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


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.”

Stan Van Gundy goes off on officials: “We got absolutely screwed all night”

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The Pistons were likely to lose to the red-hot Trail Blazers on the road, and that came to be Saturday night 100-87, Portland 12th straight win. The Pistons shot 38.8 percent for the game and had a dreadful offensive rating of 93.8 (points per 100 possessions).

Portland is one the top five defensive teams in the NBA this season, but that’s not what Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy thought was the problem — he laid the blame on the officiating.

That’s going to be a fine.

Van Gundy is frustrated — with this game and with this season. So are Pistons fans, and seemingly so is Detroit owner Tom Gores after his lukewarm vote of confidence in Van Gundy recently. They should be, this team is a disappointment and the Blake Griffin trade was a big swing that has yet to work out. The Pistons are going to miss the playoffs. Around the league, the sense is that Van Gundy will lose his GM job to former super agent Arn Tellem, who was brought in to guide the Pistons into their new building but now whose talents would better serve the basketball side of the operation. The only question is will Van Gundy still be coaching in Detroit next season — just coaching, like Doc Rivers with the Clippers — or of the change will be more sweeping than that.

Hornets’ coach gives savage, frank assessment of Willy Hernangomez

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When Willy Hernangomez was not getting much run with the Knicks this season, especially as injuries opened up space in the front line rotation, there were questions as to why. Then the #freeWillyHernangomez movement popped up.

Eventually, Hernangomez was traded to the Hornets where… he barely plays. He’s gotten more than 10 minutes just once since coming to Charlotte.

What gives? Hornet’s coach Steve Clifford didn’t hold back when answering that question to Marc Berman of the New York Post.

“If you were in one place and didn’t play much, if you want to play more in the next place, I’d say work harder and kill myself,” Clifford said at the Hornets shootaround at the Players Association’s midtown headquarters. “The reality is he wasn’t playing here for a reason. He’s got to change things…

“He’s not up to speed on what we’re doing to play a lot,” Clifford said. “It’s been a little bit of a struggle for him. He’s smart, but he’s not this high-flier, phenomenal, natural athlete able to make up ground. He’s got to be on top of things, especially on the defensive end. If he’s not detailed defensively, he’s not that [athletic] guy…

“To be an every-night player, and I’ve told him this, he’s got to improve his shooting,” Clifford said. “He is right now, in my opinion, a back-to-the-basket player who can pass. But the reality is his passing doesn’t come into play until they have to get close to him and know he’s not going to knock down a shot. And he’s not a knockdown shooter.”

Well then.

Just to be clear he’s got to put in a lot more effort, become smarter on the defensive end, and improve his shooting. That’s a healthy off-season checklist.

Hernangomez has another year on his contract at a very reasonable $1.5 million before the Hornets have to make any kind of decision on him, which means whoever is the new GM in Charlotte he will choose to keep Hernangomez around. For now. He flashed potential his rookie season with the Knicks, when asked to play strictly to his strengths, but Clifford and the Hornets — and basically every other team in the NBA — is going to ask more of him.

Clifford was clear, as no doubt he has been clear to Hernangomez (Clifford is as straight a shooter as the league has). The ball is in Hernangomez’s court.

Glen “Big Baby” Davis denies drug charges while eating Popeyes on a charter plane

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Best. Denial. Ever.

Last month, former NBA player Glen “Big Baby” Davis was arrested last month at a hotel in a suburb of Baltimore by Jimmy McNulty and Lt. Daniels with 126 grams of marijuana and more than $96,000 in cash, according to a police report. He has been charged with possession and intent to distribute.

Davis has declared his innocence in the best denial video ever — eating Popeyes chicken and flashing cash and a championship ring.

I have no idea whether Davis is guilty or not, I was not at a Hampton’s Inn outside Baltimore last month. The court system will sort that out, that is what it’s there for.

But I know a brilliant video when I see one. This is it.

Report: Michele Roberts to seek second contract as players’ union head

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Michele Roberts entered the NBA’s player union in a tumultuous time — long-time union president Billy Hunter had been ousted in a rancorous fight, the union felt adrift, and negotiations with the NBA on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement were looming (and players felt they had been screwed in the last CBA, following the lockout).

Roberts, the first female head of a professional sports labor union, settled things down. She cleaned up the union finances and made them more transparent to players, she worked hard to establish relationships with the players, and while she rattled some sabers with the NBA in negotiations, she also worked in a non-combative way with Adam Silver and team (unlike the Billy Hunter/David Stern relationship) and got a deal done the players liked without a lockout or labor mess.

Roberts’ contract with the union is up, but she is going to ask for a new deal — one she likely gets — reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

With an original four-year agreement set to expire in September, Michele Roberts plans to seek a new contract as the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, sources tell ESPN…

Roberts had strongly considered staying in the NBPA’s executive director role for only the length of her original contract — and expressed that to the union’s senior membership — but has recently decided to pursue a longer tenure, sources said.

NBPA president Chris Paul played a significant part in Roberts’ hiring in July 2014 and he has built a strong working relationship with Roberts.

Roberts also has a good relationship with the star-heavy executive committee of the union — CP3, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and others — making it likely she gets a new deal.

As for what’s next, at the front of that list Roberts is working with Silver and others on reforming the NBA’s one-and-done rule (it was supposed to be part of the CBA negotiations but was too big and complex an issue to fold into that timeline).

Neither the owners or players can opt out of the CBA for four more years (and if neither side does it runs a couple more beyond that) so labor peace will continue in the NBA for a while.