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NBA Summer League Notebook for Monday: Bulls’ Lauri Markkanen has a rough day

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LAS VEGAS — There is far too much going on at Las Vegas Summer League to see everything, or write about everything, so here are a few things from my notebook Monday that didn’t make it into a post, organized in the traditional bullet-point format.

The Chicago Bulls are rebuilding. The question among most Bulls fans was not “should we rebuild?” Rather, it was “can Gar/Pax handle the job?”

Their first big move — with the No. 7 pick they got from Minnesota in the Jimmy Butler deal — was to draft Lauri Markkanen, the 7-foot three-point shooter out of Arizona. He was a guy that left scouts divided heading into the draft, some loved his potential and what he could be, others thought his game would not translate.

Monday was a rough day for the rookie, who shot 1-of-13 from the field. It wasn’t pretty.

“I can definitely improve something (with my shot), being more balanced and getting lower on my shot, but I’m not really worried about it,” Markkanen said after the game, sounding like a seasoned shooter. “Those kinds of days happen, not often, but sometimes you just have them.”

The Bulls aren’t concerned either.

“Lauri missed shots, it looked like everyone was going down,” Bulls GM Gar Forman said. “You can see he can put the ball on the floor, he’s a good passer, he’s a very skilled player, he’s got some toughness he’s just got to get physically stronger, which is normal for a 19-20 year old kid. Since we’ve had him in the building, we’ve been really impressed with his work ethic and his skill level…

“I thought he played really well the other night. When he struggles to make shots, that’s just part of the learning process.”

After watching him for a couple of games the potential with Markkanen is there, you can see it in flashes, but like the Bulls it’s going to be a long process to get where he wants to be.

• I know what the Bulls gave up to get him, but if the team picks up the option on Cameron Payne for the 2018-19 season, it’s only to save face after a disastrous trade.

• The Rockets are set at point guard, with Chris Paul and James Harden, but the way Isaiah Taylor has played this Summer League, he looks like he could be the third guard on the roster — and maybe push for some run next season. He had 18 points and 8 assists on Monday and was looking good doing it.

Taylor is under contract with the Rockets but spent last season in the then D-League (now G-League).

“When you watch Isaiah Taylor play now compared to last season when we were here, it just shows you how important the G-League is,” said Rockets Summer League coach Roy Rogers. “Because when he left us after training camp and went to the G-League, he became such a better player. He learned how to distribute the ball better, to slow down, to speed up, he’s just such a different player. We have to give credit to our G-League coaching staff, they did an excellent job wit him, and he’s come up this summer, he’s really worked hard. We’re excited where his future is going…

“He’s been able to depend on his speed and athleticism, and as you get to the NBA, we all know NBA assistant coaches watch hours and hours of film and if there’s a weakness, they’re going to expose it. So they’re trying to keep him out of the lane, and he’s hitting the three point shot. He’s got a chance to be a special player.”

• The Rockets may have another G-League find in forward Troy Williams, who had 27 points to lead Houston on Monday.

“Troy has been relentless, he’s been fearless, and I like what I’ve seen out of him thus far,” Rogers said. “There’s been a couple shots he’s taken where I went ‘Ughhh… good shot’ but he has that belief in himself. He’s the kind of guy who can come in and change the game, he’s really making a defensive end. I’m really excited about how he’s progressing.

• Houston’s Zhou Qi is tall, long, and mobile — which has led to some big time blocked shots.

• It was a let down for the crowd, but the Lakers were smart to sit Lonzo Ball Monday against the Kings’ and De’Aaron Fox. The Lakers reported he had a sore groin, and whether he could play through it isn’t the point — this is Summer League. The Lakers aren’t winning this thing (they are 0-2) and considering the injury risk and other negative’s what’s the point? If you bought a Summer League ticket expecting to see stars, you misunderstand the event.

• The Suns’ drafted Josh Jackson third, and the forward who played a lot of four at Kansas is having to adjust to the three at the NBA level.

“I’m getting used to it,” Jackson said. “The three is probably my natural position. Just being out there with our guys, they’re just so versitle, so tall, so athletic, just makes the game really fun.”

