Wouldn't it be awesome if we could go through Jayhawk basketball history and swap players from year to year however we wanted, in an effort to push a particular team over the top, or relieve a logjam at a position, or maybe improve the chemistry of a team? Well I sure hope you were smart with your other two wishes, Aladdin-- because today, we're going to do exactly that.
Some rules for my made-up game:
- The trade is only effective for one season. After that, players go back to their original teams, and the only reality that is altered is the year in question. For example, if 2007 Mario Chalmers gets traded, that doesn't mean we're sacrificing the 2008 championship. In this scenario, Chalmers would go back to his original team after the 2007 season, still hit The Shot, still be a legend forever, etc. etc.
- The trade has to be at least relatively fair. Yeah, of course it would be awesome to throw Andrew Wiggins on the 2003 team and see how badly we destroy Syracuse in that championship game...but who does the '03 team give up in that trade? I don't think a package of Bryant Nash, Moulaye Niang, and the rights to Jeremy Case is gonna cut it.
- No trades that result in different versions of the same player playing on the same team. Yeah, if Senior Wayne Simien was on the 2002 team in addition to Freshman Wayne Simien, that could be enough to push that team to a title....but then you're opening up a bunch of time paradoxes, and you're trying to avoid your other self so he can still get your parents to kiss at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, and everything gets a little too Back to the Future-y.
With those rules in mind, here are a few of my favorite trades I wish we had the power to make:
2013 team gets: 2009 Sherron Collins
2009 team gets: 2013 Elijah Johnson, Anrio Adams
I'm hard-pressed to think of a season more easy to "fix" than 2013. There was one main issue that persisted all year long with that team, and it was point guard. Throw Junior Sherron on there for Senior Elijah, and that team absolutely avoids the Michigan meltdown in the Sweet 16, and is arguably the favorite for the national title. One of the problems with 2013 was that Kansas had a lot of really solid players, but no alpha dog offensively. You could make a case for Ben McLemore, but once the postseason started, it was clear he wasn't ready for it. He was extremely skittish the first two games, bounced back with a great start in the Michigan game, and then disappeared in crunch time. Substitute Sherron for Elijah and KU benefits from his steadying hand (COUGH 10-SECOND VIOLATION COUGH) and willingness to take the big shots down the stretch. Plus, since the McGary nut-punch and the choke job would never happen, we erase the most ignominious ending to any KU player's career ever, and EJ gets remembered much more fondly. A nice bonus.
As for the 2009 team, they weren't winning a title or anything anyway, so that's why I'm willing to give up Sherron. As fans, we were coming off the championship feeling fat and happy. The entire rotation besides Sherron and Cole Aldrich was turning over. That year was all about watching the youngsters grow up, in anticipation of big things down the road. I originally had this as a straight-up Collins-for-Johnson swap, decided it wasn't enough, and threw in Anrio Adams. He has more value on the 2009 team, since Self was just throwing players to the wall and seeing what stuck (oh hi Tyrone Appleton). Maybe if Rio starts his career with more of an opportunity for playing time, he becomes a valuable player. Here's the inherent danger with this trade, though: Is 2013 Elijah (and whatever Rio may contribute besides hilarious sideline antics) good enough to keep the Big 12 title streak alive? It's pretty dicey, especially since even in real life with Sherron, we needed some injury luck with Blake Griffin to win it. Here's my argument: Let's say our chances to win the Big 12 in 2009 with EJ instead of Sherron drop to 50%, but our chances to win the national title in 2013 increase from, let's say, 10% to 33%. Is that worth it in your mind? Regardless of the fuzzy math, for me, it's a yes, and I suspect it would be for Bill Self, too. I'd rather have another national championship than an intact Big 12 regular season championship streak.
1991 team gets: 2001 Drew Gooden
2001 team gets: 1991 Mike Maddox, Sean Tunstall
Disclaimer: If UNLV beats Duke in their national semifinal matchup, I'm not sure I even bother with the '91 KU squad. It sounds silly since they were only a game away from winning it all, but that UNLV team was absolutely terrifying, and even throwing out my rules, I don't know what player I could add to make Kansas the favorite in that theoretical matchup. Embiid? LaFrentz? Pierce? Morningstar? I still can't believe Duke knocked off that Runnin' Rebels team. But they did, and as a result, the championship game became a lot more winnable that year, and that's why we're here.
God bless Mark Randall and Alonzo Jamison, we wouldn't have advanced to the championship game without them....but unlike many of the big men that followed them in the Roy era, they were turnstiles defensively. There was virtually no rim protection the entire year, and in that championship game, Christian Laettner ran amuck and put everyone in foul trouble. I'm not saying Gooden is Jeff Withey or anything, but I'd love to see Laettner put up the same stats while trying to deal with Gooden's length and quickness. It's pretty safe to say there weren't a lot of players like Gooden in 1991. I think Tunstall's minutes can go to Steve Woodberry and, to a lesser extent when Tunstall would have played the 3, Richard Scott (I LOVE Richard Scott, that was not a small factor in this trade). We could peel a few minutes from Jamison (not to throw him under the bus, since he was superb most of the tournament, but he did go 1-10 in the title game), and the upgrade from Maddox to Gooden might be enough to beat the Blue Devils and hang a banner that year.
