Donatas Motiejunas and other young players started off solidly at NBA Summer League

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LAS VEGAS — The NBA Summer League began on Friday and, unfortunately, none of the games were very close. Fortunately, however, there were a lot of pretty stellar performances that fans should be impressed with considering their rookies were playing in their first professional games.

It’s tough to take too much of the game to heart considering there are four more games each player will play this week, but the following players were most impressive.

  • Donatas Motiejunas is going to join the Houston Rockets for the upcoming season and, if Friday’s action is any indication, he was worth the wait. The big man from Lithuania is built like an NBA player with tree trunks for legs and showed that the size is functional, too, on his way to 25 points and nine rebounds while missing just two attempts from the field.
  • Klay Thompson probably had the best game of any of the young players on Friday — something that obviously makes sense considering he ended up being a pretty good contributor for the Golden State Warriors this past season. Thompson was on heat-check mode all game on his way to score 24 points, six rebounds and five assists while showing a nice chemistry with new draft pick Harrison Barnes. Barnes scored 23 points, by the way, while hitting all four of his 3-point attempts.
  • Michael Kidd-Gilchrist looked like a man — and therefore an excellent pick at No. 2 — as he scored 18 points, eight rebounds, five assists and four steals to help lead a very solid Charlotte Bobcats team to victory in the nightcap.
  • Two of the most recent first-round picks for the Washington Wizards both showed a lot of potential in the first game of the day as Bradley Beal made his debut to the tune of 22 points while Chris Singleton added 20 of his own. A third recent first round pick wasn’t quite as stellar, however, as Jan Vesely scored a paltry 11 points before fouling out — an impressive feat considering it takes 10 fouls to foul out.
  • Washington rookie Terrence Ross was solid for the Toronto Raptors on his way to 21 points, but the box score unfortunately shows that he took 19 shots to reach that mark.

It’ll be interesting to see if these players are able to keep it up for the rest of this week, but the above certainly got off to a solid start on Friday.

Bradley Beal: Contract extension gives Wizards opportunity, me flexibility

Wizards guard Bradley Beal
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Bradley Beal, through word and action, has shown an incredibly strong commitment to the Wizards.

But is there an opening to pry him from Washington?

Beal on his contract extension, via “All The Smoke“:

It was definitely tough. I came down to damn near the deadline on my decision, because I kind of play devil’s advocate. The whole year, I’m weighing pros and cons of staying or leaving, signing and not signing. Do I wait and try to sign this summer? Or do I wait and try to get traded? Or do I wait and play my contract out? So, I had a bunch of options.

I secured two more years. I have two more years here. Well, three. And, so for me, it was like that puts me – to me, I don’t think I’m going to hit my prime until I’m – what? – 29, 28, 29, 30? And so I feel like – at the end of this extension, it puts me right there. And it so kind of puts me in the prime time of my basketball. And so it still gives me the flexibility with also giving my respects and loyalty to the organization that drafted me. So, I’m still giving you all an opportunity here to make it with work with John, to make it work with everybody. So, here we go. We’ve got a couple more years. And granted, I think my extension is the length of John’s contract, as well. So, this is the time we’ve got. We’re going to see what we can do, and we’re going to make it work.

Beal on the Nets being interested in trading for him, via Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

“It’s not the first time I’ve heard this kind of talk,” Beal told ESPN. “It’s interesting. To me, I look at it as a sign of respect, that I’ve been doing good things and guys want to play with me.

“That’s an unbelievable feeling. When you hear that Kyrie [Irving] and KD [Kevin Durant] want you, s—, that’s amazing. At the same time, you don’t know how much there is to it, or how easy it would be to do. And I’ve put down roots in D.C. I’ve dedicated myself to this town, this community. I love it here, and it would feel great to know I could grind out winning here instead of jumping to another team.

“But I’d be naive to say that I don’t think about it when these stories come up.”

Beal, 26, is locked up two more seasons. Both he and John Wall have player options for 2022-23. Beal’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, declared: “There are no Beal Sweepstakes.”

Everything Beal has said and done about staying in Washington is far more concrete than anything he has indicated about leaving.

But…

It’s interesting how close he came to not signing his extension. It’s interesting he publicly admitted to thinking about trade interest from other teams.

