NBA Summer League: Where Tyler Zeller stands out above the rest

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The NBA Summer League is already through four days of basketball, leaving those around the world clamoring for non-Team USA basketball just six more days of games until the annual extravaganza is complete. There’s already been one player that has received a confirmed NBA training camp invite (congratulations, Chris Copeland!), but plenty more players are hoping for a similar opportunity.

There were plenty of players that took a step closer to that opportunity on Monday, too, which we’ve handily decided to list below.

  • The Cleveland Cavaliers ended the D-League Select team’s hopes of an undefeated season with a 94-88 victory on Monday night. They did it with their other first round pick and a former D-Leaguer, though, as Tyler Zeller looked great on his way to 19 points and seven rebounds while call-up Donald Sloan had 10 points himself starting beside Dion Waiters on the Summer League roster. Dion Waiters struggled again, however, looking a bit out of shape on his way to 11 points on 14 shots … with a nice dunk to ease the pain a bit, however.
  • The D-League Select team didn’t play bad, however, as Jerry Smith scored 21 points and shot 4-of-6 from beyond the arc as he single-handedly helped keep the D-League squad in contention. Mardy Collins also looked like the NBA player he used to be on his way to an efficient 12 points and six rebounds as he tries to make it back to the league as a former first round pick.
  • The first game of the day featured a very solid outing from Jae Crowder, but since we’ve already highlighted him earlier in the day, the player we’ll highlight is Dominique Jones. Jones is too good to play in Summer League, but not quite good enough to get minutes  in the NBA so it’s a bit interesting to watch him play in this setting. He had 21 points on 12 shots and turned the ball over just once, but it’s tough to tell how well he translates. Bernard James also performed admirably as the rookie scored 13 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in a win.
  • On the other end of the floor, Ed Davis was in the same predicament as Jones … except Davis has shown to be a decent player in the NBA already. The young power forward needs to add some weight to his frame, but it wasn’t a problem on Monday afternoon as he scored 23 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Bobby Brown was also able to put together his typical solid Summer League performance with 19 points and five assists.
  • The Boston Celtics began their Vegas Summer League entry with a victory after playing last week in Orlando and, surprisingly, it wasn’t because Jared Sullinger played out of his mind. Sullinger had a solid 14 points, but fellow rookie Kris Joseph had 14 as well while Dionte Christmas’s impressive play carried over from Orlando as he scored 11 points to go with five rebounds and two assists in a solid defensive effort.
  • While watching the game it seemed that Paul Carter was a bright spot for the Atlanta Hawks, but the D-League wing finished with just five points and three rebounds off of the bench. The players that did produce in the box score did so pretty inefficiently, however. Mike Scott and John Jenkins both needed 14 shots apiece to make 12 points while undrafted rookie Jordan Taylor struggled to just four points on 2-of-12 shooting — though at least he contributed in other areas, picking up six rebounds and five assists.
  • The Miami Heat made the Los Angeles Lakers’ Summer League squad look worse than it already has with a 106-56 victory. It was an all-around effort from the Heat, to, as all five starters — and Mickell Gladness off the bench — scored in double figures.  Norris Cole deserves some individual praise, though, considering his 13 points came on just four shots … and he had nine assists to boot.
  • There wasn’t a bright spot for the Lakers squad as they shot just 26.5 percent from the field and turned the ball over 22 times. Yucky.
  • Minnesota made its first foray in Vegas on Monday night against the Los Angeles Clippers in a game they won with relative ease. Wes Johnson struggled his way to being the leading scorer with 16 points on 17 shots while Derrick Williams scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds, but it was a pretty solid team effort all-around. Coby Karl looked particularly impressive with nine points as he knocked down three 3-pointers.
  • The Clippers got a nice performance out of former Detroit Pistons draft pick Terrico White as he came off the bench to score 16 points off the bench in a loss. Eric Bledsoe was far and away the team’s best player, though, racking up 11 points, five rebounds and four assists — though he seemed to have a bit of an over-passing problem.
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The midway point happens Tuesday and, with that, the Chicago Bulls also begin play as they’ll be in action five of the next six nights. Along with the Bulls, 13 other NBA teams will be in action.

