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
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.
It’s not often that the name Darrell Arthur comes up in the buzz surrounding the NBA, but with the season over, the draft complete and free agency revving up at the end of the week, rumors regarding Arthur’s future began swirling Monday.
A few days after reports of the former Kansas forward opting out of the second year of his contract with Denver in order to hit the open market, word out of the nation’s capital is Washington could be a destination for the 6-foot-9 veteran who won a national championship with KU in 2008.
According to a report from CSNAtlantic.com, Arthur is on a “short list” of targets for the Wizards, when teams can start negotiating with free agents on July 1.
Arthur averaged 7.5 points and 4.2 rebounds in 21.7 minutes a game — mostly as a reserve — this past season with the Nuggets, during his third year with the franchise. While his numbers don’t blow you away, Arthur is respected around the league for his work ethic and ability to defend pick-and-roll action as a 6-foot-9 frontcourt player.
What’s more, Arthur hit a career-high 38.5% of his 3-pointers during his seventh season in the league, making 45 shots from downtown, easily beating his previous season-best of 26 3-pointers.
Besides his valuable skills, which likely on their own merit could’ve earned him more than the $2.9 million he just left on the table for next season, the NBA salary cap is rising significantly this summer. Any player in his right mind would opt out of his contract now if he could, because pay raises will be readily available.
If Arthur were to reach a deal with the Wizards, he’d likely serve as a backup at power forward to another Jayhawk, Markieff Morris.
Plus, Washington would probably become a new favorite NBA team for Kansas fans, with four former KU players on the roster: Arthur, Morris, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Drew Gooden.
Of course, it might not work out that way. Most teams looking for a backup power forward, likely would have interest in a 4 who can stretch the floor and move his feet well while defending — inside and out — in the half court.
Arthur’s name certainly won’t be the biggest one on the market this summer, but he is an important role player to watch amid the free agency frenzy.
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Although injuries kept him out of 22 games last season, the Denver Nuggets didn’t mind bringing back a trustworthy backup big man in Darrell Arthur.
The former Kansas power forward re-signed with the Nuggets this past summer and now figures to play a significant role for new head coach Mike Malone.
Never one to blow away fans with his stats — Arthur averaged 6.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 0.4 blocks, and made 40.4% of his field goals in 2014-15 — the 6-foot-9 post player is known for playing sound defense on the perimeter and interior. Arthur wins over coaches with footwork and effort, not blocks and steals. He is long and knows how to defend the pick-and-roll, which makes him valuable on any roster.
A backup to Denver’s starting power forward, Kenneth Faried, Arthur spoke with the Denver Post about how the Nuggets will change their approach, under Malone, known to be defensive-minded.
“This is the way I was taught to play. I'm pretty sure this is the right way to play basketball,” Arthur said. “He's doing a great job of teaching everyone, not just the young guys. He's refreshing the older guys on positioning on defense. Offense too. But defense leads to great offense, and we've been doing a (heck of a) job during the preseason so far.”
A bruised right knee kept Arthur out of Malone’s lineup most of the preseason, but he was able to play 20 minutes in the Nuggets’ final tuneup. He spoke on media day (before that minor setback) about his frustrations with last season and getting banged up.
"I really can't control the injury thing,” he said. “I’ve been in the gym working on the strength of my legs.”
A role player who understands what he can and can’t bring to an NBA court, Arthur said he will play whatever front court position Malone wants to use him at and revealed he spent the summer trying to become a better 3-point shooter from the corners. A wise move, as the game seems to demand more and more of its big men stretch the floor.
Arthur hit 2 of 5 form 3-point range in his preseason finale. Last season, he only made 23.6% of his attempts from deep (26 of 110, both career highs). In his six previous seasons, he has made just 55 of 201 (27.4%), but he also rarely took 3’s in his first three seasons (0-for-9).
If Arthur can add that 3-point wrinkle to his overall repertoire, maybe he’ll play even more of a factor for the rebuilding Nuggets (30-52 last year).
