Damian Lillard continues to impress at NBA Summer League

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LAS VEGAS — Seven days in Las Vegas is a long time regardless of the occasion, but there are times that it has seemed particularly long this week as four games in a gym watching fringe NBA players play basketball can surprisingly take its toll on a guy. There are always a few moments that make it all worth it, though, and Thursday’s performance from Damian Lillard did just that.

Lillard, the Portland Trail Blazers first round draft pick, has been pretty great all week … though he’s somehow slid just a bit under the radar as the game this writer’s been watching has taken place in the other gym. That all changed on Thursday in the Cox Pavilion, however, as the Weber State product didn’t disappoint with yet another impressive performance.

Portland’s new point guard entered the game averaging 26 points while shooting better than 41 percent from beyond the arc through his new team’s first two games and followed that up with an impressive 31 points and seven assists while limiting himself to just three turnovers after committing seven the game prior. It’s tough to tell how much Summer League performances matter, but Lillard’s having one heck of an exhibition season.

The rest of Thursday’s standouts are as follows:

  • Thomas Robinson got the best of Jared Sullinger as the Sacramento Kings beat the Boston Celtics, but since that’s already been written about here, let’s instead single out undrafted free agent Tony Mitchell. The Alabama alumnus scored 13 points off the bench in yet another solid effort as he continues to show that he can put the ball in the bucket at this level.
  • The Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in large part thanks to the play of last year’s No. 2 pick Derrick Williams, but Coby Karl’s shooting was probably the more fun aspect to watch (no offense to Derrick’s crazy drives to the bucket, of course). Karl, the son of George made six of his seven 3-point attempts en route to 18 points off the bench — and blocked a shot to boot.
  • Dionte Christmas led the Boston Celtics in scoring on Thursday and, although it happened in a loss, it was a good look for him as continues to be impressive in Summer League. The most surprising part is that his shot is still falling considering the Celtics completed their eight game since last Monday after previously competing in the Orlando Summer League.
  • Ed Davis continued to impress for the Toronto Raptors on Vegas as he helped his team pick up a close victory over the New York Knicks with 15 points, 11 rebounds and a pair of blocked shots while taking exactly what he was given — a facet most second-year players are struggling with here in Vegas. Aside from rookie Terrence Ross (2-for-8, five points), the whole Raptors team looked pretty good on the offensive end, but Chris Wright — formerly of the Golden State Warriors — stood out most with 15 points, six rebounds and the usual array of powerful dunks in transition.
  • Tobias Harris was good once again in Vegas with 21 points and 12 rebounds against the D-League Select team, but the well-built wing turned the ball over an unsightly seven times. Tarence Kinsey, former member of the Memphis Grizzlies, scored 14 points as he attempts to return to relevance — and took a solid step toward that with a nice defensive effort in extended minutes on Thursday.
  • The Los Angeles Lakers needed five games to get a win in Vegas, but at least it happened. The way it happened was quite intriguing, too, as Christian Eyenga scoring 22 points — quite a few on jump shots, no less — was not what Summer League fans expected. Julian Khazzouh wasn’t bad either as the Australian big man scored 16 points and grabbed six rebounds as a pick-and-pop option alongside Robert Sacre.
  • Tyler Zeller came back to earth for the Cleveland Cavaliers with a 1-for-7 shooting performance after looking much better than that earlier in the week and, not surprisingly, it led to a Cleveland loss. Not all was bad for the Cavs, though, as Tristan Thompson scored 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting while a reformed Samardo Samuels had 14 points and added five assists.
  • It unfortunately came in a loss, but Adam Morrison was once again impressive for the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night. The former third overall pick hit his usual array of difficult shots on the way to 22 points as he tries to earn his way on to an NBA roster. Terrico White was good off the bench, too, finishing the game with 10 points and four rebounds.
  • The D-League Select Team fell behind early and simply couldn’t recover, though it wasn’t due to a lack of effort. Instead the team just couldn’t convert on the offensive end. Kenny Hayes (15 points) and Leo Lyons (nine points, 10 rebounds) were bright spots, but it simply was not enough.
  • The Knicks’ Summer League squad hasn’t looked very good all week aside from Chris Copeland (who has already wrapped up a training camp invite) and, unfortunately, that was the case again on Thursday afternoon. Copeland, despite missing a crucial bucket late, scored a game-high 17 points while the rest of his team struggled … though new addition Sylven Landesberg was a pleasant surprise with 10 points and no turnovers after playing last season in Israel.
  • Mike Scott, the second round pick of the Atlanta Hawks, led an underwhelming effort for the Atlanta Hawks as they finished up their Summer League schedule with 14 points and seven rebounds.

More action continues on Friday with seven games slated to take place. Hopefully the excitement comes in more than just small spurts.

Hassan Whiteside knows Heat’s problem: Not enough Hassan Whiteside

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In 10 minutes on the court in Game 5, Hassan Whiteside was 0-of-4 from the field, picked up three fouls, and was -14. He couldn’t handle Joel Embiid physically on either end, and Miami had better success against the Sixers big man with Kelly Olynyk or other shooters at the five, pulling Embiid away from the basket some.

In the three games since Embiid returned to the Sixers, when Whiteside was on the court the Heat were outscored by 11.9 points per 100 possessions. For the entire five-game series Whiteside shot just 45 percent (50.5 true shooting percentage, well below the league average). Outside of grabbing some rebounds, Whiteside was not a positive for the Heat against the Sixers.

Whiteside said after the Heat were eliminated the problem was he didn’t get enough of a chance.

That’s not how the playoffs work. When something doesn’t work — and Hassan being able to hang with Embiid clearly did not work, they are not on the same level — coaches don’t have time to let a guy play through it. Time and possessions are too precious in the postseason, if something doesn’t work the coach needs to look for something that does.

Not that if he’d been given “a chance to fight” it would have made a difference. Whiteside likes to think of himself as an elite NBA center near the class of Whiteside. He’s not.

The question is will he be back with Miami next season? On the court, coach Erik Spoelstra appears ready to go another direction. However, trading Whiteside — who is owed $25.4 million next season and has a player option for $27 million the season after that — will not be easy. Teams are not going to want to take on that much salary for Whiteside’s level of production (and style that doesn’t completely mesh with where the game is going for big men). The Heat would have to attach a pick or another player that teams would want, a sweetener in the deal. That may be too rich for Miami to play that hand.

It’s something to watch over the summer. Whiteside and Spoelstra are not on the same page right now and so something needs to change, the question is what?

Off-season priority for Spurs: Meet with Kawhi Leonard, resolve that issue

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There are other questions the San Antonio Spurs have to answer this summer: If Danny Green opts out of his $10 million deal (as many around the league expect him to) how hard do they chase him? Same with Rudy Gay and his $8.8 million option (he is a little more likely to pick it up). Tony Parker is a free agent, do they bring him back, and if so at what price? How do the Spurs add athleticism to this roster, something they clearly needed against the Warriors?

But all of that pales in comparison to the big question:

Can the Spurs mend their relationship with Kawhi Leonard and get back on the same page?

While the Spurs struggled through the first round against the Warriors, Leonard was sealed off from the team, spending time with his inner circle (led by his agent and uncle), seeing his doctors in New York (who did not clear him to play due to a quadriceps tendon issue) and working out at the NBPA facilities there. There is a disconnect right now, one that has other teams around the league planning trade packages in case one of the league’s elite players becomes available. Right now, those teams are being told he is not.

The Spurs want to fix this and keep him in the fold. He is eligible for a “designated veteran” max contract extension of roughly $219 million over six years (the last year of his current deal plus five more at 35 percent of the salary cap, the deal Russell Westbrook and James Harden just got). But before the Spurs put that on the table they want to see where Leonard is at. The goal is a meeting between Popovich and Leonard, as reported by Michael C. Wright of ESPN.

With head coach Gregg Popovich expected to take the lead, the Spurs plan to meet with Leonard over the summer to gauge whether the sides can work out their differences and continue what has been largely a positive and productive partnership, sources said…

While the decision regarding whether to offer Leonard a $219 million super-max extension rests with management — and even the current players, according to a source — ownership ultimately makes the final call. Convincing the team’s former chairman and CEO, Peter Holt, and his wife, Julianna Hawn Holt, could prove to be a difficult sell for general manager R.C. Buford. The couple is currently embroiled in divorce proceedings.

Last summer, Popovich had LaMarcus Aldridge walk into his office and ask to be traded. Popovich smoothed over that relationship, put Aldridge in spots he was more comfortable on the court this year, and the Spurs big man had an All-NBA level season.

The key was Popovich was able to sit down with Aldridge over dinner and talk it out, with both sides having an open mind. Will he get that chance with Leonard?

The players and team management want Leonard back in the fold, and they have the ultimate hammer with that extension — put $219 million on the table and Leonard isn’t walking away from it. The question is will the Spurs even put that offer on the table, and that right now is not clear at all.

All the other decisions around this team hinge on what happens with Leonard — with him they are potential contenders. Without him, a trade package back likely would be loaded with young players and picks that would have the Spurs thinking about a few years down the road more than the immediate future.

Now, Dwyane Wade must decide if this was the end

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MIAMI (AP) — Dwyane Wade‘s first NBA game was in Philadelphia.

His last NBA game may have been there as well.

Retirement is a very real option for Wade, who has been not-so-quietly saying for weeks that he isn’t sure if he’ll be back next season. The offseason is here now, after the Miami Heat were ousted by the 76ers on Tuesday night in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference first-round series, and the face of the franchise may have taken his jersey off for the final time.

He has not decided.

But some of his closest friends believe this could really be the end.

“I appreciate y’all concern,” Wade said in Philadelphia on Tuesday night. “But we’ll worry about that later.”

