Months from now, when Oklahoma City begins its preparations for the 2018-19 season, the Thunder could be doing so without Nick Collison for the first time in its existence.
Drafted 12th overall in 2003 following a stellar four-year college career at Kansas, Collison played four seasons with Seattle before the franchise relocated to Oklahoma. He admitted this weekend, following the Thunder’s season-ending loss to Utah in the playoffs, he had no idea as a 22-year-old he’d stick in the NBA for so long.
“No, I don't think I ever thought I'd be able to be playing with partially gray hair,” Collison joked during the team’s end-of-season press conference. “I’m starting to get some. At 37 years old, no, I wouldn't think I'd still be playing at 37. I've been really blessed. I've had a lot of really good people around me. I've worked hard at it, too, and things have gone my way. I'm very thankful for the career I've had.”
There’s a chance this just-completed season, his 14th with the franchise that drafted him (Collison missed the 2003-04 season due to injury), will be his last. The 6-foot-10 power forward only appeared in 15 games for the Thunder during the regular season. He didn’t even check into a playoff game for OKC either of the past two postseasons.
Collison has contemplated retiring “a lot,” he admitted, but said he didn’t want to rush to judgment a day or two after the season ended.
“I’ll probably just take some time, talk to my family, talk to my agent, talk to the team a little bit, and go from there,” Collison said. “But I've thought about it. There's no question I'm coming up on the end. It's close.”
Determining factors in his retire-or-keep-playing verdict, Collison said, include deciding what he wants to do with his time, life and family, as well as “just how I want to spend the future, the next year, and go from there.”
Whether his playing days officially conclude in a week or a year, Collison hasn’t figured out yet exactly what retirement will entail for him.
“I think there might be something in basketball I can do, but I'm not going to do that and not spend enough time with my child and stuff with my family,” Collison said. “I’ve been playing for a long time, and it's taken a lot of my time and energy and focus for a long time. So I think getting that stuff in order is the most important thing and then go from there, figuring out kind of what would be good for me.”
Collison played a career-low 75 minutes at the age of 37. His on-court role has steadily declined since 2012, his last averaging 20 minutes per game. OKC re-signed him to a one-year contract this past off-season primarily due to his renowned locker-room presence.
Though he played sparingly, scoring a season-high seven points in six minutes of a March win over Sacramento, Collison knew what his role would be coming into the season.
“I enjoyed being on a team and practicing, trying to help out. The few cameos I got were fun, in the games,” Collison added. “We would have all liked to continue to be playing and had a year where we could compete for a championship. It didn't happen, but it's a blessing to play in the NBA and to be on a team. So, yeah, I definitely enjoyed the year.”
The Thunder, headlined by Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, finished 48-34 in what might be Collison’s final year, securing the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference before bowing out to the Jazz in the first round, 4-2.
“Yeah, it was frustrating at times this year,” Collison said. “I think we kept waiting for us to really hit our stride, and it wouldn't happen really for long enough stretches that we needed it to. First thing, is it's a tough league. I mean, Western Conference, incredibly tough, and we got home-court advantage. It's not easy to do. But I think everybody would have liked for us to have things go a little bit better. You know, there's a lot of new players. It does take time.”
Considering Collison has spent the past decade around OKC’s polarizing superstar, Westbrook, he knows him just as well as anyone in the NBA. Asked how he felt about some of the narratives surrounding Westbrook, such as former teammates benefiting from moving on to other teams and playing without Westbrook, Collison described the all-star point guard as a “great” teammate.
“You know, when he got here, we were a bad basketball team, and we got better, and we've become a really good team for a really long time, and he's got a huge part — he has a lot to do with that,” Collison said. “I love playing with him, and he's an all-time great to me. I don't care what anybody else says. I think he's been huge for the city, this organization and all the guys I play with, and myself.”
Time will tell whether Collison will be back for another go-round with Westbrook and the Thunder.
Nick Collison career stats
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.”
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
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
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.
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.
Thirteen-year NBA veteran Nick Collison isn’t going anywhere. Well, at least he doesn’t plan to call it a career just yet.
The former Kansas star said Wednesday, less than 24 hours removed from Oklahoma City’s first-round playoff loss to Houston, he doesn’t intend to retire — a scenario he previously said he at least would consider.
