Basketball Notes

Aldrich is hoping to do big things

By Gary Washburn
June 20, 2010

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As he entered an elevator in the five-star Houston hotel where he was hours from another predraft workout, the 6-foot-11-inch man with the closely shaven head looked down at a person who asked what he was doing in town.

“I’m here for a horse jockeys convention,’’ the tall man said.

The shorter man responded, “Oh, I didn’t know there was a jockeys convention in town.’’

The tall man smiled, relishing his anonymity.

Such is the story of Cole Aldrich, the University of Kansas big man expected to be a top 15 pick in Thursday’s NBA draft. He doesn’t come with much fanfare. Aldrich is considered a safe pick because Jayhawks big men are steady if not spectacular.

So teams that can’t grab DeMarcus Cousins or Greg Monroe or are not convinced about the upside of Ed Davis or Al-Farouq Aminu will have their chance at Aldrich, who could help right away because of his shooting range and shot-blocking ability. While the draft is filled with hit-or-miss prospects — the Dwight Howards or the Luther Wrights — Aldrich is pegged for a solid career, and he is content with that assessment.

“I really think it’s a good thing,’’ he said. “I have had people say I am the safest pick out there for the draft this year. To me, that’s what I am as a player.

“Everybody has watched me for three years and they know what they are going to expect out of me as a player, a real energy guy who can play defense, block shots, and rebound. If a team needs that on their roster, I’d love to be that guy.’’

Aldrich averaged nearly a double-double for the final two years of his career at Kansas after playing a bit role on the national championship team in 2008. He is ranked as the No. 2 true center behind Cousins, and two factors have catapulted Aldrich during the draft process.

He averaged 3.5 blocks and nearly a steal per game last season. And his defense off the pick-and-roll is exemplary.

Aldrich is exactly what many NBA teams crave: a defensive-minded center who is less worried about producing points and more consumed with rebounding. The Celtics certainly could use another rebounding big man, but there is no way Aldrich will fall to the 19th pick.

“I know at least in my first few years when I am in the league, it’s pretty much on the defensive side where I make my impact,’’ he said. “Right now, that’s the player I am. I am a defensive player. I love blocking shots, rebounding, and just banging with the other big guys down in the post.’’

Aldrich has worked out for eight teams, including New Orleans, Sacramento, Utah, and Toronto. What makes him different from Monroe or Cousins is athleticism, but he could make the fastest adjustment to the NBA. Aldrich has impressed clubs with his perimeter shooting, potentially making him a perfect pick-and-pop big man.

“I would love to be a guy that comes in and impacts a team defensively,’’ he said. “There’s going to be some learning curves to it and there aren’t going to be things that just happen overnight. My offensive game, I’m not going to wake up tomorrow morning and say, ‘Hey, I got a million moves and no one could stop me.’

“It’s not one of those things, and it’s something I’m very comfortable with just knowing that.

“Going through my three years at KU, my freshman year, I may have been a good reserve or maybe possibly fighting for a starting job at many other schools in the Big 12, but I was OK with my role as a role guy.’’

Several prospects have zigzagged the country working out against each other for teams, and Aldrich has built friendships through those workouts. He said he ran into former Big 12 foe Craig Brackins of Iowa State, who had worked out for 17 teams.

“The cool thing for me is I’m going to different cities I have never been to,’’ Aldrich said. “It’s cool to see different cities but also see the different personalities of each team.

“Every team is different; some teams are a little more laidback and other teams are a little more serious. It’s pretty cool going around and seeing that.’’

What was reinforced during this year’s Finals was the importance of defense and rebounding, the latter probably keeping the Celtics from title No. 18. Aldrich said he watched Game 7 closely and observed the importance of having a center who can flourish doing the little things. He believes he can be that player.

“I was telling people on my Twitter, this is one of the best defensive games you could ever have,’’ he said of Game 7. “You got LA, who is in the last two games of the season, [playing] crazy defense.

“A lot of people love the high scoring, the flash, stuff like that, but as a true basketball fan, I really love watching the game and knowing both teams, Boston and LA, both had big guys who were very long.

“It kind of made me think I’m one of those guys with length who could help a team out like that.’’

Champs not at full strength
Can the Lakers three-peat with this current crew? That’s doubtful, so look for Los Angeles to make some changes during the offseason to bolster its bench and find a true, distributing point guard.

Derek Fisher is a free agent and reiterated during the postseason that he has no plans of retiring. The Lakers could bring him back, but not as a starter. Fisher’s struggles against Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and the fact that Phil Jackson moved Kobe Bryant to guard Rajon Rondo during the Finals could be indications that Fisher’s responsibilities will be reduced.

Fisher did an admirable job chasing Ray Allen around screens, but he couldn’t stop Allen in the post.

Meanwhile, Jordan Farmar’s option was not picked up by the Lakers in October, making the guard a restricted free agent.

The Lakers don’t like Farmar’s cockiness, and he has never emerged as an heir apparent to Fisher.

So the Lakers could be in the hunt for a front-line point guard, and a candidate could be unrestricted free agent Raymond Felton. With the Lakers well over the salary cap, the best they could offer Felton is the mid-level exception, which could be attractive since he will be with the reigning champions.

Felton is the best free agent point guard on the market and he also can score and uses his bulk to drive to the basket. It may be the best fit for the Lakers.

Bryant, who was basically a human one-word answer during the playoffs, revealed after Game 7 that he was banged up for most of the season and couldn’t play another one in his current condition. Bryant played with a gimpy right knee, a fractured finger, and a sprained ankle but was good enough to win the Finals MVP award.

He is expected to skip USA Basketball duty and take the summer off. Just two months before his 32d birthday, Bryant realizes rest is becoming more of a necessity.

“I felt good enough to get through the playoffs,’’ he said. “I’m obviously going to have to look at the knee and figure some things out. I can’t play a whole entire season the way it is now.’’

Bryant was not specific on the type of procedure he requires, but he does need maintenance. How much injuries had to do with his uneven performances in the Finals will be determined next season when he’s healthy. He claims age is not a factor.

“It’s just an injury, and that’s what drove me nuts and made this even sweeter was everybody kept talking about, he’s old, he’s old,’’ Bryant said. “I was hurt. I drained my knee, and all of a sudden reeling off 30-point games like they’re 10-point games and everybody said how young I looked. I was hurt.’’

A pass-first point guard could boost Bryant’s offensive productivity because it was apparent during the Finals that he had trouble getting the ball in his sweet spots. Fisher still has the ability to hit significant shots but whether he can continue to be a starting point guard on a championship-caliber team is LA’s biggest offseason question.

There will be a few teams looking to get even with the Lakers, including Oklahoma City, Dallas, and Denver, so they need to adjust. They barely held off an aging Celtics team.

All bright and new in Jersey
The Nets are quite pleased with their decision to hire Avery Johnson as coach, and the organization is on the rise after being purchased by Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov. While Johnson had an opportunity to take a position with more successful teams in Atlanta or New Orleans, the Nets won’t be down for long because of salary cap space created by former general manager Kiki Vandeweghe. New Jersey has only $19 million in committed salaries if it doesn’t exercise the team option on Keyon Dooling’s contract.

That’s enough for two maximum free agents or perhaps one All-Star-caliber player and two complements. In a division in which the Celtics are aging, the Knicks and Sixers are in the same position as New Jersey, and Toronto is desperately seeking a sign-and-trade deal for Chris Bosh, the Nets could emerge as the league’s most improved team.

Johnson got a bad rap in Dallas and the Mavericks have done little since his departure, so it was time for another opportunity.

“The two-year little hiatus from coaching was long enough,’’ Johnson said during his news conference. “I wanted to get with a young team that hasn’t had much success and we can build from the ground up and that’s why this job and why this time.

“It’s not like I am taking over a situation where a team has won 60 games back-to-back years and maybe they have lost in the second or third round. This is a situation where we have basically been decimated. But now in the future folks can look back five years from now, people can say hiring Avery Johnson made sense.’’

New Jersey has the third pick and is trying to decide between Derrick Favors and Wesley Johnson.

Brook Lopez and Devin Harris, who played for Johnson in Dallas, joined the coach at his news conference, and they may be the lone Nets holdovers from last season’s 12-70 squad.

“It will be an exciting time,’’ Harris said. “We definitely have [the ability] to bring in some very good players. Like they said, we have a chance to be very good, very fast.’’

The 76ers briefly gave away their draft plans by placing a picture of Ohio State swingman Evan Turner on their website. The photo was quickly removed, but the plans are still in place. Turner did not work out for the Wizards and his representatives believe he is a much better fit in Philadelphia. The Wizards invited several top prospects to workouts but were denied, and they reportedly have decided on John Wall . . . With the city mired in financial troubles, Los Angeles was wary of picking up the tab for tomorrow’s Laker championship parade. Owner Jerry Buss alleviated the tension by paying $2 million. Unlike past parades, the Lakers will cut costs by avoiding downtown routes and the kickoff at City Hall . . . Since Tom Izzo finally ended a week of unnecessary drama by announcing he is remaining at Michigan State, the Cavaliers are now focusing on Byron Scott, but don’t be surprised if they give Lakers assistant and former Celtic Brian Shaw some attention. Shaw has been on the list of hot assistant coaches for years and the Cavaliers are running out of options for a head coach. Of course, whether Scott or Shaw actually takes the Cleveland job depends on the decision of Phil Jackson with the Lakers. Scott and Shaw both would be interested in taking over the Lakers, so the Cavaliers may have to act fast to avoid losing out on another choice candidate . . . The recent trade between Philadelphia and Sacramento may have a major impact for both teams, or very little, depending on whether Samuel Dalembert becomes the effective center he never consistently was in Philadelphia and whether Spencer Hawes can do something more than shoot open jumpers. Hawes was supposed to be the versatile center the Kings craved two years ago, but a prima donna attitude along with a tiff with coach Paul Westphal led to his exit from Sacramento. Dalembert asked for a trade during the regular season because he wanted a more expansive role. He should be more of an offensive focal point for the Kings . . . The death of Manute Bol yesterday at age 47 is tragic because he was one of the few players who tackled social issues and delved deeply into community service following his playing career. He was a major contributor to the Sudanese freedom effort and became known more for his philanthropy than his basketball skills. And in 10 years on the court, Bol managed to become a respected player and not a sideshow because of his 7-7 height.

Gary Washburn can be reached at Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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