NBA Summer League: Where Chris Copeland comes to shine

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The NBA Summer League season continued on Sunday with seven more games of players looking to reach the next level by way of a couple solid exhibition games in lovely Las Vegas. It doesn’t seem like anyone is a can’t miss signee quite yet, but the odds began to favor a few players that have begun to stand out as games extended to both the Cox Pavilion and Thomas & Mack Center.

Chris Copeland continued his run of impressive play for the New York Knicks as the 6-foot-8 power forward formerly of Colorado scored 17 points and swatted two shots in a 25-point loss to the Phoenix Suns. Copeland wasn’t on the radar of hardly any American basketball fans considering the former Colorado Buffalo has spent the past few years bouncing around overseas in Belgium, Germany, Holland and Spain, but he’s looked like a hidden gem thus far in Vegas.

The 28-year-old is an undersized power forward as far as NBA standards and doesn’t quite have the tenacity most are looking for from undersized bigs at the next level, but he’s proven to be a pretty good player in this setting through the first couple of Knicks games. If an NBA contract doesn’t await, he shouldn’t have any trouble making plenty of money in Europe next season — while probably moving up from the Belgium league, to boot.

Some of the other standouts from Sunday night included the following layers:

  • On the other end of the court from Copeland was Deshawn Sims, a former D-Leaguer who has also spent time playing in South Korea, Puerto Rico and Greece prior to joining the Phoenix Suns’ Summer League entry. Sims wasn’t nearly as good as Markieff Morris — who was clearly the best player on the Phoenix roster — but showed some nice things on his way to 16 points, three rebounds and two 3-pointers to boot. Diante Garrett and Marcus Landry, brother of Carl, also played well. Landry scored 12 points and grabbed five rebounds whereas Garrett narrowly missed a double-double with eight points and 10 assists.
  • Damian Lillard had what might’ve been the most impressive Summer League debut for a rookie this season. The Portland Trail Blazers’ first round pick scored 25 points and dished four assists while fellow first round pick Meyers Leonard put up a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Luke Babbitt was also impressive for the Blazers with 19 points and 10 rebounds — while shooting 4-of-9 from behind the 3-point line, no less — though Wesley Matthews struggled to seven points and three turnovers in less than 15 minutes of playing time.
  •  The rookies on the other side of the ball weren’t quite as impressive in defeat, but the New Orleans Hornets have some solid players in Vegas. Austin Rivers got off to a bit of a bad start with 14 points on 3-of-13 shooting and Xavier Henry’s 11 points on 2-of-7 shooting was less than impressive, but it was fun seeing Denzel Bowles do his thing with 18 points and 12 rebounds off the bench.
  • In the second game of the day, Josh Carter might’ve helped make a name for himself when his Denver Nuggets played the Dallas Mavericks. The former Texas A&M standout was inserted into the starting lineup and responded by showing his shooting is where it needs to be for him to play in the NBA by hitting three of his five attempts from beyond the 3-point arc to tally 15 total points.
  • Dallas Mavericks guard Dominique Jones played very well on his way to 32 points and eight rebounds, but he unfortunately was unable to show he has the pass-first mentality some had hoped for to allow him to play the point guard position. As far as this year’s picks were concerned, Jae Crowder showed the hustle he’ll need to exhibit this fall on his way to nine points and five rebounds — though his inability to score efficiently (4-of-12 from the field) probably didn’t help his cause.
  • The Toronto Raptors looked awful on their way to just 59 points on Sunday afternoon, but it was a welcome sight to see Chris Wright on the court. Wright played for the Golden State Warriors last season, but was a surprise addition to the Raptors this offseason as it was expected he’d be able to compete for a roster spot this fall. The athlete still trying to figure out his basketball skills scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds despite shooting 3-of-9 from the field.
  • The team that held Toronto  to just 59 points was the Miami Heat and, though it looked like the majority of the flaws were simply due to inefficient offense, the Heat brought a pretty talented backcourt to Vegas. Terrel Harris and Norris Cole, both of which can count themselves as NBA champions, combined to score 14 and 13 points respectively — while Harris added four steals to boot.
  • Kawhi Leonard was the expected standout for the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday afternoon while Cory Joseph showed some signs of potential, but the team’s third-leading scorer was a bit less likely. Longtime Austin Toros center Eric Dawson was given the start for the Spurs on Sunday and delivered a solid performance with 12 points, 13 rebounds and and a block while showing that he might have a chance at making the Spurs roster as an end of the bench big man.
  • The Atlanta Hawks — the team the Spurs beat — didn’t have a ton of bright spots but Keith Benson again showed that he can play with heart that wasn’t seen enough during his rookie season. The slender forward from Oakland (Mich.) scored 20 points and grabbed six rebounds while fellow former D-Leaguer Brad Wanamaker had nine points and eight rebounds. John Jenkins, the team’s draft pick, wasn’t as stellar as some had hoped with 13 points and three missed 3-pointers.
  •   The Cleveland Cavaliers are without Kyrie Irving due to a freak injury and unfortunately first round draft pick Dion Waiters was unable to impress in his absence as the guard went 3-for-11 and finished with just 10 points. The team’s other draft pick, Tyler Zeller, was quite a bit better with 14 points and five rebounds … though nothing he did was overwhelmingly amazing.
  • The Charlotte Bobcats missed out on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist due to a sore knee — called precautionary — but the team still had plenty of players on its current roster in the game. Kemba Walker scored 13 points with four assists, Bismack Biyombo picked up six points to go with his eight rebounds and Byron Mullens had a solid nine and eight.
  • The NBA D-League Select Team shocked the world on Sunday night as they mostly dominated on the way to an 85-78 victory over the Washington Wizards. The roster is perfectly made for head coach Eric Musselman‘s defensive system and it showed as they looked like they might blow out Washington. Andre Emmett led the team with 17 points and four assists while Jerry Smith had important 11 points — the majority of which came in the third quarter as the D-League squad came back.
  • Washington was led by Bradley Beal as the third overall pick scored 20 points on 15 shots — including going just 1-of-7 from beyond the arc — but the team didn’t seem to go to him enough early if they were trying to win. One bright spot might’ve been Earl Calloway, who played with Tomas Satoransky in Spain this season, but his 12 points and six rebounds weren’t enough to outweigh four rather costly turnovers.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the rest of the teams play on Sunday to see if any new stars are born.

