Summer League players: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly so far

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LAS VEGAS — As we enter the tournament phase of Summer League, it is pretty much the halfway point, which seems a good time to take stock of some of the player evaluation and development that is really the focus out in Las Vegas.

And when you talk player evaluation, you should always try to use a Clint Eastwood movie theme. It’s one of the Web’s golden rules… or it should be. We almost went with “The Bridges of Madison County,” but at the last minute went with “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.”

THE GOOD

Cody Zeller, Charlotte Bobcats. I’ll admit it, I thought the Bobcats missed on this when they grabbed him at No. 4. Turns out he’s been the best rookie at Summer League (in my estimation, he is at least in the conversation). He played primarily in the post in college but with the Bobcats next season Al Jefferson owns the post, so Zeller has been working to be more of a midrange, stretchy type four — and he’s shown a real skill for it. He’s averaged 15.7 points and 9.3 rebounds a game, has a decent midrange game and is a pretty deft passer.

Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors. He is probably the most improved veteran at the tournament and it’s all about his physique — the skinny kid out of Europe has worked out and filled out his upper body, and with that he’s been a man among boys in the paint at Summer League. He has been a force on both ends of the court. We’ll see how that translates when he starts playing against men again, but Masai Ujiri has got one key piece from the Bryan Colangelo era that can be part of the future here.

Andrew Goudelock, Chicago Bulls. If after three games there was a vote for Summer League MVP, Goudelock would probably get the win. That’s a fairly dubious honor, but Goudelock has a game built for Summer League — he can score. He had a 31-point game to show that off, he is averaging 22.7 points per game and is hitting 60 percent of his three pointers. He can score off the bounce, on the catch-and-shoot, he has crazy range and hasn’t seen a shot he doesn’t like. There’s a reason Lakers fans called him mini-Mamba — he will take shots just like the big Mamba. He is a disinterested defender, but his scoring at Summer League will remind GMs of how he can fill it up and that should get him an NBA contract somewhere.

(Note: There are a lot of other players who could have made the good category such as Dennis Schröder, John Henson and Ray McCallum, but I just pulled out the big three.)

THE BAD

Jan Vesely, Washington Wizards. Maybe bad is too harsh a term here, he has shown improvement on the offensive end. It’s clearly working on his game a little. But his defense is still unimpressive, particularly in transition. As Wizards Summer League coach Sam Cassell told PBT, he just expects more out of Vesely, and I think we all do. He needs to make a jump with his game or the Wizards have to think about what’s next.

Otto Porter, Washington Wizards. His game is just not a good fit with Summer League, on top of that Cassell and the Wizards’ brass want to see what kind of player they have so he has played the one, two, three and four spots. He’s smooth, he makes smart decisions, I think in the season when he gets a more defined role and in a less pickup style 5-on-5 he will look better. But not a great time in Vegas from him.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats. He has the athleticism and kind of determined game that should show better in Summer League, but if you’re a guy who works off the ball in a showcase league where point guards what to get noticed, you don’t always get the looks you want. The result is he floats through games and just hasn’t impressed.

THE UGLY

Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers. He’s shooting 29.5 percent in Summer League and turning the ball over a lot. He’s better than this, he showed it in games that mattered last year, but his Summer League has not been good.

(Summer League is supposed to be a little ugly, so we’re not going to pile on a bunch of guys here.)

Thon Maker, all 7’1″ of him, sat in economy class to get flight going

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If you are six-foot or taller, economy class on a modern airline feels cramped. But at least the airlines make up for it with a delicious full meal a bag of peanuts and a free movie.

Can you imagine a 7’1″ guy in economy?

The Bucks’ Thon Maker did it on a recent United flight and the passenger next to him Paul Kuzma posted about it on Facebook (hat tip to onmilwaukee.com).

Well, a missed #United flight found me on a rebooked one. After ending up in an upgraded Economy Plus (yay!) middle seat (not so yay!), volunteers were asked one by one, row by row, if one would relocate to the last row of the plane, middle seat….

My heart leapt again when I came to the last row and BOTH the middle AND aisle seats were open! I stowed my gear in the middle seat area but sat in the aisle seat, hoping.

Alas, it was too good to be true! Moments later, a 7’1″ tall young man who could not even stand completely straight in the aisle of the plane made his way our direction. My heart sunk, not for me, but for him! I saw him emerge from an Economy Plus window seat!

I told him I was so sorry, knowing this would be uncomfortable for him. He nonchalantly said it was worth it to get this delayed flight going. He had practice to attend in the morning and had a 2+ hour drive to get where he was headed after landing….

I had to ask how in the world he ended up in the last row. He also had missed a flight and was rebooked on this one. He was assigned his original FIRST CLASS seat. He had settled in there when a flight attendant told him the person who had paid for that seat on THIS flight had shown up, albeit very late. They had to move him to Economy Plus.

Once there for a while, his story mirrors mine. Requests were being made for someone to move to the last row and no one was volunteering. So he volunteered, wanting the flight to begin.

He couldn’t even fit his knees into the Economy seat! Every time the snack cart came by or someone had to use the restroom, he had to get up and move out of their way.

The entire flight, there was not a hint of resentment in his voice. He was even happy to allow me a picture with him and an autograph. Class act, Thon!

