While the pre-draft interview is an important part of the evaluation of a prospect, the on-court audition is likely the most pivotal as the June 26 NBA Draft approaches.
That isn’t the case for North Carolina swingman P.J. Hairston, who left school after an off-court incident and found himself with the Development League’s Texas Legends to finish what should have been his junior season. Hairston joins Glen Rice Jr. (a draft pick of the Wizards last season) as high-profile prospects who decided to play in the D-League after troubled college careers.
Hairston has first-round potential and is physically ready to play in the NBA, but he has repeatedly had to explain why he was suspended by the NCAA for receiving improper benefits after driving a car rented by a local party promoter. Hairston also was caught speeding with two other people in a rental car paid for by the same promoter.
Seven weeks later, on July 28, 2013, Hairston was stopped for speeding and reckless driving, and was suspended indefinitely by North Carolina coach Roy Williams. The school did not seek his reinstatement by the NCAA, and Hairston joined the Legends.
When asked what he wanted NBA teams to know about him, the 6-foot-6-inch, 230-pound Hairston said, “That I kind of get past things and I don’t reflect on my mistakes. I made some mistakes, but at the same time I look at it as the past, and when I got to Texas, that was a new chapter in my life and I felt like to let the past go, the past is the past, and I had to start working on my future.”
Hairston has an NBA body and averaged 21.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in 26 games for Texas. He led North Carolina in scoring as a sophomore and decided to return for his junior season to improve his draft stock, and then the behavior issues occurred.
“I felt like I had to be in front [and work out for] a lot of teams just to prove that I’m here to be able to play right now,” he said. “Not just to prove I’m an on-the-court person but also off the court, if I can show different characteristics that I’ve changed and mistakes were just mistakes and just the past.”
Hairston met with the Celtics at the draft combine and could be a candidate for their 17th overall pick as the organization seeks a legitimate shooting guard. But Hairston is going to face more scrutiny than other potential draftees. Teams are wary of players who experienced trouble in college, especially run-ins with the law.
“My meeting with Boston wasn’t all that long because I felt I answered all their questions thoroughly,” Hairston said. “And they felt like I was 100 percent honest and the interview went by very, very well. I want to show teams that I’m not nervous to talk about the past and I just want to sit down and be completely honest with them about what happened that day [when he was stopped for marijuana possession June 4] and tell them I don’t let the past affect me anymore.
“I feel like now that I’m [in the draft process], I don’t have anything to worry about. I feel like I’ve been honest about the whole situation.”
Since moving to the Development League, Hairston has had to reconsider his off-court decisions.
“It definitely changed me because I don’t have around as many people as I used to,” he said. “I kind of watch who I hang around. I think I really changed as a man and not a boy because I was able to make my own decisions about what I was going to and how I was going to get through it.”
His NBA idol is Rockets guard James Harden, who entered the league as a pure scorer and has emerged as a force because of his versatility and size.
“I feel like my offensive game can relate [to his],” Hairston said. “We’re both big guards. I could not necessarily use stuff that he does, but I can kind of look at his game and compare [it to mine]. We play similar. We have big bodies, we have strength to finish at the rim.”
Hairston said did not pursue an opportunity in the Development League because he wanted a taste of professional basketball with NBA rules, he said he remained in the United States because it enabled him to take online courses toward his degree in communications at North Carolina.
“The ball is going to stop bouncing one day and I want to have something to fall back on,” he said. “All the interviews [with teams] I’m expecting at least two or three questions to be asked, what happened at UNC? Or, how did you learn from the situation? Or, how did you handle it? It’s a variety of questions but it’s the same question over and over again.
“There’s no reason to get mad about it now because I’m here. I can’t let what happened then affect me.”
Williams won’t let lack of height stop him
Chaz Williams flourished in the Atlantic 10 during his three years at the University of Massachusetts, becoming one of the region’s top guards despite being listed at just 5 feet 9 inches, and more like 5-7. Williams worked out for the Celtics last week in his attempt to make the NBA.
That road was made a bit easier by the success of ex-Celtic Nate Robinson, whom Williams resembles physically, and Kings guard Isaiah Thomas, who has reached out to Williams and offered advice. Williams would have to play point guard in the NBA, where Thomas and Robinson thrived by scoring.
Williams averaged at least 15 points in each of his three seasons at UMass, and was third in the nation last season with 6.9 assists per game.
“My whole job and my main focus right now is going to a team and finding guys open shots and making their job easier,” Williams said following his workout for the Celtics. “My job is to be a point guard and pest on defense. I have my own description of my game but people think of my game a certain way. I just try to learn from the people I look up to, and [Rajon] Rondo is one of them.”
Rondo attended the workout and offered some advice to Williams about making the jump to the NBA.
“I spoke to him briefly and there were a lot of encouraging words,” Williams said. “And I’m looking forward to having more conversations with him.”
Shorter players have occasionally prospered in the NBA over the years because of explosivness and an ability to score. Williams is powerfully built and fearless.
“A lot of people say my size [is an issue], but I look at the success of Nate Robinson and Isaiah Thomas,” Williams said. “To see guys like that leading the way, it’s only making it that much better and sweeter for me, and hopefully somebody will give me the opportunity.”
Williams has had to discuss his height many times over the years, and there were doubts as to whether he would excel at UMass after transferring from Hofstra. He understands NBA teams always have concerns about players who don’t fit the physical mold.
“Every step I take in life is an obstacle, and it is because I’m short and everybody [points to] the fact that I’m little. Nobody ever lets my game speak for itself because they always see the physical aspect,” Williams said. “I just want to go out there and prove everybody wrong and prove myself right. I know what I can do, I just want to make everybody else believe.”