Rumor: Kawhi Leonard meeting with Clippers set for July 2

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Kawhi Leonard will tip the balance of power this summer.

Whatever the Finals MVP decides with his free agency — stay with the Raptors, come to the Clippers, something else entirely — will change the landscape of the NBA. Wherever he goes that team will be an instant contender, with the Raptors and Clippers long having been the frontrunners and everyone else trying to get their foot in the door.

His decision likely will not drag out, but it’s not going to be LeBron James last summer “let’s do this so I can go on vacation” instant, either, if we believe this report from Frank Isola of The Athletic.

Of course, this report would be unofficial/off the record because teams cannot yet officially reach out to players or agents, and we know there is no tampering in the NBA. (Read that last sentence again in your best sarcastic voice to get the full impact.)

In Los Angeles, the Clipper hype has led to billboards.

If the Clipper meeting is July 2, in Los Angeles we presume, the question becomes when is the Toronto meeting? June 30/July 1 in Toronto, giving the Clippers the last shot? Or, are the first couple of days meetings with other teams that are longshots — Knicks, Lakers, Mavericks, etc. — just to get them out of the way.

It has long been rumored to be a two-team race for Leonard’s services. On the one hand is the chance to return home and become the leader of a 48-win Clippers team poised to be a threat for years to come if they land a superstar. (The Lakers have never been a serious consideration for Leonard, according to sources, for a variety of reasons. Let’s just say he’s not a superteam kind of guy.)

On the other hand is a Raptors team where he was given room to recover and be himself, and where he just won a ring. A city where he was fully embraced by the fans.

Also remember Leonard is at eight seasons of NBA service, meaning the max of this next contract is for 30 percent of the cap (a starting salary around $33 million next season). After two more seasons, he will have 10 years of service and be eligible for 35 percent of the cap (a starting salary of $38 million right now, and with the cap expected to go up the next couple of years it will be higher than that in reality). Despite the injury history, is Leonard willing to bet on himself and sign a two-year contract to get to the larger max, then re-sign?

The leading theory floating around the league now is Leonard signs a short deal in Toronto, then re-enters the market in a year or two. But it’s just a theory. Nobody really knows because Leonard does not tip his hand. About the only thing we seem to know his he will meet with the Clippers on July 2.

Ex-Sacramento Kings exec gets 7 years for siphoning $13.4M

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A former top Sacramento Kings executive was sentenced Monday to seven years in prison for siphoning $13.4 million from the team.

Jeffrey David, 44, the team’s former chief revenue officer, pleaded guilty in December to wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.

David diverted the sponsorship payments of five companies to a bank account he controlled from October 2012 through July 2016, using the money to buy and remodel Southern California beachfront properties, pay for a private jet membership and pay off credit card bills.

“The brazen scheme involved forgeries, stolen corporate executive identities, money laundering and even instructing a former colleague to destroy evidence,” U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott said in a statement. “Today’s sentence should deter others from committing substantial frauds such as this one.”