To me, Beal sounds like Anthony Davis – after years of stating loyalty to the Pelicans – subtly hinting he was dissatisfied in New Orleans. The key: Davis requested a trade only after the Pelicans kept struggling to build around him.

Beal is giving the Wizards an opportunity. Maybe they can assemble a winner around him. But even if Wall gets healthy, that’s a tough job.

If Washington becomes successful in the next couple years, great. That’s easy. Beal seems to be looking for reasons to stay.

But if the Wizards keep losing the next couple years, other teams will definitely line up to acquire the star shooting guard. Many players in that situation have greased the wheels of their exit by saying they won’t re-sign or even outright requesting a trade.

We’ll see how Washington does. We’ll see what Beal does at that point.

Considering Beal previously said he’d finish his career with the Wizards if he can control it, these recent interviews leave the door cracked slightly – only slightly – more ajar for Beal to depart.

Report: NBA targeting July 31 to resume games

Raptors guard Kyle Lowry and Nets center Jarrett Allen
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Only one key question about the NBA’s resumption – Where? (Disney World) – had a fairly clear answer.

Who? Why? How?

Those all remain up in the air.

But we can now pinpoint: When?

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

July 31 is a Friday. So, that could begin a fun weekend of basketball.

But remember: Coronavirus can upend the best-laid plans. So, while feels like the resolution we’ve all been craving, it’s only a goal.

Still, it’s nice to have a date to look forward to.

Coronavirus exposes NBA’s late-season tanking wasteland

NBA lottery
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The Knicks won one game – one game! – in all of March 2019. So, they certainly proved their losing bona fides entering an April Fool’s Day matchup with the Bulls. But Chicago had a perfect counter: A starting lineup of Walt Lemon, Wayne Selden, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Robin Lopez. The Bulls fell behind by 20 in the first quarter. Though New York gave 41 minutes to Damyean Dotson and used just three reserves (including Lance Thomas playing 31 minutes), it was too late.

The Knicks had been out-tanked.

***

These types of all-too-common ugly games are the subtext to the NBA’s coronavirus-crisis plans.

The league could resume by jumping straight into the playoffs or some enhanced postseason – either a play-in tournament or group stage – with 20-24 teams. All 30 teams returning has been discussed only as a cash grab. Continuing the regular season at all has been favored only as a ramp up to the playoffs.

But everyone finishing the regular season because it actually matters?

That’s a non-starter.

***

Sam Hinkie – who oversaw “The Process” with the 76ers – has become the face of tanking in the NBA. He took Philadelphia through an ambitious multi-year plan to lose a lot and reap the rewards.

In response, the NBA reformed its lottery. Now, there’s less incentive to finish with the league’s very-worst record.

But a team setting out to tank multiple seasons was incredibly rare.

The far more pervasive problem: Teams that enter a season trying to win, fail then pivot into tanking.

At that point, what is there to lose by, um, losing? Once out of the playoff race, the lure of a high draft pick is just too tempting. Even minor improvements in lottery odds come with the upside of a young franchise-changer. Additional wins carry minimal tangible value.

***

The NBA has spent more effort fighting discussion of tanking than tanking itself.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver defines tanking by its most narrow terms – players and coaches actively trying to lose games. But tanking manifests in other ways.

General managers trade away quality players. Teams become beyond cautious with injuries. Raw young players get more playing time. Coaches experiment with odd lineups. A general malaise sets in as everyone sees the true goal.

That’s why I define tanking as anything a team does intended, at least in part, to improve draft position by losing.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when each team begins tanking. But official elimination from the playoff race is a generous starting point. Most tanking teams adopt the approach even earlier.

***

When the season was halted, 259 regular-season games remained. Far too few of those will be missed.

From the same point last year through the end of the season, 47% of games included a team already eliminated from the playoff race.

It was even worse the prior season. In the same time frame, 50% of games included a team already eliminated from the playoff race.

At best, eliminated teams have already traded their draft picks and have no incentive to lose. Even then, those teams have shown minimal desire to win.

At worst, teams are aggressively chasing better draft position. In 2018, an owner reportedly berated his coach for winning. George Karl said he had a similar experience while coaching. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has repeatedly trumpeted tanking. Travis Schlenk acknowledged the Warriors tanked to get Harrison Barnes. Bryan Colangelo admitted the Raptors tanked under his watch.

