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Counting down the most interesting KU players to watch this 2017-18 NBA season: Nos. 16-11

Denver Nuggets' Darrell Arthur drives to the basket as he is followed by Los Angeles Lakers' Luol Deng during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, in Ontario, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Denver Nuggets' Darrell Arthur drives to the basket as he is followed by Los Angeles Lakers' Luol Deng during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, in Ontario, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

It’s tip-off week in the NBA, and for Kansas basketball fans that means it’s time to catch up with the whereabouts and chances for may former Allen Fieldhouse stars who now call The Association home.

Paul Pierce has retired, Thomas Robinson is playing overseas and Brandon Rush just got waived by Milwaukee. But 16 Jayhawks still appear on the league’s 30 rosters as the 82-game grind commences.

Some former Kansas standouts will be easier to find on national games and streaming highlights than others. To help those who love college basketball far more than the NBA, we decided to rank KU’s current pros, counting down from No. 16 to No. 1, in terms of which players will be the most interesting to follow in the months to come.

Remember, this isn’t a list of who’s best. We’re talking about which players you’ll want to make a point to watch when you see their team is playing on TV (or on your tablet or phone or laptop).

16. Darrell Arthur

Yes, you read that right. Darrell Arthur is still in the NBA. Gainfully employed by the Denver Nuggets, the ninth-year backup forward probably won’t play much while earning approximately $7.5 million. Sweet gig.

The 6-foot-10 Arthur averaged 6.4 points and 2.7 rebounds this past season, his fourth with Denver, but finds himself buried even deeper in the Nuggets’ frontcourt rotation with the free-agent signing of Paul Millsap. Juancho Hernangomez, Trey Lyles and Kenneth Faried all figure to play larger roles than Arthur.

When (if?) Arthur does play, a Denver team hopeful to make the playoffs can count on the veteran big to play sound team defense and maybe even knock down some 3-pointers — he made a career-high 53 during the 2016-17 season while shooting 45.3 percent, also a personal best.

15. Cole Aldrich

The NBA’s summer spending spree of 2016 worked out well for Cole Aldrich, who made a homecoming signing with Minnesota. The 6-11 Aldrich remains a sturdy defender in the paint and a good-spirited guy who helps out in the community. But the Timberwolves and head coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t have much use for Aldrich on the court.

The former KU big man played just 8.6 minutes a game in 62 appearances off the bench a year ago and averaged 1.7 points and 2.5 rebounds.

If you turn on the T-Wolves and Aldrich is playing, odds are the game is already a blowout or the frontcourt rotation is lacking one or more of Karl-Anthony Towns, Taj Gibson, Gorgui Dieng and Nemanja Bjelica.

14. Nick Collison

There will be no farewell tour for Oklahoma City old head Nick Collison this season, but it very well may be the last go-round for the former KU star.

With 13 seasons of NBA mileage on his soon-to-be 37-year-old body, Collison won’t often hear Thunder head coach Billy Donovan call him up from the bench to direct him toward the scorer’s table.

Collison, who has played every game of his career for the same franchise, appeared in a career-low 20 games in 2016-17, leading to some minuscule averages, such as 6.4 minutes, 1.7 points and 1.5 rebounds. Those numbers might even decrease during his 14th professional season.

So why did Oklahoma City re-sign him to a one-year deal a few months back? Collison is a renowned locker-room presence and, honestly, even if the organization brought him back solely for the team’s annual Halloween party, it was worth it to see him as Woody Harrelson’s Billy Hoyle from “White Men Can’t Jump.”

None by The Crossover

Catch Collison on one of OKC’s 27 nationally-televised games this season if you can. You’ll want to witness the Russell Westbrook/Paul George/Carmelo Anthony experiment anyway.

13. Jeff Withey

Milwaukee Bucks guard Rashad Vaughn (20) gets past Dallas Mavericks center Jeff Withey for a basket during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Milwaukee Bucks guard Rashad Vaughn (20) gets past Dallas Mavericks center Jeff Withey for a basket during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Through four NBA seasons with two different franchises, former KU shot-blocking specialist Jeff Withey has yet to become a key member of a team’s rotation. We’ll see if that changes with his new job as a Dallas backup center. His responsibilities with the Mavericks certainly have.

Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News reports Withey’s new team likely will deploy him not only as a rebounder and defender, but also a — wait for it — 3-point shooter(?!).

"We like his length, shot-blocking ability," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "Mark [Cuban] was really a key guy on this. He'd been studying him for a while. And he's shown that he can knock in some perimeter shots from time to time. Looking at his shooting technique on film, there may be a viability for him to become a 5-man who can shoot the ball from the perimeter. In certain situations, we have him popping. I understand it's going to be a process."

Keep in mind Withey’s career totals from beyond the arc are 0 makes — as in his next will be his first — on four attempts. This preseason, though, Withey drained three of eight from downtown. He’s definitely a better shooter than fellow backup pivot Nerlens Noel for those occasions when Carlisle wants to stretch the floor.

12. Cheick Diallo

Hey, remember Cheick Diallo? Good times. Good times.

The young big from Mali who only played 7.5 minutes a game for Bill Self at KU wasn’t exactly a staple of the New Orleans rotation as a rookie, but he did get 11.7 minutes of court time in his 17 appearances, averaging 5.1 points and 4.3 rebounds.

Early on this season, the 6-9 21-year-old could become far more involved. The Pelicans obviously will rely on two of the best big men in the league, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, the vast majority of the time. But Diallo should be the first big off the bench — for now — with Alexis Ajinca (knee) and Omer Asik (illness) out of the lineup.

“This is my chance. This is my time. So I’ve gotta do whatever to try and make it,” Diallo said in a recent interview posted on the Pelicans’ website.

After spending much of his rookie season in the former D-League (now G-League), Diallo has a chance to make himself a more memorable player.

11. Ben McLemore

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ben McLemore poses during the team's NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Memphis Grizzlies guard Ben McLemore poses during the team's NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Finally, after four seasons of basketball purgatory with the Sacramento Kings, Ben McLemore has a chance to experience NBA basketball with a stable franchise … eventually.

A month after signing a two-year contract with Memphis this summer, McLemore broke his right foot in a pick-up game. The Commercial Appeal reports the 6-5 shooting guard isn’t expected to return until sometime in November.