Somewhere a cranky old NBA player is saying “we always used to have to fly commercial…” and sorry old man, but that doesn’t make it easy or right. There’s a reason NBA teams moved away from that (and it wasn’t to save money).

Good on Maker for being willing to sacrifice when plenty of other normal-sized people couldn’t be bothered.

And if the name Kuzma is familiar, the author says his is the second cousin once removed of the Lakers’ rookie Kyle Kuzma.

PBT Podcast: Breaking down the Kyrie Irving trade

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Is LeBron James more likely to stay in Cleveland now?

Are the Boston Celtics contenders? Are they better set up for the future?

There are a lot more questions that come out of the surprise Kyrie Irving trade to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the 2018 Brooklyn Nets pick. It’s a deal that is a big win for Cleveland, they got more than they should have expected in return. However, this is in no way a bad deal for the Celtics.

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break it all down in this latest PBT Podcast.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Report: Clippers reach deal with Michael Winger to be new GM

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We knew this was coming, now it’s about to be official.

Former Oklahoma City Thunder assistant GM Michael Winger is about to take over as the general manager of the Los Angeles Clippers. They offered him the job last week, now the sides have agreed to terms, and he will sign a deal soon, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Oklahoma City Thunder executive Michael Winger has reached an agreement in principle to become the general manager of the LA Clippers, league sources told ESPN on Wednesday.

Doc Rivers is no longer the guy with the hammer in Los Angeles, he will just be coaching the Clippers (and still getting $10 million a year paychecks, in case you think he’ll just walk away). The power structure now has Lawrence Frank at the top as the President of Basketball Operations, with Winger doing to work under him. The Clippers are expected to hire Trent Redden, one of David Griffin’s former right hand men in Cleveland, to work under Winger as an assistant GM. The Clippers also are expected to hire another assistant GM soon.

Frank, Winger and crew take over a team in transition. Chris Paul is gone, but the Clippers locked up Blake Griffin on a max deal this summer, they got a good veteran point guard in Patrick Beverley from Houston, and they signed Danilo Gallinari. They picked up some good young players in the CP3 trade such as Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker (who they now need to develop). The Clippers should be in the mix for one of the final three playoff slots in the West next season, but that doesn’t answer the bigger picture questions. Are the Clippers a team rebuilding for the future on the fly? Are they looking to stay good and relevant until they can get their new building in Inglewood constructed? Are they a year or two away from a total rebuild?

Steve Ballmer ultimately gets to make that call. It will be up to Winger to execute it.

Kyrie Irving trade doesn’t change LeBron James’ plans. Probably.

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The Kyrie Irving trade to Boston was really about LeBron James.

Irving wanted out of LeBron’s shadow in Cleveland and asked for a trade. Cleveland got in Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder two guys who can help them win next season and chase a ring (and the Warriors) while LeBron is in Cleveland. It also gave the Cavaliers the Brooklyn Nets pick next draft and Ante Zizic, players that could help Cleveland rebuild if LeBron leaves next summer as a free agent.

What this trade doesn’t do is change LeBron’s calculus.

Probably.

LeBron can opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent next summer, and he almost certainly will do that. Even if he wanted to stay in Cleveland, he’d opt out to sign a bigger, longer deal.

What has not changed with this trade is the sense around the league is LeBron has one foot out the door — good luck finding anyone who thinks he’s likely to stay a Cav after next season. He seems ready to move on to the next chapter and challenge, having brought a ring to Cleveland and it looks like this era and team has played itself out.

However, what LeBron has done well is leave his options open, something he has done very intentionally sources tell me. Maybe he wants to go to Los Angeles to enjoy the weather, be close to his business interests, and chase rings with Lonzo Ball and whoever else the Lakers can land in free agency (such as Paul George). Maybe Blake Griffin is on to something and he wants to be a Knick. Maybe a lot of things, the point is LeBron left his options open to make whatever call he wants.

Including staying in Cleveland. Even if it’s a longshot right now, a season is a lifetime in the NBA and attitudes shift.

With this trade, the Cavaliers remain the team to beat in the East, and Crowder gives them the kind of shooter and wing defender the team desperately needed in a matchup with the Warriors (they need more like him). The reality is that if the Warriors are healthy, maybe the series ends in six games instead of five (and that’s a big maybe), but Golden State is still clearly superior. However, the Cavs will be in the Finals, they will get their shot — and stuff happens. We’ve seen it before, a player misses a game (let’s say due to a suspension for kicking) or another has an injury and is not quite 100 percent, and the door opens — then LeBron and Thomas can bust right through it. If the Cavaliers are in the Finals, they have a chance.

Win a ring, or even if the Cavs look like they can legitimately win a ring, LeBron will take it into consideration. That’s where the Brooklyn Nets pick comes in — maybe the Cavs can draft an elite player to add to the mix, or maybe they can trade the pick to get another top veteran player to come to Cleveland to round out the team.

That’s a lot of ifs. LeBron still is more likely to leave then stay next summer. His thoughts, his calculus does not change. What this trade does is give the Cavaliers a slightly better shot at a ring (even though Thomas has some serious defensive issues that can be exposed). With that there’s a chance.

The trade also gives Cleveland options if LeBron looks like he’s leaving. They have a little more flexibility, too.