NBA Summer League: Where Chris Copeland comes to shine

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The NBA Summer League season continued on Sunday with seven more games of players looking to reach the next level by way of a couple solid exhibition games in lovely Las Vegas. It doesn’t seem like anyone is a can’t miss signee quite yet, but the odds began to favor a few players that have begun to stand out as games extended to both the Cox Pavilion and Thomas & Mack Center.

Chris Copeland continued his run of impressive play for the New York Knicks as the 6-foot-8 power forward formerly of Colorado scored 17 points and swatted two shots in a 25-point loss to the Phoenix Suns. Copeland wasn’t on the radar of hardly any American basketball fans considering the former Colorado Buffalo has spent the past few years bouncing around overseas in Belgium, Germany, Holland and Spain, but he’s looked like a hidden gem thus far in Vegas.

The 28-year-old is an undersized power forward as far as NBA standards and doesn’t quite have the tenacity most are looking for from undersized bigs at the next level, but he’s proven to be a pretty good player in this setting through the first couple of Knicks games. If an NBA contract doesn’t await, he shouldn’t have any trouble making plenty of money in Europe next season — while probably moving up from the Belgium league, to boot.

Some of the other standouts from Sunday night included the following layers:

  • On the other end of the court from Copeland was Deshawn Sims, a former D-Leaguer who has also spent time playing in South Korea, Puerto Rico and Greece prior to joining the Phoenix Suns’ Summer League entry. Sims wasn’t nearly as good as Markieff Morris — who was clearly the best player on the Phoenix roster — but showed some nice things on his way to 16 points, three rebounds and two 3-pointers to boot. Diante Garrett and Marcus Landry, brother of Carl, also played well. Landry scored 12 points and grabbed five rebounds whereas Garrett narrowly missed a double-double with eight points and 10 assists.
  • Damian Lillard had what might’ve been the most impressive Summer League debut for a rookie this season. The Portland Trail Blazers’ first round pick scored 25 points and dished four assists while fellow first round pick Meyers Leonard put up a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Luke Babbitt was also impressive for the Blazers with 19 points and 10 rebounds — while shooting 4-of-9 from behind the 3-point line, no less — though Wesley Matthews struggled to seven points and three turnovers in less than 15 minutes of playing time.
  •  The rookies on the other side of the ball weren’t quite as impressive in defeat, but the New Orleans Hornets have some solid players in Vegas. Austin Rivers got off to a bit of a bad start with 14 points on 3-of-13 shooting and Xavier Henry’s 11 points on 2-of-7 shooting was less than impressive, but it was fun seeing Denzel Bowles do his thing with 18 points and 12 rebounds off the bench.
  • In the second game of the day, Josh Carter might’ve helped make a name for himself when his Denver Nuggets played the Dallas Mavericks. The former Texas A&M standout was inserted into the starting lineup and responded by showing his shooting is where it needs to be for him to play in the NBA by hitting three of his five attempts from beyond the 3-point arc to tally 15 total points.
  • Dallas Mavericks guard Dominique Jones played very well on his way to 32 points and eight rebounds, but he unfortunately was unable to show he has the pass-first mentality some had hoped for to allow him to play the point guard position. As far as this year’s picks were concerned, Jae Crowder showed the hustle he’ll need to exhibit this fall on his way to nine points and five rebounds — though his inability to score efficiently (4-of-12 from the field) probably didn’t help his cause.
  • The Toronto Raptors looked awful on their way to just 59 points on Sunday afternoon, but it was a welcome sight to see Chris Wright on the court. Wright played for the Golden State Warriors last season, but was a surprise addition to the Raptors this offseason as it was expected he’d be able to compete for a roster spot this fall. The athlete still trying to figure out his basketball skills scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds despite shooting 3-of-9 from the field.
  • The team that held Toronto  to just 59 points was the Miami Heat and, though it looked like the majority of the flaws were simply due to inefficient offense, the Heat brought a pretty talented backcourt to Vegas. Terrel Harris and Norris Cole, both of which can count themselves as NBA champions, combined to score 14 and 13 points respectively — while Harris added four steals to boot.
  • Kawhi Leonard was the expected standout for the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday afternoon while Cory Joseph showed some signs of potential, but the team’s third-leading scorer was a bit less likely. Longtime Austin Toros center Eric Dawson was given the start for the Spurs on Sunday and delivered a solid performance with 12 points, 13 rebounds and and a block while showing that he might have a chance at making the Spurs roster as an end of the bench big man.
  • The Atlanta Hawks — the team the Spurs beat — didn’t have a ton of bright spots but Keith Benson again showed that he can play with heart that wasn’t seen enough during his rookie season. The slender forward from Oakland (Mich.) scored 20 points and grabbed six rebounds while fellow former D-Leaguer Brad Wanamaker had nine points and eight rebounds. John Jenkins, the team’s draft pick, wasn’t as stellar as some had hoped with 13 points and three missed 3-pointers.
  •   The Cleveland Cavaliers are without Kyrie Irving due to a freak injury and unfortunately first round draft pick Dion Waiters was unable to impress in his absence as the guard went 3-for-11 and finished with just 10 points. The team’s other draft pick, Tyler Zeller, was quite a bit better with 14 points and five rebounds … though nothing he did was overwhelmingly amazing.
  • The Charlotte Bobcats missed out on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist due to a sore knee — called precautionary — but the team still had plenty of players on its current roster in the game. Kemba Walker scored 13 points with four assists, Bismack Biyombo picked up six points to go with his eight rebounds and Byron Mullens had a solid nine and eight.
  • The NBA D-League Select Team shocked the world on Sunday night as they mostly dominated on the way to an 85-78 victory over the Washington Wizards. The roster is perfectly made for head coach Eric Musselman‘s defensive system and it showed as they looked like they might blow out Washington. Andre Emmett led the team with 17 points and four assists while Jerry Smith had important 11 points — the majority of which came in the third quarter as the D-League squad came back.
  • Washington was led by Bradley Beal as the third overall pick scored 20 points on 15 shots — including going just 1-of-7 from beyond the arc — but the team didn’t seem to go to him enough early if they were trying to win. One bright spot might’ve been Earl Calloway, who played with Tomas Satoransky in Spain this season, but his 12 points and six rebounds weren’t enough to outweigh four rather costly turnovers.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the rest of the teams play on Sunday to see if any new stars are born.