When McLemore gets back to 100 percent he should be able to win a starting spot in the Grizzlies’ backcourt alongside Mike Conley.

During his final year with the Kings, McLemore played a career-low 19.3 minutes, shot a career-best 38.2 percent from 3-point range and averaged 8.1 points and 2.1 rebounds.

Memphis isn’t exactly the playoff lock it used to be, but McLemore is in a much better situation and should get chances to show whether he is capable of becoming a more impactful NBA player than he was in Sacramento.

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Counting down the most interesting KU players to watch this NBA season — Part 2

As the 82-game, nearly six-month-long marathon known as the NBA regular season begins this week, the league’s 30 team rosters feature 15 players from the University of Kansas.

In order to get KU basketball fans up to speed on what they should expect from the Jayhawks representing their beloved program at the highest level, we decided to rank KU’s current pros, counting down from No. 15 to No. 1, in terms of which players will be the most interesting to follow in the months to come.

We now move to Nos. 10-6. A couple of these former Kansas stars are entering the primes of their career and poised to make real impacts as key reserves.

Another’s days in The Association are numbered, one is attempting to finally establish himself and the other is just getting his feet wet in the NBA.

— Part 1: Numbers 15 through 11

— Part 3: Numbers 5 through 1

No. 10: Tarik Black — Los Angeles Lakers

New Orleans Pelicans guard Tim Frazier (2) goes to the basket against Los Angeles Lakers center Tarik Black (28) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Friday, April 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

New Orleans Pelicans guard Tim Frazier (2) goes to the basket against Los Angeles Lakers center Tarik Black (28) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Friday, April 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

After he went undrafted in 2014, who would have thought Tarik Black would be in the league two years later, let alone playing a crucial reserve role for one of the most recognizable franchises on the planet?

True, this is not the Showtime Lakers of the glory 1980s nor the Shaq and Kobe Lakers of 15 years ago. At best, L.A. is a young team building toward what it hopes can become another era of title chases. Those days, if they return, are years away. For now Black will try and be a building block for the future, along with young recent lottery picks such as D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram.

If you watched the 6-foot-9 center play at KU, you know his game: utilize that bulk in the paint to defend and rebound, work hard, finish strong. Those characteristics already have turned Black into a bit of a fan favorite and secured him a guaranteed contract for this season.

Black apparently wasn’t valued by former Lakers coach Byron Scott, who only played him 12.7 minutes a game last year, but Black seems to be in a better situation with Luke Walton taking over, and he’ll back up L.A.’s starting center, Timofey Mozgov.

No. 9: Paul Pierce — Los Angeles Clippers

Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul Pierce, right, takes the ball away from Utah Jazz forward Trey Lyles, left, during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles, Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul Pierce, right, takes the ball away from Utah Jazz forward Trey Lyles, left, during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles, Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

This is it for Paul Pierce. His 19th NBA season will be his last. And, realistically, at 39 years old, there is only so much the former perennial all-star’s legs will allow him to do on the basketball court at this point.

We won’t see “The Truth” take over fourth quarters like he so often did for Boston in his 15 seasons with the Celtics. Last year with the Clippers, Pierce only played 18.1 minutes a game and scored 6.1 points — both by far career lows. Though a future hall of famer, Pierce has reached a point where the Clippers are better off playing guys such as Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and, at times, Wesley Johnson at small forward in their otherwise superb starting lineup.

The intrigue in watching Pierce play this season comes from knowing it’s his last. What does he have left in that tank? Will he play better this year than last, knowing he can give it all and spend the rest of his life resting?

You know he’s going to have a night or two when he catches fire and looks like vintage Pierce for a stretch, and that will be fun to see, as will the tributes he gets from various organizations as he plays in visiting arenas for the final time.

Here’s one date you’ll want to mark on your calendar for the Clippers: Sunday, Feb. 5. It will be the final time Pierce plays in front of a Boston crowd that adores the 2008 NBA Finals MVP.

No. 8: Cole Aldrich — Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota Timberwolves center Cole Aldrich (45) blocks a shot by Denver Nuggets forward Jarnell Stokes (12) during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Lincoln, Neb., Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016. The Minnesota Timberwolves won 105-88. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Minnesota Timberwolves center Cole Aldrich (45) blocks a shot by Denver Nuggets forward Jarnell Stokes (12) during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Lincoln, Neb., Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016. The Minnesota Timberwolves won 105-88. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Last season, while playing with Pierce in L.A., Cole Aldrich established himself as a valuable reserve center in the NBA. Even while playing only 13.3 minutes a game, the burly 6-foot-11 Aldrich routinely made a positive impact in the paint as a rebounder and rim protector and averaged 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds, while converting 59.6% of his shot attempts.

Aldrich’s best pro season to date came at an ideal time, too, with the big man hitting the free agent market this past summer. He signed with his hometown Timberwolves, one of the league’s up-and-coming franchises for three years and $22 million.

Now 27 years old, Aldrich gets to take his enforcer role to Minnesota’s second unit. When the team’s young star Karl-Anthony Towns or Gorgui Dieng aren’t in the game to control the paint, it will be up to Aldrich to make sure the T’wolves’ interior defense doesn’t experience much of a drop-off.

Minnesota is expected to become one of the more exciting teams in the league to follow, and for KU fans, there is no better bandwagon to hop onto, with Aldrich teaming up with fellow Jayhawks Brandon Rush and Andrew Wiggins.

No. 7: Thomas Robinson — Los Angeles Lakers

Los Angeles Lakers' Thomas Robinson, left, and Sacramento Kings' Skal Labissiere fight for a rebound during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, in Anaheim, Calif. The Lakers won 103-84. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Los Angeles Lakers' Thomas Robinson, left, and Sacramento Kings' Skal Labissiere fight for a rebound during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, in Anaheim, Calif. The Lakers won 103-84. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

We don’t know how much — or how little — former KU star Thomas Robinson will play during his first season with the Lakers. Honestly, it seems another Jayahwk on this list, Black, will feature far more prominently in L.A.’s plans.

