Author: Kurt Helin

Charlotte Hornets v Dallas Mavericks

Notes from a Summer League Thursday: Patrick Ewing talks Noah Vonleh, P.J. Hairston, Lance Stephenson


LAS VEGAS — Things are quieting down in Las Vegas… well, at Summer League. Vegas itself never quiets down. This is the city where once you’ve been here five days and you get to bed at 2 a.m. and think, “good, I got in early tonight and can get some sleep.”

Here is stuff from my Thursday notebook.

• Charlotte Hornets Summer League coach Patrick Ewing spoke with ProBasketballTalk about the development of a couple key guys. One is Noah Vonleh, who has struggled at points finding an offensive groove — he was 3-of-11 shooting Thursday against New Orleans. There have been flashes but Vonleh is a project.

“I like Noah, I think he has a bright future in this league. He’s a rookie, he’s 19 years old, it’s going to take some time…” Charlotte Summer League coach Patrick Ewing told ProBasketballTalk. “The thing I think he needs to do is: rebound. He has to continue to rebound. His second game in here he had 18 rebounds and it’s not been consistent. Do all the things that he can be consistent with until his offense and all the other parts of his game is able to get going. He has to get stronger. But he’s a talented guy and he’s going to be one of the guys who is going to have a bright future for our team and possibly could be a star in this league.”

• Ewing also talked P.J. Hairston, who is ready to shoot the second he walks in the gym — a player on the opposing Pelicans said to press row at the half “How ‘bout how much P.J. shoots?” That said they were falling for him on Thursday.

“P.J., he had a very good game for us tonight. He shot the ball extremely well,” Ewing said of Hairston’s 8-of-16 overall, 4-of-9 from three night from the floor. “I keep telling him, get back and rebound also. Share the ball, because a lot of the shots are going to him and don’t just put your head down and take it. He should be a rotational player in this league, his future is predicated on how much he wants it and how much he wants to put in the work to get it.”

• P.J. Hairston does this thing where if he feels contact while dribbling he throws his head back to exaggerate it and try and get the call.

• While we were at it, I asked Ewing (also a Hornets assistant during the regular season) about the chances for the Hornets next season with the addition of Lance Stephenson.

“They keep saying the East is wide open, you never know,” Ewing said. We feel that we have a pretty good team. Lance definitely is a great addition to our ball club, he’s a guy that can shoot the basketball, he can handle the basketball, distribute the basketball, and he can get in there and play defense and rebound. He’s a great addition. We had one of the top 10 defenses in the league and with his addition it’s going to be even better.”

• Dontas Motiejunas showed what happened when you put a rotation caliber NBA big man in a Summer League game. He had 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting, pulled down 11 rebounds, blocked one shot and altered a bunch more. The Cavs simply could not match up on him with this Summer League roster. Anthony Bennett tried but he’s not big enough to stop a skilled big. The guys big enough were too slow.

• Andrew Wiggins had a showcase game Thursday where he just attacked the rim — he had 20 free throw attempts on his way to 21 points (on 3-of-5 shooting). He’s still raw in a lot of ways but he has decent handles already and when he attacks good things happen.

• Here is Cavaliers coach Dave Blatt on Wiggins: “You know what you got to like about a kid like that is that it doesn’t matter if it’s the fourth game of Summer League, or the fourth game in seven days or eight days, or if people are keying on him, or if the crowd has funny things to say to him, he just goes out there and really plays and has a nice calm about him. A real good demeanor.” That includes him ignoring the trade rumors swirling around him.

• After seeing him a few times in Vegas I’m not the biggest fan of Zach LaVine’s game, but man can he dunk.

• Utah Jazz rookie Rodney Hood can flat out shoot the ball, and with the dual point-guard role of Trey Burke and Dante Exum there was room for him to shine as a shooter. He summed up the Jazz offense through Summer League:

“I think we did a a great job moving the ball. Some games we became a little stagnant because of the way people were playing, they were real aggressive. We shared the ball a lot, you rarely ever saw Iso ball or stuff like that for the most part, sometimes we didn’t shoot the ball well….

“It’s fun, especially for role players like my self, on the other end you’re that much more engaged if you’re going to touch the ball, playing with unselfish guys.”

• That said, Exum seemed a little frustrated that he got fewer touches on Thursday (Burke got more).

