Summer League players: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly so far

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LAS VEGAS — As we enter the tournament phase of Summer League, it is pretty much the halfway point, which seems a good time to take stock of some of the player evaluation and development that is really the focus out in Las Vegas.

And when you talk player evaluation, you should always try to use a Clint Eastwood movie theme. It’s one of the Web’s golden rules… or it should be. We almost went with “The Bridges of Madison County,” but at the last minute went with “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.”

THE GOOD

Cody Zeller, Charlotte Bobcats. I’ll admit it, I thought the Bobcats missed on this when they grabbed him at No. 4. Turns out he’s been the best rookie at Summer League (in my estimation, he is at least in the conversation). He played primarily in the post in college but with the Bobcats next season Al Jefferson owns the post, so Zeller has been working to be more of a midrange, stretchy type four — and he’s shown a real skill for it. He’s averaged 15.7 points and 9.3 rebounds a game, has a decent midrange game and is a pretty deft passer.

Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors. He is probably the most improved veteran at the tournament and it’s all about his physique — the skinny kid out of Europe has worked out and filled out his upper body, and with that he’s been a man among boys in the paint at Summer League. He has been a force on both ends of the court. We’ll see how that translates when he starts playing against men again, but Masai Ujiri has got one key piece from the Bryan Colangelo era that can be part of the future here.

Andrew Goudelock, Chicago Bulls. If after three games there was a vote for Summer League MVP, Goudelock would probably get the win. That’s a fairly dubious honor, but Goudelock has a game built for Summer League — he can score. He had a 31-point game to show that off, he is averaging 22.7 points per game and is hitting 60 percent of his three pointers. He can score off the bounce, on the catch-and-shoot, he has crazy range and hasn’t seen a shot he doesn’t like. There’s a reason Lakers fans called him mini-Mamba — he will take shots just like the big Mamba. He is a disinterested defender, but his scoring at Summer League will remind GMs of how he can fill it up and that should get him an NBA contract somewhere.

(Note: There are a lot of other players who could have made the good category such as Dennis Schröder, John Henson and Ray McCallum, but I just pulled out the big three.)

THE BAD

Jan Vesely, Washington Wizards. Maybe bad is too harsh a term here, he has shown improvement on the offensive end. It’s clearly working on his game a little. But his defense is still unimpressive, particularly in transition. As Wizards Summer League coach Sam Cassell told PBT, he just expects more out of Vesely, and I think we all do. He needs to make a jump with his game or the Wizards have to think about what’s next.

Otto Porter, Washington Wizards. His game is just not a good fit with Summer League, on top of that Cassell and the Wizards’ brass want to see what kind of player they have so he has played the one, two, three and four spots. He’s smooth, he makes smart decisions, I think in the season when he gets a more defined role and in a less pickup style 5-on-5 he will look better. But not a great time in Vegas from him.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte Bobcats. He has the athleticism and kind of determined game that should show better in Summer League, but if you’re a guy who works off the ball in a showcase league where point guards what to get noticed, you don’t always get the looks you want. The result is he floats through games and just hasn’t impressed.

THE UGLY

Dion Waiters, Cleveland Cavaliers. He’s shooting 29.5 percent in Summer League and turning the ball over a lot. He’s better than this, he showed it in games that mattered last year, but his Summer League has not been good.

(Summer League is supposed to be a little ugly, so we’re not going to pile on a bunch of guys here.)

Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan finally buried the hatchet

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Deron Williams or Chris Paul? That was the conversation in the NBA just a decade ago, a conversation that now seems practically ridiculous. I never personally thought it was very close between the two, being an adamant Paul supporter. Now, CP3 is with the Houston Rockets and Williams is out of the league, despite Paul being just 200 days younger than the former Utah Jazz star (but having played more games).

Williams was part of a two-man attack, along with Carlos Boozer, that helped fuel the Jazz during the first decade of this century as they churned through the Western Conference. But Williams played just five-and-a-half seasons in Salt Lake City, traded after a blow-up with former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

Things were unsteady between the two during the 2010-11 season, and Sloan famously decided to retire after a game in February of 2011 in which the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls. During halftime of that game, there was a disagreement between Sloan and Williams that apparently pushed the legendary head coach to his tipping point.

Sloan retired and Williams was traded on February 23rd.

Now, it appears that the two have at least made amends. In a story of appearing on UtahJazz.com, Williams recently went to Sloan’s house to talk about the divide between the two and what happened some seven years ago.

Via UtahJazz.com:

“He doesn’t forget a lot of things, instances where I pissed him off, things I did to upset him,” Williams said. “He definitely told me about that—and rightfully so. He was great about some other things. It was kind of typical Coach Sloan, really. If you know him, he’s never been one to shy away from telling you the truth and how he feels.”

“Eventually, I think Jerry came around,” [Jazz CEO Greg] Miller said. “He never really said, ‘Let’s put it behind us’ or anything, but maybe in Sloan speak he did.”

“Two strong men said what they needed to say, shook hands and are now moving forward,” [Jazz president Steve] Starks said.

Sloan, 76, is living with Parkinson’s and reportedly not in the best of health. It’s good to hear that Williams was remorseful about how he acted, and that the two great sportsmen were able to come together and at least see each other’s point of view as a sort of armistice.

Masai Ujiri on Kawhi Leonard: ‘He is happy. There is no maintenance with him’

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No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.

According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.

Via Sportsnet:

“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”

“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”

We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.

The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.

Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.

Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.