Robinson, playing on a one-year, non-guaranteed contract, didn’t even know during the preseason whether he’d make the team’s roster. So he has a long way to go before breaking into the rotation. The months ahead seem intriguing for Robinson, though, because this is his sixth team in five seasons. Organization after organization has passed on retaining the backup power forward. Will the Lakers do the same? Will they even keep him around for the entire season?

The answers to those questions have a lot to do with how the 6-foot-10, 25-year-old Robinson approaches his place in the roster hierarchy. The Lakers have far more invested in bigs Julius Randle, Mozgov, Larry Nance Jr. and Black than Robinson. He’ll have to prove himself more deserving of playing time than one or two of his frontcourt teammates to feature prominently on this young team building for the future.

It might take an injury to one of those other post players for Robinson to get a long look from Walton and his staff. How will Robinson respond when his chance comes? That’s what will be compelling to observe. He has yet to live up to his position as a lottery pick — will this be the year he finally does?

No. 6: Kelly Oubre Jr. — Washington Wizards

Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) dunks during an NBA preseason basketball game against the Sacramento Kings on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) dunks during an NBA preseason basketball game against the Sacramento Kings on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

A year ago, appropriately, Kelly Oubre Jr. looked like a 20-year-old rookie not quite skilled enough to make a sustainable impact on an NBA floor.

Now in his second season with Washington, Oubre, who will turn 21 in December, is starting to fit in much better. Whether that’s the result of learning from his first-year struggles, the Wizards hiring a new head coach in Scott Brooks or a combination of the two, look for the 6-foot-7 lefty’s production to spike upward in Year 2.

Say goodbye to the days of Oubre playing only 10 minutes and averaging 3.7 points. Though still playing a reserve role, behind Otto Porter Jr., Oubre looked better suited to contribute during the preseason. He played 25.5 minutes a game for D.C. this past month in exhibitions, and scored 13.1 points while making 49.2% of his field goals.

To take the next step in his career, Oubre will have to develop a better 3-point shot. He only made 25 of 79 last season (31.6%). During the preseason, it didn’t appear a drastic improvement is coming in the months ahead, as Oubre shot 6-for-17 (35.3%) from downtown.

Still, it seems Washington is far more interested in utilizing Oubre's growing skill set now than when he was a rookie.

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Cole Aldrich thrilled to play for hometown T’wolves, with other Jayhawks

FILE — Los Angeles Clippers center Cole Aldrich (45) on the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016. The former Kansas big man was introduced Thursday as a new member of his hometown Minnesota Timberwolves. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

FILE — Los Angeles Clippers center Cole Aldrich (45) on the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016. The former Kansas big man was introduced Thursday as a new member of his hometown Minnesota Timberwolves. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

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.”

None by Timberwolves

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.”

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Cole Aldrich and Darrell Arthur first Jayhawks to cash in on free agency

Los Angeles Clippers' Cole Aldrich, right, grabs a rebound in front of Phoenix Suns' Alex Len (21) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Los Angeles Clippers' Cole Aldrich, right, grabs a rebound in front of Phoenix Suns' Alex Len (21) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

It’s not exactly LeBron James returning to Cleveland, but NBA free agency provided former Kansas star Cole Aldrich with an opportunity to go home and play for a franchise that means a lot to him.

According to various media reports Sunday, the 6-foot-11 Burnsville, Minn., native agreed to a three-year, $22 million contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Drafted 11th overall in 2010 after a standout college career with the Jayhawks, Aldrich struggled to earn playing time in his first few seasons in the NBA, before enjoying some breakout success this past year with the Los Angeles Clippers.

After two seasons with Oklahoma City, Aldrich split the 2012-13 season with Houston and Sacramento, then signed with New York in 2013. A year ago, he signed as a free agent with the Clippers, and averaged 5.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 13.3 minutes a game. But even his one relatively effective season in L.A. got off to a bumpy start. Aldrich didn’t check in off the bench in 22 of the team’s first 27 games.

“It’s not easy,” Aldrich said in June of remaining patient while waiting for a legitimate chance to prove he belonged in the NBA. “It’s not. I just tried to see the big picture. The season is long, and you never know when somebody can twist an ankle or, whatever happens, somebody gets sick and somebody’s out for a few games. You’re gonna have to be ready to go in and produce.”

With Los Angeles, Aldrich saw a significant uptick in his minutes following a December quad injury to then-teammate Blake Griffin. The center parlayed the on-court production that followed into a deal with the Timberwolves.

As a teenager, Aldrich starred at Bloomington Jefferson High, roughly 20 minutes away from his new home NBA arena, the Target Center, in downtown Minneapolis.

Now 27, Aldrich, embarking on his seventh season, thinks the best years of his career are ahead of him. He told the Star Tribune playing for the organization he grew up watching will be special.

“You always kind of think it’s a possibility,” Aldrich told the Star Tribune. “You never really know. I’m just really excited.”

Although the Timberwolves haven’t reached the playoffs since Aldrich was a high school freshman, many around the league see the team on the verge of something special, with a pair of young stars in the making — Karl-Anthony Towns and former KU wing Andrew Wiggins — and a new head coach, Tom Thibodeau.

At this juncture, Aldrich projects as a backup big for Minnesota. The Star Tribune reported he’ll likely share minutes inside with Towns and Gorgui Dieng.

Last season, according to basketball-reference.com, Aldrich earned $1.1 million with the Clippers before opting out of his contract to test the open market. He’s set to bring in nearly seven times that much this coming season.

Previously, the burly pivot’s biggest paydays came in the third season of his rookie deal, which paid him $2.4 million for the year. The following season, he made $981,084 with the Knicks.

This summer, the NBA’s salary cap jumped up by roughly $24 million, meaning each franchise has more money to spend than ever before. Players such as Aldrich are reaping the benefits.

Darrell Arthur staying put

Denver Nuggets forward Darrell Arthur (00), left, drives for a basket past Philadelphia 76ers forward Jerami Grant (39) in the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 23, 2016, in Denver. The Nuggets won 104-103 on Mudiay's three-point shot as time ran out in the half. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Denver Nuggets forward Darrell Arthur (00), left, drives for a basket past Philadelphia 76ers forward Jerami Grant (39) in the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, March 23, 2016, in Denver. The Nuggets won 104-103 on Mudiay's three-point shot as time ran out in the half. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Aldrich was the second former Kansas star to cash in on this summer’s league-wide spending spree. Seventh-year forward Darrell Arthur, who won a national championship at KU with Aldrich in 2008, agreed to terms with Denver — electing to stick with the team that he played for the previous three seasons.