Of course, his fans want him to come back. One prominent fan — his wife — cast her vote before he even left the floor after Game 5.

No one, not even Wade, knows how long this process will take. He’s going to talk to his wife. He’s going to talk to his kids. He’s going to talk to the Heat, and he’s going to talk to the people within his inner circle that are trusted most.

Wade isn’t a starter, but it could be argued the three-time NBA champion is still Miami’s best player. Wade carried the Heat to victory in Game 2 and got them on the brink of a win in Game 4. He doesn’t run as fast or jump as high as the version of himself known as Flash did, but he’s still capable of delivering big moments.

If Wade is done, the last visions fans will have of his career will be with him in a Heat uniform, still doing his thing. That matters to him. He isn’t Michael Jordan going out in a Washington jersey, or Patrick Ewing playing his last game with Orlando, or Shaquille O’Neal limping away from his NBA finale in Boston colors.

He wouldn’t be going out on top, but he’d be going out in the right uniform and still playing at a high level.

One way or another, his career always was going to end in Heat colors anyway. He wasn’t going out in a Chicago jersey, nor a Cleveland jersey. He had to wear “Heat” across his chest again, and when the Cavaliers traded him to Miami in February, it immediately became obvious that Wade was changing franchises for the final time.

Resume-wise, he’s more than good. He’s got three NBA championships. He’s got an Olympic gold medal. He’s going to the Basketball Hall of Fame. He’s going to go down as one of the best two or three shooting guards in the history of the game. The only guys with as many points, rebounds, assists and blocked shots in their regular season and playoff careers as Wade? Jordan is one, LeBron James is the other.

Here’s something else to consider: Wade has never wanted a farewell tour. He watched Kobe Bryant go through it, noted how much of a grind it was for the Lakers star, and doesn’t want to hear the same questions in every road stop next season.

What’s the motivation to return?

That’s the unknown.

Wade is set financially. So this decision won’t primarily be about money. Even after a brutal divorce and custody battle a few years ago, Wade will never worry about cash. He’s well-invested, has deals that will continue working for him well after his playing days end, and will make millions next year whether he’s wearing sneakers or suits.

The Heat have serious cap challenges and won’t have a bank-breaking deal to offer Wade this summer. He won’t play for the minimum. He won’t get anywhere near the maximum. For him to return, it’ll have to be worth his while. He spends a ton of money to keep his body right. And if Wade can make more off the court than on it next year, it might make sense for him to retire.

Plus, put simply, Wade wants more time with his family.

His oldest son, 16-year-old Zaire, is finishing his sophomore year of high school. Zaire can play. He gets attention because of his father’s name, but his game is real. The next couple years will be critical to his development as a ballplayer, and his dad wants to have the time to share as much wisdom as he can.

So clearly, there are good reasons for Wade to retire.

But he can still play. And that might be the reason to come back, one more time.

 

Warriors eliminate Spurs, advance to face Pelicans

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Kevin Durant drained a pull-up 3-pointer reminiscent of his signature NBA Finals shot in the final minute of the third quarter. The Spurs ended the quarter with a flurry and kept coming.

Durant made consecutive mid-range jumpers over Kyle Anderson midway through the fourth quarter. The Spurs called timeout, subbed  Rudy Gay for Anderson and kept coming.

Durant drove past Gay and dunked. The Spurs called another timeout and kept coming.

Each of those Durant shots seemed as if they could be the backbreaker. Credit San Antonio for continuing to play hard.

But without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs were just overmatched against the superstar small forward in the Warriors’ 4-1 first-round victory – which ended with Golden State’s 99-91 Game 5 win Tuesday.

The Warriors’ next opponent – the Pelicans, who open their second-round series Saturday – could soon learn the feeling.

New Orleans relies on E'Twaun Moore, Darius Miller and Solomon Hill at small forward – not the slate of stoppers that seems ready for Durant. Even on an off night (1-for-8 on 3-pointers, five turnovers), Durant scored 25 in Game 5. He’s a tough cover. But those three Pelicans – Moore (size), Miller (fundamentals) and Hill (speed) – each have major defensive liabilities Durant can exploit.

And Durant will have plenty of help.

Klay Thompson (24 points) appears headed back on track after a clunker in Game 4. Draymond Green (17 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists) looks locked in.

And, of course, Stephen Curry is poised to return sometime against the Pelicans.

The Warriors weren’t very impressive in the San Antonio series. Nor did they need to be. The Spurs were just overmatched, unable to summon nearly enough offense.

But Golden State showed enough focus and reminders of its talent to retain favored status even against better opponents – like New Orleans, which swept the Trail Blazers. Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday lead a surging team.

The Spurs want to get back on that level, and that stars with solving the Leonard dilemma this summer.

Will they offer him a super-max extension? Would he take it? Will they trade him? Will he request a trade?

With questions like that facing San Antonio, by comparison, the Pelicans are stable at small forward.