Notes from a Summer League Thursday: Patrick Ewing talks Noah Vonleh, P.J. Hairston, Lance Stephenson

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LAS VEGAS — Things are quieting down in Las Vegas… well, at Summer League. Vegas itself never quiets down. This is the city where once you’ve been here five days and you get to bed at 2 a.m. and think, “good, I got in early tonight and can get some sleep.”

Here is stuff from my Thursday notebook.

• Charlotte Hornets Summer League coach Patrick Ewing spoke with ProBasketballTalk about the development of a couple key guys. One is Noah Vonleh, who has struggled at points finding an offensive groove — he was 3-of-11 shooting Thursday against New Orleans. There have been flashes but Vonleh is a project.

“I like Noah, I think he has a bright future in this league. He’s a rookie, he’s 19 years old, it’s going to take some time…” Charlotte Summer League coach Patrick Ewing told ProBasketballTalk. “The thing I think he needs to do is: rebound. He has to continue to rebound. His second game in here he had 18 rebounds and it’s not been consistent. Do all the things that he can be consistent with until his offense and all the other parts of his game is able to get going. He has to get stronger. But he’s a talented guy and he’s going to be one of the guys who is going to have a bright future for our team and possibly could be a star in this league.”

• Ewing also talked P.J. Hairston, who is ready to shoot the second he walks in the gym — a player on the opposing Pelicans said to press row at the half “How ‘bout how much P.J. shoots?” That said they were falling for him on Thursday.

“P.J., he had a very good game for us tonight. He shot the ball extremely well,” Ewing said of Hairston’s 8-of-16 overall, 4-of-9 from three night from the floor. “I keep telling him, get back and rebound also. Share the ball, because a lot of the shots are going to him and don’t just put your head down and take it. He should be a rotational player in this league, his future is predicated on how much he wants it and how much he wants to put in the work to get it.”

• P.J. Hairston does this thing where if he feels contact while dribbling he throws his head back to exaggerate it and try and get the call.

• While we were at it, I asked Ewing (also a Hornets assistant during the regular season) about the chances for the Hornets next season with the addition of Lance Stephenson.

“They keep saying the East is wide open, you never know,” Ewing said. We feel that we have a pretty good team. Lance definitely is a great addition to our ball club, he’s a guy that can shoot the basketball, he can handle the basketball, distribute the basketball, and he can get in there and play defense and rebound. He’s a great addition. We had one of the top 10 defenses in the league and with his addition it’s going to be even better.”

• Dontas Motiejunas showed what happened when you put a rotation caliber NBA big man in a Summer League game. He had 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting, pulled down 11 rebounds, blocked one shot and altered a bunch more. The Cavs simply could not match up on him with this Summer League roster. Anthony Bennett tried but he’s not big enough to stop a skilled big. The guys big enough were too slow.

• Andrew Wiggins had a showcase game Thursday where he just attacked the rim — he had 20 free throw attempts on his way to 21 points (on 3-of-5 shooting). He’s still raw in a lot of ways but he has decent handles already and when he attacks good things happen.

• Here is Cavaliers coach Dave Blatt on Wiggins: “You know what you got to like about a kid like that is that it doesn’t matter if it’s the fourth game of Summer League, or the fourth game in seven days or eight days, or if people are keying on him, or if the crowd has funny things to say to him, he just goes out there and really plays and has a nice calm about him. A real good demeanor.” That includes him ignoring the trade rumors swirling around him.

• After seeing him a few times in Vegas I’m not the biggest fan of Zach LaVine’s game, but man can he dunk.

• Utah Jazz rookie Rodney Hood can flat out shoot the ball, and with the dual point-guard role of Trey Burke and Dante Exum there was room for him to shine as a shooter. He summed up the Jazz offense through Summer League:

“I think we did a a great job moving the ball. Some games we became a little stagnant because of the way people were playing, they were real aggressive. We shared the ball a lot, you rarely ever saw Iso ball or stuff like that for the most part, sometimes we didn’t shoot the ball well….

