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The Extra Pass: Talking “Summer Dreams” with producer of Summer League documentary

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I’m a big fan of the NFL/HBO series “Hard Knocks,” which each year follows a team through training camp and the drama of season-ending injuries and the cut downs — guys are playing for their livelihood and there is inherent drama in that. It’s great television.

But thanks to guaranteed contracts you can’t do the same thing at an NBA training camp, there just isn’t much drama.

Summer League however…

The NBA’s annual two-weeks of games in Las Vegas features rookies, second year players and guys with dreams of landing spots 9 through 12 on an NBA bench, but most of whom will be playing in Europe next year. They are guys with dreams, guys playing for their next job. Add to that this is a tryout for young coaches, potential NBA referees and a host of others around the league. Because of all that the event is now pretty much an NBA convention with players and agents to D-League coaches in town. All of that with Las Vegas as a backdrop.

That caught the attention of the producers of a documentary on the Summer League called “Summer Dreams,” which airs Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.

“We’ve always believed in finding the underdog story, in finding the drama in the less high profile stories,” said Mike Tollin, who helped produce the documentary for Mandalay Sports Media. “In Summer Dreams Victor Oladipo and Anthony Bennett and Shane Larkin and Michael Carter-Williams — the latter two being featured in our show — have less at stake than Romero Osby and Dwayne Davis.”

Osby was the rare college senior coming out who still got drafted — 51st overall, in the second round by the Orlando Magic. That means no guaranteed contracts. Look back over recent drafts and most guys chosen after 45 either never see the NBA or don’t last long if they do — Osby went into the Las Vegas Summer League trying to play for a spot on the Orlando roster. He had to get the coach’s attention. If not, he was going to have to choose between the D-League and staying domestic, under the eyes of NBA GMs, or making a lot more money overseas.

Then there was Davis, who was undrafted after attending four colleges in five years.

“Dwyane Davis was getting $100 a day and was just so excited he was staying in a fancy Las Vegas hotel, but this is a guy that if it doesn’t go well in those two weeks it’s over,” Tollin said. “Find another career. That’s where the drama lies.”

Davis played well enough to get the attention of scouts for a Spanish team, where he signed a six-figure deal for this past season.

Those are the best stories, but there are more.

Then there are the big names. Carter-Williams and his mother/manager are prominently features, showing in a candid way what is one of the more unusual, close and interesting family relationships in the NBA. Then there was Shane Larkin, who was going to get a chance to show Dallas what he could do after they drafted him, only to break his ankle just before the start of Summer League.

What the show got was access — these players let the cameras into their lives. Cameras are rolling with Larkin and his mother in the hospital when his father — Hall of Fame baseball player Barry Larkin — calls. It’s emotional.

“The trick is being respectful, both of the brand of the league and the lives of the people you’re invading,” Tollin said. “There’s a line, and you need to continually redraw that line.”

Summer Dreams walks the line well. It’s emotional, you become invested in these people and you root for them to succeed. You rise and fall with their performances, their struggles.

There are a million more stories at Summer League and Tollin said he hopes that this can be developed into an annual documentary, if not a weekly show that runs through the summer. But for now, it’s worth watching (or setting the DVR) for this year’s episode. It shows the real work of the NBA.

Sunday is 16th anniversary of greatest dunk ever: Vince Carter over Frederic Weis

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It was the last game of the group stage of the 2000 Olympic basketball tournament at the Sydney Olympics, the USA was taking on France, another USA win on its way to another gold medal.

But what we all remember is this one play — Vince Carter dunking over the 7’2″ French center Frederic Weis.

Best. Dunk. Ever.

By anyone.

Weis was never the same.

In an impressive career — two-time All-NBA, eight-time All-Star, hours and hours of crazy highlights — this is always going to be the highlight at the top of the list. So we will use the anniversary of this dunk to look at it one more time.