“I plan to play for sure. I wasn't sure going into the season how I would feel at the end of the year, but I still enjoy playing, and I enjoy being around the group. I enjoy being on the team, and I still think I have something to offer,” the 36-year-old post player said during exit interviews with Oklahoma media.
Now more of an unofficial assistant coach for the Thunder than a member of the rotation, Collison played in a career-low 20 games this season, leading to more uncharted small averages, such as 6.4 minutes, 1.7 points and 1.5 rebounds.
Every season as a rugged role player, Collison has suited up for the same organization, playing for the Seattle Super Sonics before the franchise relocated to OKC. His current deal expires this summer, but the veteran who mentors young bigs such as Steven Adams, Enes Kanter and Domantas Sabonis for the Thunder indicated he’d like to continue his run of loyalty with the franchise.
“I’ve been treated great here, and I've had great experiences here, and it's been the best basketball years of my life, for sure, playing here,” Collison said. “… There's no answers today. Everyone has been focusing on this season, these playoffs, and today is the first day we start thinking about what comes next.”
As much as the 6-foot-10 reserve has experienced in the NBA since being selected 12th overall in 2003, uncertainty isn’t exactly an area of expertise. Collision said he knew before high school he would play for Iowa Falls and knew before college he would play for the Jayhawks, but the only other time he didn’t know what would come next was when he graduated from Kansas and had no way of predicting which team would take him in the rookie draft.
“It's a little different,” he said of the coming offseason. “I think about it, but I've got really good relationships with all the people here, so I think it'll be honest and fair, and we'll just — I think both sides just have to find the best thing, and we'll figure it out.”
It won’t be too long before the big man’s playing days are completely through. Collison said he has considered what he will do as a young retiree, but didn’t dive into the specifics or whether he would transition into a coaching or front-office position of some sort.
“I think I said it last year, things change a lot in a short amount of time, and people's mindset, my mindset changes over time, so I think it's best to just look at it as what's the next thing,” Collison said, “and I think that's always helped me as a player, to just say what's the next thing, and I'm going to keep doing that.”
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’ll start it off with Nos. 15-11. These former Kansas standouts probably aren’t going to begin trending on Twitter or make many headlines. Still, some will play key roles on playoff-caliber teams.
And one youngster will try to prove he belongs in the league.
No. 15: Darrell Arthur — Denver Nuggets
If Darrell Arthur was a football player, he’d be an interior lineman whose name never gets called on a broadcast. The 6-foot-9 forward just executes his assignments without much flash or fuss, and to the delight of his coaches, rarely makes mistakes.
While the eighth-year veteran from KU is well respected for his reliability and demeanor, coming off the bench for Denver to grab rebounds and successfully defend pick-and-rolls on the perimeter isn’t the most glamorous role in the NBA, and it’s for those reasons that our list begins with Arthur.
At 28, he’s in the prime of his career, and coming off a season in which he produced 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds as a Nuggets reserve playing 21.7 minutes a game.
Arthur is a more valuable piece than some of the other Jayhawks in the league, but it’s just hard to envision fans stopping what they’re doing to tune in to a Denver game for the purposes of keeping up with his career.
No. 14: Nick Collison — Oklahoma City Thunder
Speaking of professionals, few veterans in the NBA are as respected for their dirty work as much as Nick Collison, aka Mr. Thunder. Entering his 13th season with the franchise, Collison’s gray beard hairs might bring him some grief from his much younger teammates, but the backup to Oklahoma City’s backup big men works so hard and knows the league so well that OKC likes to keep him around as a mentor and occasional fill-in.
The 35-year-old played a career-low 11.8 minutes a game last season, and when he does check into games we won’t see Collison do much more than compete for rebounds, takes some charges and dive on the floor. Still, OKC is embarking on its post-Kevin Durant era, and no player on the roster figures to influence how the Thunder go about handling the challenge ahead in the Western Conference, particularly behind the scenes, more than Russell Westbrook and Collison. Oklahoma City keeps Collison around because of what he brings to the locker room and the organization’s culture, but from a viewing standpoint it’s also entertaining to watch NBA old guys outcompete far superior athletes for a few minutes here and there.
No. 13: Jeff Withey — Utah Jazz
The backup 7-footer isn’t expected to play a ton for Utah, a franchise with a sneaky-deep roster which some around the NBA think will propel the Jazz into the playoffs this season, but Jeff Withey could be poised to make more of an impact on the court this season than he has since he left KU in 2013.
Witney has averaged just 11.0 minutes a game in his three professional seasons, but enters the year as the primary backup for Jazz center Rudy Gobert. It should be interesting to see if Withey can make a leap in his production with more opportunities. Per 36 minutes in 2015-16, the reserve center averaged 11.9 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.9 blocks.
Don’t be surprised to see Withey swats or jams show up on social media or highlights shows, particularly when he plays a key part in the Jazz knocking off some of the more renowned teams in the league.
No. 12: Brandon Rush — Minnesota Timberwolves
A few years ago, going from Golden State to Minnesota would’ve seemed like a penthouse-to-outhouse move for Rush, a ninth-year guard. However, his free-agent signing with the Timberwolves this summer couldn’t have come at a better time. The franchise, built around young stars-in-the-making Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, added one of the league’s best coaches, Tom Thibodeau, as well, in the offseason. The perennial lottery team could jump into the playoffs by season’s end, and the organization should only see more progress from there.
Plus, as thrilling as it must’ve been for Rush to play for the back-to-back West champion Warriors, he could contribute a lot more to a young Minnesota roster than he ever would’ve got a chance to do on Golden State’s star-studded perimeter.
Rush played 21.9 minutes a game for the T’wolves during the preseason, averaged 7.1 points and made 12 of his 20 3-pointers. Between his defensive ability and knack for spotting up behind the arc, Rush projects as a solid complimentary bench player for Minnesota.
No. 11: Cheick Diallo — New Orleans Pelicans
The guy barely played at Kansas. How is he going to get any run in the NBA? Actually, that’s what makes Cheick Diallo’s rookie season so intriguing.
Odds are New Orleans, much like KU coach Bill Self, won’t have much use for the 20-year-old off the bat. The 6-foot-9 big is too raw to be relied upon within a rotation at this point. However, the Pelicans seem to like his energy and down-the-road potential. There will be plenty of nights when Diallo doesn’t even suit up for his new team. When he does get spot minutes, they’ll come late in blowouts most likely.
Without a doubt, Diallo is a longterm project. The months ahead will include the first steps he’ll take toward whatever his career becomes: high-energy role player in the paint, highly-rated prep prospect that never met his full potential or somewhere in between? We’ll have to wait a few years to learn the answer.
Most veterans fortunate enough to have played 12 NBA seasons have bounced around the league, worn an assortment of uniforms and called city after city their new hometown. Stability just doesn’t exist for them.
Former Kansas star Nick Collison hasn’t dealt with such turmoil. The 35-year-old power forward, whose Oklahoma City team is tied with defending champion Golden State, 1-1, in the Western Conference Finals, has played for the organization since he graduated from KU.
In fact, as pointed out in a Q&A with Collison posted on the National Basketball Players Association’s website about him being the “backbone” of the Thunder’s roster, the 6-foot-10 backup big man — drafted by Seattle in 2003, before the franchise relocated to Oklahoma City — is part of a very small group of longtime NBA players who have been with only one organization for at least that long. The others are Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki, Miami’s Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, and San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
A backup veteran can’t be the face of the franchise. But Kevin Durant once called Collison “Mr. Thunder,” a title Collison doesn’t exactly consider his nickname.
“It’s more of almost a joke because I’ve been here so long,” Collison said. “It’s fun to be able to have a lot of shared history with those guys. We’ve got a lot of stories, a lot of inside jokes from all those years together. That’s another cool thing about it: getting to really build friendships with guys.”
Collison said in his NBPA interview he considers himself fortunate to have played with the Thunder (formerly the Sonics) his entire career.
“It’s been a place I’ve wanted to be and they’ve wanted to have me around. I feel like contractually it’s always worked out where we can come to a fair deal, and I’ve liked how I’ve been treated,” Collison said. “I never felt the need to go anywhere else and the way our team has grown, it’s been really fun to be a part of — to be with these guys for a long time when they were younger coming up and having success. And I know that’s really rare in the NBA, to be able to have that continuity and those teammates year after year, especially in today’s NBA with so much movement.”