The Denver Post reported Arthur’s contract, which like all free-agent deals can’t become official before July 7, will be worth $23 million over three seasons.

While Washington and other franchises showed interest in Arthur, who averaged 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds during the 2015-16 season, The Post reported the Nuggets made him a priority in their free agency plans.

Arthur must enjoy his situation with the Nuggets, because even though his salary increased from $2.8 million last year to $7.6 million this coming season, The Post reported Arthur might have been able to pull in closer to $10 million a year with another organization.

The 28-year-old forward who began his career with Memphis, made a personal best $3.4 million with Denver during the 2014-15 season. He’ll more than double that figure next season.

Reply 6 comments from Andrew Dunlap Plasticjhawk Tim Orel Jayhawkmarshall Brett McCabe John Randall

Seven Jayhawks hitting NBA free agency at perfect time

Los Angeles Clippers center Cole Aldrich (45) blocks a shot by New York Knicks forward Derrick Williams (23) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, Friday, March 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Los Angeles Clippers center Cole Aldrich (45) blocks a shot by New York Knicks forward Derrick Williams (23) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, Friday, March 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

There never has been a better time to be an NBA free agent.

The league’s salary cap is jumping approximately $24 million dollars this summer, meaning all 30 teams will have room to sign available players to what most expect to be eye-popping and/or head-scratching contracts.

The hysteria officially begins at midnight Thursday for the big names such as Kevin Durant and Al Horford, as well as the league’s role players.

Even though the seven former Kansas players available won’t garner maximum contracts, all of them figure to be on the verge of signing the most lucrative deals of their careers.

Here’s a look at what’s ahead for those Jayhawks — other than constantly listening to Drake and Future’s “Big Rings” while rapping along, “What a time to be alive.”

Cole Aldrich

Age: 27 | Position: Center | Most recent team: L.A. Clippers | Seasons played: Six | 2015-16 key stats: 5.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 59.6% FGs, 13.3 minutes

After playing fewer than 400 total minutes in each of his first four seasons, Cole Aldrich began to carve out a niche for himself as a serviceable backup big man during the past couple of years.

“It just takes an opportunity, and my opportunity took four or five years in,” Aldrich said a few weeks back, while visiting Lawrence. “You get the right opportunity, and for me it was just continue to do what I do, and that was find a way to get better.”

Aldrich played so well in a reserve role for the Los Angeles Clippers this past season, in fact, that he thinks he’s entering the prime of his career, setting up a rather easy decision to opt out of the second year of his contract.

“You kind of look at the situation, and I had to take some time, and you think about what it is,” Aldrich said of leaving $1.2 million on the table to become a free agent, adding he knew the Clippers might have some cap space available to set up a return to L.A.

He is right about that. The Clippers have a little wiggle room thanks to the salary cap jump. But they don’t have as much room to operate as most teams, because more than $63 million of the franchise’s money is tied up in its big three of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

Should the Clippers keep all of their core in place and successfully bring in a role-playing free agent of note, they might have to part ways with the 6-foot-11 Aldrich if other teams are willing to reward him with a bigger contract. Aldrich played well enough in his one season with Los Angeles to prove he can rebound, defend the paint and finish, setting him up to fit in with any team in need of a second-unit center who eats up space.

L.A. even appears to have a safety net of sorts in place in case it can’t keep Aldrich, by drafting Maryland center Diamond Stone in the second round.

According to L.A. Times reporter Brad Turner the Clippers are interested in bringing Aldrich back, and Orlando and Phoenix have expressed interest, too.

None by Brad Turner

The way Aldrich talked, it sounded like he might prefer to stay with the Clippers. But the NBA is a business, so there is no guarantee it will play out in that fashion.

— PODCAST: Reborn Cole Aldrich leads NBA free agency push for 7 Jayhawks

Darrell Arthur

Denver Nuggets forward Darrell Arthur, left, looks to pass the ball as Phoenix Suns forward Mirza Teletovic, of Bosnia, defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Denver Nuggets forward Darrell Arthur, left, looks to pass the ball as Phoenix Suns forward Mirza Teletovic, of Bosnia, defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, March 10, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Age: 28 | Position: Power forward and small forward | Most recent team: Denver | Seasons played: Seven | 2015-16 key stats: 7.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 45.2% FGs, 38.5% 3’s, 21.7 minutes

A steady veteran forward who does what coaches ask of him and has added some 3-point shooting to his repertoire, Darrell Arthur, like Aldrich, opted out of the second year of his deal.

Moving on from Denver could be a course of action for the 6-foot-9 forward, who has only played for Memphis and the Nuggets since leaving Kansas early as a national champion.

Denver has plenty of cap space to re-sign Arthur if it wants. But if Arthur desires an increased role and a change of scenery, he could leave behind a crowded Nuggets frontcourt that includes Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic.

Arthur’s reputation will keep him employed in the NBA. Where that happens is up to him. As reported earlier this week, Washington is interested in him as a backup to fellow former KU forward Markieff Morris.

Tarik Black

Los Angeles Lakers center Tarik Black, left, blocks the shot of Utah Jazz guard Rodney Hood during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Los Angeles Lakers center Tarik Black, left, blocks the shot of Utah Jazz guard Rodney Hood during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Age: 24 | Position: Center | Most recent team: L.A. Lakers | Seasons played: Two | 2015-16 key stats: 3.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 54.8% FGs, 12.7 minutes

Tarik Black serves as a nice reminder to recent KU draft snubs Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden Jr. and Brannen Greene that entering the league as an undrafted free agent can work out in the long run.

The 6-foot-9 post player proved in two years ago in summer league Houston should keep him around. Even when the Rockets waived him during his rookie season in order to go after a veteran, the Los Angeles Lakers quickly claimed him and added Black to their inexperienced core.

However, the fact that L.A. only played Black 12.7 minutes a game during the 2015-16 season makes one wonder how interested the organization is in bringing him back. If the Lakers are married to the idea of keeping him around, they can match any other team’s offer, because Black is a restricted free agent (unlike the rest of the former KU players on this list).

