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).
10. Tarik Black
While it’s entirely possible Tarik Black took on a cutback in playing time by signing this summer with Houston, the former Kansas big definitely found a better basketball situation with the Rockets than he experienced with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Houston, led by James Harden and Chris Paul, is positioned to be one of Golden State’s few challengers and one of the top seeds in the Western Conference.
If Tuesday night’s Rockets upset win on the Warriors’ championship ring night is any indication, Black might not experience much of the potential Houston-Golden State rivalry this season. His coach, Mike D’Antoni, only deployed one traditional post player, starting center Clint Capela, versus the perimeter-oriented defending champs.
Still, Black and Nene will be much more useful and playable against non super-teams. After two-plus seasons with the Lakers, Black might see his averages of 5.7 points and 5.1 rebounds in 16.3 minutes from a year ago take a hit. But the broad-shouldered, 6-9 center is bound to experience far more victories.
9. Wayne Selden Jr.
Not that one Jayhawk would ever wish an injury on another, but Ben McLemore’s broken foot just might open the door for Wayne Selden Jr. to cement his spot in the Memphis rotation.
Selden, after going un-drafted in 2016, proved himself in the G-League (then known as the D-League) this past year and turned that success into a spot in the NBA. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard, though battling a quad injury of his own entering the season, now has another chance in front of him.
Selden should have numerous opportunities between now and McLemore’s return — possibly in November — to demonstrate to his teammates and coach David Fizdale he’s a trustworthy option on the perimeter. His numbers in 14 games as a rookie, first with New Orleans, then with the Grizzlies, weren’t impressive. Selden shot just 7-for-28 from 3-point range and 43.1 percent from the floor, while averaging 5.1 points and 1.1 rebounds in 16.9 minutes.
Still, he should find confidence easier now as a player with a two-year contract and a little experience. Selden shouldn’t have too much pressure on him as he and James Ennis battle for the starting 2-guard spot in McLemore’s absence. And the better he plays the more he will contribute once McLemore is back.
8. Frank Mason III
One of the more popular KU basketball players in recent memory, its not Frank Mason’s ability that kept him from cracking one of the top spot’s on this list. It’s the opportunity — or potential lack there of — awaiting him in Sacramento.
After the Kings selected a pair of point guards, Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox and Mason, in the June draft, they also signed veteran point guard George Hill. Right or wrong, that leaves the recent National Player of the Year as the odd man out in Sacramento’s rotation.
The good news for Mason fans is any time one of those two point guards ahead of him gets in foul trouble or has to sit out a game here or there, Mason will be on the floor showing the NBA flashes of what made him great at Kansas, with his speed, 3-point shooting, play-making and toughness.
(And an occasional backflip.)
Mason’s new coach, Dave Joerger, recently told The Sacramento Bee about what he expects from Mason:
“It’s a tough league and he’ll go out and you know what you’ll get from him is a guy who’ll compete his tail off and can make some shots, try to get up and guard you,” Joerger said. “Pretty tough dude and not afraid of taking shots at the end of the clock and certainly at the end of games.”
7. Mario Chalmers
The Memphis Grizzlies — otherwise known as every KU basketball fan’s new favorite NBA team — apparently love the Jayhawks.
Not only do McLemore and Selden play into their plans, but the organization liked the idea of keeping veteran Mario Chalmers around so much they waived 2016 first-round pick Wade Baldwin to make sure they had room on the roster for Chalmers, whom they signed this past summer to a partially-guaranteed deal.
One of the league’s many ultra-talented point guards, Mike Conley will continue to run the show in Memphis. But when he needs a break, the 31-year-old Chalmers will be there to take over.
The former Miami Heat guard missed the entire 2016-17 season after rupturing his right achilles in late 2016, during his first stint with the Grizzlies. During Chalmers’ year-plus out of the league, Memphis changed head coaches, bringing in former Heat assistant Fizdale, who knows Chalmers as well as any coach in the league.
It shapes up as an ideal situation for the 6-2, ninth-year vet, who has averaged 9.0 points and 3.3 assists with 35.8-percent 3-point shooting over the course of his career.
“A lot of players come back in 6-8 months and they use the season to try to get prepared for the next season,” Chalmers told The Commercial Appeal recently. “I feel like I’m ready. Physically, I feel better than before. I’m just trying to come in and stay solid. I want to be the guy they asked me to be and pick up where I left off.”
6. Kelly Oubre Jr.
Washington has one of the best-fitting starting lineups in the NBA. The Wizards’ bench? Not so much.
Somebody has to step up and give D.C. a legit presence as a sixth man.
[Generic professional wrestling announcer voice] My GOD! That’s Kelly Oubre Jr.!
Oubre might be best known in the NBA at this juncture for his run at Kelly Olynyk during the 2017 playoffs. But that soon could change, with Washington set up to be one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams, and Oubre a crucial role player on all-star John Wall’s squad.
In his second season in the league, Oubre quickly won over head coach Scott Brooks with his defensive ability. The 6-7 small forward’s 3-point shooting didn’t inspire much confidence, as he made 54 of 188 (28.7 percent) during the regular season. But Oubre at least picked it up in the playoffs, going 11-for-30 (36.7 percent).
Now entering Year No. 3 looking to improve upon his averages of 6.3 points and 3.3 rebounds in 20.3 minutes a year ago, Oubre figures to be more involved than ever on both ends of the floor for Washington.
“I’m super excited, man," Oubre told CBSSports.com. "That's what I work hard for each and every day. I hone in on my handles and my playmaking ability. But my main deal is defense. [Brooks] also told me as long as I'm playing defense at a high level, playing smart, competitive defense, that I would be able to do things."
Tarik Black only spent one season playing for Kansas, but he quickly became a fan favorite.
After leaving Memphis as a graduate transfer, Black played 13.5 minutes per game in his senior year, mostly playing behind Joel Embiid.
But since his time in Lawrence, Black has continued to maximize his opportunities from KU.
He recently earned his master’s degree in African-American studies from Kansas. According to a story from Marc J. Spears in The Undefeated, Black put in paperwork to start the Tarik Black Foundation, which he hopes will provide opportunities for inner-city youth in his hometown Memphis.
“I live life to be the role model that I always wanted,” Black said. “And if anybody can learn anything from my story, it is to take what you need, because I’ve experienced a lot. I’ve seen a lot and I won’t be bold enough to say I’ve seen everything. So I won’t ever sit and say that I don’t want anybody to ever mimic me, because a lot of people mimic people.”
In his third year in the NBA, the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Black is averaging 6.0 points and 5.4 rebounds per game with the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s played in 40 games, making three starts.
Black didn’t hear his name called during the 2014 NBA draft, but he’s carved out a role with his strength and hustle.
During his summer offseasons, Black was focused on finishing classes and earning his master’s degree. He told Spears that he chose African-American studies after finishing three points shy of passing the GRE General Test to enter business school. His mother used to work for the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.
“My dream and passion actually is doing nonprofit work in a city with so much history when it comes to civil rights leaders or slavery,” Black said. “And the Underground Railroad, Memphis was the main stop in it. So, being from a city like that, understanding the background and wanting to go back and work with inner-city youth, which is my true passion, it actually ended up being a blessing.”
Perhaps what made Black such a strong fan favorite was his positive attitude and ability to notice the big picture.
So it’s no surprise that Black has big plans once he’s done playing basketball.
“It took people helping me through it,” Black said. “People were there for me and my backbone, and carried me through it, locking me into getting it done. It feels wonderful to have that paperwork, especially in today’s world. A bachelor’s doesn’t mean much. It’s basically like a high school diploma. So, having a master’s, it means so much, especially to have the accolade as 24-year-old black man and to me personally.”
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.”
As the 82-game, nearly six-month-long marathon known as the NBA regular season begins this week, the league’s 30 team rosters feature 15 players from the University of Kansas.
In order to get KU basketball fans up to speed on what they should expect from the Jayhawks representing their beloved program at the highest level, we decided to rank KU’s current pros, counting down from No. 15 to No. 1, in terms of which players will be the most interesting to follow in the months to come.
We now move to Nos. 10-6. A couple of these former Kansas stars are entering the primes of their career and poised to make real impacts as key reserves.
Another’s days in The Association are numbered, one is attempting to finally establish himself and the other is just getting his feet wet in the NBA.
No. 10: Tarik Black — Los Angeles Lakers
After he went undrafted in 2014, who would have thought Tarik Black would be in the league two years later, let alone playing a crucial reserve role for one of the most recognizable franchises on the planet?
True, this is not the Showtime Lakers of the glory 1980s nor the Shaq and Kobe Lakers of 15 years ago. At best, L.A. is a young team building toward what it hopes can become another era of title chases. Those days, if they return, are years away. For now Black will try and be a building block for the future, along with young recent lottery picks such as D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram.
If you watched the 6-foot-9 center play at KU, you know his game: utilize that bulk in the paint to defend and rebound, work hard, finish strong. Those characteristics already have turned Black into a bit of a fan favorite and secured him a guaranteed contract for this season.
Black apparently wasn’t valued by former Lakers coach Byron Scott, who only played him 12.7 minutes a game last year, but Black seems to be in a better situation with Luke Walton taking over, and he’ll back up L.A.’s starting center, Timofey Mozgov.
No. 9: Paul Pierce — Los Angeles Clippers
This is it for Paul Pierce. His 19th NBA season will be his last. And, realistically, at 39 years old, there is only so much the former perennial all-star’s legs will allow him to do on the basketball court at this point.
We won’t see “The Truth” take over fourth quarters like he so often did for Boston in his 15 seasons with the Celtics. Last year with the Clippers, Pierce only played 18.1 minutes a game and scored 6.1 points — both by far career lows. Though a future hall of famer, Pierce has reached a point where the Clippers are better off playing guys such as Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and, at times, Wesley Johnson at small forward in their otherwise superb starting lineup.
The intrigue in watching Pierce play this season comes from knowing it’s his last. What does he have left in that tank? Will he play better this year than last, knowing he can give it all and spend the rest of his life resting?
You know he’s going to have a night or two when he catches fire and looks like vintage Pierce for a stretch, and that will be fun to see, as will the tributes he gets from various organizations as he plays in visiting arenas for the final time.
Here’s one date you’ll want to mark on your calendar for the Clippers: Sunday, Feb. 5. It will be the final time Pierce plays in front of a Boston crowd that adores the 2008 NBA Finals MVP.
No. 8: Cole Aldrich — Minnesota Timberwolves
Last season, while playing with Pierce in L.A., Cole Aldrich established himself as a valuable reserve center in the NBA. Even while playing only 13.3 minutes a game, the burly 6-foot-11 Aldrich routinely made a positive impact in the paint as a rebounder and rim protector and averaged 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds, while converting 59.6% of his shot attempts.
Aldrich’s best pro season to date came at an ideal time, too, with the big man hitting the free agent market this past summer. He signed with his hometown Timberwolves, one of the league’s up-and-coming franchises for three years and $22 million.
Now 27 years old, Aldrich gets to take his enforcer role to Minnesota’s second unit. When the team’s young star Karl-Anthony Towns or Gorgui Dieng aren’t in the game to control the paint, it will be up to Aldrich to make sure the T’wolves’ interior defense doesn’t experience much of a drop-off.
Minnesota is expected to become one of the more exciting teams in the league to follow, and for KU fans, there is no better bandwagon to hop onto, with Aldrich teaming up with fellow Jayhawks Brandon Rush and Andrew Wiggins.
No. 7: Thomas Robinson — Los Angeles Lakers
We don’t know how much — or how little — former KU star Thomas Robinson will play during his first season with the Lakers. Honestly, it seems another Jayahwk on this list, Black, will feature far more prominently in L.A.’s plans.
Robinson, playing on a one-year, non-guaranteed contract, didn’t even know during the preseason whether he’d make the team’s roster. So he has a long way to go before breaking into the rotation. The months ahead seem intriguing for Robinson, though, because this is his sixth team in five seasons. Organization after organization has passed on retaining the backup power forward. Will the Lakers do the same? Will they even keep him around for the entire season?
The answers to those questions have a lot to do with how the 6-foot-10, 25-year-old Robinson approaches his place in the roster hierarchy. The Lakers have far more invested in bigs Julius Randle, Mozgov, Larry Nance Jr. and Black than Robinson. He’ll have to prove himself more deserving of playing time than one or two of his frontcourt teammates to feature prominently on this young team building for the future.
It might take an injury to one of those other post players for Robinson to get a long look from Walton and his staff. How will Robinson respond when his chance comes? That’s what will be compelling to observe. He has yet to live up to his position as a lottery pick — will this be the year he finally does?
No. 6: Kelly Oubre Jr. — Washington Wizards
A year ago, appropriately, Kelly Oubre Jr. looked like a 20-year-old rookie not quite skilled enough to make a sustainable impact on an NBA floor.
Now in his second season with Washington, Oubre, who will turn 21 in December, is starting to fit in much better. Whether that’s the result of learning from his first-year struggles, the Wizards hiring a new head coach in Scott Brooks or a combination of the two, look for the 6-foot-7 lefty’s production to spike upward in Year 2.
Say goodbye to the days of Oubre playing only 10 minutes and averaging 3.7 points. Though still playing a reserve role, behind Otto Porter Jr., Oubre looked better suited to contribute during the preseason. He played 25.5 minutes a game for D.C. this past month in exhibitions, and scored 13.1 points while making 49.2% of his field goals.
To take the next step in his career, Oubre will have to develop a better 3-point shot. He only made 25 of 79 last season (31.6%). During the preseason, it didn’t appear a drastic improvement is coming in the months ahead, as Oubre shot 6-for-17 (35.3%) from downtown.
Still, it seems Washington is far more interested in utilizing Oubre's growing skill set now than when he was a rookie.
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.
There never has been a better time to be an NBA free agent.
The league’s salary cap is jumping approximately $24 million dollars this summer, meaning all 30 teams will have room to sign available players to what most expect to be eye-popping and/or head-scratching contracts.
The hysteria officially begins at midnight Thursday for the big names such as Kevin Durant and Al Horford, as well as the league’s role players.
Even though the seven former Kansas players available won’t garner maximum contracts, all of them figure to be on the verge of signing the most lucrative deals of their careers.
Here’s a look at what’s ahead for those Jayhawks — other than constantly listening to Drake and Future’s “Big Rings” while rapping along, “What a time to be alive.”
Age: 27 | Position: Center | Most recent team: L.A. Clippers | Seasons played: Six | 2015-16 key stats: 5.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 59.6% FGs, 13.3 minutes
After playing fewer than 400 total minutes in each of his first four seasons, Cole Aldrich began to carve out a niche for himself as a serviceable backup big man during the past couple of years.
“It just takes an opportunity, and my opportunity took four or five years in,” Aldrich said a few weeks back, while visiting Lawrence. “You get the right opportunity, and for me it was just continue to do what I do, and that was find a way to get better.”
Aldrich played so well in a reserve role for the Los Angeles Clippers this past season, in fact, that he thinks he’s entering the prime of his career, setting up a rather easy decision to opt out of the second year of his contract.
“You kind of look at the situation, and I had to take some time, and you think about what it is,” Aldrich said of leaving $1.2 million on the table to become a free agent, adding he knew the Clippers might have some cap space available to set up a return to L.A.
He is right about that. The Clippers have a little wiggle room thanks to the salary cap jump. But they don’t have as much room to operate as most teams, because more than $63 million of the franchise’s money is tied up in its big three of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
Should the Clippers keep all of their core in place and successfully bring in a role-playing free agent of note, they might have to part ways with the 6-foot-11 Aldrich if other teams are willing to reward him with a bigger contract. Aldrich played well enough in his one season with Los Angeles to prove he can rebound, defend the paint and finish, setting him up to fit in with any team in need of a second-unit center who eats up space.
L.A. even appears to have a safety net of sorts in place in case it can’t keep Aldrich, by drafting Maryland center Diamond Stone in the second round.
According to L.A. Times reporter Brad Turner the Clippers are interested in bringing Aldrich back, and Orlando and Phoenix have expressed interest, too.
The way Aldrich talked, it sounded like he might prefer to stay with the Clippers. But the NBA is a business, so there is no guarantee it will play out in that fashion.
Age: 28 | Position: Power forward and small forward | Most recent team: Denver | Seasons played: Seven | 2015-16 key stats: 7.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 45.2% FGs, 38.5% 3’s, 21.7 minutes
A steady veteran forward who does what coaches ask of him and has added some 3-point shooting to his repertoire, Darrell Arthur, like Aldrich, opted out of the second year of his deal.
Moving on from Denver could be a course of action for the 6-foot-9 forward, who has only played for Memphis and the Nuggets since leaving Kansas early as a national champion.