No longer a player Thunder coach Billy Donovan turns to in crucial moments of a game, Collison still has value to the team just in the way he approaches his job. OKC general manager Sam Presti had that in mind when he signed the forward to a two-year extension last season. At the time, Presti cited Collison’s professionalism as a great example for the entire organization.
While Collison only has played 79 total minutes in the Thunder’s first 13 postseason games this year, it doesn’t change his approach.
“I think I want to always be like an authentic teammate — really try to do whatever I can to help guys out, help the team out,” Collison said in his NBPA interview. “It’s just the way that I’ve been taught to be part of a basketball team. And I think it’s helped me in my career being helpful, being a good teammate. It’s allowed me to last this long.”
Still, Collison shook off the notion that Thunder bigs Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter play well because of him.
The Thunder, led by stars Durant and Russell Westbrook, would have to beat a Golden State team that lost nine games the entire regular season three more times in order to reach the NBA Finals. Without addressing just how difficult that might be, Collison, who played for OKC in the 2012 Finals against Miami, said he sees some similarities in how this season has progressed for OKC, with the Thunder improving as the playoffs go on.
The core players who reached the championship round four years ago, Collison said, can still recall what worked during that run and feed off of that knowledge now.
“There’s a lot of guys who don’t have that experience, but when half the team can bring along the other guys, it really helps,” Collison explained. “Whereas in 2012, we did have some veteran guys, but the guys playing the majority of the minutes were there for the first time. And there’s just certain things that you have to go through.”
• Read the full Q&A at the NBPA website: Nick Collison, “Mr. Thunder,” Reflects on Being Oklahoma City’s Longtime Backbone
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com
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).
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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."
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.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com
With 11 seasons of NBA experience behind him, veteran power forward Nick Collison isn’t the type of player a coach turns to to go score a crucial, last-second basket or to stop the opposing team’s best post player. But Collison just might be more important to the culture of the Oklahoma City Thunder than any other member of the franchise.
Collison, who averaged 4.1 points (career low), 3.8 rebounds (second-lowest average) and 1.4 assists for OKC in 16.7 minutes per game (tied a career low) last season, has reached a point in his basketball life when he knows younger guys are going to play ahead of him. Whether that’s an all-star caliber big man such as Serge Ibaka or an up-and-comer such as Steven Adams, Enes Kanter or Mitch McGary, that’s all right with Collison.
The former Kansas star, who just turned 35 on Monday, has been with the Thunder since the franchise relocated to Oklahoma from Seattle.
Even the face of the organization, Kevin Durant, has called Collison “Mr. Thunder.”
So, no, new coach Billy Donovan won’t be drawing up a lot of plays for his aging reserve big man. But, yes, Donovan trusts Collison to turn all these young post players with OKC into better professionals.
Collison doesn’t deliver exciting highlight plays the way OKC’s young stars Durant and Russell Westbrook do, but it seems like all the players love the old guy. Just look at how much they enjoyed his epic Halloween/birthday party this weekend.
What’s more, Collison is the type of guy the organization can lean on to set the tone as a player and member of the local community. He was one of the many members of the Thunder who visited Monday with victims of the Oklahoma State homecoming crash at the OU Children’s Hospital and OU Medical Center.
Collison’s worth never gets lost on OKC general manager Sam Presti, who locked up the veteran big man through 2016-17. Presti described Collison as a flag-carrying member of the team who mentors the young guys coming through the program. The Thunder GM said he went this summer to visit Collison in Seattle and Adams was there working out with him.
“… Steven is like 23,” Presti marveled at the odd offseason partnership. “They're not watching the same movies, OK. But Collison is taking an intentional and active role. When I say building the organization, he's helping that guy. I think he's really invested in Steven and his success.”
The Thunder are considered one of the premier challengers for reigning NBA champion Golden State in the loaded Western Conference. And while outsiders don’t think of Collison when they think of Oklahoma City, everyone in that organization is grateful for what the old-timer brings.
2015-16 ’Hawks in the NBA Season Previews
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.
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
CLIFF ALEXANDER, PORTLAND
DARRELL ARTHUR, DENVER
TARIK BLACK, L.A. LAKERS
MARIO CHALMERS, MIAMI
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
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.