The good news for Black is the Lakers have just two post players under contract for next year: Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. If the once dominant franchise whiffs in free agency on more established big men, re-signing a hard-working, familiar face might appeal. Conversely, should L.A. spend an absurd amount of money on more alluring names, the team might need to bring back Black on an affordable contract to complete the roster.

The real question is: Do other teams value Black as a potential big man?

Mario Chalmers

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers (6) is helped from the court after injuring his right leg during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics in Boston, Wednesday, March 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers (6) is helped from the court after injuring his right leg during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics in Boston, Wednesday, March 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Age: 30 | Position: Guard | Most recent team: Memphis | Seasons played: Eight | 2015-16 key stats: 10.3 points, 3.8 assists, 1.4 steals, 2.6 rebounds, 41% FGs, 30.9% 3’s, 22.5 minutes

Had Mario Chalmers made it through his eighth NBA season unscathed, he would be the most attractive KU free agent this summer by far. And even while recovering from a ruptured right Achilles tendon, Chalmers could still draw the most interest.

Teams will want to take their time and have their medical staffs make sure vitality still exists in the 6-foot-2 veteran’s knee before OK-ing a deal for Chalmers, but the way he played in Memphis prior to the injury setback will keep him as an intriguing choice for organizations in need of a backup guard who can shoot and distribute.

In his 55 games for the Grizzlies, following a trade from Miami, Chalmers thrived as a sixth man coming off the bench to put up points. Throw in his defensive ability and championship experience while playing with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, and you quickly realize how coveted Chalmers would be to a playoff team in search of backcourt assistance.

Chalmers recently said in an interview he is two weeks ahead of schedule with his knee rehab, and the hope is he would be back at 100 percent before the regular season begins.

Kirk Hinrich

Atlanta Hawks guard Kirk Hinrich (12) is helped up after taking a charge against the Denver Nuggets during an NBA basketball game, Thursday, March 17, 2016, in Atlanta. Atlanta won 116-98.(AP Photo/John Amis)

Atlanta Hawks guard Kirk Hinrich (12) is helped up after taking a charge against the Denver Nuggets during an NBA basketball game, Thursday, March 17, 2016, in Atlanta. Atlanta won 116-98.(AP Photo/John Amis)

Age: 35 | Position: Guard | Most recent team: Atlanta | Seasons played: 13 | 2015-16 key stats: 3.0 points, 1.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 38% FGs, 38.7% 3’s, 13.7 minutes

As Hinrich began to find out early this past season with Chicago, there simply isn’t much demand for the veteran guard anymore, in terms of minutes. That notion later became reenforced for Hinrich upon arriving via trade in Atlanta.

The longtime Bull only appeared in 11 of a possible 26 games with the Hawks to close the regular season, averaging a paltry 0.5 points, 1.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 6.9 minutes.

Those numbers make one wonder about Hinrich’s future in the league. But there will be roster spots to fill in the months ahead for a number of teams. Though 35 and nearly done as an on-court contributor, some organization might find value in having him around the locker room to guide young players and almost serve as a player/assistant coach.

Former Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau seemed to love Hinrich in Chicago. Could they join up again in Minnesota, with Hinrich helping to bring along youngsters Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins?

Thomas Robinson

Brooklyn Nets forward Thomas Robinson (41) dunks the ball in front of Orlando Magic center Dewayne Dedmon (3) and guard Victor Oladipo (5) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Orlando, Fla., Tuesday, March 29, 2016. The Magic won 139-105. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Brooklyn Nets forward Thomas Robinson (41) dunks the ball in front of Orlando Magic center Dewayne Dedmon (3) and guard Victor Oladipo (5) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Orlando, Fla., Tuesday, March 29, 2016. The Magic won 139-105. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Age: 25 | Position: Power forward | Most recent team: Brooklyn | Seasons played: Four | 2015-16 key stats: 4.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 44.7% FGs in 12.9 minutes

The No. 5 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Thomas Robinson still hasn’t made his mark in the NBA. A star at KU, Robinson has turned into a nomad backup power forward. So far, the explosive, 6-foot-10 big has played for Sacramento, Houston, Portland, Philadelphia and Brooklyn.

In all likelihood, Robinson will add a sixth team to that list this summer, after opting out of his contract with the Nets. At 25, one would assume his best years in the league are still ahead of him. And Robinson does bring a valuable skill to the floor, to go with his athleticism and energy. The guy competes on the glass.

Robinson didn’t log enough minutes with Brooklyn to qualify as a league leader in such categories, but his defensive and offensive rebound percentages are up there with the best bigs on the planet. He grabbed 27.8% of available defensive boards this past season, which would have ranked him 10th in the NBA had he played more. Even better, Robinson secured 16.4% of possible offensive boards. Oklahoma City’s Enes Kanter led the league in that category, at 16.7%.

It seems any team in need of a high-energy rebounder would have to consider Robinson.

Brandon Rush

Golden State Warriors' Brandon Rush, right, shoots over Minnesota Timberwolves' Tyus Jones (1) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Golden State Warriors' Brandon Rush, right, shoots over Minnesota Timberwolves' Tyus Jones (1) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Age: 30 | Position: Shooting guard and small forward | Most recent team: Golden State | Seasons played: Eight | 2015-16 key stats: 4.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 42.7% FGs, 41.4% 3’s, 14.7 minutes

Back-to-back NBA Finals appearances, a championship ring and a role on the record-breaking 73-win Warriors. Life has been pretty good for Brandon Rush the past couple of years.

Now Rush’s contract is up, and the free agency hullabaloo in the days ahead could determine his place going forward with the defending Western Conference champs. Golden State values defensive versatility and Rush definitely gives the team that as a backup. But if the Warriors return all of their core perimeter players — Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Shawn Livingston and Harrison Barnes — would they really need Rush?

Rush proved this season, while starting 25 games, he can fill in and mesh well. In December, Rush averaged a season-high 20.3 minutes and put up 5.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists while knocking down 40.5% of his 3-point attempts.

By no means is he a game-changer, but he isn’t going to shoot your team in the foot, either. Whether it’s with the Warriors or another franchise, Rush figures to find a spot as a veteran role player.


