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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Aron Baynes the lone Pac-12 representative in NBA Finals

LeBron+James+of+the+Miami+Heat+drives+against+San+Antonio+Spurs%26apos%3B+Danny+Green+during+the+third+quarter+in+Game+2+of+the+NBA+Finals+at+the+AmericanAirlines+Arena+in+Miami%2C+Florida%2C+Sunday%2C+June+9%2C+2013.+The+Miami+Heat+defeated+the+San+Antonio+Spurs%2C+103-84.+%28Al+Diaz%2FMiami+Herald%2FMCT%29
Al Diaz
LeBron James of the Miami Heat drives against San Antonio Spurs' Danny Green during the third quarter in Game 2 of the NBA Finals at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida, Sunday, June 9, 2013. The Miami Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs, 103-84. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/MCT)

San Antonio was trailing the Miami Heat by 24 points in the fourth quarter of game two of the NBA Finals. With 7:43 remaining, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich called a full timeout to pull his entire starting lineup and ultimately concede defeat.

Yet, with a full squad of reserves out on the floor, power forward Aron Baynes remained inactive on the bench, not even part of the 13-man Spurs roster. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise, considering that the 26-year-old rookie hasn’t played since San Antonio’s sweep of the Lakers. In fact, Baynes has only played a combined 163 minutes in his 20 appearances this season.

But, even as the token Brian Scalabrine at the end of the bench, the New Zealand native carries an important mantle in the Finals — Baynes, a former Washington State Cougar, is the Pac-12’s lone representative.

It’s a feat Baynes should be proud of too.

In the 17 prior NBA Finals, there were at least two Pac-12 alumni on the rosters.

Just go back to 2002, when eight different Pac-12 players participated in Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal’s dismantling of Richard Jefferson, Jason Kidd (California) and the New Jersey Nets. That Finals even featured two Stanford men with Mark Madsen on the Lakers and the now famous Jason Collins on the Nets.

The last time there was just a single Pac-12 player in the Finals, LeBron James was just finishing up fourth grade. No seriously, James was 10 years old.

The now fossil-like Tim Duncan was recovering from Wake Forest’s Sweet Sixteen loss to Oklahoma State. Duncan, a sophomore at the time, just won his first of three-straight Defensive Player of the Year awards while averaging 16.8 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. Now Duncan is playing in his 15th season and his fifth NBA Finals.

Back in 1995, Michael Jordan just returned to basketball after his failed stint of minor league baseball, playing in 17 regular season games before being ousted by the Orlando Magic in six games. At that time people began doubting if Jordan would ever get his game back.

The last time only a single Pac-12 player was in the Finals, Hall-of-Fame Center Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets were sweeping a 23-year-old O’Neal and his Magic. The man who was squarely in Baynes shoes? UCLA small forward Tracy Murray.

While Murray was actually a first-round pick (unlike the undrafted Baynes), he was only on the Rockets as cap fodder, part of the deal that sent Portland’s Clyde Drexler to Houston in exchange for Otis Thorpe.

Like Baynes, Murray played a total of zero minutes in the finals, so a lack of a Pac-12 presence isn’t unheard of. It’s just very, very unusual.

And in 1995, the Pac-10 was still in its heyday. UCLA was a No. 1 seed in the Tournament, both Arizona schools a No. 5 seed. Even future Pac-12 invitee Utah was a force as a No. 4 seed.

The Wildcats were coming off of their a Final Four ever the year before, led by now assistant coach Damon Stoudamire. Oh, and the Bruins won their last NCAA Championship in 1995. The Pac-10 was at the peak of its powers. It’d be hard to make any direct correlation then between the strength of the conference and the number of Pac-12 players in the Finals.

It’d also be unfair to say the Pac-12 is lacking in NBA players right now.

The conference still has the second-most NBA players behind the Atlantic Coast confernce and all 12 teams have produced at least one current pro. Also, four Pac-12 alumni made the All-Star game — though 16 percent of the players isn’t exactly amazing.

Once you start to crunch the numbers, the flaws of the Pac-12 start to shine. Only three of the Top 40 performers in ESPN’s Player Efficiency Ratings are from the conference and just four in the Top 53 (Cal’s Ryan Anderson is No. 54).

Former Pac-12 players didn’t exactly have the best of luck either. Kevin Love, Chase Budinger, Malcolm Lee and Brandon Roy combined to play 62 games total this season (also all four played on the Minnesota Timberwolves). Channing Frye missed the entire season with a heart condition, Jordan Hill played just 32 games with the Lakers, and Russell Westbrook tore his ACL in game two of the NBA playoffs.

Also, Kidd a Pac-12 and NBA great, called it quits a little more than a week ago to end his 19-year career. All in all, it was a bad season for the formerly great Pac-12 conference.

Baynes taking home the coveted Tracy Murphy Award might only be a nifty piece of trivia, and the lack of Pac-12 players in the Heat-Spurs Final might be due more to San Antonio’s love for international and small-school talent than anything else.

Still, the fact that it’s Baynes carrying the mantle for the Pac-12 is an embarrassing state of affairs for the Pac-12.

Hopefully this can act as a wake-up call that the conference needs to start producing more talent. Well, at least everyone but Arizona — Sean Miller seems to have the right idea with Aaron Gordon coming to Tucson.

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