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:
That dude has to be a blast to cover. Rarely not entertaining.
KIRK HINRICH, CHICAGO
BEN MCLEMORE, SACRAMENTO
MARCUS MORRIS, DETROIT
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.
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.
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.
SASHA KAUN, CLEVELAND
Sasha Kaun is Russian. Timofey Mozgov is Russion. Hijinks ensued.
KELLY OUBRE JR., WASHINGTON
Looks like Kelly Oubre Jr. loosened up and got comfortable at the Wizards’ media day.
PAUL PIERCE, L.A. CLIPPERS
THOMAS ROBINSON, BROOKLYN
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
Unlike Marcus Morris, the 2014-15 Rookie of the Year was able to answer a few questions on Twitter.
JEFF WITHEY, UTAH
In his 11 NBA seasons since graduating from Kansas, Nick Collison has played for just one franchise: the Oklahoma City Thunder (formerly the Seattle Super Sonics).
He began his professional career playing for coach Nate McMillan, then Bob Weiss, Bob Hill and P.J. Carlesimo before spending the past six seasons under Scott Brooks.
As Collison’s career winds down, he’ll play for a winner at the college level who hopes his own pro days are just beginning. Former Florida coach Billy Donovan took over as OKC head coach this offseason.
Collison had minor knee surgery recently, and his rehab has kept him around the Thunder’s facilities. His time there allowed the veteran to speak with Donovan on several occasions. Collison said in an interview on Oklahoma City’s website he tried to help the new coach get acclimated to the franchise.
At KU, Collison actually faced Donovan’s Gators in the 2002 Preseason NIT, and Florida won 83-73. Collison scored 16 points in the November setback before eventually helping the Jayhawks reach their seconds straight Final Four.
Now the two basketball lifers are working together in the NBA. Collison said even with a coach as well known as Donovan, it takes working with someone to find out how well he might fit in. The 34-year-old power forward said Donovan already is learning a lot about the Thunder, its players and how the team needs to improve.
“He’s a very sharp guy. I think he’s going to do a good job,” Collison said.
While the 6-foot-10 backup big man and his OKC teammates have grown accustomed to Brooks and his staff the past several seasons, Collison said they need to be open to suggestions and changes with Donovan taking over.
“We’ve done things one way for a long time. A lot of things are going to be different. It doesn’t do any good to waste time fighting that,” Collison said. “We need to come in with the idea that we’re going to be open-minded, we need to get better and we need to buy into whatever the staff wants to do.”
Playing for a perennial title contender in Oklahoma City, Collison said the team has a lot of work to do after missing the playoffs this past season. The Thunder finished 45-37 and lost a tie-breaker with New Orleans for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. OKC surely would have won more games and perhaps made a deep postseason run had it not been forced to deal with so many injuries. Not a single player on the roster played in all 82 games. Star point guard Russell Westbrook missed 15 games, starting power forward Serge Ibaka missed 18 and franchise centerpiece Kevin Durant missed 55.
Collison said the Thunder always have had the pieces to be great and the team needs to improve defensively under Donovan to become even tougher to beat. Even though he described 2014-15 (Collison played in 66 of 82 games) as a struggle, the potential for next season seems limitless.
“There’s no guarantee that everyone is healthy all the time but we’re looking forward to having everybody back and are excited to play with the full squad again,” Collison said. “We have a ton of talent. We have a great roster. It’s going to hopefully be a really good year for us.”
Collison’s interview came after he spent some time talking hoops and the tricks of the up-and-under at the Thunder’s youth basketball camp
He said starting the summer with knee rehab should help him get to a good spot by the time the Thunder opens preseason camp this fall. As Collison’s knee gets stronger, he said he’ll add in more weight training. Once he’s cleared to get back to regular basketball activities, he’ll do a couple days of individual work and pickup games and take some days off for recovery.
“Knowing yourself in your 30’s, like the wise old man that I am,” joked Collison, who averaged a career low 4.1 points per game last season, “I think I have that figured out pretty well, a good mix, and I’ll be ready to go when camp starts.”
In the meantime, he knows the offseason is just as much about recharging your batteries after a long, draining campaign.
A photo posted by Nick Collison (@nicholascollison) on Jun 2, 2015 at 6:58pm PDT
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.