Wes Johnson found his touch Saturday at NBA Summer League

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LAS VEGAS — To put it nicely, Wes Johnson was a bit underwhelming last season for the Minnesota Timberwolves. That wasn’t the case on Saturday night inside Cox Pavilion, however, as the former fourth overall pick put together quite the performance against the NBA D-League Select team in lovely Las Vegas.

The wing player has been criticized for many things thus far in his brief NBA career, but Johnson left little to complain about as he scored 28 points while hitting 5-of-7 from beyond the three-point arc. Apart from the positive boost on the offensive end, Johnson generally just looked like he wanted to be more involved in the game of basketball as he stayed aggressive on both ends — even picking up a pair of beautiful blocked shots.

It shouldn’t be surprising that a top pick played so impressively, but there weren’t many that expected Johnson to accomplish what he did on Saturday night — even against second-tier D-League players — after shooting just 41 percent from the field earlier in his other two games this week while going just 2-for-8 from beyond the arc.

Other notable performances came from the following players:

  • The Portland Trail Blazers’ top two picks have got plenty of love this week as Meyers Leonard and Damian Lillard, but those two sat on Saturday. A Blazers pick still shined, though, as Will Barton put on a show en route to 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting — including 4-of-8 from beyond the arc — in a win over the Miami Heat.
  • Former first round pick Jimmy Butler had most of the hype on his way to 23 points on an efficient 10 shots, but Malcolm Thomas was out standing with 21 points and 16 rebounds as he attempts to make an NBA squad after a terrific year in the D-League. Marquis Teague’s shot wasn’t falling, but he played the point pretty well to round out the Bulls’ best players.
  • Wins and losses don’t matter much in Las Vegas (unless you’re at the blackjack table), but the Golden State Warriors were able to wrap up an undefeated Summer League season with an 80-72 victory over the New Orleans Hornets. It was an all-around effort, but Charles Jenkins was very solid in running the team on his way to 15 points and five assists himself. Klay Thompson was a DNP after doing all he needed to do through the Warriors earlier action.
  • Josh Selby put together another impressive performance as he made five of his eight attempts from beyond the arc as he continues to scorch the Summer League nets. Deon Thompson also looked very good with 14 points and six rebounds.
  • The Dallas Mavericks picked up an overtime win in the Cox Pavilion thanks to the play of second round pick Jae Crowder and his 21 points. Dominique Jones had been the team’s star player throughout Summer League, but upper back tightness forced him to exit the game after playing just 10 minutes.
  • Cory Joseph played well once again on Saturday as the San Antonio Spurs finished up their Summer League experience. He’s still not fully there as a point guard, but his 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists were a welcome addition. Tyler Wilkerson was also impressive, though his eight points, seven fouls and six rebounds in the box score don’t tell the most promising story.
  • The Clippers lost their fourth game in five contests, but Adam Morrison scored 18 points to finish up a pretty solid Summer League. Antoine Wright struggled mightily, though, and it seems as though his NBA drea may have come to a close.
  • Markieff Morris was Markieff Morris on his way to 25 points and 11 rebounds. Kendall Marshall was the star of the Phoenix Suns’ Summer League roster for the first time on Saturday night, however, as scored 15 points and dished 10 assists as his decision-making skills finally caught up to speed.
  • Xavier Henry hasn’t played like the first round pick he was just a few seasons ago, but he looked very good on Saturday afternoon en route to 21 points while being aggressive the whole game. 11 free-throw attempts aren’t something that happens often in the run-and-gun style of Summer League.
  • The D-League Select team finished 2-3 on the week after struggling down the stretch in multiple matchups. Mardy Collins was the team’s best player in Saturday’s loss — and one of the better players in the D-League this season — as he scored 20 points off the bench. Marcus Dove was solid throughout the week, too, contributing four steals in Saturday’s loss.
  • Dexter Pittman was the only Heat player to score in double figures as Miami mustered just 55 points against the Blazers, but the reason he’s worth a mention is for an ugly flagrant foul he was called for on the aforementioned Barton. I believe it was the first flagrant foul of Summer League — definitely the worst.

Report: Dennis Smith Jr. planned to have J. Cole dunk in dunk-contest routine

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Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. seemed pretty steamed about getting eliminated in the first round of the dunk contest:

The dunk-contest scoring system – five judges ranking dunks on a scale of 6-10 – is plenty flawed. There should have been a larger difference between the Smith and Victor Oladipo dunks the Dallas point guard mentioned. But Oladipo didn’t advance, either. Personally, I thought the right two players – eventual-winner Donovan Mitchell and runner-up Larry Nance Jr. – advanced.

Maybe Smith was more upset about the missed opportunity – dunks (plural!) involving rapper J. Cole.