PBT Podcast: All-Star starters mock draft, picking reserves

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The votes are in, and LeBron James and Stephen Curry are your All-Star captains.

For the first time in NBA All-Star history, that means they are picking their own teams, playground style, first from the pool of starters, then the pool of reserves. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports take on the roles of LeBron and Curry and pick their All-Star starters, from James Harden through Kyrie Irving.

Then the pair gets into who should be the All-Star Game reserves — and choosing among the Western Conference guards is brutal. Do they leave out Damian Lillard? Lou Williams? Klay Thompson? And that’s not even getting into Paul George being a bubble All-Star in a deep West.

Kurt and Dan break it all down, plus talk some Kemba Walker trade scenarios.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Aaron Gordon forgoes desperation attempt to win, sinks halfcourt shot instead (video)

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The Magic were in dire straights near the end of their game against the Cavaliers last night. Orlando trailed 104-103 with 0.2 seconds and a jump ball to be tossed at center court. By rule, the Magic didn’t have time to catch-and-shoot, let alone recover the jump ball then shoot. Aaron Gordon had to tip the jump ball through the hoop from halfcourt – nearly impossible, but technically possible.

Instead, Gordon grabbed the jump ball – a violation – then sank a halfcourt shot. What an ironic end.

Cleveland then harmlessly inbounded the ball to seal the win.

Can Kemba Walker save the sinking Hornets? He doesn’t want to jump the ship he’s (barely) keeping afloat

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DETROIT – Around this time last year, Kemba Walker‘s reputation peaked.

The season prior, he led Charlotte to its first playoff-game wins since the franchise reemerged as the Bobcats. The Hornets were on pace to make the playoff again, which would have been their first back-to-back postseason appearances in the second Charlotte era. And Walker made his first All-Star team.

While basking in his personal and team success, Walker found one downer: The NBA moved the All-Star game from his home arena to New Orleans due to North Carolina’s anti-gay law.

“It would have been really special if this had been in Charlotte,” Walker said.

The Hornets have gone south since.

They stumbled in the second half and missed the playoffs last season. They’re even worse this season, 18-25 and 11th in the Eastern Conference. As a result, Walker’s stock has tanked. He’s treated as a fringe All-Star candidate at best.

Yet – as trade speculation emerges – Walker has come to a conclusion similar to his a year ago: His experience would be more special in Charlotte.

“I would definitely be devastated if I was to get traded,” Walker said. “I do want to be here.”