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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.

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“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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uyl5kvKuBG4

"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


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Cole Aldrich goes from DNP’s to key bench producer with Clippers

Los Angeles Clippers' Cole Aldrich, left, dunks past Miami Heat's Justise Winslow during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

Los Angeles Clippers' Cole Aldrich, left, dunks past Miami Heat's Justise Winslow during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

What has gotten into Cole Aldrich?

The sixth-year big man out of Kansas who spent most of November and December not even checking into games for his new team, the Los Angeles Clippers, has turned into a bit of a force off the bench.

The Clippers’ coach and general manager, Doc Rivers, told the Orange County Register the 6-foot-11, 250-pound Aldrich has helped give L.A.’s bench an identity.

“Cole just knows who he is,” Rivers said. “He has this body, and he uses it. He doesn’t try to beat you athletically; he just gets his body in the right positions. He rolls to the right spot.”

Aldrich is doing more than just providing a large, warm body in the paint. The burly 27-year-old center, who has averaged 3.3 points and 3.5 rebounds while playing for five different franchises in his career, has actually been an effective piece of the Clippers’ offense, too.

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Since Rivers began using Aldrich more, in a 1-point loss to Oklahoma City on Dec. 21, the Clippers are 11-2. In January, Aldrich is averaging 9.4 points and 6.1 rebounds, while making 54% of his shots in just 15.7 minutes an outing.

Aldrich’s recent success obviously has been a direct result of more minutes. But injuries to other Clippers played a part in his prolonged opportunity. All-star forward Blake Griffin hasn’t played since Christmas, due to a quad injury, opening up minutes in Rivers’ rotation.

Still, with the way Aldrich has taken advantage of filling in, it’s hard to see Rivers abandoning his newfound option down low. What’s more, L.A. point guard Chris Paul told the L.A. Times the team’s recent run of injuries should make the Clippers better when they’re fully healthy .

"These guys missing games is giving other guys an opportunity to build their confidence," Paul said, "and that way when they come back it just adds that much more depth to our team."

On Saturday in a loss to Sacramento, Aldrich didn’t look so hot to start the game, missing 6 of his first 7 shots. But he showed Rivers and his teammates something by making his final 7 shot attempts, on his way to 19 points and 10 boards.

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“Well, he had to have it,” Rivers said to the Los Angeles Daily News of Aldrich’s strong finish, “because he missed some, as we did as a team, he missed some pretty point-blank looks, and so he’s been pretty persistent.”

Rivers praised Aldrich for his professionalism, and being ready to contribute to the team after not playing at all in 22 games earlier this season.

“Never stopped working,” the coach added of Aldrich, “actually worked himself into better shape in not playing, which is hard to do. So I think that says a lot about his character.”

Aldrich told the L.A. Daily News he knows how to star in his role, by doing the most with his abilities.

“I mean, I know that my role is to set screens, roll hard,” the backup big man said, “if given the opportunity to make some buckets, make them and then just defend the rim.”

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The Clippers’ veterans love Aldrich’s professionalism. Paul said Aldrich shows up and works hard every day.

“I mean, you couldn’t find anybody on our team that could say something bad about Cole,” Paul said.

Then again, when Aldrich lets his goofy side out, all of his teammates don’t mind telling him what an awful dancer he is.

At least Aldrich owns it. Just like he does his backup role.

None by Cole Aldrich


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Christmas Day viewers’ guide for KU hoops fans

As the NBA showcases five Christmas Day games, Kansas basketball fans looking to mix in some Jayhawks with their holiday festivities will have a chance to catch a glimpse of as many as seven former KU players.

Here’s a rundown of ’Hawks in the NBA taking the court while most of the country takes the day off.

Chicago at Oklahoma City — featuring Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison

If you love veteran role players and stars from Roy Williams’ last years at KU, well, you better send the NBA a thank-you note for this present. Both Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison will get some national air-time Christmas afternoon (1:30, ABC) when Hinrich’s Bulls play at Collison’s Thunder (though most promos for the game probably feature Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook).

Chicago Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich adjusts his goggles in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers, Friday, Nov. 27, 2015, in Indianapolis. Indiana won 104-92. (AP Photo/R Brent Smith)

Chicago Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich adjusts his goggles in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers, Friday, Nov. 27, 2015, in Indianapolis. Indiana won 104-92. (AP Photo/R Brent Smith)

Now 34 years old, Hinrich plays a backup role for Chicago (15-11) and averages just 16.2 minutes a game. But this is his 11th season playing for the Bulls, the team that drafted him seventh overall in 2003. As pointed out recently by SI.com, the veteran 6-foot-4 guard now leads the franchise in career 3-pointers (1,040) and ranks third all-time in games played (730). The only Bulls who have played more games for Chicago are Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.

Hinrich also sits third all-time in steals (853) and assists (3,779) for Chicago — again, behind Jordan and Pippen — and eighth in points (8,486).

“The young guys, they’re joking all the time, ‘Did you play with Bill Cartwright?’” Hinrich told SI.com.

More of a facilitator and defender these days, Hinrich’s best game of the season so far came in November, when Rose was injured and he played 34 minutes. Hinrich scored 17 points and helped limit reigning MVP Steph Curry to 3-for-11 shooting.

“He’s a guy that goes out and does the little things,” first-year Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He organizes everything on both ends of the floor.”

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, left, and forward Nick Collison, right, try to take the ball away from Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) in the third quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. Toronto won 103-98. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, left, and forward Nick Collison, right, try to take the ball away from Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) in the third quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. Toronto won 103-98. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Hinrich’s old running mate at KU, Collison also plays a limited role (13.6 minutes) as a 35-year-old substitute big man for one of the NBA’s premier teams. And like Hinrich, the 6-10 forward ranks pretty high on some of Oklahoma City’s all-time lists.

Drafted by Seattle before the franchise relocated to OKC, Collison is third in games played (841), behind Fred Brown and Gary Payton. He ranks third in offensive rebounds (1,709) and total rebounds (4,566), behind Jack Sikma and Shawn Kemp. Collison also is third in field-goal percentage (.534), sixth in blocks (459) and ninth in minutes played (18,042).