Hat tip to nitramy at NBA Reddit.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford suggests allowing teams to advance ball in final two minutes without timeout

Steve Clifford
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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The final minutes of a close NBA game rank among the best moments in sports – which is pretty remarkable, considering frequent stoppages interrupt and impede enjoyment of the game.

Clutch play. Timeout. Clutch play. Timeout. Clutch play. Timeout.

Coaches should probably call fewer timeouts, because drawing up a play also allows the defense to set. But timeouts give the offense the option of advancing the inbound spot into the frontcourt, a key advantage. So, teams will keep calling timeouts.

Unless…

Steve Aschburner of NBA.com:

For Charlotte’s Steve Clifford, the ability in the final two minutes of a game to advance the ball without requiring a timeout to be called could speed up the action. That has been used on a trial basis in the D League and in Summer League, and several coaches felt it worked well.

“The game is at an all-time high in popularity, but a lot of people complain about the last two minutes,” Clifford said. “I think it would add a different dimension but it would also be a good thing in addressing our biggest issue.”

Not that the coaches would be willing to lose any of their timeouts, though. They just wouldn’t save them specifically for that purpose.

I’m here for that.

I’m unsurprised control-seeking coaches want to keep all their timeouts, and reducing those seems unlikely, anyway. The NBA pays its bills through commercial breaks.

Would moving those advertising opportunities earlier in the game pay off? Audiences are probably larger in crunch time, but an action-packed closing stretch could hook fans and grow overall audiences. It’s always a difficult decision to forgo maximizing immediate revenue in pursuit of more later.

But I’m fairly certain fans would appreciate the change, which is at least a starting point in considering it.

Kyrie Irving feels validated after hitting game-winning shot to bring title to Cleveland

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Back in July during the pre-Olympics USA Camp in Las Vegas, I asked Kyrie Irving what had changed for him, what was different for him after winning an NBA title. His answer was about the doors it opened, the possibilities that suddenly felt available to him. A month after winning the title he still seemed a little overwhelmed by the experience, and he hadn’t fully processed it yet. Which is completely understandable.

Now, as training camp is set to open for the Cavaliers and their defense of that title, Irving clearly has gotten used to being a champion — and he feels validated. Look at what he told Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Yes, my life’s changed drastically,” Irving told cleveland.com Saturday, during Irving’s friendship walk and basketball challenge downtown for Best Buddies, Ohio — an organization that gives social growth and employment opportunities to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“It’s kind of, you’re waiting for that validation from everyone, I guess, to be considered one of the top players in the league at the highest stage,” Irving said. “That kind of changed. I was just trying to earn everyone’s respect as much as I could.”

It’s amazing to think of the impact one shot — Irving’s three over Stephen Curry with 53 seconds left in Game 7 — can have. If he misses, there is less pressure on the Warriors to answer with a three, maybe they come down and get a bucket inside for two (one could argue they should have done that anyway rather than hunt for the three), from there maybe the Warriors win. If so, that could change everything from Kevin Durant‘s summer plans to what the Cavaliers’ roster looks like today — there’s a good chance Cleveland’s lineup would have changed if they lost to the Warriors two Finals in a row.

One shot can have that kind of impact on a player, too.

Kyrie Irving was one of the top five point guards in the NBA for a while, a score first guy but one who had some floor general in him and got some steals. A lot of time seemed to be spent focusing on his flaws defensively and passing. But with that shot, he feels validated. If he carries that confidence into next season, the Cavaliers just got better.

Check out top 50 plays from Kevin Garnett’s Hall of Fame career (VIDEO)

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First Kobe Bryant. Then Tim Duncan.

Now Kevin Garnett. The Hall of Fame class in five years is going to be stacked.

But before we move on from Garnett’s announcement this week that he is retiring after 21 years in the NBA, let’s look back at his greatest plays (compiled by the folks at NBA.com). Enjoy this for 11 minutes rather than watching your NFL fantasy team flounder. Again.