Thomas reached out to Williams via text, and the two spoke about the pre-draft process. Williams, like many prospects trying to make an impression for a second-round selection or a free agent contract (such as the Celtics’ Phil Pressey last season), will travel to any NBA team that requests a workout. Williams headed for Toronto two days after auditioning for the Celtics.
“I try to let this soak is as much as possible because nothing is impossible,” Williams said. “This is a great opportunity. I have to take the most out of this experience and just be appreciative.”
Williams also has scheduled workouts with the Warriors, Bucks, and Cavaliers.
“It’s going to get pretty hectic,” he said. “This is Chaz Williams, the little guy, and this is an opportunity to prove that I’m little but I can compete and play with the best of them. I just want to get out here and show everybody as much as I can.”
Jackson has no regrets about Warrior exit
Mark Jackson has rejoined ESPN after three largely successful years as Warriors coach, a run that concluded with a tumultuous season that led to his firing.
He doesn’t appear to be a candidate for any current coaching opening, not even with the Knicks, for whom he played seven seasons, but he could be a top candidate at this time next year.
“I do look forward to coaching one day, if it presents itself again,” he said. “Right now, I’m having a blast being back with my crew. I’m fortunate and thrilled to death to be back. If the opportunity presents itself, I look forward to coaching again. If I end my career the way it ended and I continue to call games, I’m fine with that, just to clear that up also. I’m having the time of my life calling these games and being back with this incredible group.”
There have been recurring reports of clashes between Jackson and Warriors general manager Bob Myers. Jackson removed or demoted two assistant coaches during the season, and couldn’t understand why he was accused of being aloof.
“Listen, there are no regrets,” said Jackson. “I think about the three years there. I think about the opportunity that was presented to me by the ownership, by management. I think about the relationship with incredible players and what they were able to accomplish in three years and where that organization was and where it is today; you’ve got a lot to be proud of. Ownership, management, players, fans — it’s in a great place. There are absolutely no regrets.”
Phil Jackson has yet to hire a coach with the Knicks, although they received a $25,000 fine for tampering with Oklahoma City guard Derek Fisher. Mark Jackson, a Brooklyn native, isn’t a Phil Jackson disciple and doesn’t run the triangle offense, making his candidacy unlikely, but he is open to returning home.
“Obviously, you hear the talk, even if it’s the New York Post reporting my inner circle made a statement, and I have no clue because my wife and kids have not spoken to the Post, so just to counter that,” Jackson said. “It’s an incredible job. It’s an incredible opportunity. And I’m sure that Phil Jackson will do an outstanding job of finding the right coach to get that organization and that team headed back in the right situation.”
Jackson is convinced he could handle the pressure of coaching in New York, despite his sudden firing with Golden State.
“As a kid that grew up in New York City and with the Knicks, everybody’s not made for New York City, whether you’re in management, whether you’re playing, whether you’re coaching,” said Jackson, who was named the 1988 NBA Rookie of the Year while with the Knicks. “I can remember as a kid watching very good to great players play in other places, be traded to the Knicks, and not be the same player, whereas some propelled when they got the opportunity to put on a Knicks uniform. It’s something about the fans. It’s something about the pressure. It’s something about the media.
“So to be quite honest, everybody is not built for it. It’s a different animal. It’s a different monster. It takes a special personality and a person understanding the things that come into play to a T. I thought, obviously I’m biased, but I thought Jeff [Van Gundy] did an incredible job juggling all of them during his time as head coach of the Knicks, but everybody’s not capable or qualified to do just that.”
An intriguing coaching candidate is Scott Skiles, who last coached with the Bucks in 2012-13. Skiles and the Bucks agreed to part ways when Milwaukee was 16-16, and it finished the season under Jim Boylan, before Larry Drew got the job prior to this season. Skiles is a defensive-minded coach who reached the playoffs six times in 13 seasons with the Suns, Bulls, and Bucks. He has drawn interest from the Lakers but there has been no interview . . . While Julius Randle was once considered a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick, or at least in the top three, NBA sources say Randle has dropped to the second group of hopefuls, which includes Arizona’s Aaron Gordon and Indiana’s Noah Vonleh. Vonleh, who is from Haverhill, has apparently impressed teams in workouts and moved ahead of Randle on many teams’ draft boards. Meanwhile, NBA sources said the Celtics are impressed with Gordon and a key will be his workout this week in Waltham. The Celtics are considering moving the sixth pick but are intrigued by Gordon’s potential and ability to defend both forward positions . . . One of the stunners from the All-NBA vote was that Russell Westbrook did not receive enough nods to make even the third team. The third-team guards were Phoenix’s Goran Dragic and Portland’s Damian Lillard. Westbrook is said to be angered by the vote and the Thunder expect him to be quite motivated in his workouts this summer. Westbrook was limited to 46 games this season because of knee surgery, a primary reason he was left off the All-NBA teams . . . Decision time could be coming soon in the Cavaliers’ coaching search. Former Celtics assistant Tyronn Lue apparently made a good impression during his interview, while the club has also interviewed Bulls assistant and former Celtics forward Adrian Griffin, who is considered a rising star among assistants. The fact both are recently retired is appearing to help their case as the trend to hire younger coaches continues . . . Director of player personnel Austin Ainge indicated the Celtics may trade to get back into the second round in what is expected to be a deep draft. The Celtics gave their second-round pick, No. 34, to the Mavericks last season to move up three spots to select forward Kelly Olynyk in the first round. The 76ers, meanwhile, have five second-round picks in the June 26 draft.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.