As much of a mentor as a statistical contributor, Collison helps the Thunder (20-9) on and off the floor. He leads by example by defending, rebounding and taking charges.

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And he’s helped 22-year-old protégé Steven Adams develop the Thunder’s pick-and-roll into a legitimate weapon.

“The teams that are really hard to guard in this league are the ones where you have a big threat rolling down the middle and you’re really put in a bind,” Collison told Oklahoma City’s website. “We’re trying to get in those situations on the offensive end as much as possible.”

Cleveland at Golden State — featuring Sasha Kaun and Brandon Rush

An NBA Finals rematch? How about the first ever professional meeting between Cleveland’s Sasha Kaun and Golden State’s Brandon Rush (4 p.m., ABC) — teammates on KU’s 2008 national championship team.

Milwaukee Bucks' Michael Carter-Williams drives against Golden State Warriors' Brandon Rush during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, in Milwaukee. The Bucks won 108-95. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)

Milwaukee Bucks' Michael Carter-Williams drives against Golden State Warriors' Brandon Rush during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, in Milwaukee. The Bucks won 108-95. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)

A member of the nearly unbeatable defending champion Warriors (27-1), Rush has played more this year (14.9 minutes, 5.2 points) than he has since the 2011-12 season. Golden State made the 30-year-old forward a starter when Harrison Barnes injured his ankle and became unavailable.

“I’ve been waiting for this opportunity to show that I can still shoot the ball and can still play at a high level,” Rush told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I feel so much better than I did last year — with my shot and just being able to move around the court.”

Rush’s best game to date came against Sacramento, when he nailed 4 of 5 from 3-point range and scored 16 points. In December, he is averaging 6.8 points and hitting 50 percent of his 3-pointers (14 of 28).

A major knee injury in 2012 derailed Rush’s career a bit, but now he finally appears to be back on track.

“It’s been up and down, especially these past two or three years,” Rush told the San Francisco Chronicle. “But now, everything is looking up. Things can’t get any better. I’m shooting the ball well, we’re the best team in the league, and we’re on the verge of trying to get another championship. I’m definitely in a great place right now.”

Memphis Grizzlies' Brandan Wright, left, shoots over Cleveland Cavaliers' Sasha Kaun, of Russia, during the third quarter of a preseason NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio. The Grizzlies beat the Cavaliers 91-81. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Memphis Grizzlies' Brandan Wright, left, shoots over Cleveland Cavaliers' Sasha Kaun, of Russia, during the third quarter of a preseason NBA basketball game Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio. The Grizzlies beat the Cavaliers 91-81. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Kaun landed in a pretty good situation to start his NBA career. Cleveland, home of superstar LeBron James, is 19-7 and the prohibitive favorite in the Eastern Conference to return to the NBA Finals.

The Cavs don’t exactly need Kaun, a 30-year-old, 6-11 center that much, though. After spending most of his professional career overseas, Kaun has played in just seven games in his rookie season, with eight total points in those cameos (4.4 minutes).

"But, you know, his game is very simplistic,” Cavs coach David Blatt told Northeast Ohio Media Group before the season began, “so it's not like he has to do a lot of things that would require him to adjust. He just has to get used to the size and the length of the guys and the speed of the game."

L.A. Clippers at L.A. Lakers — featuring Paul Pierce, Cole Aldrich and Tarik Black

This NBA nightcap in Los Angeles (9:30 p.m., ESPN) seems like it would provide the most bang for a KU fan’s buck, with three Jayhawks in the mix.

Los Angeles Clippers' Paul Pierce, left, dribble against Milwaukee Bucks' Jabari Parker during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

Los Angeles Clippers' Paul Pierce, left, dribble against Milwaukee Bucks' Jabari Parker during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)

But even longtime NBA star Paul Pierce isn’t expected to participate all that much. The 38-year-old forward sat out the Clippers’ previous game to rest his sore back, and coach Doc Rivers said his veteran forward will be limited in the battle of Los Angeles.

Pierce has played less for his new team of late, averaging only 10.8 minutes and 3.0 points in December (16.3 minutes, 4.1 points on the season).

On the other hand, another Jayhawk this week suddenly found himself in a more active role.

Los Angeles Clippers' Cole Aldrich, left, defends Oklahoma City Thunder's Serge Ibaka during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 21, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Los Angeles Clippers' Cole Aldrich, left, defends Oklahoma City Thunder's Serge Ibaka during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 21, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Reserve center Cole Aldrich, after not registering a single minute in 11 straight games, has played in each of the Clippers’ last two games and even played in the fourth quarter of a one-point loss to Oklahoma City earlier this week. Aldrich finished with five points, four rebounds and two blocks in 14 minutes.

"I think that was a prime example of being a star in your role and not trying to reach outside of that," Blake Griffin told the Los Angeles Times. “(Aldrich) just did what we need him to do and that's huge."

Rivers told the L.A. Times he turned to Aldrich to give the Clippers (16-13) an energetic boost. That’s what the 27-year-old did, playing in just his seventh game of the season (1.7 points, 2.1 rebounds in 5.3 minutes).

"If we play this way the rest of the year, we're going to win a lot of games," Aldrich told the L.A. Times. "We played with a lot of heart and a lot of enthusiasm and it was fun out there."

Los Angeles Lakers center Tarik Black (28) goes to the basket past Orlando Magic forward Channing Frye during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Los Angeles Lakers center Tarik Black (28) goes to the basket past Orlando Magic forward Channing Frye during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Meanwhile, the struggling Lakers (5-24) could use a similar spark from second-year big man Tarik Black. The 6-foot-9 center hasn’t played for the purple and gold since Nov. 24, but just got called back up from the team’s D-League affiliate on Wednesday.

Black put up 25 points and 14 rebounds in his final appearance with the D-Fenders. The 24-year-old big averaged 18.5 points and 11.8 rebounds in a four-game D-League stint, coming off an ankle injury.

Lakers coach Bryron Scott didn’t play Black Wednesday, while utilizing three other big men off the bench in a 35-point loss to the Thunder. So there is no guarantee Black will see the floor versus the Clippers.