2015-16 ’Hawks in the NBA Season Previews
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.
It’s official. Thomas Robinson is headed to Denver, meaning the third-year power forward is about to play for his fourth team.
But the deal was not for Wilson Chandler, as early rumors indicated.
Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Thursday, a few hours before the NBA trade deadline, the former Kansas star is part of a swap between Portland and the Nuggets that landed the Trail Blazers veteran guard Aaron Afflalo to bolster their push toward the postseason.
Drafted by Sacramento, traded to Houston as a rookie, then moved again to Portland before the start of his second year, Robinson 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 never became a factor or a significant part of the rotation.
The 6-foot-10 power forward from KU only played in 32 of 53 games and averaged 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 for Portland. He had DNP’s in three of the last five games.
There might be more available minutes for Robinson, a free-agent-to-be, in the Mile High City. The Nuggets have a couple of talented young big men in Kenneth Faried and Jusuf Nurkic starting, but Wojnarowski reported Denver shipped backup post player JaVale McGee to Philadelphia.
Robinson might actually have to beat out another former KU standout for playing time in Denver. Darrell Arthur plays 17.9 minutes a game off the bench and is averaging 7.5 points and 3.2 rebounds in 44 appearances.
J.J. Hickson, another Denver backup big, could be another obstacle for Robinson’s minutes — if the Nuggets don’t deal Hickson before the end of the day.
— 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 October 28, 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.
Darrell Arthur — Denver Nuggets
6-foot-9 forward | Sixth season
2013-14 numbers: 68 games | 17.1 minutes | 5.9 points | 3.1 rebounds | 39.5 FG% | 85.5 FT%
Did you know Darrell Arthur still plays in the NBA?
If you don’t follow the Association too closely — or the Denver Nuggets, in particular — you might have forgotten about the former Jayhawk, who contributed to the 2008 national championship before leaving Lawrence early to turn pro.
A late first-round pick in 2008, Arthur played four seasons with Memphis before the Grizzlies traded him in the summer of 2013 to Denver. Now in the final season of a three-year contract, Arthur exercised his player option to stick with the Nuggets this past summer.
The backup forward is just quietly making a living (he’ll reportedly make $3,457,149 this year) on a solid team that missed the 2014 playoffs and doesn’t generate much national buzz in the loaded Western Conference.
Arthur might not be highly regarded around the league…
… but it seems people within the Nuggets organization really appreciate him.
A community ambassador for Denver, former Kansas standout Mark Randall told KUsports.com that folks who work for the Nuggets feel like when Arthur gets the ball anywhere form 15 to 19 feet away from the rim, he can knock down jumpers.
“That's huge for us, to be able to have a (post) guy who can step out on the floor and knock that shot down, especially being 6-9,” Randall said.
"Defensively, he's not a liability… He can keep his guy off the boards and he'll go in and mix it up. He's a good one."
Arthur missed 12 games last season with some nagging injuries but told the Denver Post’s Christopher Dempsey recently he enters this season pain-free.
An unrestricted free agent at season’s end, Arthur told the Post he’d like to contribute to Denver’s success and turn that into an extended stay in The Mile-High City:
"I want to go out and do the things that I do. Play defense, bring energy, knock down open shots when I have them; being consistent at those things is the key. Then everything will work itself out."
Playing in the West puts Arthur’s Nuggets at a disadvantage, but if they can stay healthy, they have a shot at making the playoffs.
Denver (11th in the conference last season) won’t surpass the likes of San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Houston, the Los Angeles Clippers or Golden State. But their rotation — Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee, Timofey Mozgov, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Arthur — has the talent to get up and down the floor and score/compete with anyone.
So what do we expect out of Arthur for the 2014-15 season?
Don’t be surprised if he turns out to be a key piece off Denver’s bench who helps push the Nuggets into the top eight out West — and into the league's national conversation.
’Hawks in the NBA 2014-15 season outlooks: