After AJ Abrams' ill-timed announcement six weeks ago that he would be turning pro, AW and I made it very clear how displeased we were with how he and his family handled the affair. We've mostly kept quiet since then, debating off record how - if at all - to discuss the Abrams situation at BON.
THE TRICKY PART: MOVING PAST THE MISTAKES
It's been a legitimately delicate situation. On the one hand, the way the Abrams clan has handled this entire affair has offended Longhorns' sensibilities. And not just fans, either: Orangebloods.com's Gerry Hamilton was suggesting as recently as last week that Rick Barnes and his staff were miffed enough by the circumstances that Abrams had some work to do just to be welcomed back with the team.1
On the other hand, as one person close to the program whose opinion I trust most on these matters aptly reminded me:
You could make an argument for AJ to be the most indispensable player on the roster, outside of Mason... Our guard situation is so thin right now, we're losing so much of our offensive spark in DJ, and AJ is really the only pure shooter on the roster. Without AJ, we're looking at Balbay/Mason/Brown/Smith? Seriously, we're in a lot of trouble if *any* of the guards get injured, especially after watching how we played with fire last season...
It's a legitimate point. No matter how irksome the Abrams' chosen path has been, it's undeniable that Texas is in far better shape if AJ Abrams is draining threes in Austin rather than Ankara.
Fortunately, cooler heads appear to have prevailed. Kirk Bohls has a column today which suggests any needed amends between player and staff have indeed been made:
Abrams' decision to test the NBA waters completely blind sided the Texas staff, and there have been reports he was jealous of all the attention Augustin received although A.J. has never said that publicly. The waves have calmed, apparently. Barnes would love to see him return, and A.J. has told the staff he will attend summer school. Signs?
Bohls' column makes crystal clear that any rift between Abrams and the coaching staff is water under the bridge, an outcome that's best for all involved: Though part of me wants to hold a grudge against Abrams for the self-serving and unceremonious upstaging of Augustin, the bottom line is that AJ and his father just made a mistake. And if they've done enough to appease Rick Barnes - who has more reason to be offended than I - then there's nothing left to do but file the issue in the books and start looking forward.
THE TRICKIER PART: THERE'S NO 'I' IN 'TEAM', RIGHT?
If it's a good thing that the path for Abrams' return is clear, I'm not at all without reservations just yet. Take it away, Kirk:
Should he come back to Texas, he could push teammates Justin Mason and sophomore Dogus Balbay (after a likely short NCAA suspension) for playing time at the point...
...Most, like myself, have severe reservations about Abrams' ability to play the point.
He is reasonably quick and a very underrated passer, but he rarely beats his own man off the dribble and relied on screens and double-screens to get open for his deadly shot from the wings or corners.
But he must prove to NBA teams he can be a point guard.
"That's what he's got to play," Barnes said. "He's got to embrace it and want to do it. He is as intelligent a basketball player as we've ever had, but he doesn't want to get totally away from what he's doing. There's no doubt in his mind he can do it."
In his mind.
The rest of us will keep an open mind, that is, if he doesn't close the door to another year in college.
Is it me, or is there a bit of a potential disconnect here? Is it not true that this delicate situation only exists because of the cold and calculating way in which the Abrams' pursued AJ's interests above all else? Forgivable though those sins may be, the elephant in the room is that if Abrams does return it can only be because he's concluded that the extra year is necessary for his professional career.2
The potential conflict thus emerges: NBA scouts are unanimously saying Abrams' only shot in the NBA is as a point guard, but neither Bohls, nor I, nor AW, nor anyone - as far as I can tell - think AJ is the best option to play point for Texas next year.
Is this going to be a problem? Where we might normally assume that all involved would be working in tandem to do what's best for the team, here there's real concern that AJ's professional aspirations have assumed an importance unhealthy for the Team.
Even setting aside all this rather annoying relationship navigation, the on-court considerations are just as real: As Texas hoops fans know well, AJ's at his best when he's playing within himself on offense. Valuable as AJ can be for next year's team, the last thing we need is AJ Abrams desperately trying all year to show pro scouts that he can be The Man on offense.
The good news is that I couldn't possibly have more faith in Rick Barnes or the very large no-nonsense stick he so comfortably wields. There's undoubtedly a way this can work out well for both Abrams and the team...
If my confidence in AJ isn't at a highwater mark, it sure is with Rick.
1Following the publication of Kirk Bohls' column, discussed above, Gerry.is now reporting that he no longer believes there to be any distance between Abrams and Barnes.
2This isn't unique to Abrams, of course. The problem isn't Abrams' doing what he thinks is in his best interest; it's that he's so cavalierly prioritized his interests over the team's.