Amin El-Hassan of ESPN on Black Opinions Matter:

If Dennis had made it to the finals, Cole was going to throw him the alley-oop. But then the plan was, he was going to throw him the oop, Dennis would dunk it, and then Cole would catch the ball, and then he’d dunk it too. That was going to be the ill, craziest dunk-contest use of a prop or a person ever. But we never got to saw it, because they were holding out until the final round. They didn’t want to bring it out in the first round.

This certainly would have been unprecedented and cool. But unless Smith had something amazing planned for the alley-oop, the best element would have been Cole dunking. That would have upstaged Smith, who’s presumably the one being judged.

For what it’s worth, Cole can dunk. We’ve seen it in the celebrity game:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard returns this season

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When announcing last month Kawhi Leonard was out indefinitely due to a lingering quad injury, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich dismissed the idea his star forward would miss the rest of the season:

Apparently, Popovich’s expectation has changed.

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

The Spurs (35-24) are third in the West despite Leonard playing just nine games. Popovich has done a great job (maybe Coach of the Year-worthy). LaMarcus Aldridge is having a bounce-back season in a leading role. Pau Gasol leads a supporting cast of players good in their roles.

But San Antonio’s ceiling is so much lower without Leonard.

He’s an elite defender who shuts down opposing scorers on the perimeter and can comfortably switch inside. He can isolate offensively to score efficiently, and he spaces the floor off the ball with strong 3-point shooting. Those are all skills that translate to the playoffs.

Without him, the Spurs rely too heavily on older, slower defenders. That’s ripe to be exploited in the postseason.

Teams might even jockey to match up with San Antonio – the most vulnerable-appearing Western Conference team in line to get home-court advantage in the first round.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Leonard returning. Popovich could just be trying to shut down speculation. He clearly doesn’t like discussing this issue.

But the Spurs are the most cautious team on injuries. If Leonard risks further injury, they’ll keep him sidelined.

This injury has already caused tension. This won’t help.

Mark Cuban’s fine third-largest known fine in NBA history

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While explaining how he told his players the team was better off losing this season, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said “I’m probably not supposed to say this” and “Adam would hate hearing that.”

Cuban was right.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Cuban $600,000 for “public statements detrimental to the NBA.” The league doesn’t announce all its fines, but that’s the third-largest known fine in NBA history.

The leaderboard:

1. Timberwolves, $3.5 million in 2000 (signing under-the-table agreement with Joe Smith)

2. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, $2.5 million in 2014 (making racist comments)

3. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $600,000 in 2018 (saying he told his players the team is better off losing)

4. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $500,000 in 2002 (criticizing officiating)

4. Knicks, $500,000 in 2006 (fighting Nuggets)

4. Nuggets, $500,000 2006 (fighting Knicks)

4. Vladimir Radmanovic, $500,000 in 2007 (injuring his shoulder while snowboarding)

4. Pistons general manager Joe Dumars, $500,000 in 2010 (leaking confidential league memos)

4. Heat owner Micky Arison, $500,000 in 2011 (tweets during the lockout breaking rank with other owners)

I’d be on Cuban (and/or the Mavericks) getting yet another spot on this list following the investigation of the franchise for a culture tolerant of sexual harassment and domestic abuse. That one will probably be deserved – not just the league trying to preserve the illusion of pure competition amid a system that incentivizes losing.

Mark Cuban fined $600,000 for telling team “losing is our best option”

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Of all the hot water Mark Cuban is in right now with the Mavericks and the NBA league office, this is probably the smallest tub. And the least expensive fine.

Cuban recently went on Julius Erving’s podcast, House Call with Dr. J, and said:

“I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night. And here we are, we weren’t competing for the playoffs. I was like, “Look, losing is our best option.” Adam would hate hearing that, but at least I sat down, and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we’re not going to tank again.”

You were not supposed to say that — the NBA Wednesday fined Cuban $600,000 for “for public statements detrimental to the NBA.”

Cuban’s not wrong, it’s just a matter of perception. The NBA has worked very hard to lessen the image that teams are tanking for draft position (why do you think there was pressure on the Sixers to replace Sam Hinkie?), they don’t need an owner saying it’s the smart thing to do. Even though it is. Teams tank — it is still the only way for a small or medium market team to get a superstar, get high in the draft and hopefully pick one (it’s not that simple, ask the Magic) — but the league wants at least the facade that all of its teams are competitive. All the way through the end of the season.

As you read this, the bottom eight teams in the NBA are within three games of each other for the worst record — and a higher lottery slot. Does anyone think any of them are not going to roll out young, less-talented rosters in the name of development when the real goal is to lose as many games as they can the rest of the way? Most scouts think there is some real talent at the top of this draft, and teams are going to try to get up there and get it.

Just nobody can talk about it.