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 has been the case throughout his professional career, since leaving Kansas to become the fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Thomas Robinson has spent far more of this, his fifth, season in the NBA as a spectator than he would like.
The Los Angeles Lakers, among the worst teams in the league, are more committed to giving minutes to young players they have on long contracts, so Robinson, who will again become a free agent in July, has only played in 43 of his team’s 77 games.
However, an injury to rookie 7-footer Ivica Zubac, whom the Lakers drafted at the top of the second round in 2016, has meant a recent leap for Robinson’s minutes. And the 26-year-old power forward hasn’t let the opportunity go to waste.
The 6-foot-10 backup big man scored in double figures for the third straight game on Sunday, in L.A.’s victory over Memphis. Robinson told reporters afterward — as seen in a video posted by LakersNation.com — he’s thankful coach Luke Walton has given him more chances of late.
“Now I can show all the aspects of my game,” Robinson said following a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) in 20 minutes, “and it took a minute, but it’s here.”
Following a string of three consecutive DNP’s, Robinson scored 12 points at Minnesota, 16 points in a road game versus the Los Angeles Clippers and, following a 5-for-9 shooting effort against the Grizzlies, has shot 18-for-33 (55%) from the floor with an increased role in his past three games.
Robinson, who’s averaging 4.7 points in 11.1 minutes on the season, said getting more than a cameo has allowed him to prove he’s not one-dimensional.
“That I’m mobile. I’m not just a bruiser,” the former KU star said of what he has shown. “But with all due means I would take that definition and run with it for years. But I think there’s a little bit more to my game — not saying that’s what I want to be known as — just if you recognize it, respect it.”
Robinson spent much of his most recent strong showing grappling in the paint against veteran big body Zach Randolph.
“I’ll battle with anybody. I love it, though. Z-Bo’s like an old head to me,” Robinson said. “I’ve been watchin' his game for years and talkin’ to him throughout the years and he’s constantly tellin' me to keep pushin’.”
The late-season surge for Robinson really began when he poured in 16 points in 10 minutes on March 21, in a blowout loss to the Clippers.
“I don’t want to say I proved a point,” Robinson told The Orange County Register at the time. “But hopefully I showed I’m capable of performing at this level when I play.”
Currently suiting up for his sixth NBA franchise, Robinson told The Register the only thing he could do was prepare himself to perform.
“That’s all part of being a pro. That’s my job description this year,” Robinson added. “It’s to be ready whenever my name is called. It’s probably not called when I want. But that’s my job description. So I have to come in here and do it.”
Walton, the Lakers’ first-year head coach, praised Robinson’s approach.
“He’s been one of our hardest workers all year,” Walton said. “He made the team by how hard he worked.”
An NBA nomad, Robinson remains hopeful the impression he has made in L.A. will allow him to stick around beyond this season. He told The Register he would do “anything possible” to re-sign with the Lakers this summer.
“I would love to be here for a few years,” Robinson said. “Just be somewhere for a while.”
Former Kansas post players Tarik Black and Thomas Robinson aren’t the type of big men who can take over an NBA game with their offensive abilities. Still, every team needs post players willing and able to do the far-less-glamorous dirty work.
In fact, they both play their bit parts well enough that first-year Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton decided to utilize a two-headed hustle monster of Black and Robinson against Toronto on Sunday. While the combination of backup bigs weren’t enough for L.A. to defeat one of the league’s better teams, their coach — in need of some help in the frontcourt with Larry Nance Jr. out until the end of the month — came away pleased with the experiment.
“They brought us an energy and toughness that we lack a lot of the time on the defensive end,” Walton said Monday, as detailed on the Lakers’ website. “So it was nice to have them out there fighting and battling and watching the other team get mad at each other for not matching that level of intensity.”
In 17 minutes off the bench against the Raptors, Robinson, who has seen his playing time increase in Nance’s absence, scored 12 points and grabbed 9 rebounds.
Black, while playing his first prolonged stretch in nearly a month after suffering an ankle injury, added 9 points and 9 boards in 14 minutes for the Lakers.
“It’s kind of similar to what me and Larry Nance did,” Black said on Lakers.com. “Larry Nance got a lot of highlight dunks and tip dunks, because guys are trying to box me out, and vice versa. … T-Rob’s super-tenacious on the boards, so it works out.”
The duo combined for 10 offensive rebounds in the loss to Toronto, and Walton told reporters he anticipates going to them again in the Lakers’ next game, Tuesday night against Memphis.
As many who watched Black and Robinson at Kansas will recall, they have similar personas when they step foot on the court.
“(Black) goes hard like I do every possession,” said Robinson, who is averaging 8.2 points and 8.4 rebounds, while shooting 71.4% from the field in just 17.8 minutes, during the past five games. “He gives me the comfortability of knowing that I got somebody that’s gonna go hard with me playing out there.”
As Robinson alluded to, the two spent some time manning the frontcourt simultaneously versus Toronto. It only lasted five minutes, as detailed at SilverScreenAndRoll.com, but the two seemed to feed off each other.
“We’re both Jayhawks ... and we’re the best in the world,” Robinson said. “We both play with high energy, and so I think that was effective, especially in the first half when we first did it.”
Walton said the Lakers wanted to see what a bench unit with two traditional bigs would look like, instead of using a stretch-4. Exactly how long L.A. (12-25) sticks with the Kansas tandem remains to be seen. But Black and Robinson like the idea of teaming up for more grunt work as long as it remains part of the game plan.
“We have a connection because we come from the same university. Honestly, it’s pretty cool playing with him, to be real with you,” Black said. “I watched him play at Kansas and I went there right after him, so now playing together and being out there on the floor with him, it felt good.”
No stranger to adversity, Thomas Robinson might be in for a few of the most stressful days of his professional career.
A bonafide college basketball star by the time he finished up at Kansas in 2012, Robinson months later became the No. 5 overall pick in the NBA Draft. Since then, though, the tough-nosed, explosive power forward has yet to carve out a niche for himself.
As of Tuesday morning, Robinson could call himself a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. However, there is no guarantee that will be the case when the regular season starts next week.
The Lakers have 17 players on their preseason roster. As reported by Mark Medina of The Orange County Register, L.A. has to trim that number to at least 15 before embarking on the quickly approaching 82-game grind.
Robinson is one of three Lakers on non-guaranteed training camp deals, along with the artist formerly known as Ron Artest, aka Metta World Peace, and center Yi Jianlian.
First-year NBA head coach Luke Walton told The Register that Robinson, a free agent this past summer, impressed the Lakers in workouts.
“The way he was working and the way he was winning, we thought we at least have to bring this guy to camp,” Walton said. “He looks great out here.”
The coach seems to like him, so that’s a positive for the 6-foot-10 25-year-old. Still, Robinson hasn’t played much off L.A.’s bench in the preseason:
- 7 minutes, 8 points, 7 rebounds vs. Sacramento
- 9 minutes, 0 points, 1 rebound vs. Denver
- 9 minutes, 1 point, 2 rebounds vs. Denver
- Did not play vs. Portland
- Did not play vs. Sacramento
- 7 minutes, 7 points, 4 rebounds vs. Golden State
In total, Robinson has produced 16 points and 14 rebounds in 30 preseason minutes, which doesn’t look too bad if you forget about the 8.1 minutes a game part of the equation. According to RealGM.com, Robinson’s preseason PER is 27.61. This of course is from a minimal sample size, but just to provide a reference point only five NBA players had a PER of 27 or higher last season.
Also helping Robinson’s cause, The Register reported he often wins drills at Lakers practices, getting his name atop what they call the “winner’s board.”
“I’m just trying to be who I am as a player,” Robinson said. “Those are exactly the things coach said.”
Drafted by Sacramento, Robinson also has played for Houston, Portland, Philadelphia and Brooklyn. He hopes the 2016-17 season will be his fifth in the league for his seventh different franchise. He told The Register he learned quickly not to take personnel decisions the wrong way or look at teams that moved him or declined to retain him with any malice.
“It’s never been anything personal,” he said. “When you get older, things don’t bother you as much.”
Oddly enough, Robinson likely would have an easier time sticking with L.A. if not for the presence of another former Kansas big man, Tarik Black. The Lakers already have a backup big to crash the glass, play with energy and do other dirty work assignments in the paint. Black, who has played each of the past two seasons with the organization, is averaging 7.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in 16.2 minutes this preseason, while shooting 59.1% from the floor.
Between Black, Julius Randle, Luol Deng, Larry Nance Jr., Timofey Mozgov and even early second-round pick Ivica Zubac, the Lakers have a lot of front court options. Robinson would have to leapfrog at least one or two of those players, as well as Yi, for L.A. to keep him around.
It seems the little things have held Robinson back through his years in the NBA. Take this example of JaVale McGee dunking on Robinson earlier this week. The former KU star deserves credit for rising up and contesting the jam. But he wouldn’t have been in that position had he stayed in the middle of the paint in proper help position, denying McGee the easiest route to the hoop in the first place.
Obviously, no defender is perfect and it sounds as if Walton sees Robinson’s redeeming qualities.
“He never takes plays off,” the L.A. coach said. “He’s a great guy. You want him around. He’s a monster on the offensive glass and has a great attitude with everything we’ve done.”
The Lakers have two more preseason games left before they play for real Wednesday, Oct. 26. We’ll know by then if Robinson will spend the months ahead in purple and gold or be forced to try and catch on with yet another franchise.
Many NBA players would look back at a six-month-long season that included merely 104 shot attempts with contempt. Tarik Black isn’t wired that way, though.
During the young center’s second season with the Los Angeles Lakers, he only played in 39 games, logging just 12.7 minutes off the bench in those sparse appearances. But the former Kansas big man, who this summer agreed to a two-year deal to stay with L.A., thinks his trials should only help him.
“You can look at the negatives. You can look at the positives. I choose to look at the positives from every situation,” Black told the Los Angeles Daily News. “The positives of that was it built my character.”
Under former Lakers coach Byron Scott, Black saw his playing time with L.A. drop by about 9.0 minutes a game from the 21.7 he averaged as a rookie. Of course, his productivity took a hit, too. Black’s scoring with the Lakers went from 7.2 points a game in 2014-15 to 3.4 this past season, while his rebounding numbers dipped from 6.3 an outing to 4.0.
Still, Black prefers to plow ahead in his career with a minutes-half-full approach.
“It taught me so much and prepared me to be the player I’m going to be moving forward,” Black said. “I definitely learned patience and perseverance. It’s tough mentally to still work hard in all situations. Throughout the season, I continued to work and always stayed competitive when I got on the floor.”
What else would you expect from a guy who drove from L.A. to Las Vegas earlier this week just to support his young Lakers teammates at the NBA’s Summer League.
Black’s character and work ethic figure to serve him well as the Lakers try to change course, under new coach Luke Walton. When Black, a 6-foot-9 big, reached a deal to stay with the Lakers, an increased role next season seemed implied. At the very least, the 24-year-old backup has a pretty good idea of what he’s getting into with the new regime.
As Black told the Daily News, he already had a good relationship with Walton, from their days together with the Memphis Tigers. Walton served as an assistant one season during Black’s time there, before the sturdy post player transferred to KU. In fact, Black said he has kept in touch with Walton since.
That relationship had to help Black feel great about his chances moving forward. And it had to make it easier to have an honest conversation with his new head coach. The Daily News reported Black spoke candidly with Walton about his role for the upcoming season.
“‘I don’t ask to be given anything. I just ask for a fair shot,’” Black related. “‘If I earn something, give it to me.’”
“‘I respect that, appreciate that and will honor that,’” Black shared.
Of course, none of that means you’ll suddenly see Black playing 30 minutes a game for the rebuilding Lakers, who just went 17-65. There will be competition for frontcourt minutes, with newly acquired projected starting center Timofey Mosgov, as well as young forwards Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr.
Not that any obstacles would faze Black.
“I see a world of potential for myself,” he said. “I can’t wait to get back in the gym and get back to work. It’s going to be a whole lot of fun.”
The NBA might be evolving away from traditional big-man focused lineups, but interior toughness remains valued. For proof, look no further than the Los Angeles Lakers’ desire to re-sign third-year big man Tarik Black.
Late Sunday night, the former Kansas center, who went undrafted in 2014 but worked his way into the league the hard way, agreed to a reported two-year, $12.85 million deal with the Lakers.
A 6-foot-9, 250-pound center, Black only played 12.7 minutes a game for L.A. in his second season, during which he averaged 3.4 points and 4.0 rebounds and shot 54.8% from the floor.
But, as referenced in Yahoo’s report of the deal, Black has played with both toughness and enthusiasm when called upon during his 77 appearances in purple and gold over the past season-plus, making him a desirable, inexpensive role player on the open market.
Black, who finished his college career at KU as a graduate transfer following three seasons at Memphis, didn’t get selected in the league’s rookie draft out of college. Hoewever, he forged his way into a career by impressing Houston enough during a summer league stint two years ago to earn a regular-season roster spot. When the Rockets had to waive him during his rookie year to pave the way for another transaction, the Lakers claimed the undersized center.
Known for his humble, blue collar approach to the game, Black announced his new deal late Sunday night by simply tweeting out a picture of a Lakers hat.
Although Black didn’t receive much playing time during his second season in L.A., speculation has mounted in the hours since he agreed to re-sign that former Lakers coach Byron Scott didn’t utilize the backup center as much as those running the organization desired.
Black became a fan favorite for the struggling Lakers over the past couple of years and many wondered why he didn’t play more. It appears that will no longer be an issue, as the 24-year-old returns to L.A. to work for a different head coach, Luke Walton. As pointed out in Yahoo’s report, Black actually played for Walton in 2011, when the new Lakers coach was a college assistant at Memphis.
The Lakers just agreed to a four-year, $64 million deal with free-agent center Timofey Mozgov, so Black won’t enter next season as a starting pivot. But all signs point to an increased role for the hard-working big man as the primary second-unit center.
During Black’s rookie year with the Lakers, he averaged 7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds while playing 21.1 minutes. In that season his per 36-minutes projected averages came out to 12.3 points and 10.8 rebounds.
Tarik Black didn’t play nearly as much in his second season with the Los Angeles Lakers as he did as a rookie.
But the 24-year-old who spent his final season of college basketball at Kansas isn’t complaining.
For one, Black had both a courtside seat and an on-court role in a historic performance by Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, who scored 60 points in his NBA finale for the downtrodden franchise.
Black, a backup center for L.A., is one of the few players not named Kobe Bryant who can say he made a highlight-reel play during the Mamba’s farewell show. The 6-foot-9 big man went up high to deny Rodney Hood a jam, setting up a Showtime-worthy fast break for the miserable Lakers (17-65, worst record in the Western Conference).
During Black’s exit interview with L.A. media members, he said the young players on the roster unified in making Kobe’s last game memorable for everyone who watched it.
“It definitely sparked something for us and opened our eyes to something that previously we hadn’t focused in on, and it happened to be Kobe Bryant’s last game, and doing whatever it took for him,” Black said.
“But no young person has ever come into this league like, ‘Oh, OK. I’m already a champion. I already know what it takes to win this ring,’ or ‘I know what it takes to keep the legacy going, of this organization.’”
Consequently, Black understood the franchise had to do everything within its power to try and determine which direction it is headed, post-Bryant. That likely led to a dip in Black’s minutes.
After starting 27 of his 38 games with the Lakers in 2014-15 and averaging 21.1 minutes, Black appeared in 39 games during his second season, logging just 12.7 minutes as a full-time reserve. He spent a chunk of the season inactive and never checked in during 22 games in which he suited up.
On the year, Black averaged 3.4 points and 4.0 rebounds — both numbers down from his rookie averages with the Lakers: 7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds.
“They’re rebuilding,” Black said of the Lakers. “They’re finding out slots, they’re finding what players work best together… because we’re trying to build this thing back up. It’s tough, definitely. But that’s something that’ll inevitably be said, that it’s tough. You need minutes. But at the same time I understand, because you’re trying to find out: What is the dynamic of this team? Who needs to play together? What spots need to be filled? That’s what we’re finding out right now. We’re just going through the process.”
Although Black only spent 496 minutes on the court for L.A. this past season, a small sample size for sure, basketball-reference.com shows that the Lakers’ team numbers improved with the second-year center in the lineup.
Of particular importance to Black, L.A.’s rebounding percentages improved when he played, while the Lakers’ opponents saw their rebounding success drop off.
If Black returns to the Lakers next season (more on that to come), there are some aspects of his game L.A.’s brass would like to see him address. According to the young post player, his season-ending exit interview with the organization included a list of areas that needed improvement, while they also see potential in him.
“One of the big things for them was finding consistency on the floor — consistent energy and consistent tough play,” Black revealed.
Early in his second season, coach Bryon Scott (who may not be around much longer with the Lakers) urged Black to unleash the “beast” or mean streak within him. The center thinks he got closer to doing that in his limited minutes.
“I believe it’s about being comfortable, finding your comfort on the floor. I definitely play hard. I don’t think anybody questions whether I play hard… But it’s a controlled ‘beast.’ You don’t just go out there and just run crazy. You have to understand what you’re out there on the floor to do, the spots you need to be in in order to do it,” Black said.
“And I think, for myself, I’m a second-year player, too. I’m one of the younger guys, as well. So it’s still a learning process for me and it’s still, even in being an energy guy or taking on that role, I still need to learn exactly what that means,” he continued, “and find my spots and comfort on the floor in order to truly define that.”
The mostly youthful Lakers roster included eight players with three or fewer seasons of NBA experience. Black added, with a large smile, that his name came up with the younger guys during his end-of-the-year meeting. The former KU big indicated he thinks he’ll move forward with that young core.
However, there is no guarantee that will be the case. Black — who according to HoopsHype.com was the 421st-best paid player in the NBA this past season, earning $845,059 — will become a restricted free agent this summer.
When July finally rolls around, and Black is free to talk with other franchises, as well as the Lakers, about his next contract, he isn’t sure what to expect.
“It’s gonna be different, but that’s what makes life interesting, honestly,” Black said. “That’s what makes it worth it. Things like this, the dynamics, the ups and downs and just what’s the next chapter, what’s about to happen. I’m interested to see what’s gonna take place. I haven’t thought about it too much, honestly, because I’m not gonna stress myself over it. Plus, we just got done with our season.”
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Still a young NBA post player with plenty to learn, Tarik Black is a lot of things.
A hard worker. A load to deal with on the glass. Genuine. Easy to talk to.
But as the 6-foot-9 center enters his second season with the Los Angeles Lakers, coach Byron Scott has made it known Black needs to be something else, too: mean.
As Scott recently revealed in the L.A. Daily News, he wants the 250-pound Black to become a bruiser who runs all over the court hitting people and rebounding.
“The biggest thing I told him last year was he’s too nice. He has to get some type of mean streak in him,” Scott said. “Then he can be a monster.”
Black told the L.A. Daily News he understands when his coach says something like that, he needs to figure out a way to make it happen.
“He’s the captain of the ship. So if he has thoughts about how we should grow, get better and play in his system, I’ll abide by it. We’ve talked about it, but we need to keep talking about it,” Black said. “As I find out more of what he wants out of me, I’ll have to mold to that.”
The Lakers, who were awful last season (21-61), appear to at least have more depth in the front court for 2015-16. And Black’s smart. He knows he better do everything within his power to make his coach happy. Otherwise, his minutes will dwindle, with the Lakers able to play Roy Hibbert, Julius Randle and Brandon Bass inside, too.
Black thinks highly of Randle, who basically missed his entire rookie season last year after literally breaking a leg in his NBA debut.
“Throughout the summer, me and him have matched up against each other a lot and he’s really made me a believer,” Black told LakersNation.com. “He’s got the potential to really explode in the NBA.”
In 38 games for the Lakers last year, Black actually started 27 games and averaged 21.1 minutes an outing. With that opportunity, he made 58.9% of his shots, and averaged 7.2 points and 6.3 rebounds.
If 7-foot-2 veteran Hibbert remains healthy all season, and Randle does the same, there is no way Black will see nearly as much playing time for L.A. this year. With a reduced role and a strong work ethic, though, perhaps Black will become a little meaner after all.
2015-16 ’Hawks in the NBA Season Previews
In the NBA, you constantly have to prove yourself, especially if you’re an un-drafted player on a non-guaranteed contract. Such is the life of Tarik Black.
You wouldn’t know it by listening to the former Kansas big man speak, but Black might not have nearly as large a role with the Los Angeles Lakers in his second season as he did as a rookie.
Listed at 6-foot-11 (but actually 6-9 in sneakers), Black started 27 games for the Lakers after being waived by Houston. The undersized center contributed 7.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and made 59.8% of his shot attempts in 21.1 minutes a game for an underwhelming L.A. team that finished the season 21-61.
As one of the NBA’s marquee franchises, the Lakers weren’t about to run it back with the same roster. And although they whiffed on big-name big men free agents such as LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Monroe, they made less headline-grabbing moves by trading for center Roy Hibbert and signing power forward Brandon Bass. Throw in the return of power forward Julius Randle, who broke a leg in his NBA debut last season, and you’re looking at three guys likely to get minutes ahead of Black.
So why is Black so positive about his role with the franchise entering Summer League play? The gregarious big man said in an interview posted on the Lakers’ website he felt like a part of the team within a couple of weeks of arriving in L.A. — like he was supposed to be there.
The Lakers begin playing in the Las Vegas Summer League on Friday, where Black enters the showcase with a list of personal targets in terms of improvements.
“A lot of things last season with me was moving too fast,” Black said. “I have a lot of tools, a lot of things I can utilize there on the floor, but I was moving so fast and just so anxious that I was maybe throwing the ball away or making a move and I had a shot and I didn’t recognize it, because my head’s down and I’m just moving. So now I’m just trying to slow myself down.”
After having conversations with coach Byron Scott on the matter, Black thinks improving offensively will come by pacing himself, as well as investing some off-the-court time in watching video.
“To see yourself on film, I think it’s an underplayed thing nowadays in the game,” Black said. “We watch film on teams when we travel, but watching yourself is huge.”
Of course, Black didn’t mean watching his own highlights. Examining areas where he came up short in his first tour through the league will do him far more good. All the while, he plans on expanding his “bread and butter” plays, too, and constantly finding ways to improve his greatest skills.
“That’s gonna keep me at this level: my rebounding, my hustle plays, playing defense, things like that,” Black pointed out.
One facet that needs a lot of improvement, Black admitted, is his jump shot. Primarily an interior force his entire basketball life, he has spent a lot of time since the end of the season taking jumpers.
At the college and high school levels, Black always played center and never had a coach ask him to take jumpers, let alone work on them. Accordingly, he is happy to put in the time to become a more complete NBA player.
Honest with reporters about not just his development, but also adjusting to all that comes with professional basketball, Black said he had trouble at first determining the ideal approach to his offseason routine. After all, this is his first summer as an NBA player. A little over a year ago, he had pre-draft workouts through June. Before that, as Black put it, college players stayed on campus in the summer months, because coaches didn’t want them to leave and “you don’t have money to leave, so it’s a little bit different routine.”
Black, who has one season left on his contract for $845,059, understands he’ll have to maneuver through this offseason properly to make sure he enters training camp prepared for the 82-game grind. He said he returned to KU “like two days later,” after the Lakers’ season ended and went in the opposite direction of immediate rest.
“I was playing five-on-five as soon as I touched down off the plane,” Black said.
However, he kept hearing the same advice from people who know the league: get some rest. So Black tried to take about a month off to get rejuvenated.
“I want some longevity in my career,” Black explained. “And I know what you do now definitely affects you down the road, even though you might not feel it as much.”
For someone who has played all of 63 games in the NBA, Black sure talks like a veteran. It’s smart of him, too, to neither address the diminished role he may occupy next season, nor waste time worrying about it at this point. As he told reporters, the Lakers have “so much talent” it’s difficult to predict what they’ll ask of him or how much they’ll utilize him, particularly on offense.
“I’m not really tripping about that,” Black said. “Because I know I’m getting better. I’m working on it every day. When you get the chance to show it, that’s when the opportunity opens up.”
Once free agent agreements and trades from the past week become official, the Lakers’ frontcourt will feature Black, Hibbert, Bass, Randle, Ryan Kelly, Robert Sacre and rookie Larry Nance Jr. That’s a lot of big men. But the group could get less crowded, according to the L.A. Times, which reported the Lakers could trade Kelly or Sacre to make sure they have enough room under the salary cap to accommodate their offseason acquisitions.
Given Black’s cheap contract (by NBA standards, of course) and his attitude, it’s hard to imagine the Lakers getting rid of him. But anything could happen in the weeks and months to come.
Beginning this weekend at the Summer League, Black will just keep working, trying to prove that he can be trusted inside, even on offense.
“I’m gonna keep on playing my age and show that I’m getting better,” Black said.
It’s that approach that got him to the NBA, via the 2014 Summer League, to begin with, and it’s that mindset that will keep him around the league.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.
Boy, are the Los Angeles Lakers glad Houston picked up Josh Smith.
This, of course, has nothing to do with the Western Conference standings — the Lakers are 12-30 and basically irrelevant in terms of the eventual postseason. But the Rockets had to waive Tarik Black in order to add Smith to their roster.
That move allowed L.A. to pick up the undrafted rookie out of Kansas, without making a trade. Grantland.com is calling the under-the-radar transaction the waiver wire pickup of the year in a feature introducing fans to the Lakers’ unlikely productive backup.
The energetic and powerful 23-year-old made his Lakers debut Jan. 7 and has now played in seven games for L.A., averaging 7.7 points and 5.3 rebounds on 66.7% shooting in 18.3 minutes.
Black’s best game in purple and gold came in a Lakers win — the team’s only victory in its last eight games — against Orlando. He came one rebound shy of a double-double, with 14 point and nine boards.
The Lakers are glad to have the young guy around, and he couldn’t be a better teammate. The Los Angeles Times’ Mike Bresnahan recently wrote about the way Black carries himself. The rookie constantly thanks people with whom he interacts — a trait that showed up when he was in Lawrence for a season, as well.
Black looks at his young NBA career as an “opportunity,” and he told the L.A. Times why he is so grateful.
"As soon as I walked through the door, coach shook my hand and told me that as long as I work hard, I'll be all right out here. Usually coaches don't even really talk to us like that unless you're their franchise player or their top draft pick," Black said. "Undrafted guys? They don't give you the time of day. Coaches here have shown me love from day one."
Black suffered the first setback of his first year in The Association on Monday night, in Phoenix. He sprained his right ankle after scoring 6 points and grabbing 3 rebounds in 21 minutes.
He appeared to be suffering badly when it happened, but Black told Time Warner Cable Sportsnet afterward it wasn’t as bad as it looked.
“I’ve sprained my ankle a couple of times, so I wasn’t really worried, because I didn’t hear anything pop, didn’t come out of place or anything like that.”
Asked after the game if he would miss any games because of the ankle, he remained optimistic.
“We’ll see. We’ll see what happens.”
Reports Tuesday afternoon indicated Black didn’t practice Tuesday and will miss L.A.’s next game, against New Orleans.
Knowing Black’s attitude and approach, this minor setback doesn’t figure to deter his path toward a successful rookie campaign.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com.