Denver has plenty of cap space to re-sign Arthur if it wants. But if Arthur desires an increased role and a change of scenery, he could leave behind a crowded Nuggets frontcourt that includes Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic.
Arthur’s reputation will keep him employed in the NBA. Where that happens is up to him. As reported earlier this week, Washington is interested in him as a backup to fellow former KU forward Markieff Morris.
Age: 24 | Position: Center | Most recent team: L.A. Lakers | Seasons played: Two | 2015-16 key stats: 3.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 54.8% FGs, 12.7 minutes
Tarik Black serves as a nice reminder to recent KU draft snubs Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden Jr. and Brannen Greene that entering the league as an undrafted free agent can work out in the long run.
The 6-foot-9 post player proved in two years ago in summer league Houston should keep him around. Even when the Rockets waived him during his rookie season in order to go after a veteran, the Los Angeles Lakers quickly claimed him and added Black to their inexperienced core.
However, the fact that L.A. only played Black 12.7 minutes a game during the 2015-16 season makes one wonder how interested the organization is in bringing him back. If the Lakers are married to the idea of keeping him around, they can match any other team’s offer, because Black is a restricted free agent (unlike the rest of the former KU players on this list).
The good news for Black is the Lakers have just two post players under contract for next year: Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. If the once dominant franchise whiffs in free agency on more established big men, re-signing a hard-working, familiar face might appeal. Conversely, should L.A. spend an absurd amount of money on more alluring names, the team might need to bring back Black on an affordable contract to complete the roster.
The real question is: Do other teams value Black as a potential big man?
Age: 30 | Position: Guard | Most recent team: Memphis | Seasons played: Eight | 2015-16 key stats: 10.3 points, 3.8 assists, 1.4 steals, 2.6 rebounds, 41% FGs, 30.9% 3’s, 22.5 minutes
Had Mario Chalmers made it through his eighth NBA season unscathed, he would be the most attractive KU free agent this summer by far. And even while recovering from a ruptured right Achilles tendon, Chalmers could still draw the most interest.
Teams will want to take their time and have their medical staffs make sure vitality still exists in the 6-foot-2 veteran’s knee before OK-ing a deal for Chalmers, but the way he played in Memphis prior to the injury setback will keep him as an intriguing choice for organizations in need of a backup guard who can shoot and distribute.
In his 55 games for the Grizzlies, following a trade from Miami, Chalmers thrived as a sixth man coming off the bench to put up points. Throw in his defensive ability and championship experience while playing with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, and you quickly realize how coveted Chalmers would be to a playoff team in search of backcourt assistance.
Chalmers recently said in an interview he is two weeks ahead of schedule with his knee rehab, and the hope is he would be back at 100 percent before the regular season begins.
Age: 35 | Position: Guard | Most recent team: Atlanta | Seasons played: 13 | 2015-16 key stats: 3.0 points, 1.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 38% FGs, 38.7% 3’s, 13.7 minutes
As Hinrich began to find out early this past season with Chicago, there simply isn’t much demand for the veteran guard anymore, in terms of minutes. That notion later became reenforced for Hinrich upon arriving via trade in Atlanta.
The longtime Bull only appeared in 11 of a possible 26 games with the Hawks to close the regular season, averaging a paltry 0.5 points, 1.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 6.9 minutes.
Those numbers make one wonder about Hinrich’s future in the league. But there will be roster spots to fill in the months ahead for a number of teams. Though 35 and nearly done as an on-court contributor, some organization might find value in having him around the locker room to guide young players and almost serve as a player/assistant coach.
Former Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau seemed to love Hinrich in Chicago. Could they join up again in Minnesota, with Hinrich helping to bring along youngsters Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins?
Age: 25 | Position: Power forward | Most recent team: Brooklyn | Seasons played: Four | 2015-16 key stats: 4.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 44.7% FGs in 12.9 minutes
The No. 5 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Thomas Robinson still hasn’t made his mark in the NBA. A star at KU, Robinson has turned into a nomad backup power forward. So far, the explosive, 6-foot-10 big has played for Sacramento, Houston, Portland, Philadelphia and Brooklyn.
In all likelihood, Robinson will add a sixth team to that list this summer, after opting out of his contract with the Nets. At 25, one would assume his best years in the league are still ahead of him. And Robinson does bring a valuable skill to the floor, to go with his athleticism and energy. The guy competes on the glass.