Walker is one of the most intriguing cases as the trade deadline approaches. The 27-year-old is earning $12 million this season and is due the same salary next season before his contract expires. It’s not clear the Hornets would trade him. It’s not clear they should trade him.

Charlotte is bad around Walker, not because of him. The Hornets have played better with Walker on the floor (+5.2 points per 100 possessions) than the Cavaliers have with LeBron James (+0.3), Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo (+3.7) and Pelicans with Anthony Davis (+5.1).

Put another way, using Pythagorean win percentage, Charlotte has played like 55-win team when Walker plays and a 12-win team when he doesn’t. That 43-win-pace drop is the fourth largest league-wide (minimum: 20 games):

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The Hornets have struggled with Michael Carter-Williams at backup point guard and even more with rookie Malik Monk (a natural shooting guard) in the role while Carter-Williams was hurt. Backup point guard was a glaring weak spot last season, too, and Charlotte signed Carter-Williams to stop the bleeding.

But he was a budget choice. The Hornets’ mid-level exception sits mostly unused as they duck the luxury tax.

Using starting shooting guard Nicolas Batum as the primary playmaker when Walker sits has worked better than most alternatives. Staggering those two more often could right Charlotte.

However, even if Batum is the solution to the micro problem, he’s central to the macro problem.

The Hornets’ payroll has become bloated with prohibitive long-term deals. Several players are owed major money after this season:

With those constraints, it will be difficult to build a winner around Walker without paying the luxury tax, which Charlotte has never paid.

Walker is the Hornets’ most valuable asset, and trading him could make their second-most valuable asset – their upcoming first-round pick – even more valuable. Charlotte also use Walker as enticement to unload a bad contract, a tactic Adrian Wojnarowski reports is being explored. Still, the Hornets are in so deep, it’d be difficult to escape salary-cap purgatory, even while shedding Walker.

Because he signed his rookie-scale extension before the national TV deals carried the salary cap into the stratosphere and before he rose into stardom, Walker has a low salary for his status. That could open the door for trades not possible with other stars, especially if the Hornets want to attach an albatross.

Only Isaiah Thomas has a lower salary among reigning All-Stars:

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Of course, teams looking to upgrade at point guard for the stretch run – Pistons? Pacers? Jazz? Nuggets? Cavaliers? Spurs? – would be interested in Walker. But because he has an another season left on his contract, other teams – Knicks? Magic? Suns? – could trade for him as a head start on next year. The best analogue: The Jazz getting out ahead by trading Deron Williams to the Nets before his contract entered its final year.

A team must also prepare to pay Walker in 2019, when he’ll be 30 years old. Though the $48 million over four years he’s earning now is nothing to sneeze at, free agency will be his first opportunity to really cash in on the new TV money. In the extremely likely event he doesn’t make an All-NBA team next season, the largest extension he could sign (starting July 1) would be four years, $64,512,000. That probably won’t cut it. So, Walker’s team – unless it has cap space to renegotiate-and-extend his deal – will likely have to ride out his unrestricted free agency.

“Of course, it would be nice to get a big contract like a lot of the guys around the league are getting,” Walker said. “But, at the same time, I just try to take it one day at a time.”

All these discussions have thrown Walker for a loss. Charlotte drafted him and built around him. He’s not quite sure how to handle this.

“I’ve never really been in trade rumors like that, like I’ve been hearing lately about myself,” Walker said. “But I mean, I don’t know. I don’t even know. I don’t know.

“This is very new, and I really just don’t know.”

Walker said management hasn’t told him anything, and he won’t ask. It’s easy to read the writing on the wall: Walker is a good player on a losing team, and those players are always ripe to get dealt. On the other hand, a team owned by Michael Jordan is probably less inclined to enter rebuilding voluntarily.

“I’m here,” Walker said, “and I’m just trying to play and trying to win and trying to do what I can for this organization and try to get back in the playoff hunt. That’s the main priority.”

The Hornets have won two in a row, and head coach Steve Clifford is back. A surge into playoff contention isn’t out of the question.

If it happens, it’ll probably be on Walker’s shouldeers.

“We put so much pressure on Kemba to do so much,” said assistant coach Stephen Silas, who served as acting head coach in Clifford’s absence.

Too much pressure?

“At times, it can be,” Silas said. “But that’s what he signed up for, and that’s how we’re built.”

For now, at least.

Joel Embiid whacks Jaylen Brown in face while celebrating basket (video)

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Joel Embiid‘s antics – the Instagram victory laps, trash-talking and taunting – can rub people the wrong way.

With Jaylen Brown last night, literally.