LeBron James says this season has been “most challenging” one

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Kyrie Irving is gone. His replacement, Isaiah Thomas, missed the first couple months of the season and is still trying to get into game shape and find his groove on the court with a new team. Other players have missed games, Kevin Love has moved to center, and the Cavaliers have looked older and slower — particularly on defense — and with that the cloud of LeBron James potentially leaving the team this summer gets darker and darker.

Throw in that LeBron — in his 15th NBA season — is eighth in the entire league in total minutes played, and his usage rate is 10th in the league when he is on the floor, and you can feel the burden on him.

LeBron has responded with an MVP-level season, but as the Cavaliers have struggled going 2-8 in their last 10 games, he admitted to Dave McMenamin of ESPN that this season has been very hard.

“It’s been very challenging,” James said after practice Wednesday. “Just from the simple fact of how many guys have been in and out. This is a difficult year for our team. Seems like I say that every year, but this one has been even more challenging.

“With everybody who has been out and coming back in, and the rotations, and things of that nature, it’s been very challenging on our team. But we have to figure it out. At the end of the day, we have a game every other day or every two days just like everybody else in the NBA. We have to go out and play.”

The roster shakeup of losing Irving — and with Thomas still trying to find his spots with this team after missing so much time — along with the other injuries is hard to underestimate. This goes beyond the usual mid-season Cavaliers malaise, with this roster they don’t have the offense to cover up the glaring defensive issues that have plagued them since last season (they were 29th in the NBA in defense after the All-Star break last season).

Also, LeBron’s comment seems to be part of the Cavaliers coming to the realization that they are not good enough to win a title with this team as constructed. In past years they believed if they got it together they could compete with anyone, after Monday’s loss to the Warriors they seem to realize that is not the case. Maybe that attitude changes come the playoffs — get out of the East, which they still have to be favorites to do, and they get a shot — but reality seems to have hit this roster.

Kings will shut down veterans for some games, rookie Harry Giles for rest of season

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The Kings foolishly strayed from rebuilding last summer by signing George Hill, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter to relatively expensive contracts. Those additions came despite Sacramento already having veterans Garrett Temple and Kosta Koufos.

The plan has predictably failed. The Kings have the NBA’s worst offense and worst defense and are 13-31.

That’s bad, but not quite bad enough. Not in the last year Sacramento has its own first-round pick before conveying its selection as a result of a ridiculous salary dump a few years ago.

So, in a transparent bid to break a tie with the Hawks and Magic for the NBA’s worst record and tank to the top seed in the lottery/develop young players already on the roster, the Kings are sitting those veterans on a rotating basis.

Sacramento is also shutting down No. 20 pick Harry Giles, who hasn’t played this season.

James Ham of NBC Sports California:

Both management and the coaching staff is on the same page with the decision, NBC Sports California has confirmed. Two or three players will sit each night as they team explores what they have in youngsters.

“Going forward, what I’m going to do is, we’re going to play a rotation where two of our five veterans are going to be out every night. It might be some times there’ll be three. It’s an opportunity for some other guys to get some minutes as we go throughout the course of the season. I’ve got it laid out…I’ve got about five or six games laid out, and every week I’ll go out again because you want to communicate with those guys when they’re not going to play. Other guys, they’ve got to be ready. If you’re in the first three years of your contract, you can expect to play a little, or a lot, or none, but you should be ready to play,” Joerger told the media after the Kings’ loss to the Thunder on Monday night.

This is smart, though it’s also an opportunity it would have been smarter not to sign Hill, Randolph and Carter in the first place. Though those veterans might not be thrilled with the direction of the franchise, at least they’re getting paid. And they should know their rest days far enough in advance to enjoy the reduced workloads.

Younger Kings – including De'Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Willie Cauley-Stein, Buddy Hield and Skal Labissiere – should have a chance to spread their wings and grow. That could help down the road, when Sacramento has a chance to win meaningfully. This year, the difference between the fully operational Kings and tanking Kings is minimal on the court, but could make a huge difference in draft position.