Robinson didn’t log enough minutes with Brooklyn to qualify as a league leader in such categories, but his defensive and offensive rebound percentages are up there with the best bigs on the planet. He grabbed 27.8% of available defensive boards this past season, which would have ranked him 10th in the NBA had he played more. Even better, Robinson secured 16.4% of possible offensive boards. Oklahoma City’s Enes Kanter led the league in that category, at 16.7%.
It seems any team in need of a high-energy rebounder would have to consider Robinson.
Age: 30 | Position: Shooting guard and small forward | Most recent team: Golden State | Seasons played: Eight | 2015-16 key stats: 4.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 42.7% FGs, 41.4% 3’s, 14.7 minutes
Back-to-back NBA Finals appearances, a championship ring and a role on the record-breaking 73-win Warriors. Life has been pretty good for Brandon Rush the past couple of years.
Now Rush’s contract is up, and the free agency hullabaloo in the days ahead could determine his place going forward with the defending Western Conference champs. Golden State values defensive versatility and Rush definitely gives the team that as a backup. But if the Warriors return all of their core perimeter players — Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Shawn Livingston and Harrison Barnes — would they really need Rush?
Rush proved this season, while starting 25 games, he can fill in and mesh well. In December, Rush averaged a season-high 20.3 minutes and put up 5.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.1 assists while knocking down 40.5% of his 3-point attempts.
By no means is he a game-changer, but he isn’t going to shoot your team in the foot, either. Whether it’s with the Warriors or another franchise, Rush figures to find a spot as a veteran role player.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com
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.”
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com
As the NBA showcases five Christmas Day games, Kansas basketball fans looking to mix in some Jayhawks with their holiday festivities will have a chance to catch a glimpse of as many as seven former KU players.
Here’s a rundown of ’Hawks in the NBA taking the court while most of the country takes the day off.
Chicago at Oklahoma City — featuring Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison
If you love veteran role players and stars from Roy Williams’ last years at KU, well, you better send the NBA a thank-you note for this present. Both Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison will get some national air-time Christmas afternoon (1:30, ABC) when Hinrich’s Bulls play at Collison’s Thunder (though most promos for the game probably feature Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook).
Now 34 years old, Hinrich plays a backup role for Chicago (15-11) and averages just 16.2 minutes a game. But this is his 11th season playing for the Bulls, the team that drafted him seventh overall in 2003. As pointed out recently by SI.com, the veteran 6-foot-4 guard now leads the franchise in career 3-pointers (1,040) and ranks third all-time in games played (730). The only Bulls who have played more games for Chicago are Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
Hinrich also sits third all-time in steals (853) and assists (3,779) for Chicago — again, behind Jordan and Pippen — and eighth in points (8,486).
“The young guys, they’re joking all the time, ‘Did you play with Bill Cartwright?’” Hinrich told SI.com.
More of a facilitator and defender these days, Hinrich’s best game of the season so far came in November, when Rose was injured and he played 34 minutes. Hinrich scored 17 points and helped limit reigning MVP Steph Curry to 3-for-11 shooting.
“He’s a guy that goes out and does the little things,” first-year Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He organizes everything on both ends of the floor.”
Hinrich’s old running mate at KU, Collison also plays a limited role (13.6 minutes) as a 35-year-old substitute big man for one of the NBA’s premier teams. And like Hinrich, the 6-10 forward ranks pretty high on some of Oklahoma City’s all-time lists.
Drafted by Seattle before the franchise relocated to OKC, Collison is third in games played (841), behind Fred Brown and Gary Payton. He ranks third in offensive rebounds (1,709) and total rebounds (4,566), behind Jack Sikma and Shawn Kemp. Collison also is third in field-goal percentage (.534), sixth in blocks (459) and ninth in minutes played (18,042).
As much of a mentor as a statistical contributor, Collison helps the Thunder (20-9) on and off the floor. He leads by example by defending, rebounding and taking charges.
And he’s helped 22-year-old protégé Steven Adams develop the Thunder’s pick-and-roll into a legitimate weapon.
“The teams that are really hard to guard in this league are the ones where you have a big threat rolling down the middle and you’re really put in a bind,” Collison told Oklahoma City’s website. “We’re trying to get in those situations on the offensive end as much as possible.”
