Where UNC Basketball Stands Without P.J. Hairston in 2013-14

Kerry MillerCollege Basketball National AnalystDecember 20, 2013

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After being the center of a few major college basketball headlines over the summer, this chapter of the P.J. Hairston saga came to an end on Friday afternoon when it was announced that he will not be reinstated at North Carolina.

Only time will tell if and when we hear from Hairston again. Prior to this announcement, Hairston was projected by several NBA Draft experts as a late first-round pick. We'll see how legal troubles, coupled with 15 months without playing, will actually impact his attractiveness to NBA teams.

But that's a different story for another day.

For now, we're left to wonder what this does to the remainder of North Carolina's 2013-14 season.

On the surface, it probably doesn't seem like a huge deal. The Tar Heels have already won games against Kentucky, Louisville and Michigan State without any contribution from Hairston. Certainly, the team would have liked to get his three-point and free-throw shooting back in the lineup, but nothing about their lineup actually changed on Friday.

Dec 18, 2013; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Leslie McDonald (2) looks to pass as he is guarded by Texas Longhorns guard Isaiah Taylor (1) during the first half at the Dean E. Smith Student Activities Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Ki
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Furthermore, they were able to get Leslie McDonald back in the mix on Wednesday to help solve their three-point woes, so one could even argue that they're better off without Hairston serving as a media distraction on the bench.

However, there's something to be said about the power of hope, and North Carolina lost its hope of one day being saved by a three-point assassin.

Before the NBA season began, the Boston Celtics were expected to be a bottom-feeder, fighting for as many ping pong balls as they could get in the draft lottery. Now, you can't even read a story about the 12-15 Celtics without some sort of "And just wait until they get Rajon Rondo back in the mix!" type of angle.

The same thing happened with Duke and Kyrie Irving during the 2010-11 season. The Tar Heels went through that song and dance when they were forced to play without Ty Lawson for a few weeks during the 2007-08 season.

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 17:  P.J. Hairston #15 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after he made a 3-point basket in the second half against the Miami (Fl) Hurricanes during the final of the Men's ACC Basketball Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum on Marc
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Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

When a team is forced to play some length of time without one of its leaders, the mindset (at least among fans) becomes a desire to just stay afloat until the knight in shining armor comes back to carry them to the promised land.

But what happens when that knight is thwarted by the NCAA and banished to never return?

No more treading water until an 80 percent free-throw shooter comes to the rescue. The responsibility now falls on the rest of the roster to do better than the 47.2 percent (50-of-106) that they shot from the charity stripe in their three losses.

Nor can they tread water until a 40 percent three-point shooter magically reappears on the court. McDonald and Marcus Paige have now permanently become the team's only viable long-range options.

Even though nothing has changed about the team's rotation, it's possible that everyone's shoulders just got a little bit heavier. Paraphrasing Rick Pitino's famous line about Larry Bird, it's now official that P.J. Hairston isn't walking through that door.

Aside from the addition of McDonald—which can only be considered a bonus—this is physically the same team that beat three of the best teams in the country.

How Hairston's permanent absence affects them mentally, however, could be the difference between a national championship and a disappointing season.


Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.