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.
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 arrive at the cream of the KU crop. You could argue where each of the following players would fall in the rankings, but these are the five most talented Jayhawks employed by the NBA right now. Remember, this isn’t a list of who’s best, though. We’re talking about which players you’re going to make a point to watch when you see their team is playing on TV (or on your tablet or phone or laptop).
No. 5: Markieff Morris — Washington Wizards
The starting power forward on a team expecting to make the Eastern Conference Playoffs, Markieff Morris seems poised for the best season of his NBA career.
Markieff (angrily) began 2015-16 playing for Phoenix, the organization that had just split him up from twin brother Marcus by trading his sibling away to Detroit. The Suns finally moved Markieff to Washington before the trade deadline this past February, but you got the sense he didn’t quite reach his full offensive capacity with the Wizards in the weeks that followed.
Upon arriving in D.C., Markieff certainly wasn’t bad. He averaged 12.4 points and 5.9 rebounds and shot 46.7% from the floor (far better than his 39.7% in Phoenix in the 37 games leading up to the move). But it’s easy to see him improving upon all his numbers during his upcoming sixth pro season. He’s not entering a team late in a campaign. The Wizards have a new player-friendly head coach in Scott Brooks. Markieff now has a better feel for playing with all-star point guard John Wall and should help the Wizards stretch the floor while center Marcin Gortat plays in the post.
Washington advanced in the playoffs two straight springs before taking a step backward and missing the postseason in 2016. If Markieff makes them better by maximizing his talents he will gain the sort of league-wide respect he has yet to attain.
No. 4: Marcus Morris — Detroit Pistons
You never know how a season will play out, but as 2016-17 begins, it seems Detroit, the team Marcus Morris plays for, is considered more of a sure thing in the East than Washington, current home of his brother, Markieff.
The twins play similar complimentary roles for their respective franchises but Marcus, unlike his bro, enters his sixth year in the league on the heels of his most impressive season since the duo left Kansas. A reserve the vast majority of his time in Phoenix, Marcus became a starter with the Pistons and responded by producing the best numbers of his career: 14.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists. He also shot 43.4% from the floor and made 108 3-pointers (36.2%).
Detroit point guard and leading scorer Reggie Jackson is out with an injury for a few weeks, so Detroit could start slowly, but some around the league think the Pistons could end up being one of the top three teams in the East not named Cleveland. Should Detroit pull that off, Morris’ role in that rise would be hard to ignore.
No. 3: Ben McLemore — Sacramento Kings
Both of the Morris twins are more accomplished in the NBA than Ben McLemore, but the fourth-year shooting guard is entering the most important season of his professional career.
McLemore’s name has come up in Sacramento trade rumors for the past year of so, and that’s a trend that figures to continue in the weeks and months ahead. The Kings, per usual, have a new head coach, Dave Joerger. Just how McLemore fits into Joerger’s plans remains to be seen.
Early signs indicate McLemore, who averaged a career-low 7.8 points in 2015-16, won’t start for Sacramento any more, with Arron Afflalo playing 2-guard on the first unit. Can McLemore thrive as scoring sixth man? Are the Kings just diminishing his role because they plan on trading him away at the first possible chance?
Once next July gets here, McLemore will be a restricted free agent — regardless of which team he suits up for to close the season. So now would be the ideal time to make a leap in production and 3-point shooting (34.6% for his career). Maybe a change in scenery would help him reach that untapped potential.
No. 2: Andrew Wiggins — Minnesota Timberwolves
Already a highlight Vine waiting to happen, third-year wing Andrew Wiggins’ career trajectory should make another explosive leap upward this year as a rising star for the league darling Minnesota Timberwolves.
In his second season, Wiggins broke the 20-point barrier for his scoring average, putting up 20.7 a night, while complimenting future superstar big man Karl-Anthony Towns. We shouldn’t expect him to take that average to 25 this year or anything crazy. But you’d like to see him improve his shooting percentages: 48.6% on 2-pointers last year, and 30% from behind the 3-point line.