Cleveland at Golden State — featuring Sasha Kaun and Brandon Rush
An NBA Finals rematch? How about the first ever professional meeting between Cleveland’s Sasha Kaun and Golden State’s Brandon Rush (4 p.m., ABC) — teammates on KU’s 2008 national championship team.
A member of the nearly unbeatable defending champion Warriors (27-1), Rush has played more this year (14.9 minutes, 5.2 points) than he has since the 2011-12 season. Golden State made the 30-year-old forward a starter when Harrison Barnes injured his ankle and became unavailable.
“I’ve been waiting for this opportunity to show that I can still shoot the ball and can still play at a high level,” Rush told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I feel so much better than I did last year — with my shot and just being able to move around the court.”
Rush’s best game to date came against Sacramento, when he nailed 4 of 5 from 3-point range and scored 16 points. In December, he is averaging 6.8 points and hitting 50 percent of his 3-pointers (14 of 28).
A major knee injury in 2012 derailed Rush’s career a bit, but now he finally appears to be back on track.
“It’s been up and down, especially these past two or three years,” Rush told the San Francisco Chronicle. “But now, everything is looking up. Things can’t get any better. I’m shooting the ball well, we’re the best team in the league, and we’re on the verge of trying to get another championship. I’m definitely in a great place right now.”
Kaun landed in a pretty good situation to start his NBA career. Cleveland, home of superstar LeBron James, is 19-7 and the prohibitive favorite in the Eastern Conference to return to the NBA Finals.
The Cavs don’t exactly need Kaun, a 30-year-old, 6-11 center that much, though. After spending most of his professional career overseas, Kaun has played in just seven games in his rookie season, with eight total points in those cameos (4.4 minutes).
"But, you know, his game is very simplistic,” Cavs coach David Blatt told Northeast Ohio Media Group before the season began, “so it's not like he has to do a lot of things that would require him to adjust. He just has to get used to the size and the length of the guys and the speed of the game."
L.A. Clippers at L.A. Lakers — featuring Paul Pierce, Cole Aldrich and Tarik Black
This NBA nightcap in Los Angeles (9:30 p.m., ESPN) seems like it would provide the most bang for a KU fan’s buck, with three Jayhawks in the mix.
But even longtime NBA star Paul Pierce isn’t expected to participate all that much. The 38-year-old forward sat out the Clippers’ previous game to rest his sore back, and coach Doc Rivers said his veteran forward will be limited in the battle of Los Angeles.
Pierce has played less for his new team of late, averaging only 10.8 minutes and 3.0 points in December (16.3 minutes, 4.1 points on the season).
On the other hand, another Jayhawk this week suddenly found himself in a more active role.
Reserve center Cole Aldrich, after not registering a single minute in 11 straight games, has played in each of the Clippers’ last two games and even played in the fourth quarter of a one-point loss to Oklahoma City earlier this week. Aldrich finished with five points, four rebounds and two blocks in 14 minutes.
"I think that was a prime example of being a star in your role and not trying to reach outside of that," Blake Griffin told the Los Angeles Times. “(Aldrich) just did what we need him to do and that's huge."
Rivers told the L.A. Times he turned to Aldrich to give the Clippers (16-13) an energetic boost. That’s what the 27-year-old did, playing in just his seventh game of the season (1.7 points, 2.1 rebounds in 5.3 minutes).
"If we play this way the rest of the year, we're going to win a lot of games," Aldrich told the L.A. Times. "We played with a lot of heart and a lot of enthusiasm and it was fun out there."
Meanwhile, the struggling Lakers (5-24) could use a similar spark from second-year big man Tarik Black. The 6-foot-9 center hasn’t played for the purple and gold since Nov. 24, but just got called back up from the team’s D-League affiliate on Wednesday.
Black put up 25 points and 14 rebounds in his final appearance with the D-Fenders. The 24-year-old big averaged 18.5 points and 11.8 rebounds in a four-game D-League stint, coming off an ankle injury.
Lakers coach Bryron Scott didn’t play Black Wednesday, while utilizing three other big men off the bench in a 35-point loss to the Thunder. So there is no guarantee Black will see the floor versus the Clippers.
— Keep up with the production of all the 'Hawks in the NBA daily at KUsports.com
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