The key for him making the transition is his jumper.

“Once I knock down my outside shot, I feel like the defender has to respect it a little bit more, and that opens it up for me to do what I’m really great at, which is get to the basket. Hopefully, I can keep knocking it down, but even if I’m not I’m going to keep shooting it anyway.”

Michael Beasley: “I’m literally just Carmelo on the left side of the floor”

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Michael Beasley recently signed a one-year contract with the New York Knicks for the veteran minimum. Hopefully, this is just the start of an interesting year with the Knicks. I think you know what I mean.

Speaking to reporters this week, Beasley had lots to say about his potential new role with New York, his interplay with Carmelo Anthony, and his new weight loss.

Specifically, Beasley spoke of how long he had known Anthony and how much he had mimicked his game off of the star on the left side of the floor, saying, “If you watch my game, really watch my game, my jab series, all that, I’m literally just Carmelo on the left side of the floor.”

Since Kevin Durant has apparently set the offseason tone for athletes being frank with reporters, Beasley did say that he was not as great on help side defense as he could’ve been in recent years. However, he said that he wasn’t as bad as people made about to be, and it appears he is going to try to make that something to focus on this season.

Beasley has also lost about 20 pounds — it appears he has cut out sugar and red meats — but the most interesting thing he said to ESPN’s Ian Begley was about his offensive production.

Via ESPN:

“I’ve came in and out of this league. Every year my per-36 [minute average] has been top of the league. And still everybody looks at me as a bust. I just want an opportunity to play more than 15 minutes. And you know if I play more than 15 minutes I’m going to score more than 15 points. And if I can do that for 82 games, that’s an All-Star level. I don’t know. I’m just talking. I just want an opportunity to play basketball. I just want the respect I deserve. Not for what I can do in the future but what I’ve done in the past. And I just want a fair opportunity, a fair chance, a fair shot to play basketball.”

It’s not immediately clear what kind of fair shake Beasley wants here. True, he played less than 30 games in two of his last three seasons in the NBA. However, that was preceded by six seasons of at least 47 games a year. We do know who he is at this point in time, and there is a large swath of game tape and statistics that can be analyzed to prove it.

It is also interesting that Beasley brought up his per-36 numbers. It’s true that Beasley has been an okay scorer when looking at those numbers out of context. But per-36 numbers are not a direct correlary to how effective a player is on the floor. Indeed, even when he was playing starter-level minutes, Beasley’s best numerical seasons are spread all over the place when you take a look at his per-36 production.

Meanwhile, Beasley has had only one season out of nine where he had a positive value over a replacement player. That was his sophmore season with the Miami Heat at 0.2. Five of those seasons he’s taken a larger percentage of his shots from 16 feet to just inside the 3-point line than he has from 0-3 feet. He’s a career 39% shooter on those long jumpers, and 63.5% from that close-in range.

Would it be great if Michael Beasley somehow turned into a strong driving, hard rebounding, diving and passing pick and roll man? Yes. That is exactly what this Knicks team — and any team, frankly — could use.

For now, it appears it’s more likely we end up with the Beasley who says he is a carbon copy of Carmelo — long 2s and all.

Goran Dragic holds back tears after Drazen Petrovic’s mother gives Slovenian star his jersey

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It’s been a big week for Slovenian star Goran Dragic.

First, he led the Slovenian national team to the 2017 Eurobasket championship over Serbia, winning the gold medal.

Then, the Miami Heat point guard announced that he would be retiring from the Slovenian national team. Shortly thereafter, we learned that something special had taken place between Dragic and the mother of former NBA player Drazen Petrović.

Specifically, Biserka Petrović sent over her son’s New Jersey Nets kit as a gift for Dragic.

Via Sportando and SiolNET:

“It is one of the most beautiful gifts I’ve ever received in my life” Dragic told Siol. “He was my idol. We all know what he did for Yugoslavia and the basketball world. It was a great honor for me to wear the jersey no.3” Dragic added.