As for Harry Giles, it’s strange how the Kings are touting him as fully healthy while shutting him down for the rest of the season. The best way to keep him his healthy is never play him. At some point, they must test him on the court. Perhaps, giving him even more time to strengthen his knee is the right approach. But if he needs this long, can really accurately be described as entirely healthy?

Report: LeBron James wins overall All-Star fan vote

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For the first time in a dozen years, a player has won the All-Star fan vote for consecutive years.

LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry, Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett have all taken turns as leader since Yao Ming claimed the vote lead in 2005 and 2006. Apparently, LeBron will retain the top spot he held last year.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

The fan vote means less than ever, with media and players also playing a role in who starts the All-Star game and a draft assigning players to teams. But the leading fan-vote-getter in each conference still matters, as those will be the captains for the draft.

LeBron will be one. Warriors Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry were neck-and-neck for the other captaincy.

Last I heard, the NBA was leaning toward giving the top overall fan-vote-getter the first pick in the All-Star draft, but that hadn’t been formally decided. So, it’ll probably be on LeBron to select his top choice among the other eight starters, who will be announced tonight. (All starters must be drafted first, so each team still has five starters.)

One more time: Let LeBron make that pick on television. He doesn’t mind.

Austin Rivers: Maybe I got a chance because Doc is my dad, but I know my swagger keeps me from succumbing to negativity

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Austin Rivers was the No. 10 pick out of Duke in 2012, and he struggled mightily his first few years in the NBA. His gaffes are so jolting, his teammates mock them. Yet, Rivers still carries himself as if he’s a star.

Chris Paul reportedly despised Doc Rivers over the Clippers coach’s favoritism toward his son. Former Clipper Glen Davis said Austin got paid because of his dad. Jamal Crawford reportedly chafed at the Clippers’ initial offer to him a couple years ago because it was lower than Austin’s.

These are issues Austin has been hearing about and handling for years.

Monday’s Clippers-Rockets game – Paul’s return to L.A. – was a breaking point, though.

An injured Austin stood on the sidelines talking trashing during the game, sparking a confrontation that got Trevor Ariza and Blake Griffin ejected. After the game, Austin reportedly continued jawing with Ariza as the Houston forward charged toward the Clippers’ locker room (drawing a two-game suspension).

Again in the crosshairs, Austin is opening up.

Rivers, via Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

“People can say whatever they want about me and my father [LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers],” the guard told ESPN during a lengthy interview Wednesday night. “I get it. I can even put my ego aside and understand why people don’t like the situation. When I was growing up and I’d see the coach’s son, you’d be like, ‘He sucks. He’s only on the team because of his dad.’ So I get it.”

“People are like, ‘Well, his dad gave him his chance.’ Is that true or not? I don’t know. It might be,” Rivers said. “[But] could it be that my pops knew how good I could be because he’s my pops?

“I know what the narrative is on me,” Rivers said. “It’s because I come from money and I have a swagger and confidence about me.

“[But] if I didn’t have this confidence or swagger in myself, I wouldn’t be built to handle the negativity that I’ve gotten. I would’ve already broken down years ago because I’ve gotten this since high school. I’ve turned it into a fuel and it’s helped me. I go into each away arena and it’s rough, because of the s— I hear. This chip on my shoulder, this swagger and confidence, it helps me. If I didn’t have it, I would not be in the NBA.”

“I’m not saying poor me. There’s people that have real problems,” Rivers said. “So don’t feel bad for me. I don’t need anybody’s sympathy. I’m having my best year yet. I’m trying to get back and healthy so I can help our team.

This is more relatable than Austin has ever sounded, and I applaud him for sharing a more authentic point of view rather than maintaining the facade of an aloof superstar. He deserves better treatment from the public than he has gotten, though he’s responsible for the much-maligned persona he has displayed.

Austin hasn’t received nearly enough credit for how much he has improved. Part of that is due to just how bad he was when he entered the NBA, but he has gotten steadily better. That shows how hard he works.

Some of the criticism of Austin and Doc is fair. Some is not. They probably should have better-anticipated what Doc trading for then re-signing Austin would be perceived, inside and outside the Clippers. But it’s too late to undo those deals, so they’re trying to manage the situation the best they can.

Austin’s interview here is a good step.