• Forced to do it because of the roster, Russ Smith showed he can create a little offense, putting up 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting Thursday.

• Cody Zeller is solid backup big. Pretty good defender, works hard on the glass, willing to be physical, actually has some handles, can finish through contact. Outplayed Jeff Withey head-to-head Thursday.

• Speaking of bigs who looked solid — Patric Young. A guy who never developed into the star some hoped still has an NBA body and all week has worked hard on the glass, put in the effort on defense. Should get a training camp invite somewhere at least.

• Some team carrying three point guards really should consider Will Cherry for the third spot. Raw on the edges but a ball of energy.

• The Spurs work the ball into the post in the half court more than any other team in Summer League. (This is a league where guards trying to get noticed like to shoot the rock not pass it.)

Phil Jackson says in book update Dwight Howard left Lakers because of Kobe, new CBA hurts team continuity

New York Knicks Press Conference

Phil Jackson has been busy this past year — getting engaged, almost getting to run a Seattle franchise, actually getting to run the Knicks franchise and more.

With that he updated his latest autobiography, 11 Rings — which you should have read already anyway so now you just need to read the updated part.

The New York Daily News got an exclusive excerpt of that addition.

In it Jackson talks about how the fractured Kobe Bryant/Dwight Howard relationship ended up being what killed any shot of a Howard return to the Lakers.

The Lakers invited Kobe and Steve (Nash) to the final pitch meeting to help persuade Dwight to come on board. It sounded like a good idea. Steve sent out an amusing tweet before the meeting: “Dwight Howard we’re coming for you. You’re going to love the statue we build for you outside Staples in 20yrs!” And Kobe made a moving speech during the pitch, promising to teach Dwight the secret of winning championships that he’d learned from the best in the game.

If the meeting had ended there, it might have worked. But after the presentation, Dwight asked Kobe what he was planning to do after he recovered from his Achilles injury. Was this going to be his last year? “No,” replied Kobe. “I’m planning to be around for three or four more years.”

At that point, according to others in the room, Dwight’s eyes went blank and he drifted away. In his mind, the game was over.

There’s a lot more in this excerpt — Jackson talks about the Lakers discussions in hiring him and how he is pretty sure Mike D’Antoni was a Jim Buss not Jerry Buss call, how things ended with Dr. Buss, his engagement, his dalliance with the failed bid to bring a team to Seattle, and more. It’s worth a read.

But the other part I found most interesting was his take on the current CBA and it’s impacts.

It tightened up teams spending and has led to increased player movement, which has led to increased off-season player movement and interest from fans. The NBA has a real “hot stove league” now that fans are eating up.

However, Jackson says this comes at the expense of team building.

Sadly, what inevitably is getting lost in this shift is a sense of continuity over time. Not only will the new agreement make it virtually impossible for teams — no matter how fat their wallets — to assemble lineups with more than two or three bona fide stars, it will also significantly reduce the number of players who can play the bulk of their careers on the same team. When I was with the Knicks, most of the key players on our championship teams — including Bill Bradley, Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, and Dave DeBusschere — were together for six years or more. That may never happen again. Instead we’re going to see a lot of teams made up of one or two stars and a cast of interchangeable specialty players on short-term contracts. As a result, it will be even more difficult to build the kind of group consciousness necessary to excel. The only remedy is to create a culture that empowers the players and gives them a strong foundation to build upon. Otherwise they’ll be too insecure to focus their energy on bonding together as a team.

UPDATED: Suns, Bledsoe about $32 million apart on new contract

Eric Bledsoe

UPDATE 6:45 pm: These sides aren’t just a little apart, they are Eliza Dushku and Rick Fox apart. From Chris Broussard of ESPN, who had the original report:

As we note below, Bledsoe’s problem is a lack of leverage. No other team has offered that because they expect the Suns will just match, but Phoenix isn’t just going to give Bledsoe the max. His only option is to play for the qualifying offer ($3.7 million) and be an unrestricted free agent next summer. But for a guy with a long injury history, that is a huge risk.

2:59 pm: Eric Bledsoe is the best free agent still out on the market. It’s not close.

Still there is nothing.

The Hornets stepped early in free agency and tried to steal restricted free agent Gordon Hayward away fro the Jazz, but Utah matched the max offer. Dallas stepped up and did poach restricted free agent Chandler Parsons away from Houston with three years and $46 million.

Restricted free agent Bledsoe still sits on the sidelines.

No team has made him a max offer, in part because it was assumed the Suns would just match it. But without that leverage Bledsoe is having trouble getting a deal he likes with the Suns, reports Chris Broussard at ESPN.

The future of one of the most talented free agents left on the market remains cloudy, as Eric Bledsoe and the Phoenix Suns remain far apart in contract talks, according to sources close to the situation.

Bledsoe’s representatives have been engaged in discussions with Phoenix, but the Suns’ offer is far below what Bledsoe is looking for.

The Suns are deep at point guard — Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas and just drafted Tyler Ennis. They could afford to move Bledsoe in a sign-and-trade, but so far nothing has come to fruition.

It’s a situation to watch, but Bledsoe’s problem now is not many teams have cap space to go after him and so he lacks the leverage to get the kind of deal he wants.

Lakers “win” bidding process, get rights to Carlos Boozer

Chicago Bulls' Boozer reacts after being called for a foul in their NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics in Boston

Carlos Boozer is going to be a Los Angeles Laker next season — they won the bidding process for him.

Although Lakers’ fans are not going to use the word “won.” The words they will use cannot be published here, being a family-friendly blog and all.

When the Bulls amnestied Boozer (to open up cap space to sign former Laker and vastly superior player Pau Gasol) it opened up a blind bid process for Boozer — teams under the salary cap could put in a bid for his services and take on that part of his contract (the Lakers bid $3.25 million and they pay $3.25 million while the Bulls cover the remaining $13.6 million, it just doesn’t count against their cap). Highest bid wins, nobody knows what the other teams were bidding.

The Lakers won that, something first reported by Marc Stein of ESPN and quickly confirmed by multiple other reporters.

That’s more than I’d have bid, but not wildly unreasonable.

The Lakers now have Boozer, rookie Julius Randle and another solid big in Ed Davis to play the four.

Boozer averaged 13.7 points and 8.7 rebounds a game last season. His game has deteriorated in recent years, last season he wasn’t efficient (.489 true shooting percentage) nor does he play much defense. That said, he’s more solid than his critics give him credit for — he’s still okay — and he’ll make a decent backup big man for what the Lakers are paying.

He’ll help the Lakers win more now as opposed to bringing in a big man to develop for the future. That said he’s not going to help them win much.

We’d try to guess what the Lakers’ coach would do with Boozer, but they still don’t have one.

J.R. Smith said he wouldn’t have blamed Knicks if they traded him last season

Charlotte Bobcats v New York Knicks

J.R. Smith is about the least triangle offense player in the league.

The Knicks are building their offense to run the triangle (or at least a modified version of it) and Smith isn’t really about keeping the ball moving — he’s an unrepentant gunner. A volume shooter. A good one, a guy that takes bad shots and makes a lot of them (sometimes), but he’s not exactly a triangle guy.

Add to the fact the Knicks are loaded at the two guard (Smith, Iman Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr., Wayne Ellington, and you can play Shane Larkin there if you want) and the buzz is the Knicks will move one of those guys before the start of next season.

Smith said on ESPN2’s First Take he wouldn’t have been shocked if the Knicks traded him the way he played last season, and he knows some moves are still coming in New York (as transcribed by

…he “wouldn’t blame” team president Phil Jackson and the Knicks if the team had decided to trade him last season.

“No. Absolutely not. The way I was playing, I was playing like a person who didn’t want to be there,” Smith said. “Not looking as focused as a person should be in that situation that we were, in the trenches. I wouldn’t blame them at all…..”

Smith said on Wednesday that he’s “cognizant” one of the shooting guards on the roster could be traded before the start of the season.

“Yeah, because that’s just the way the numbers work, honestly,” he said. “When you have so many people at that same position and you’re trying to juggle between ‘Well, he’s got to play 20 minutes, he’s got to play 30 minutes, he’s got to play 25 minutes,’ it’s tough to do.”

Smith is owed just under $6 million this season and has a player option for $6.4 million next season.

Shumpert and Hardaway — younger players with more palatable contracts — have had their names come up in recent trade rumors. But expect the Knicks to check again and see what the market for Smith might be. He may not really fit with the future direction of the team.