Notes from a Summer League Sunday: Doug McDermott is the early Vegas fan favorite

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LAS VEGAS — Summer League is a three ring circus. There are simultaneous games in adjoining gyms not to mention the sideshows of agents, coaches and players walking around. It’s sensory overload.

We can’t get to it all, but here are some highlights from our notebook from Sunday.

• Doug McDermott can flat out ball — Sunday night he dropped 31 points on 7-of-12 shooting overall and 5-of-9 from three, plus he got to the line a dozen times.

If you’re looking for the early crowd favorite in Las Vegas, you found him. Every time he went up the crowd at the Cox Pavilion started to come to life in anticipation, and when the shot fell it got loud.

He put on a shooting clinic with coach Tom Thibodeau sitting courtside (no doubt day dreaming about all the shooting he will have next season with Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and now McDermott). This was a big improvement for McDermott over his first Summer League game.

“That first one I was a little uptight, you know, just so excited for my first game. Today it slowed down,” McDermott. “It felt more like basketball.”

I’m no scout but here are my observations on McDermott: He works very hard off the ball and has a great concept of spacing and finding gaps in the defense. He has shooting range from Las Vegas out to about Primm. If you think all he can do is spot up and shoot you haven’t watched him, he can put the ball on the floor and knows how to draw contact. He’s not big, he looks more like a swingman size than a stretch four (DraftExpress said pre-draft he could play either forward, not sold on that now that I’ve seen him). With him and Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol that’s a lot of added shooting from big men, something that will open things up if Derrick Rose is healthy.

• Tony Snell had 23 for the Bulls and while I can’t get used to the new hair style his game has filled out along with his body (although he’s still thin). He’s another Bull who will be better next season.

“We ran that down screen action and it was giving them a some trouble,” McDermott said of playing off Snell. “Whenever you’ve got two shooters like that it’s tough to guard.”

• Anthony Bennett looks good. Very good. Maybe not No. 1 pick material, but a lot better than last season. First, he looks in shape and is moving like it, with real energy and purpose. He’s showed a nice jump shot and was strong on the boards. He finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds. Check back Monday for more from Bennett and his coach David Blatt on last year’s No.1 pick.

• After his game, Bennett went up in the stands and watched part of the second game next to some friends. The Vegas native said his high school principal and a number of his teachers had come to the game.

• Andrew Wiggins certainly is athletic and shows flashes with his skill. He was also 3-of-11 outside the paint, the jumper needs work. His form isn’t terrible, but it’s going to take some reps.

• A good observation by our friend D.J. Foster: The Spurs Kyle Anderson is Boris Diaw in training. He’s got that same versatile, deliberate, smart game. In a couple years he could provide a lot of what Diaw does in that offense. (Anderson struggled a little with his shot Sunday, going 1-of-7.)

• Both Nik Stauskas and Ben McLemore of the Kings have pretty strokes. But Stauskas was 2-of-6 outside the paint (2-of-4 from three) and McLemore was 0-of-5 outside the paint (but 4-of-5 in the paint, plus he got to the line five times).

• P.J. Hairston loves the long ball — he took 13 threes Sunday, hit six. Of course, through two games now he is 8-of-36 shooting. He’s got some on the court problems to go with his off the court ones.

• A PBT favorite from last year’s Summer League back for another year, the Hawks’ Dennis Schroder scored 30 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Expect more from him in Atlanta next season.

• Sim Bhullar is a massive human being. I don’t think this can be overstated.

• Noah Vonleh’s shooting was better than his first game (hard not to be better than 0-of-13) and he does some nice things — 18 rebounds, he made some good recognitions and passed out of the double team to the right guy, but he continues to struggle finishing against the athleticism he is seeing inside. That should come with time, but the NBA game can be an adjustment.

• Quincy Miller has scored more than 20 points in both of the Nuggets’ games and looked good inside.

Report: Udoka used ‘crude language’ with female subordinate prior to improper relationship

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The Boston Celtics handled the Ime Udoka investigation and suspension by the corporate handbook: They kept the woman’s name out of the news, kept details confidential (not even telling the players much for legal reasons), and acted swiftly and decisively.

But as the team on the court starts defending its Eastern Conference title, there has been a concern that details leaking out about the investigations — and responses to those leaks — could turn this into a season-long drama and distraction for the team. That first started on Friday when Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported this:

The independent law firm probe into Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka found that he used crude language in his dialogue with a female subordinate prior to the start of an improper workplace relationship with the woman, an element that significantly factored into the severity of his one-year suspension, sources told ESPN.

Those investigative findings — which described verbiage on Udoka’s part that was deemed especially concerning coming from a workplace superior — contribute to what is likely a difficult pathway back to his reinstatement as Celtics coach in 2023, sources told ESPN.

A few thoughts here.

• “Crude language” is just part of a more detailed and damning report, league sources have told NBC Sports. There is much more uncovered by the independent investigation, including about the power dynamic in play. It was enough that the Celtics thought the best move was to suspend for an entire season a coach loved by players who led the team to the NBA Finals (it’s not something the Celtics organization did lightly).

• As Wojnarowski and others have noted, it’s increasingly unlikely Udoka returns to coach the Celtics next season, even if that is not yet official.

• While some pundits and people around the league have said Udoka is “done,” the NBA has seen unexpected turnarounds before. Never say never in this league.

• About the only sure thing is that this story is not over.

Lillard poised to pass Drexler as Trail Blazers all-time leading scorer

2022-23 Portland Trail Blazers Media Day
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
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Damian Lillard could have done what a lot of NBA stars have done — what a lot of them told him to do while recruiting him — and has chosen to stay in Portland. He wants to be remembered as the greatest Trail Blazer ever.

One good way to do that: Become the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. Sometime around Thanksgiving or a little after, Lillard will do just that, passing Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler and his 18,040 points (Lillard is 531 back).

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports spoke to Lillard about when he knew the record was within reach, during Trail Blazers training camp in Santa Barbara, California (go Gauchos!). It was when Lillard got to 10,000 points.

“I was like, ‘Damn, I got 10,000 already?’ ” Lillard told Yahoo Sports he recalled at the time. “It was my sixth season in the league. That’s when I started thinking, if I could be consistent, I could score into the high 20,000-point range. As a scorer, 20,000 points is always looked at as a special mark. From that moment, I knew it was possible, but it’s also when I first researched Clyde Drexler’s [scoring] record with the team.”

Drexler is good with being passed by Lillard.

“You and I know records are made to be broken, but I can’t think of a better player or person to break the record than Dame,” Drexler told Yahoo Sports. “He exemplifies being a team player and going about his business in a professional way. I have nothing but admiration and respect for him. When he comes close to getting the record, and if our schedules align, I would love to be there to help out in any way I can. That’s a nice milestone to achieve. I am looking forward to him accomplishing that.”

Lillard is on a lot of front office people’s watch list this season, as in “how long before he is unhappy and asks for a trade?” The thing is, Lillard has been on that list for years and he keeps choosing Portland — he isn’t looking to leave. Of course, the $120 million extension and a retooling of the roster around him helped with that decision, but Lillard always had other options if he wanted them (and at times it felt like he would take them).

The Trail Blazers brought in Jerami Grant, re-signed Anfrenee Simons, and will put them with a solid core of others such as (a finally healthy) Jusuf Nurkic, Josh Hart, Gary Payton II and others. It’s a good roster, the question is how good in a deep West?

There are a lot of questions about how this season shakes out in Portland, but the one seeming sure thing is Lillard becoming the Trail Blazers’ all-time leading scorer. And that seems fitting.

Suns update: Ayton blames Sarver for contract, Crowder conflict, Johnson to start

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Phoenix went to the NBA Finals two seasons ago and had the most wins in the NBA last season, yet dark clouds seem to be blocking out the Suns heading into this NBA season.

Here’s the latest on three situations with the Suns: Deandre Ayton‘s contract frustration, why Jae Crowder is asking out, and who starts at the four now.

• Ayton ended up signing a four-year, $132.9 max contract and will be back with the Suns to start this season, but the road to get there was rocky. The Suns would not offer Ayton a max five-year contract extension, his name kept coming up in Kevin Durant trade rumors, so Ayton went out and got a four-year max offer from the Pacers — which the Suns instantly matched. Phoenix saved $40 million and a guaranteed year, but the process left Ayton a little bitter.

Ayton blames outgoing owner Robert Sarver — a notorious penny pincher as an owner (among other, much worse things) — Marc Spears and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN discussed on NBA Today (hat tip Real GM).

“That is certainly something that caused the ire of him,” said Marc J. Spears. “I was told that it was Robert Sarver who didn’t want to give him that fifth year, who wanted to save the money.”

“My understanding from talking to people close to Deandre is that he thinks this was Robert Sarver’s decision as well. And Robert Sarver’s not going to be the owner anymore. So there is some healing that can happen there. But I know there were some hurt feelings over that contract and how that played out.

“If they were going to instantly match an offer sheet that he signed, why not just give him the max contract? Yes, it saved them a year and $40 million but as somebody close to Deandre told me ‘There’s a karma to this. Why do that to your No. 1 overall pick?'”

Shelburne hit the nail on the head — the NBA is a business, but it’s a business of relationships. Not only did the Suns sour theirs with Ayton, but you can also be sure every other agent around the league noticed how that was handled. It doesn’t help when recruiting players. The eventual new owner, whoever it ends up being, has a lot of work to change the franchise’s perception.

• Jae Crowder remains away from the Suns during training camp awaiting a trade (which reportedly will not be to Dallas). Crowder started 109 games for the Suns during the past two seasons and was a key part of their run to the NBA Finals, so how did things deteriorate so quickly? Marc Stein lays it out in his latest Substack newsletter.

Entering the final season of his current contract at $10.2 million, Jae Crowder let the Suns know that he was seeking a contract extension. League sources say that the Suns’ messaging, in response, was to let Crowder know that, at 32, he was no longer assured of starting or finishing games ahead of Cam Johnson. That gulf between the parties led Crowder to seek an exit from the desert that has landed him on indefinite mutual leave from the team until Phoenix can find a trade for him.

While Miami gets mentioned as a suitor a lot, it’s next to impossible to put together a trade that works for both sides right now (at the trade deadline, maybe, but Crowder isn’t going to be with the Suns that long). Cleveland is currently the hot name in league circles when talking Crowder trades, and Stein also mentions the Milwaukee Bucks, who have been looking for a P.J. Tucker-like replacement for P.J Tucker. But, do any of these teams want to extend Crowder at age 32?

• Suns coach Monty Williams confirmed what Crowder heard — Cameron Johnson will start at the four for the Suns this season.

Johnson brings better shooting to the table — 42.5% last season on 3-pointers — and is more athletic at this point, but Crowder brings better defense, toughness, and veteran savvy that can be trusted in the playoffs. The Suns may miss that when it matters, but Johnson will get the chance to prove us all wrong.

Blake Griffin agrees to join Boston Celtics on one-year deal

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According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Blake Griffin has agreed to join the Boston Celtics on a one-year contract which will be fully guaranteed.

The Celtics were desperate for frontcourt depth following injuries to Danilo Gallinari and Robert Williams, as Luke Kornet was even getting some run with the starting group at training camp.

You do have to wonder just how much the 33-year-old Griffin has left in the tank though. Last season with the Brooklyn Nets, Griffin only managed to play 17.1 minutes per game and his 3-point percentage dropped like a stone to 26%. He was also a major liability on defense, and the Celtics surely know that after Jaylen Brown drove by him with ease time and time again during the postseason.

Griffin was still an effective playmaker and that may make him a good fit with the second unit alongside the likes of Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick White and Grant Williams with all of these capable of handling the ball. Injuries and Father Time have zapped Griffin’s athleticism, but if anyone can squeeze the last bit of value out of him, I’d bet on Brad Stevens and the Celtics.