David’s lawyer, Mark Reichel, disagreed with the sentence from U.S. District Judge William Shubb.

“We see no appropriate purpose served by a sentence this lengthy,” Reichel wrote in an email, citing David’s “tremendous life work” before and after his crimes as cause for a reduced sentence.

“The Kings received back every single penny of the previously purloined money, and Mr. David worked very hard to make sure that happened. He is tremendously remorseful,” Reichel said.

The Kings have received over $13.2 million in restitution to date, according to the Department of Justice.

David is scheduled to begin his sentence on Aug. 20.

Lakers’ Jeanie Buss: “I have 100 percent confidence in Rob Pelinka”

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Internally, the Lakers believe they are on the right track: They signed LeBron James as a free agent, they spent years acquiring assets then turned those assets into Anthony Davis, and they believe the roster that will take the court next season will bring vindication for the front office and ownership group. The Lakers believe they will be back on top, where they belong.

From the outside, um, let’s just say there are doubts around the league. Doubts about all the picks — particularly the pick swaps and deferments — that the Lakers gave up to get Davis and now that could hurt them in the future. There are doubts about the ability of Rob Pelinka to build out a roster around LeBron and Davis that is truly a threat.

Jeanie Buss has no such doubts. Speaking to Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times (and other reporters) at the NBA Awards show Monday, Buss expressed nothing but confidence in Pelinka and the Lakers’ staff.

“I’ve always had confidence in Rob, whatever the speculation is out there,” Buss said. “We don’t need outside media to validate the things that we do. I’m very happy and I think we’re on the right path.”

“I have 100% confidence in him in running his basketball operations,” Buss said. “He’s brought us a great new head coach in Frank Vogel, whose teams have had a lot of success in the playoffs and who have played consistently ranking high in defense, which means not only does he emphasize defense but the players buy into his defensive schemes.”

The question isn’t Vogel’s credentials, although how a staff with Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins, and other veteran coaches with big egos will mesh together is going to be interesting.

The question is talent.

The Lakers have the high end of that with LeBron and Davis, but when you think about the Laker title teams of the past it wasn’t just Shaq and Kobe, it was also Derek Fisher and Robert Horry and Rick Fox and a host of others. The same thing was true in this past Finals — the deeper team won because the Raptors could adapt and handle their star not being 100 percent.

Are the Lakers going to chase another star and then complete the roster with minimum salary players? Or, get two or three quality role players with their cap space to have a deeper team? Has this all been planned out and thought through? Maybe Rob Pelinka builds this roster out beautifully, but we only have one year of experience to judge him on, and that did not go well.

Buss may have confidence, she should, the rest of us are in wait and see mode.

The Greek Freak has arrived, Giannis Antetokounmpo wins NBA MVP

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Mike Budenholzer came in with a plan — an offense built around the fact no one man on the planet can guard Giannis Antetokounmpo.

It worked. The Bucks won 60 games and had the best record in the NBA. Budenholzer picked up Coach of the Year hardware for his efforts.

Now Antetokounmpo has won the NBA MVP award, edging out James Harden (who chose not to attend the NBA’s awards show in Los Angeles Monday). He was emotional in thanking teammates for helping him reach this point, then talking about his father.

It was a long road to this point, Antetokounmpo was playing second-division ball in Greece when the Bucks drafted him at No. 15 back in 2013. The word we used to describe his game at the time was “raw” — he was a long way from the player he would become. What he also turned out to be was driven. Willing to put in the work, be coached, and put in the long hours to get better and maximize his potential. Antetokounmpo earned the chance to walk up on that stage and accept the MVP award.

Antetokounmpo averaged 27.7 points and 12.5 rebounds a game, but it was his ability to destroy any defender one-on-one that made the Bucks offense work. Either the Greek Freak got to the basket and finished, he drew a foul, or he drew so much attention the shooters that surrounded him on the floor had clean looks of their own. He also was the Bucks best defender, a guy tasked with tough assignments nightly.

Antetokounmpo was the best player on the best team.

Antetokounmpo won the award handily with 941 points to Harden’s 776. The Greek Freak had 78 of the 100 first-place votes.

James Harden — who averaged 36.1 points, 7.5 assists, and 6.6 rebounds per game — finished second in the voting, Paul George of Oklahoma City was third. Harden has finished first or second in the voting for four of the past five seasons. Harden believed he deserved to win and was frustrated with another second.

Antetokounmpo is the first player from Europe to win the MVP award since Dirk Nowitzki in 2007.

Nikola Jokic came in fourth in the voting, Stephen Curry was fifth. Here are the full results: