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.

Veteran NBA official Monty McCutchen to be head of referee development, training

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After 25 seasons running up and down the NBA hardwood and refereeing more than 1,400 games, NBA official Monty McCutchen got a promotion.

He officiated his last game Thursday night in Minnesota and will move to a desk at the league office where his new title is Vice President, Head of Referee Development and Training.

“Monty has earned the respect of players, coaches and his peers during an exemplary career as an NBA official,” said Senior Vice President, Head of Referee Operations Michelle D. Johnson (who started on the job in October).  “He understands as well as anyone what it takes to be an outstanding referee and how the league can best support its officials.  With his wealth of insight and experience, Monty is uniquely suited for a leadership role in our officiating program.”

“I’m excited for the opportunity to channel my passion for the officiating profession in a new way,” McCutchen said.  “While I’ll miss officiating games, I’m grateful to continue working with our incredibly talented referee staff as part of an organization so dedicated to excellence and innovation.”

Despite what some fans like to blast on Twitter (especially during the playoffs), NBA officials are the best trained and flat-out best basketball referees in the world (if you don’t think so, watch the college/scab referees from the last lockout of the refs, it was painful). Could they improve? Sure. Hopefully, McCutchen can help do that in his new position.

Kristaps Porzingis officially day-to-day, questionable vs. OKC

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Knicks fans can exhale now.

There was understandable concern after face of the franchise Kritaps Porzingis had to leave the game in Brooklyn Thursday night following a non-contact injury.

Turns out there is nothing to worry about. After the game, Porzingis spoke to the media and was standing on the leg, a good sign. By Friday, after a day of treatment, he was doing well. Officially Porzingis is day-to-day and may sit out Carmelo Anthony‘s return to Madison Square Garden Saturday, but the injury is nothing serious. Ian Begley of ESPN has the details.

Porzingis’ knee was “worked on” on Friday and the discomfort in his knee decreased, league sources told ESPN. It is unclear if Porzingis underwent an MRI or had X-rays to further determine the extent of the injury but sources say he did not undergo significant testing because it wasn’t warranted based on the state of the injury.

Good. We don’t need another star down with a major injury this season.

Especially Porzingis, who has led the Knicks to a 15-13 record (sixth in the East, in the playoffs) while putting up All-Star numbers: 25.5 points per game, shooting 39.5 percent from three, plus grabbing 6.6 rebounds a game. Maybe more impressive is how he has anchored a solid Knicks defense this season with his rim protection. Stay healthy and he should make his first All-Star team this season.

Report: Cavaliers not willing to put Nets pick in potential trade packages

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When the Cleveland Cavaliers traded Kyrie Irving to Boston last summer — at Irving’s request — they got something Danny Ainge had held onto for years: The Brooklyn Nets 2018 unprotected first round pick.

From the first moment the Cavaliers got the pick there was speculation they might flip it to get LeBron James more help to chase a title this season (and then, ideally, get him to re-sign with the team next summer). Yet, every utterance from the Cavaliers front office on and off the record was that the pick was untouchable. Consider it LeBron insurance should he leave, and if he stays they can add some good young depth.

Now approaching a third of the way into the NBA season, with the Cavaliers looking good but a clear step behind Golden State or Houston (and with Brooklyn playing better than anyone expected), has their position on the pick changed? No, reports Sean Deveney at The Sporting News.

Nearly two months into the season, circumstances have changed for the Cavaliers, but according to league executives, one thing that has not changed has been Cleveland’s unwillingness to part with that Nets’ pick, even as Brooklyn has exceeded expectations, thus dinging the value of the pick.

“They would be open to a deal by all indications,” one general manager told Sporting News. “But they’re not talking about that pick. That’s the Plan B for the LeBron stuff and from what I know, they don’t want to budge on it.”

It’s an interesting team building philosophical debate for the Cavaliers: When you have a reasonable shot at a title is it better to go all in for the big prize, or do they need to think about what is next, especially with LeBron’s future unsure? (Cleveland is not a title favorite, however, they are still the favorite to come out of the East in the playoffs, and if the Cavs reach the Finals they have a puncher’s chance at least.)

The Cavaliers seem to be leaning toward keeping the pick and thinking a little about the future. The Cavaliers do have their own first round pick — which will land in the mid- to late 20s — to potentially thrown in a trade. It’s a first-round pick, if not a terribly valuable one.

On top of this, just how good the Nets have been must factor into the Cavaliers’ decision. If the season ended today, the Nets pick would be 10th heading into the lottery (which has a 1.1 percent chance of jumping up to the top pick, a 4 percent chance of jumping up to the top three picks, and an 87 percent chance of staying 10th). On our recent podcast looking ahead at the draft, NBC’s Rob Dauster said what a lot of scouts have said: After about player 8, there is a drop off. If the scrappy Nets keep playing this well as the trade deadline approaches, do the Cavaliers change their calculus?

The Cavaliers have reportedly reached out to teams about big men — the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan (available), the Grizzlies’ Marc Gasol (the team says not available) — but it’s hard to imagine the Cavs getting an impact player that can help them get closer to another title without throwing in the Brooklyn pick. The Clippers aren’t going to take Tristan Thompson and the Cavs pick for Jordan, they will need more.

This is going to be an interesting trade deadline, and Cavaliers are going to be in the middle of it all.

Adam Silver is honest: NFL more likely to expand to Europe than NBA

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Basketball is a much bigger sport in Europe than American football (not to be confused with the futball that rules European sports).

However, in reality, the NFL is far more likely to put a team in London than the NBA. Logistics is why, and why the NBA is much more strongly considering a team in Mexico City (there will be a D-League in the Mexican capital within a season or two).

Adam Silver addressed the NFL’s scheduling advantages for a London team, speaking to Marc Stein of the New York Times.

For the NBA teams closest to London — Northeast teams such as the Knicks or Celtics — the flight time from their cities to London or Mexico City are about the same (a little over six hours). However, for a team such as Miami it is just a little over 3:30 to Mexico City and nearly five hours more than that to London. And as you move West and get to teams from Los Angeles or Denver — not to mention the three teams in Texas — the trip to Mexico City is less than a cross-country flight to play those East Coast teams.

I could see the NBA putting an All-Star Game in London someday, but even that would require a longer break around the showcase game than exists now.

I’m not about to speculate how an NFL team would draw in London, if they could sell out the required luxury boxes and expensive seats, or if they could help broaden the league’s shrinking television audience. But it makes a lot more sense for that league to explore the idea than it does the NBA.