Assuming Wiggins can help those numbers out himself through shot selection and just natural improvement through development — the man hasn’t even turned 22 yet — he’s going to become a more dangerous offensive player in Year 3.
Even more fascinating, though, will be the impact new T’wolves head coach Tom Thibodeau has on Wiggins. A defensive guru, Thibodeau could transform the 6-foot-8, high-flying forward into a monster on defense. And the more stops Wiggins and company get on that end, the more chances Minnesota will have to get out in the open floor and finish fast breaks with Wiggins jams.
No. 1: Joel Embiid — Philadelphia 76ers
Forget the qualification of Jayhawks in the league. Rookie center Joel Embiid is one of the most intriguing players in the NBA this season. Period. But you probably knew that before you clicked on this post.
For the love of all things basketball, injuries have deprived us all of watching Embiid’s crazy array of post moves and deft touch for more than two years. We’ve seen glimpses already in the preseason of the promise the big man from Cameroon showed in his abbreviated one-and-done season at Kansas.
Even though Philadelphia has limited Embiid’s minutes early on to make sure his foot problems don’t resurface, the early results have been spectacular.
He’s 7-foot-2. He can handle the ball. He can knock down jumpers. He can protect the rim. He has moves in the post to score over his defender. The potential for Embiid seems limitless. Then again, he should’ve been a rookie two years ago but his body didn’t allow it.
Can Embiid make it through a full season without suffering another major injury setback? If he does, his overall game and confidence will only skyrocket.
The coming months will determine where the Embiid story goes next. If he stays relatively healthy, he has as legit a shot as anyone at winning Rookie of the Year. And the seasons to come just might include all-star appearances, all-NBA teams and carrying a declining franchise back to its former glory.
Sure, the 82-game grind that is the NBA season barely has begun. But so far, there are some signs that third-year shooting guard Ben McLemore could be in for a disappointing season.
Really, issues began to emerge in the preseason, when the 2013 one-and-done lottery pick out of Kansas only hit 27 percent of his shots for Sacramento. That led to Kings coach George Karl saying in a post from Sactown Royalty that he wished McLemore would have played better.
“But he's a young guy that I think it's the first time he has a competitive situation for minutes. In the end, it will make him a much better player," Karl said. "He might not enjoy it as much if he doesn't play. I mean, he played 2,600 minutes last year. I don't think Ben is going to play 2,600 minutes on this team."
When the man in charge of minutes predicts a decrease in minutes, that’s kind of a red flag.
Sacramento improved its depth in the offseason, and with Marco Belinelli an option at shooting guard, it’s clear Karl won’t stick with McLemore just to see how it goes.
Karl also said before the season started McLemore could turn out to be an important part of the rotation. But the coach then basically said the 6-foot-5 shooting guard hasn’t picked up on all of the offensive concepts Sacramento uses.
"I think our style is to play random, equal opportunity, flow basketball and so maybe the veteran guys or the guys that have what I call savvy, knowing how to get open, when to get open, when to cut, when not to cut. I think Ben might be below the curve of that," Karl said. "But that's a young player searching for the betterment of his skills."
McLemore, who averaged 12.1 points, made 35.8% of his 3-pointers and shot 43.7% from the floor in 32.6 minutes a game last season, is off to a slow start in the 2015-16 campaign. While starting all four games at shooting guard, the 22-year-old has only made 2 of 7 (28.6%) from 3-point range and 6 of 21 (28.6%) from the field overall.
As a result, he’s averaging 4.3 points in 19.0 minutes a game.
In Sacramento’s most recent loss Tuesday night, versus Memphis, McLemore’s stat line looked like this:
- 2 points, 1/5 FGs, 0/2 3s, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 fouls, 2 turnovers, 20 minutes
A report Wednesday from KFBK radio cited sources around the team and said McLemore wouldn’t start the Kings’ next game.
There is plenty of season left, and more than enough time for McLemore to break out of his slump and get acclimated with Karl’s offense. But Karl wasn’t around when Sacramento drafted McLemore and has no incentive to play him more if he deems doing so is harming the Kings’ chances of winning.
This is a situation McLemore fans will want to keep their eyes on.
2015-16 ’Hawks in the NBA Season Previews
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When you hear the name Ben McLemore and the word mixtape used together, you might assume a YouTube highlight reel awaits: 3-pointers, drives to the rim and dunks in transition.
However, SB Nation site Sactown Royalty reports McLemore has plans for a different type of mixtape this summer. The former Kansas shooting guard wants to release a mixtape of rap tracks.
Sacramento’s starting 2-guard already has two songs posted on YouTube — listen to them at SactownRoyalty.com (as long as you don’t mind lyrics that would come with a PARENTAL ADVISORY label).
McLemore told SB Nation’s Blake Ellington he began rapping while attending KU, in Lawrence, and he just considers it a hobby.
"I want people to hear my music to see what they think about it," McLemore said. "I've got some nice feedback."
The 6-foot-5 22-year-old certainly realizes basketball will take him farther than the rap game. He showed improvements in his second year in the league while also standing out as someone who gives back to the community.
I want to give a shout to @isgcamps for helping me out this week with my camp. It's been great the kids learned a lot, had a great time learning about the game of basketball. Also go follow @isgcamps and visit isgcamps.com to sign up for my upcoming camp in Lawrence, Kansas. #ISGCamps #benmclemore #SacramentoKings
A photo posted by Ben McLemore (@benmclemore) on Jun 10, 2015 at 2:26pm PDT
So don’t wrongly assume his passion for hip-hop means he’s putting hoops on the back burner.
"This upcoming year, I want to make another leap," McLemore told SB Nation. "I'm going to work hard this summer, it's just the type of player I am."
McLemore, who began playing for new Kings coach George Karl late in this past season, also said he’s excited about what will be his third year in Sacramento.
"I think my skill set and his system collapse together. It fits perfect in what he's trying to do with this program,” he told SB Nation.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.
It can’t be easy playing for the Sacramento Kings right now.
An afterthought of an NBA franchise since the early 2000’s and the glory days of Chris Webber and Mike Bibby, the Kings haven’t reached the playoffs since 2006. They went through another lackluster season (29-53) in 2014-15, marred by an organization-inflicted coaching carousel that forced the players to take the floor under three different leaders: Mike Malone (fired), interim Tyrone Corbin and late-season hire George Karl.
Amid all that, somehow, second-year shooting guard Ben McLemore found ways to improve.
The Kansas product mostly struggled through his rookie campaign, but looked more comfortable in Year 2. McLemore again played in all 82 games for the Kings, but unlike the previous season, when his role changed a few times, the 22-year-old high-flyer started every game.
Accordingly, the 6-foot-5 guard showed improvements in his shooting percentages and scoring.
Perhaps the best news for McLemore? He finished the season in impressive fashion.
His April included 20-point performances against Utah, Oklahoma City and Denver, and he put up 24 points in Sacramento’s season finale, vs. the Los Angeles Lakers.
In his final nine games of the season — under the team’s presumably longterm coach, Karl — McLemore trended upward, averaging 16.2 points, 3.6 boards, 3.1 assists, 2.2 turnovers and 1.8 steals in 33.5 minutes. In April, he made 49.1% of his field goal attempts and 35.4% of his 3-pointers.
Karl has gone on record as saying no one on the team is untradeable, but if McLemore keeps showing new wrinkles, progress and improves defensively, he could be the kind of piece the Kings want to keep around for the long haul.
Just as impressive as his improvement on the court, though, have been his contributions to the people of Sacramento. The Kings named him the winner of their Oscar Robertson Triple-Double Award, given to the player who “exemplifies excellence on the court and in the community.”
Since joining the ranks of the best basketball players on the planet, McLemore has helped out not only in his NBA city, but also in his hometown of Wellston, Missouri.
“When I was growing up, my family didn’t have much, so it’s always been extremely important for me to give back and help wherever and whenever I can,” McLemore told the Kings’ website. “I cherish the opportunity to be a role model for young kids and to give back to Sacramento and the community in which I grew up in Missouri. I’m honored to receive this recognition named for an NBA legend and great humanitarian.”