I've always thought that the 2001 team was an awkward fit. There weren't enough basketballs to go around that year, and it's always a bit messy when the up-and-coming new school (Gooden, Hinrich, Collison) is clearly better than the old school (Chenowith, Gregory). Really, only Boschee fit in well with the new guys, but even that didn't totally click until the next season, when Miles showed up to take on most of the ball-handling duties. But I digress. If you swap out Gooden for a couple of solid role players in Maddox and Tunstall, it might not hurt the '01 team as much as you might think. More post touches for Collison, more opportunities to go small and run (a lineup of Hinrich, Boschee, Gregory, Tunstall and Collison is intriguing, no?), and maybe we end up salvaging the career of Chenowith a little bit. Having the clearly more talented duo of Collison and Gooden breathing down his neck the last two years of his career didn't help Chenowith's confidence, and helped drive him straight into the waiting arms of the Dave Matthews Band. I don't want to say this is a case of addition by subtraction, because Gooden was awesome, but I don't think the 2001 team would do much worse without him than what happened in reality-- a 4-seed and a Sweet Sixteen loss (to Coach Self and Illinois, coincidentally).
2006 team gets: 1997 Jerod Haase
1997 team gets: 2006 Brandon Rush
Look, I like Floor Burns as much as the next guy (unless 'the next guy' happens to be a certain pair of brothers that I'm friends with, they worship Haase and are gonna be pissed at this next part), but let's be honest here-- he wasn't exactly the most clutch dude on the planet. He was absolutely terrible in each of KU's tournament losses. Take a look, but maybe just peek through your fingers like you're watching a scary movie, because it's pretty gruesome:
1995 Sweet 16 vs. Virginia: 1-6 from the field, 5 points, but did have the game stopped twice on his behalf because he took such hard spills
1996 Elite 8 vs. Syracuse: 0-9 from the field, 3 points, but DID GO 0-9 FROM THE FIELD
1997 Sweet 16 vs. Arizona: 1-3 from the field, 2 points, just 14 minutes due to an injury that he tried to play through because his nickname is Floor Burns
Haase is not the sole problem that caused Roy to never advance to the Final Four as a 1-seed in the 90's....but he certainly wasn't part of the solution. (To be fair and show both sides, Rush did suck in the '06 Bradley loss, but in the '07 loss to UCLA when nobody could put the ball in the basket, Rush scored 1/3 of KU's points).
Anyway, back to the '97 squad. Is it smart to tamper with the roster of the team that was 31-1 heading into the tournament, and is generally accepted to be one of the best teams ever to not win the title? Maybe not. Am I overreacting to one loss, in a sport whose entire postseason format ensures that there are many, many, many years when the best team is not crowned champion? Perhaps. Am I still moving forward with this trade? Absolutely.
The '97 team had gobs of experience; I'm not worried about trading a 5th-year senior for a freshman. Conversely, the '06 team is one of the youngest in Self's entire tenure-- a little senior experience from someone not named Christian Moody or Jeff Hawkins would have been welcomed.
Two not-so-fun facts about the Arizona loss in '97: 1) We all remember Mike Bibby abusing Jacque Vaughn like a big brother proving a point to his little bro in the driveway (speaking of terrible endings to careers, Jacque's was up there with EJ as one of the worst), but you know who was right there with him for the Wildcats, with 20 points? Michael Dickerson. 2) You know who jacked up the most shots that day for the Jayhawks? Billy Thomas. Not LaFrentz, not Pierce, not Robertson, Haase or Vaughn. Not even Scot Pollard....it was Billy Thomas. And he only made 5 of 15. (I know there are some comeback-desperation 3's included in that number, but still).
Why do I bring those two problems up? Because I think Freshman Rush solves both of them. He could absolutely lock down Dickerson, and help out on Miles Simon and Jason Terry when needed. And Rush wouldn't have to shoot much of anything besides wide open threes or dunks....in fact, with what we saw in three years of watching Rush, he maybe would've preferred it that way.
The 2006 team? By going from Rush to Haase, they only lose a point per game in scoring, pick up some valuable experience and hustle, and similar to the 2001 example, I doubt they do any worse than what actually happened....some rocky losses, some fun wins, a share of the Big 12 title, and a first-round loss to Bradley.
Let's hear what you have to say about these trades, as well as any theoretical ones you'd want to see happen. I already have some more cooking for the next round (I'm trying to resist the urge to trade Andrew White III to literally any KU team of the last 30 years, in the hopes he gets some playing time), but if I see someone mention a great trade in the comments, we could expand on that one too.