The NBA is flooded with talent from Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri as the 2010-11 season approaches.
It seems like the NBA Finals just ended, but preseason NBA action will get underway this week. For Kansas Citians, the NBA may be an afterthought with priority given to the college game and the NFL, but there are several players from area colleges at the next level. Below are local players to keep your eye on, in descending order of NBA experience:
Paul Pierce - Boston (Kansas): The eight-time All-Star is still plugging away in Boston, where management picked up Shaquille O'Neal in the offseason. It's hard to believe that Pierce is already 32, but if he can stay healthy and productive for a few more seasons, he stands a decent chance of breaking Larry Bird's franchise scoring mark.
Keyon Dooling - Milwaukee (Missouri): Dooling is still kicking as he enters his tenth season overall and first with Milwaukee. He's a proficient three-point shooter (34.6% for his career), but offers little else.
Drew Gooden - Milwaukee (Kansas): An NBA vagrant who finds moderate success nearly everywhere he goes, Gooden may have finally found a home in July, when the Bucks, his ninth organization in as many years, inked him to a five-year, $32 million contract.
Kirk Hinrich - Washington (Kansas): The Bulls traded Hinrich to Washington over the summer. With Gilbert Arenas returning and the number one overall pick in John Wall now in the fold, minutes may be tough to come by, but should either of them struggle or miss any time, Hinrich should provide some stability in the backcourt.
Nick Collison - Oklahoma City (Kansas): Collison has found rhythm in Oklahoma City as a valuable complimentary player to superstar Kevin Durant, averaging nearly a double-double per game. The Thunder asserted themselves as a force last season, winning 50 games before bowing out to the Lakers.
Linas Kleiza - Toronto (Missouri): Kleiza returns to the league after spending last season in Greece. Over the summer, Kleiza led his native Lithuania to a bronze medal finish at the FIBA World Championship in Turkey. The Raptors liked what they saw and signed the former Tiger to a four-year contract worth nearly $19 million.
Julian Wright - Toronto (Kansas): The Raptors traded for the former KU forward during the off-season after he spent three seasons in Toronto that left plenty to be desired. Toronto experienced a seven-win improvement from 2008-09, and Wright will help in the efforts to continue that trend with his length and playmaking ability.
Michael Beasley - Minnesota (Kansas State): Beasley was traded by the Heat to Minnesota, with the Heat using the extra cap space to make their major offseason moves. The Timberwolves are loaded with collegiate superstars in Kevin Love, Corey Brewer, Jonny Flynn and Wesley Johnson, but their management hasn't found a way to make it work.
Brandon Rush - Indiana (Kansas): The Pacers will have Rush, a potent three-point shooter, in the fold this year, but a failed drug test has the former Jayhawk's future in doubt. Rush will become an unrestricted free agent next summer if the Pacers don't pick up his $2.9 million option by October 31.
Darrell Arthur - Memphis (Kansas): All reports indicate that Arthur is fully recovered from a pectoral muscle tear that cost him 50 games last season. He's behind Zach Randolph on the depth chart, but still has loads of potential. Like Rush, Arthur needs to move towards realizing his potential for his current team to keep him around beyond this season.
Mario Chalmers - Miami (Kansas): Chalmers was demoted to the bench last season after starting all 82 games as a rookie in 2008-09. Despite splurging in the offseason for LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and an extension for Dwyane Wade, there's still an opportunity for Chalmers to regain his starting role for the NBA's newest superpower.
DeMarre Carroll - Memphis (Missouri): Carroll has struggled to find a role with the Grizzlies, and will look to change that in his sophomore season. Early reports from Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins have included praise for a fast start to training camp.
Bill Walker - New York (Kansas State): After getting buried on the bench in Boston, Walker was traded to New York in February and canned 50 treys in just 27 games for the Knicks after their season was lost. He dropped 25 pounds over the summer, but with a fresh season about to begin, the Knicks are looking at more seasoned players at Walker's position.
Xavier Henry - Memphis (Kansas): Memphis ownership finally settled their contract dispute with Henry, signing the 12th overall pick in June's draft to a guaranteed rookie contract. The holdout delayed Henry's acclimation to the NBA, but Henry has the shooting accuracy to flourish opposite O.J. Mayo.
Cole Aldrich - Oklahoma City (Kansas): The Thunder gained an avid rebounder when GM Sam Presti traded for Aldrich on draft day. He'll fight for supremacy on the glass, and playing for a winner from the very beginning should provide plenty of motivation for Aldrich to succeed quickly.
Sherron Collins - Charlotte (Kansas): Collins impressed for the Bobcats in summer league play, earning himself a partially guaranteed two-year contract. The former KU point guard goes from leading a college team that was tops in the nation for a portion of last season to fighting two players (DJ Augustin and Shawn Livingston) for playing time, on top of the challenge of getting into shape.