the worst one.”
However, by Monday, Morris vowed to be back in the Wizards’ lineup for Game 2 at Boston, on Tuesday night.
“I’m playing tomorrow. It’s final,” Morris updated The Washington Post. “There’s nothing the doctors can say to me for me not to be able to play.”
According to Buckner’s report, Morris required “round-the-clock” treatment on his ankle since the injury. He answered questions from reporters with his ankle wrapped up and receiving electronic stimulation. Morris, who only was able to contribute 5 points and 3 rebounds in Game 1, was asked whether he thought Horford undercut him, with intentions of taking away his landing space.
“I’m not sure. I’m [going to] ask him though,” Morris told The Post. “I’ve looked at it a couple times,” he added of the replay footage of his injury. “It’s not really that pretty, so couldn’t really watch it too much.”
Meanwhile, Washington coach Scott Brooks wasn’t ready to throw his support behind Morris’ prediction that the starting power forward would be back on the floor two days after suffering a severe ankle injury.
“It’s a sprain and our medical team will all get together and do what’s best for him,” Brooks told The Post, “but right now he’s out until we see how he feels tomorrow.”
In the first round against Atlanta, Morris averaged 11.2 points and 5.5 rebounds in 28.7 minutes a game during a 4-2 series win for the Wizards, which doubled as his playoffs debut. He shot 27-for-69 (39.1%) against the Hawks and only made 5 of 16 (31.3%) on 3-point tries, but Washington missed his 6-foot-10, 245-pound frame and versatility in the loss to Boston.
“He’s a matchup problem,” Brooks told Buckner. “He can score inside. He can score outside. He puts the ball on the floor. He gets six, seven, eight rebounds a game, but he blocks out. He knows how to play. He’s a smart basketball player. We definitely missed him, but I will tell the guys — there’s no excuse. We got beat.”
Before officially stepping down as the Indiana Pacers’ president of basketball operations, NBA legend Larry Bird on Monday left his replacement, former Kansas guard Kevin Pritchard, with a vote of confidence.
"I'm very happy Kevin is stepping in and glad another Hoosier is in line to take over this job,” Bird said of Pritchard, born in Bloomington, Ind., before going on to help KU win the 1988 national championship. “He has a lot of experience from the past five years as a GM and he's ready to step into a leading role. With us, he has had his own ideas on the draft, players, and now he gets an opportunity to push his basketball abilities to the forefront. His role will be no different than mine was. He will make all final decisions on all basketball-related matters. There can only be one voice, and it will be his."
Pritchard, 49, spent the past five seasons working under Bird, in various functions, most recently as vice president of basketball operations and general manager.
“What do you say to someone,” Pritchard asked during his introductory press conference, while thanking Bird, “who has absolutely given you the opportunity of a lifetime?”
According to Pritchard, he and Bird, who will remain a consultant to him, talk every day about the Pacers, and he has learned a lot about basketball from the former Boston Celtics great.
Still, Pritchard’s new job won’t be easy. He inherits a team that has a superstar in Paul George, who many think will leave in free agency in the summer of 2018 if the Pacers can’t convince him to sign an extension before then. Rumors of moving George out of Indiana dominated the NBA’s trade deadline this past February, and the first question Pritchard fielded Monday dealt with the franchise player’s future.
“I’ve been on the job two minutes now,” Pritchard joked, in response, looking down at his watch.
The Pacers’ new president went on to explain he had exit interviews with George and other players after the team was eliminated from the playoffs by defending champion Cleveland. Pritchard said George wants to win. It will be Pritchard’s job to prove the Pacers can do that, or else he might have to trade the face of the franchise this summer to make sure they don’t lose George and get nothing in return in July of 2018.
“I think you have to be bold in this position,” Pritchard said. “But the one thing I’ve learned from Larry is how important continuity is.”
Still, Indiana’s new president of basketball operations said he doesn’t mind being aggressive and making moves in the summer, particularly during the draft.
Since graduating from Kansas, Pritchard has spent most of his professional life involved in the NBA in one aspect or another. A second-round draft pick of Golden State in 1990, the point guard spent parts of four seasons in the league as a player, appearing in 94 games. After a stint in the ABA with the Kansas City Knights as a coach and G.M., Pritchard broke into the NBA ranks as a scout for San Antonio. That gig that landed him the title of director of player personnel in Portland, in 2004, and he eventually was promoted to general manager.
Fair or unfair, his time in Portland is associated for many with the Trail Blazers selecting Greg Oden with the No. 1 pick in 2007, instead of Kevin Durant.
Without addressing specifically the injury-shortened career of Oden, who only played 82 games for Portland, Pritchard alluded to it when asked if he learned anything about this job from his time in charge of the Blazers’ roster. He said he now better understands how valuable the opinions of team doctors can be.
“Sometimes you can get blinded by talent,” Pritchard said, “and you want it to work. But unless guys can play, you can’t play. So, I would say learn from your medical staff. And then I thought there were times that we got a little too active (with roster moves) and I felt another year with the same team or a similar team would’ve really benefited everybody else. It’s that age-old thing of balance. Do you make changes or do you buy into continuity? And I think it all depends on your timeline, too.”
Whatever the future holds for the Pacers as a franchise — be that a blockbuster deal that ships George out, or a re-tooled roster that helps George return to the conference finals or beyond as the team’s centerpiece — Pritchard will be the one who facilitates it.
From 1986 to 1990, Pritchard played four seasons at Kansas, averaging 14.5 points in each of his final two years, under Roy Williams. Of course, his first two seasons in Lawrence came under the tutelage of Larry Brown. After coaching Pritchard, Danny Manning and “The Miracles” to the 1988 title, Brown had a successful run in Indiana as the Pacers’ head coach.
“I feel like Larry Brown gave me a foundation of basketball,” Pritchard said. “The way it’s played the right way. You’ve heard Larry Brown say ‘the right way’ a million times. He’s tough, but I’m very grateful to have played for Coach Brown, as well.”