Ex-Cats finding success during the NBA Offseason

Kentucky freshman Tyler Ulis gets hit while driving to the basket during the second half of the University of Kentucky vs. Kansas University men’s Basketball game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis , In., on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 Kentucky won 72-40 over Kansas. Photo by Jonathan Krueger | Staff

Anthony Crawford

The NBA off season is upon us and while free agency offers some players the ability to get paid, the NBA Summer League give rookies and other young prospects a chance to make a name for themselves. Former UK players are thriving in both areas.

With an unprecedented cap spike taking place this summer, NBA free agency was poised to be crazier than ever with players cashing in left and right.

One of the players that was able to secure a large contract was point guard Rajon Rondo, who signed a two-year $28 million contract with the Chicago Bulls. After the Sacramento Kings decided not to resign Rondo, the market was not looking good for the former Cat’s guard. But with a lot of the bigger name point guards off the board, his production spoke loud enough to garner interest from the Bulls.

Rondo led the league in assists per game last season with 11.7 per game, and without former Memphis point guard Derrick Rose, the Bulls likely need that type of playmaking ability to help transition from the trade that sent Rose to the Knicks.

Another UK player that received great news as far as contracts go is Tyler Ulis. While the Phoenix Suns second round draft pick won’t be the benefactor of a large contract like Rondo, Ulis will receive a contract that resembles more of a first round draft pick’s.

The contract starts at around $1 million with two years of guaranteed money followed by a two-year team option. Ulis receives a lot of stability with it, as second round draft picks are not guaranteed anything. It’s also interesting to see Ulis paid what he likely would’ve have been as a first rounder, since that is where he was expected to be drafted before a hip injury saw him slide.

The last Cat remaining unsigned during this period is forward Terrence Jones. Jones fell out of the Houston Rockets rotation early in the season because of illness and struggled to work his way back in. His overall numbers were down which led to the Rockets not an extending qualified offer, making him an unrestricted free agent.

With some of bigger dominos starting to fall, it shouldn’t be long until he starts generating some buzz. Teams likely won’t sign him for much, but at this point, the best thing for Jones would be a short term contract for a team that will give him a big enough role to showcase himself for his next go around in free agency. The Rockets organization was very tense to say the least with disputes between the two star players, so a change of scenery could do Jones good moving on in his career.

Moving on to the other side of the NBA off season, the Summer Leagues have started in Utah and Orlando and some former UK guys are among those making headlines.

The Orlando league features four former UK players in Marquis Teague, Dakari Johnson, Aaron Harrison and Alex Poythress. The top performer of the group is second-year Harrison for the Charlotte Hornets.

Harrison came into the Orlando league being asked to do basically everything for the Hornets and he has done just that. With averages of 15.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists, he has been one of the standouts of the league so far.

Another second year player that has come on strong is Johnson. The Oklahoma City Thunder center is doing exactly what he did at UK, using his big body and strength to get rebounds and finish inside. Johnson spent all of last season playing for the Thunder’s D-League team and the experience has proved valuable as his has been on of the top big man performers with averages of 13.0 points and 9.0 rebounds.

The two other players, Poythress and Teague, need big showings to help them in their efforts to earn roster spots in the upcoming season. Teague has done an impressive job with the Dallas Mavericks as he is averaging 13.5 points and 3.5 assists. Poythress, on the other hand, has struggled earlier but has shown flashes of his value with athletic plays like the block below.

The Utah Summer League has just started, so only a few Cats have been able to showcase themselves on the court, but the ones who have provided a lot of impressive moments.

The Utah Jazz’s Trey Lyles made likely the strongest impression in the first day of the league Monday. The forward put up 13 points and 12 rebounds against the Spurs, but most impressively he shot 3-6 from three-point range.

Improving his outside shot will likely be his ticket to more playing time once the regular season starts and this first game is very telling if he can keep it up.

The other player is third-year wing James Young. After being drafted first round by the Boston Celtics, Young has yet to carve out any real playing time on the team. He spent most of his first year in the D-League, but suited up for the Celtics a lot this year but did not see a lot of action on the court.

Young’s first game of eight points and six rebounds is not overwhelming, but if he can prove to just be consistent and do the little things like crash the glass and play good defense, he should be able to slowly work his way into the good graces of head coach Brad Stevens. It also can’t hurt him going 2-2 from deep, as his outside shot has not been nearly as reliable as it was at UK as it has been in the NBA.

Some Cats that have yet to make their summer league debut this year include Suns guards Devin Booker and Ulis. They will start play in the Las Vegas summer league starting July 8.