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Cole Aldrich — 2015-16 season preview

Cole Aldrich of Los Angeles Clippers, second right, shoots over Jeremy Lamb, right, Spencer Hawes, second left, and Marvin Williams, left, of Charlotte Hornets during the NBA Global Games at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, China, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Cole Aldrich of Los Angeles Clippers, second right, shoots over Jeremy Lamb, right, Spencer Hawes, second left, and Marvin Williams, left, of Charlotte Hornets during the NBA Global Games at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, China, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Hey, is that Cole Aldrich not wearing a New York Knicks uniform?

Why, yes. Yes it is.

The basketball gods smiled upon the former Kansas center this summer — or maybe it was just that Aldrich became a free agent and made a wise decision. Either way, the 6-foot-11 center now can proudly call himself a member of the Los Angeles Clippers.

Built around all-stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, the Clippers went 56-26 in 2014-15 and had the third-best record in the stacked Western Conference.

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Aldrich isn’t exactly a big name on a roster that includes fellow ’Hawk in the NBA Paul Pierce, Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick, Griffin, Josh Smith, Lance Stephenson, DeAndre Jordan and Paul in its projected rotation.

But it’s easy to see 26-year-old Aldrich, an old-school pivot, having some kind of impact for coach Doc Rivers’ team in a backup capacity. Aldrich is one of only three players on the entire roster taller than 6-foot-10 — the others being stars Griffin (listed at 6-10) and Jordan (6-11).

With the NBA trending toward smaller, less traditional lineups, Rivers doesn’t have to play Aldrich a lot — and he most likely won’t. But when the Clippers need a center or rim-protector type on the floor and Jordan is hurt or in foul trouble or, you know, missing too many free throws (he shot 39.7% at the foul line last season), Aldrich figures to be the Clippers’ guy.

Aldrich only averaged 16.0 minutes a game in New York a season ago, and contributed 5.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.1 blocks. Even if his minutes with L.A. are similar, it wouldn’t be surprising to see an uptick in Aldrich’s production. He’ll be the last player on the floor opponents will worry about, with the talent on the Clippers’ roster. The Knicks’ only star was Carmelo Anthony, and he missed most of last season due to injury.

And with the kind of shots Aldrich takes — almost exclusively of the high-percentage variety — he should be able to cash in when defenses help away, to focus on the more talented Clippers on the floor.

Look at that shot chart (note LA = league average). Almost 83% of the center’s field goal attempts came right around the basket, in the paint, in 2014-15. On the rare occasions he’s on the floor at the same time as point guard Paul, he’ll find scoring will come even easier in the paint.

We don’t yet know exactly how much Rivers will use Aldrich on what looks to be one of the league’s top teams. A mild left ankle injury has limited the big man’s availability in the preseason.

One thing is for sure, though. Aldrich will get to enjoy playing for a winning team, capable of making a deep playoff run. He sure didn’t get to experience that in New York.


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


Follow @BentonASmith on Twitter.

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‘Hawks in the NBA Media Days highlights

Los Angeles Clippers' Paul Pierce speaks during the team's NBA basketball media day, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Los Angeles Clippers' Paul Pierce speaks during the team's NBA basketball media day, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

During the past few days, players for the NBA’s 30 franchises posed for photos, answered questions and took in media day festivities with varying degrees of seriousness.

That means it’s time to get the old ’Hawks in the NBA blog up and firing again. At this moment 19 former Kansas players draw paychecks in The Association, and they all — well, almost all of them — had their moments in the spotlight at media days.

From rookies just getting started, to veterans joining new teams to role players fitting in, here are some of the KU-related social media highlights from around the league.

COLE ALDRICH, L.A. CLIPPERS

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CLIFF ALEXANDER, PORTLAND

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DARRELL ARTHUR, DENVER

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TARIK BLACK, L.A. LAKERS

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MARIO CHALMERS, MIAMI

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In case you were wondering, “Spo” is Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, and Chalmers’ “new role” will be him coming off the bench.

NICK COLLISON, OKLAHOMA CITY

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JOEL EMBIID, PHILADELPHIA

If you were curious about how Joel Embiid is handling his ongoing injury and rehab process, you’re not alone.

Appropriately enough, the injured-for-another-entire-season Embiid wasn’t a part of the 76ers’ media day, according to The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey.

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Presumably, he’ll attend a media day and play in the NBA one of these years.

Embiid’s last known whereabouts? Going to see the Pope.

DREW GOODEN, WASHINGTON

Before looking for Drew Gooden content, I thought, What’s that maniac up to?

Well, he’s up to this:

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That dude has to be a blast to cover. Rarely not entertaining.

KIRK HINRICH, CHICAGO

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BEN MCLEMORE, SACRAMENTO

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MARCUS MORRIS, DETROIT

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The Pistons’ Twitter account did a tweet Q&A with a number of Detroit players Monday, but apparently Marcus bounced before they could get one rolling with him.

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As a side note, ESPN’s NBA folks ranked Marcus Morris as the 191st-best player in the league. So there’s that.

MARKIEFF MORRIS, PHOENIX

By far the biggest ’Hawks in the NBA news to come out of media days was presumably disgruntled forward Markieff Morris putting on a happy face and stating he wants to be in Phoenix.

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That’s not what he was saying back in August, when he told The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey: “One thing for sure, I am not going to be there.

At the time at least, Markieff was hot and bothered about Phoenix shipping his twin brother and roommate Marcus off to the Pistons. He still might be a little sour with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough about that transaction.

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SASHA KAUN, CLEVELAND

Sasha Kaun is Russian. Timofey Mozgov is Russion. Hijinks ensued.

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KELLY OUBRE JR., WASHINGTON

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Looks like Kelly Oubre Jr. loosened up and got comfortable at the Wizards’ media day.

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PAUL PIERCE, L.A. CLIPPERS

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THOMAS ROBINSON, BROOKLYN

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BRANDON RUSH, GOLDEN STATE

Yes, Brandon Rush won an NBA championship with the Warriors. But, no, there isn’t a lot of media interest in him out in Oakland.

Upon posting this blog, Rush hadn't appeared in any Golden State tweets — or, really, anywhere else in the Twitterverse.

ANDREW WIGGINS, MINNESOTA

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Unlike Marcus Morris, the 2014-15 Rookie of the Year was able to answer a few questions on Twitter.

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JEFF WITHEY, UTAH

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