McLemore also became one of the finalists for the league-wide Community Assist Award.
His nonprofit organization, All 4 Kids, provides meals for underserved and low-income youth and families in Wellston and surrounding communities.
Things weren’t easy for McLemore growing up, and it’s obvious he hasn’t forgotten that.
“Now it’s our time to provide for those who dream bold, too,” the young guard said.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.
Thomas Robinson subject of trade rumor with deadline approaching; and would Kings move Ben McLemore?
Believe it or not, sometimes life in the NBA isn’t easy. Especially if you’re a valuable asset when the league’s trade deadline approaches.
Just ask Washington’s journeyman power forward, Drew Gooden. Actually, BleacherReport.com did, given that the former Grizzly/Magic/Cavalier/Bull/King/Spur/Maverick/Clipper/Buck has played for 10 franchises and been traded on six separate occasions.
“I would say, where I’m at in my career, after numerous times going through a trade or the time or the window before a trade, I’m kind of numb to the feeling,” Gooden told Bleacher Report. “I know it’s a business, and I learned it early in my career. I wasn’t a guy who got drafted and stayed with his team for five, six, seven years and then got traded. I was a guy who played half a season in Memphis and got traded 50 games into the season.”
In his third go-round as a pro, Thomas Robinson hasn’t experienced all that Gooden has, but he can certainly relate. Drafted by Sacramento, traded to Houston as a rookie, then moved again to Portland before the start of his second year, Robinson could once again be on the move.
Robinson has turned in some positive moments in a Trail Blazers uniform this season, including a double-double in his first career start. For the most part, though, he has not been a factor or become a significant part of the rotation on a talented roster — Portland entered the All-Star break with a 36-17 record, good enough to tie Houston for the third-best mark in the volatile Western Conference.
The 6-foot-10 power forward from Kansas only has played in 32 of 53 games and averages 3.6 points (a career low) and 4.2 rebounds while hitting 51.6% of his shots in 12.2 minutes a game this season. He has DNP’s in three of the last five games.
Portland elected even before the season began to let him become a free agent this coming summer. So, as we wrote about before the season began, another Robinson trade long has been in play.
Now, with Thursday afternoon’s trade deadline getting closer by the second, the rumor mill churns away at a fevered pace, and Robinson’s name has emerged. Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports the Trail Blazers offered the athletic backup big to Denver in an attempt to land Wilson Chandler.
“Portland has shown a stronger desire to make a deal with Denver for Wilson Chandler than Arron Afflalo,” Wojnarowski wrote, “partly because Chandler is under contract next season. The Blazers have made Will Barton and Thomas Robinson, as well as a future first-rounder, available in talks for wing players, but clearly would be more motivated to sweeten a package for Chandler than Afflalo, league sources said.”
Whether Robinson ends up in Denver or elsewhere, don’t be too surprised if he has a new NBA home by Thursday night.
Keep in mind: just because some other deal hasn't been rumored doesn't mean there isn't one, and some other trade package could materialize in the next few hours. You never know.
As a free-agent-to-be, another uniform change could be just around the corner for Robinson anyway.
Would the Kings move McLemore?
Speaking of young KU products with crazy bounce, Ben McLemore, in his second season with Sacramento, is averaging 11.7 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists, and making 44.4% of his field goals, 36.2% of his 3-pointers and 83.7% of his free throws.
The Kings — one of the league’s worst teams, at 18-34 — wouldn’t possibly consider moving a a 22-year-old shooting guard with upside would they?
ESPN insider Chad Ford conducted an online chat Wednesday and came up with a scenario that could entice the Sacramento brass.
The name Goran Dragic swirls prominently in the trade winds these days, and the Phoenix point guard has made it plenty clear he wants out. Dragic reportedly wants to play for the Lakers, Knicks or Heat, presumably because he’d like to sign with one of those teams as a free agent this summer. But Ford could see Phoenix moving him within the Pacific Division for the right pieces in return:
“The Kings are the team I like best as far as fit goes. And if the Suns could get Ben McLemore or Nik Stauskas and a future No. 1 ... I think that would be a great deal for both sides,” Ford wrote.
This doesn’t even really qualify as a rumor, just speculation. However, Wojnarowski thinks Sacramento could be a serious contender to land Dragic. So stay tuned.
A McLemore trade would be devastating news for the Kings’ television analyst, who would no longer be able to offer up such gems as:
“Ben McLemore. How ‘bout Ben SplashLemore right there?”
The most interesting part of a McLemore-to-Phoenix move, of course, would be the Suns having him and the Morris twins.
According to veteran trade piece Gooden, it’s best to keep your phone handy near the deadline.
“Usually it’s a phone call from the GM. It’s a phone call from the agent. It’s a phone call from someone in our organization,” Gooden told Bleacher Report.
“I’ve been hearing some horror stories—which, thank God, never happened to me—about guys being in the airport, and they look at the ticker at the bottom of the screen and they see their name in a trade. There’s never a right way to tell somebody that they’ve been traded. Every place that I was at, I wanted to be there.”
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.
Rarely does the NBA spotlight shine toward small-market Sacramento. Right now, it’s pointed to the home of the Kings for all the wrong reasons.
What better time for second-year shooting guard Ben McLemore to help turn a negative into a positive?
Sacramento’s front office has been pummeled with scrutiny the past couple of days, and rightfully so. The Kings (11-13) fired their head coach, Michael Malone, Sunday night, with the team having lost seven of nine games. Keep in mind, Sacramento’s franchise player, center DeMarcus Cousins, missed each one of those with viral meningitis.
It’s a raw deal for Malone, for sure, and multiple reports indicate the move was more about a difference in philosophies between the coach and the front office, which used the skid as an excuse to give the coach the axe.
The Kings will play their first game since the dismissal Tuesday night against Oklahoma City — 9:30 Central tip, on ESPN. So McLemore and his teammates have a chance to shift the focus toward the promise this team has going forward under interim coach Tyrone Corbin, with Cousins reportedly returning later this week.
The franchise’s decision-makers might act a tad wacky from time to time (Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported owner Vivek Ranadive wants to employ a cherry-picking strategy). But the decision-makers at least have shown patience with McLemore, who didn’t assimilate too quickly his rookie season.
The former Kansas standout has made strides as a sophomore, thus far avoiding any serious slump, with the most promising evidence for improvement showing up in his shooting percentages.
|BEN McLEMORE —
YEAR 1 VS YEAR 2
|2013-14 (82 games)||26.7||.376||.32||.804||2.9||8.8|
|2014-15 (through 24 games)||32.7||.468||.412||.821||3.1|
Bleacher Report’s Sim Risso detailed McLemore’s development in a feature, and the 21-year-old said much of it has to do with confidence.
"I’ve just continued to believe in my shot and believe in my game. My teammates are doing a good job with that. My coaches have been running early plays for me and getting me going early."
As Risso points out, McLemore’s usage percentage has gone up with Cousins out of the lineup. The athletic second-year guard with the smooth shooting touch (42-of-102 from 3-point range) said Cousins did a good job of finding him for open looks, and Rudy Gay and Darren Collison continue to do the same.
McLemore is averaging 13 points a game in December, and scored 21 against Houston on TNT last week.
The Kings looked like a surprising playoff contender in the treacherous Western Conference before Cousins’ illness. We’ll see if McLemore and his teammates can rally around this shakeup and get back in the mix.
They enter Tuesday’s game tied for 10th place in the West with their opponent, OKC.
On a much lighter note, McLemore had a productive day off Monday. He took a group of Sacramento kids out shopping for holiday presents.
There’s proof: Not everything is negative in Sacramento.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.
Hunker down, get hydrated and tell your loved ones you will see them next spring.
Hopefully that’s not your mindset, but people should be warned: The at times seemingly never-ending NBA regular season is at hand.
The first handful of games tip off Tuesday, marking the start of the 82-game grind.
Thankfully for us, all we have to do is sit back, watch and enjoy. To make sure you’re fully prepared for the 2014-15 campaign, we’ll be rolling out a season outlook for each former Kansas University player who currently calls The Association home.
Ben McLemore — Sacramento Kings
6-foot-5 Shooting guard | Second season
2013-14 numbers: 82 games | 26.7 minutes | 8.8 points | 2.9 rebounds | 37.6 FG% | 32 3-pt% | 80.4 FT%
Coming off a rookie season that had both memorable moments (see: a Western Conference Rookie of the Month Award; dunking over Shaquille O’Neal at All-Star Weekend) and forgettable ones (exhibit A: shooting slumps; exhibit B: temporarily losing his starting spot), Ben McLemore enters Year 2 of his career riding some positive momentum.
• (For whatever it’s worth) The young 2-guard helped Sacramento win the Las Vegas Sumer League tournament.
• He shed the No. 16 Kings jersey he wore during his first year for the more familiar No. 23.
• The Kings picked up their team option on his contract for the 2015-16 season.
• McLemore got to travel to China with his team for bonding and shenanigans.
• He provided at least one example of his improved shot, nailing 3-of-4 from downtown and scoring a preseason-high 22 points versus Brooklyn on Oct. 15.
• For the love of all things holy, the guy had a street named after him.
So, yeah, McLemore is happy about all of those things, and earning a spot as Sacramento’s starting shooting guard — even if that means he’ll have to battle rookie Nik Stauskas for those minutes.
Really, the worst thing he has endured lately was a brutal head-to-head collision with Wayne Ellington in a preseason game a few days ago.
But he has been cleared to lay in Sacramento’s season opener Wednesday against Golden State.
Now the youngster known for his crazy hops and sweet-looking (if not yet totally effective) stroke can make more plays off the dribble, and he has freedom and confidence to shoot at will when he’s open.
“This summer I worked really hard on the different aspects of my game,” McLemore recently told reporters.
If McLemore has indeed made the kind of jump from freshman to sophomore year Sacramento envisions, he should be the team’s best guard — or at least the Kings' top scoring option in the backcourt, where he teams with Darren Collison, Stauskas, Ramon Sessions and Ray McCallum.
With small forward Rudy Gay and big man DeMarcus Cousins in the frontcourt, the Kings have talented pieces. But… They play in the Western Conference. Last season the Kings (28-54) finished with a better record than just the L.A. Lakers and Utah out West.
Even if the team improves on the court, it might be difficult to claw out of that cellar. The West is just loaded. And a Sactown playoffs appearance sounds like fan fiction.
So what do we expect out of McLemore for the 2014-15 season?
Cameos in the nightly highlight reels with explosive dunks and some hot shooting nights. More importantly, McLemore figures to develop and become more well rounded and effective at the pro level.
While Sacramento should again struggle, this season could go a long way toward determining just how well the rest of McLemore’s career goes.
’Hawks in the NBA 2014-15 season outlooks:
Considering how much of a grind the 82-game regular season has to be for NBA players, you can’t blame the guys for enjoying the preseason goof-off spectacle that is NBA media days.
Players surely take their interview responsibilities seriously enough, but when it comes time to mean-mug or bring some absurdity to photo and video shoots, they happily oblige.
Believe it or not, it’s actually training camp time in The Association, so the past few days have been light-heartedly busy for most of the former Kansas University players lucky enough to call the NBA home.
Some get to enjoy it a little more than others, as you can see in our social media roundup from the festivities.
Cole Aldrich, New York Knicks
Mario Chalmers, Miami Heat
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Drew Gooden and Paul Pierce, Washington Wizards
Kirk Hinrich, Chicago Bulls
Nick Collison, Oklahoma City Thunder
Xavier Henry, Los Angeles Lakers
Marcus and Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns
Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings
Thomas Robinson, Portland Trail Blazers
Brandon Rush, Golden State Warriors
Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves
Media day / throw-down night
Minnesota had an open practice for Timberwolves fans to watch following its media day, nicknaming the fun: Dunks After Dark.
Wiggins delivered a few throw-downs to help it live up to its name.