Tuesday Summer League Notes: Gorgui Dieng trying to find his groove, McLemore finds his

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LAS VEGAS — Summer League is more than just coaches in cargo shorts, although it is a lot of that. There’s a lot more going on, so here are some notes from Tuesday….

• Minnesota didn’t draft Gorgui Dieng because of his offense, still it feels like his footwork and overall game has regressed since he helped lead Louisville to the national title. That said, he looked a little better on Tuesday, shooting 3-of-4 for six points and five rebounds with only three fouls in 13 minutes (that may be below his Summer League pace). His defense has been okay but he showed a midrange and made some plays in college that have not been seen in Vegas.

“I think I’m getting adjusted,” to the NBA style game as opposed to college. “My first two games I was kind of lost, there were too many plays (to remember) and I was just thinking too much. Yesterday the coach sort of looked at me and said, ‘just play.’ I think I’m adjusting, a started running again. But it’s very different than the college game…

“I just need to get used to it, it’s a very different game. That’s why pros are pros.”

• Ben McLemore was getting good looks, his form is beautiful, you knew his shot would come around. In the second half Tuesday it did in a big way — 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting with 3-of-5 from three and he was perfect on all five attempts from the charity stripe. He struggled finding his range first couple games but coach Chris Jent told us after the first game the Kings coaches were not worried. They didn’t need to be.

• Portland’s Thomas Robinson (yes, that’s where he landed now) went hard to the glass in Tuesday. He’s not a guy who just rebounds his space but has the athleticism to go after balls other guys should get. He had nine rebounds in the first half alone Tuesday.

• Jonas Valanciunas continues to be the veteran who has shown the most improvement this Summer League — and the most physical change, he has gotten much stronger in the upper body. He had 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting plus 8 boards against the Kings Tuesday, he is putting that larger frame to use to be physical inside. Of course, that also led to 9 fouls Tuesday (you can’t foul out of Summer League).

• In Summer League you see so many guys with great crossovers or other moves that can get them to the rim — then most of them can’t finish. It’s the most Summer League of things. NBA moves and Summer League finishes. So many guards recklessly barrel into the lane looking for contact with no idea how to close other than to just yell “and one.”

• Along those lines, Shabazz Muhammed struggled to finish around the rim Tuesday, continuing a trend all Summer League. He shot 3-of-9 in a win over the Heat, he clearly made a point of trying to get his looks closer to the rim and when he was contested he struggled to finish. He also got stripped cleanly in transition at least once when he didn’t really protect the ball from a defender.

He is now 9-of-25 overall and 3-of-8 from three in three Summer League games. It’s something to watch because he was drafted to be a scorer and so far he has struggled some in that role.

• John Henson was back on the court for the Bucks, he had taken a game off due to a sore groin, and grabbed nine rebounds in the first quarter. So I guess the groin is fine.

• Here is a link to a great story at Ridiculous Upside about the financial grind of most of the guys playing in the NBA Summer League. Outside a handful of high draft pick exceptions, these guys are not doing this for the money.
http://www.ridiculousupside.com/2013/7/16/4528594/examining-the-financial-grind-of-playing-in-nba-summer-league-trying

• The soundtrack of the Summer League in the Cox Center is like the soundtrack to the summer of 1998. “Bust A Move,” “Get Jiggy With It” and so on. I just gotta throw my hands up in the air sometimes….

• Portland’s Will Barton was held out of Tuesday’s game against the Bulls due to a sore right knee.

• Toronto released Ricky Harris and Mark Lyons from their Summer League squad.

Sixers will talk contract extension for Joel Embiid this summer, want to lock him up

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Could Joel Embiid be Philadelphia’s Stephen Curry?

No, I don’t mean taking 30-foot bombs that demoralize opponents (although, no doubt Embiid is game for trying it). I mean in having a contract extension off his rookie deal for less than the max, a value contract that allows the Sixers the cap room to secure a title contender around him.

After three seasons in the NBA, Joel Embiid is eligible for a contract extension this summer (one that would be negotiated now but not kick in until the 2018-19 season). Teams lock up their stars at this point, and Embiid is that — he was dominant in the 31 games he played. But it’s 31 games in three seasons, how much do the Sixers want to pay here?

Sixers owner Joshua Harris said extending Embiid is a priority for the team this summer, speaking at a press conference, via the Courier Times.

“Look, I’d just say we want Joel to be on the team for a long time,” Harris said. “We want us all to grow old together. That’s the way I would put it.”

A max contract for Embiid would be five years at about $130 million, an average annual salary of $26 million. Because of his injury history, would he be willing to sign five years at $100 million, maybe with an opt-out after four? That extra cap space may not sound like a lot, it’s not a Curry-level savings, but it would help the Sixers’ team building.

If the two sides can’t reach a deal by Oct. 31 (the deadline), Embiid will play out this season then be a restricted free agent next season. If he stays healthy, he will get a max deal from another team that the Sixers would just match (the Sixers and Embiid could also reach a deal).

The Sixers are not about to let Embiid go, they have their young core they believe they can contend with in a few years. Plus he is a fan favorite. The only question left is cost.

Josh Jackson’s first pitch is… just a bit outside

Associated Press
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Josh Jackson is not going Bo Jackson on us and playing baseball in the offseason.

The highly-rated forward out of Kansas who was the No. 4 pick of the Phoenix Suns was invited to throw out the first pitch before Friday night’s Diamondbacks game.

To quote Bob Uecker, he was just a bit outside. He tried the corner and missed.

Lonzo Ball was able to make his first pitch, ergo, he will turn out to be a much better NBA player. Obviously, these skills correlate.

Report: Re-signing Nerlens Noel Mavericks’ top off-season priority

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This is a Mark Cuban owned team, you don’t think the Mavericks are going to make a serious run at a free agent come July 1? Pelicans’ point guard Jrue Holiday has long been known to be a target, but there will be others.

But keeping their new core together, including restricted free agent Nerlens Noel, is the top priority, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Rumors like this are out there in part from Dallas to hope to chill the market for Noel. While he could be a defensive force who provides some scoring around the rim, with Noel’s injury history they may be able to get him at less than max money — because if he’s at the max the Mavericks are flirting with the luxury tax (and Cuban isn’t going to want to pay the tax for a borderline playoff team at best).

What Dallas fears is what Brooklyn did last season to Allen Crabbe in Portland and Tyler Johnson in Miami — some team to come in with a max or near-max offer sheet that drives up the price. Dallas will match, they will keep the young core together, it just gets more expensive.

Next season in Dallas will be a deserved big farewell to Dirk Nowitzki. He will be the focus, but behind him Dallas will try to be building for the future. They made the trade deadline move to make sure Noel is a part of that, the only question now is how much it costs them.

Magic Johnson on drafting Lonzo Ball: “what I needed was a leader”

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Nobody, not even his critics with the Lakers, question that D'Angelo Russell had talent. What they questioned from the start was his work ethic and maturity. I was told by sources with the team he often was the last one to team meetings, often one of the first out of the gym, and the whole Nick Young thing spoke to the maturity question. Byron Scott took a lot of heat as Lakers’ coach for benching him, and Scott’s communication skills were lacking, but he had reasons. Russell also just 21 and maybe he finds his way, but the Lakers weren’t willing to wait anymore.

Which is why the Lakers were willing to move him to Brooklyn in the Brook Lopez trade, and why the Lakers went after Lonzo Ball in the draft, Magic Johnson said, via Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

Is Lonzo Ball a leader? Only time will tell, he has the potential.

Will players want to play with him? Yes, if the passing skills he showed in college transfer to the NBA. If guys know they will get the rock if they run/cut, then they will do just that. It’s some simple B. F. Skinner stuff here — if players are rewarded they will keep doing it. Get them the rock in transition and they will get out there every time.

Ball has flaws in his game, there are certainly questions about his defense, and how that awkward shot translates remains to be seen (it goes in but his time to get it off will decrease at the NBA level)? Will he be a scoring threat in the half-court? He’s got work to do. But answer those questions and the Lakers may have the key piece to help anchor a franchise he’s been looking for.