Fans – wisely – feel let down when their already-lousy team wins to hurt it’s draft position.

That’s an awful setup.

***

Every so often, the NBA is forced to confront its annual tanking epidemic.

After the Pelicans denied Anthony Davis‘ trade request and kept him past the trade 2019 deadline, they had a standoff. Davis wanted to play. The Pelicans wanted to sit him. They preferred to tank for a better draft pick and protect their superstar asset in a lost season. Eventually, the NBA threatened to fine New Orleans, and the sides struck an imperfect compromise.

The year before, the NBA warned the Bulls to stop resting healthy players.

But coronavirus has shined a much brighter spotlight on the problem

It’d be practically criminal to force bad teams to quarantine, live in an isolated environment, risk injury after a long layoff, risk contracting and spreading coronavirus… just for games they want to lose, anyway. Damian Lillard put voice to the issue, saying he wouldn’t play if the Trail Blazers can’t make the postseason this year. The already-eliminated Warriors have made clear they prefer just to be done.

It’s obviously far more tolerable to play these games in normal times.

But the NBA ought to reconsider a system that creates so many games of awful product.

***

I still believe a draft that rewards losing teams is good for the NBA. It’s important to engage every fan base. If fans of a bad team can’t enjoy wins, at least they’ll have hope.

But the league should strike a better balance.

I’ve advocated for a system that improves draft position with early losses and late wins. Most teams enter a season trying to win, and those that fail would get draft help. But teams – from the top down – would also be incentivized to remain competitive throughout the season. Intentionally losing early then winning late would be a nearly impossible needle to thread.

There’s plenty to sort out – how to value early losses vs. late wins, when to flip the switch, etc. I’m even open to including a Silver favorite – a play-in tournament (that also boosts draft position for teams that win).

But, please: Do something to reduce the large number of late-season tank games.

This situation shows how frivolous they are.

Report: 75 percent of NBA GMs voted for play-in tournament, 25 percent group stage

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka
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NBA commissioner Adam Silver is in charge during his league’s coronavirus crisis.

Because he governs through inclusion.

Throughout his tenure, Silver has sought the opinions of varying factions within the league. Not only has that given Silver better perspective, it has fostered trust in him. He’s not about to dump that method now.

So, the NBA surveyed general managers about how to proceed – asking questions about continuing the regular season, 1-16 seeding, a group stage and a play-in tournament.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer:

Half of the league’s general managers voted to go straight to the playoffs and cancel the rest of the regular season, sources said. Just over half of the league voted to reseed the playoffs 1 to 16 without factoring in conference affiliation.

General managers were surveyed about a “playoffs-plus” format—either a play-in tournament between the bubble teams to determine the final seeds in the playoffs, or a World Cup–style group stage, which would replace the end of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs with a round-robin format. About 75 percent of teams voted in favor of a play-in tournament, sources said, while 25 percent of teams voted in favor of the group stage.

Teams with top seeds, such as the West-leading Lakers and East-leading Bucks, are in favor of a play-in tournament, not a group stage, multiple league sources say.

Remember: Self interest is rampant in these votes. Just because Silver is soliciting opinions from general managers doesn’t mean he’ll implement their choices. Owners carry more weight, and Silver is scheduled to meet with them today.

I’m surprised so many general managers supported a play-in tournament. Silver couldn’t get that off the ground in normal times.

But if the choice were a play-in tournament or group phase – with no other options – that could explain it. Coronavirus has also obviously changed the equation. And again, general managers aren’t the owners who would’ve been voting for it in first place.

It’s also interesting the Lakers and Bucks – who’d face a play-in winner – favor a play-in tournament. Yes, a play-in tournament allows the possibility of teams less accomplished so far than the Grizzlies and Magic claiming the No. 8 seed. But a play-in winner would gain momentum in advancing to the playoffs. There’s a tradeoff.

Perhaps, Los Angeles and Milwaukee just believe more than 16 teams will continue and really loathe the uncertainty of a group phase.

All of this could be about the play-in tournament could being a less-undesirable option than a group phase.