Gorgui Dieng is making leaps in Summer League, Timberwolves want that to translate to winter games

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LAS VEGAS — Summer League can be a great measuring stick.

A year ago Gorgui Dieng looked a little confused by the speed and style of the NBA/Summer League game. He was thinking and not just playing, and with that he looked like a lost rookie.

A year later he is owning it — Dieng had 13 points and 19 rebounds in Minnesota’s win over the Suns Wednesday.

“I feel more comfortable but I’ll let you guys judge,” Dieng said after the game.

It doesn’t take much of a judge to see the leap he has made.

It all started in the regular season. Minnesota’s Rick Adelman isn’t a fan of giving rookies a lot of run (especially when coaching to rack up wins and keep his job), but when Nikola Pekovic went down he had no choice and Dieng got some burn — and looked good. After the All-Star break last year he averaged 8.9 points (with a .569 true shooting percentage) and 8.4 rebounds a game. Plus, he blocked better than a shot a game. He moved himself into the Rookie of the Year conversation.

You can really see the leap he’s made both in confidence and feel for the game in his second Summer League.

You can see it on the glass where he put a body on his man then used his athleticism and strength to pull down 37 percent of his team’s rebounds Wednesday. You can see it in his footwork. You can see it in how he finds good spacing on offense and is willing to cut hard off the ball. He moves very well on defense and knows how to use his athleticism to his advantage to protect the rim. He sets a good screen (well, when the guard lets him, this is Summer League) and has a nice couple first steps on the roll.

He also showed off a Duncan-esque mid-range bank shot, hitting the only one he took.

“I’ve been working a lot on that this summer,” Dieng said. “I’m always looking out for something to improve my game and I think something like that added to my game will really help me.”

He’s just fun to watch play.

“He’s going to be a work in progress but every day he gets better,” said David Adelman, who coached the Timberwolves at Summer League. “We’re trying to teach him a lot of little nuances, just playing off the ball, scoring on the block, things like that. …

“The main thing with him is keeping his ear on things and letting him know he’s got to run front rim to front rim every time down the court. He’s got to be the first big down the court, with his athleticism and how he moves his feet, that should be the thing. And just playing off the ball, like if a big guy like (Kyrylo) Fesenko has the ball on the block he should be up at the free throw line where he can see him. Just kind of playing in a tandem.”

His teammates like playing with him.

“You just throw it up to him and he’ll get it,” Zach LaVine, who ran the Minnesota offense for much of the game Wednesday, said of Deing. “He’ll battle you, his teammate for a rebound.”

Dieng is saying exactly what you want a player to say, spouting the cliches of working one day at a time, just trying to get better. But he means it; the coaches love the way he listens and absorbs information.

“What (the coaches and I) discussed is that in the summer is the time the players got better, so I’ve been in the gym working with them a lot,” Dieng said. “Just learning the game overall. They cannot tell you what to do exactly, but you’ve got to have a good feeling for yourself, to learn the game.”

He’s learning. And it shows.

Joseph Tsai to buy rest of Nets, Barclays Arena for $3.4 billion

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NEW YORK — Joe Tsai has agreed to buy the remaining 51 percent of the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center from Mikhail Prokhorov in deals that two people with knowledge of the details say are worth about $3.4 billion.

Terms were not disclosed Friday, but the people told The Associated Press that Tsai is paying about $2.35 billion for the Nets – a record for a U.S. pro sports franchise – and nearly $1 billion in a separate transaction for the arena. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the transactions have not yet been completed.

Tsai is the co-founder and executive vice president of the Alibaba Group, the Chinese e-commerce giant. He already had purchased a 49 percent stake in the team from Prokhorov in 2018, with the option to become controlling owner in four years.

Instead, he pushed up that timeline for full ownership of a team on the rise after signing superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in July.

Prokhorov, a Russian billionaire, became the NBA’s first non-North American owner in 2010 and oversaw the Nets’ move from New Jersey to Brooklyn two years later. He spent big in the first couple years after the move in a quest to chase a championship, but the team soon became one of the worst in the NBA before rallying to return to the playoffs last season.

“It has been an honor and a joy to open Barclays Center, bring the Nets to Brooklyn, and watch them grow strong roots in the community while cultivating global appeal,” Prokhorov said in a statement. “The team is in a better place today than ever before and I know that Joe will build on that success, while continuing to deliver the guest experience at Barclays Center that our fans, employees, and colleagues in the industry enjoy.”

The deal is expected to be completed by the end of September and is subject to approval by the NBA’s Board of Governors.

That would put Tsai, a native of Taiwan, in full control of the team by the time the Nets head to China to play two exhibition games against the Los Angeles Lakers in October. That comes at the start of a season of renewed excitement for the Nets, who just three seasons ago won an NBA-worst 20 games but are set to make a big move up the standings after landing two of the best players on the market when free agency opened.

“I’ve had the opportunity to witness up close the Brooklyn Nets rebuild that Mikhail started a few years ago. He hired a front office and coaching staff focused on player development, he supported the organization with all his resources, and he refused to tank,” Tsai said. “I will be the beneficiary of Mikhail’s vision, which put the Nets in a great position to compete, and for which I am incredibly grateful.”

Brett Yormark, the CEO of BSE Global, which manages the team and the arena, will oversee the transition before leaving for a new role.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder tells Donovan Mitchell to ‘be a sponge’ around Gregg Popovich

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While other players continue to pull out of the USA Basketball roster — De'Aaron Fox was the latest, and P.J. Tucker before him — Utah’s Donovan Mitchell has been outspoken in his commitment to the team.

“Me, I’m 22, some guys are older and got to rest their bodies and I understand that…” Mitchell said Friday night after Team USA’s exhibition game win over Spain. “For me, I’ve never been part of USA Basketball and I’m honored to be here, I’m honored to have this privilege to go out and compete.”

A lot of players have left — or just not put their names in the hat in the first place — saying they wanted to focus on preparing for the regular season, especially players in the Western Conference, which is deep with outstanding teams. The Utah Jazz, now with Mike Conley at the point, are one of those teams with high expectations.

Mitchell, however, has the full backing of his coach Quin Snyder to stay with Team USA and learn from Gregg Popovich, as Snyder told Marc Stein of the New York Times.

“Both Donovan and I have been excited for this opportunity, not just the chance to compete for his country but to play for Pop. I think he has an appreciation for the fact that he’s playing for the greatest coach that’s ever coached…

“Just try to throw yourself completely into it,” Snyder said he told Mitchell. “And try to communicate with Coach as much as you can. Be a sponge.”

Popovich has had an impact on the young players on the roster. For example, there’s more maturity to Kyle Kuzma‘s game, and Popovich recognized him on the court Friday night when Kuzma made a couple of smart plays against Spain.

Just having different coaching voices — not just Popovich but his assistants Steve Kerr, Lloyd Pierce, and Villanova’s Jay Wright — can help a young player. The message may be consistent, but said in a different way, one that better gets through to the player. Styles matter.

Mitchell led Team USA in scoring against Spain with 13, but Snyder and Jazz fans are hoping for more. Not just gold at the World Cup in China starting Sept. 1, but that Mitchell comes back energized and with a broadened game after having been a sponge next to Popovich.

Marcus Smart reportedly cleared to play for Team USA

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Through two weeks of training camp, first in Las Vegas then in Los Angeles, through one intrasquad scrimmage and one exhibition game, Marcus Smart has sat in street clothes.

The Celtics guard has a calf injury that has sidelined him. On Thursday in Los Angeles he took part in the shooting parts of practice during training camp, but not the full-contact scrimmages against the select team. All he could really do was this.

Friday night he never got out of his warmups and did not play against Spain, but he did say on the broadcast he would be back.

Turns out, he was cleared to be back the next day according to Mark Stein of the New York Times.

This takes away a little of the sting of De'Aaron Fox deciding to withdraw from the team just before it left on Saturday for Australia.

It also means four Celtics are on the USA roster: Smart, Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown. USA assistant coach Steve Kerr jokingly said to me last week he asked Brad Stevens for a thank you gift for running Celtics mini-camp.

Smart is one of the 13 players headed down under for a series of tune-up games before the World Cup (against Australia and Canada). If he’s fully healthy enough to go, Smart is a lock to make the roster because of his physical perimeter defense and ability to shoot the three (36 percent last season in the NBA, and the international line is a little closer in). He likely would come off the bench at the two behind Donovan Mitchell.

Bill Walton broadcast White Sox vs. Angels game and was nothing short of brilliant

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Bill Walton is brilliant.

The Hall of Fame hippie and big man was in the broadcast booth Friday night — not for basketball, but for the White Sox vs. Angels MLB game. Walton loves baseball even if his understanding of the sport is… unconventional.

I want Bill Walton to narrate my life.

The world missed him while he battled serious back issues, it’s so good to have him out and around and being himself again.