Charges against P.J. Hairston dropped but that doesn’t mean he’s in the clear yet

When a Durham County clerk confirmed Monday that charges against P.J. Hairston were dropped three days earlier, it certainly boosted the North Carolina guard's hopes of playing for the Tar Heels next season.

It does not mean, however, that Hairston is fully out of the woods just yet.

The most significant threat to Hairston's college career from his June 5 arrest was never the marijuana found inside the vehicle he was driving or the 9mm handgun carelessly discarded outside the vehicle. Instead it's the potential for an NCAA investigation into why Hairston was driving a 2013 GMC Yukon reportedly rented by convicted felon Haydn "Fats" Thomas.

Hairston also reportedly received a speeding ticket in May driving another rental car registered to a woman who has the same address as Thomas. Should NCAA investigators uncover ties between Thomas and an agent or the university, they could rule Hairston's use of the vehicles as an extra benefits violation.

Regardless of the outcome of a potential NCAA investigation, the lack of charges against Hariston validates North Carolina coach Roy Williams' decision not to suspend Hairston until the legal matter was resolved.

Williams remained mum about the Hairston controversy and received criticism for not acting more quickly even though the start of the season is still months away. He broke his silence last Monday afternoon, acknowledging the junior guard's actions have been "embarrassing" to the North Carolina program and promising there will be "serious consequences."

What the "serious consequences" will be probably won't become clear until the NCAA completes its inquiry into the rental cars. If that turns up nothing of consequence and Hairston stays out of trouble the rest of the offseason, it would be a surprise if North Carolina punished him with anything more than a brief suspension at the start of the season.

Having Hairston in the lineup most of next season would be a huge boost for a North Carolina program with Final Four aspirations.

Hairston averaged a team-high 14.6 points per game as a sophomore, sparking North Carolina's late-season surge when he moved into the starting lineup midway through ACC play. He averaged 18.2 points during the Tar Heels' final 13 games, playing so well that he briefly considered entering the NBA draft this spring before announcing in mid-April that he'd return to school for his junior season.