Petrović, who played for the Nets and the Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA, died in a car accident in Germany in June of 1993. He is considered a sports hero in the successor states that make up the former Yugoslavia, including Slovenia.

You can watch Dragic receiving the jersey and his reaction in the video above. The video does not have English subtitles, but you can clearly see the emotion in his eyes and it’s pretty powerful.

Kevin Durant admits after decision to leave OKC he felt “f—— up”

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Anyone who has made a major, life-changing decision has been there — you make the call, take the steps, commit yourself to the new plan, and then start to wonder “what did I just do?”

Hopefully, usually, the decision works out. It did for Kevin Durant when he chose to leave Oklahoma City for Golden State. However, not only did he have the normal doubts the rest of us had, he had a nation on basketball Twitter ridiculously slamming him for “taking the easy way” to a title.

Durant talked about it in a feature in San Francisco Magazine, along with his agent Rich Kleiman (a story mostly dedicated to KD’s tech investments, which in and of itself is interesting).

(Durant) and Kleiman were in China for a weeklong tour of the country sponsored by Nike Basketball, and the flak he was taking from people in Oklahoma City who had once professed deep affection for him was overwhelming. “To have so many people just say, ‘F— you,’ that really does it to you,” Durant tells me, still clearly anguished. “Because I truly had invested everything I had into the people I played for…. And for those people that I know and love and trust to turn their back on me after I was fully invested in them, it was just…more than I could take. I was upset….

“That was before I met anybody from the Warriors and dove into the culture. I was basically on my own,” Durant says. “It was like you were in between two teams.”….

“We were all messed up on jet lag,” Kleiman says, turning to me, “and I was up at 6 a.m. and he calls me and says, ‘Yo, are you up?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, what’s up?’ And he’s like [yelling], ‘Why the f— did you let me do this to my life?’ And I’m like, ‘Ohh s—, I’m coming over to your room.’”

“That hotel was rock bottom,” says Durant.

Durant’s haters will read into this whatever they want, and the world should look at them and shrug (unfortunately, Durant does not).

I’m impressed that he opened up about this. To me, this makes him more human and relatable because we’ve all had doubts after making a life-changing decision. You know LeBron James has, but he’s not going to let that show. Durant allowed himself to be vulnerable, to show this was not an easy decision for him. It was emotional.

Granted, it’s easier to do that when in a few weeks Durant will put on a championship ring. His decision worked out. Still, good on him for talking about it.

Tyronn Lue says Cavs will stick with LeBron, Love, Tristan Thompson as starters

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With the acquisition of Jae Crowder, a theory started to pop up among Cavaliers observers: Could they go small?

The idea is to start Kevin Love at center, LeBron James at the four, and Crowder at the three — that’s a mobile front line with a couple good defenders and the ability to switch a lot. It provides more options on offense and spaces the floor. Then the Cavs could bring Tristan Thompson off the bench.

That’s not going to happen, at least to start the season, according to Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue, speaking to Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Right now we’re just trying to get all of our pieces together and right now Tristan’s our starter,” Lue told cleveland.com. “I’m just thinking we’re going to run a lot more stuff through Kevin, more at the elbows, like we’ve done the last year and a half. Just trying to figure out with our new pieces and our new players and just see what works best for us.”

Thompson brings value and defense to the starting lineup, Cleveland needs that.

I could see a lineup of Isaiah Thomas (once healthy), J.R. Smith or Kyle Korver at the two, Crowder, LeBron, and Love working in sort of the way Steve Kerr uses his “death lineup” — just put it on the court for 10-15 minutes a night as a change of pace teams can’t adapt to. Use it in key moments to pull away, and in crunch time as needed. Golden State starts Zaza Pachulia, and Thompson is certainly the better of those bigs.

Lue has a lot of rotation decisions to make this season, both before Thomas gets back on the court and after. How to work the trio of Jeff Green, Crowder, and Kover off the bench is just one of them. With Irving gone a lot of options become available, and that should mean a lot of experimentation the first part of the season. Lue is and should be willing to sacrifice some wins now to see what works down the line, because for the Cavaliers the season doesn’t really start until mid-April.