“It’s fun, especially for role players like my self, on the other end you’re that much more engaged if you’re going to touch the ball, playing with unselfish guys.”

• That said, Exum seemed a little frustrated that he got fewer touches on Thursday (Burke got more).

• Forced to do it because of the roster, Russ Smith showed he can create a little offense, putting up 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting Thursday.

• Cody Zeller is solid backup big. Pretty good defender, works hard on the glass, willing to be physical, actually has some handles, can finish through contact. Outplayed Jeff Withey head-to-head Thursday.

• Speaking of bigs who looked solid — Patric Young. A guy who never developed into the star some hoped still has an NBA body and all week has worked hard on the glass, put in the effort on defense. Should get a training camp invite somewhere at least.

• Some team carrying three point guards really should consider Will Cherry for the third spot. Raw on the edges but a ball of energy.

• The Spurs work the ball into the post in the half court more than any other team in Summer League. (This is a league where guards trying to get noticed like to shoot the rock not pass it.)

Watch Tom Brady tell Charles Barkley to “take a suck of that” after he holes fairway shot

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It was the highlight of an entertaining — if not always pretty — afternoon of live golf, raising money for charity.

Tampa Bay Bay Buccanneers quarterback Tom Brady (it’s so weird to type that) was on his fourth shot on the par-5 7th hole at the Medalist Golf Club. Brady had a rough front nine to that point, and commentator Charles Barkley decided to up the trash talk (as if Barkley should talk about someone else’s golf game).

“How many shots do you want? Come on, I’m going to give you some shots man, I want some of you,” Barkley said.

“Don’t worry, it ain’t over yet,” Brady countered as he walked up to his fourth shot, 130 yards from the pin. “I think you just made him mad, Chuck,” host Brian Anderson said. “No, he can take a joke,” Barkley replied. Then this happened.

Brady earned that trash talk.

It wasn’t the only great exchange between the two; they had some fun on an earlier on a par 3 when Barkley bet Brady couldn’t get it on the green.

Increasing buzz teams well out of playoffs will not come to Orlando for games

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The Golden State Warriors have been public about it, they expect their season to be over. Golden State is far from alone, multiple teams well out of the playoff picture have questioned the expense and risk-to-reward ratio of coming back to play a handful of regular season games without fans in Orlando.

More and more, the buzz has been the NBA league office sees things the same way. I am not the only reporter hearing this: Steve Popper of Newsday wrote a column saying there was no reason to invite all 30 teams to the bubble city and the USA Today’s well-connected Jeff Zillgett added this:

This is where we throw in the caveat: There are no hard-and-fast plans from the NBA yet and every option is still being considered. One lesson Adam Silver took from David Stern was not to make a decision until you have to, and Silver is going to absorb more information in the coming weeks — such as from the recent GM survey — before making his call.

That said, the league seems to be coalescing around a general plan, which includes camps starting in mid-June and games in mid-July in Orlando.

For the bottom three to five teams in each conference, there is little motivation to head to Orlando for the bubble. It’s an expense to the owner with no gate revenue coming in, teams want to protect their NBA Draft Lottery status, and the Warriors don’t want to risk injury to Stephen Curry — or the Timberwolves to Karl-Anthony Towns, or the Hawks to Trae Young — for a handful of meaningless games.

The league is considering a play-in tournament for the final seed or seeds in each conference (there are a few format options on the table, it was part of the GM survey). That would bring the top 10 or 12 seeds from each conference to the bubble, depending upon the format, and they would play a handful of games to determine which teams are in the playoffs (and face the top seeds).

Either way, that would leave the three or five teams with the worst records in each conference home. Which is the smart thing to do, there’s no reason to add risk to the bubble for a handful of meaningless games.

Eight-year NBA veteran Jon Leuer announces retirement

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Jon Leuer is only age 31, but the big man has battled ankle and other injuries in recent seasons, playing in only 49 games over the past three seasons. Last July, the Pistons traded him to the Bucks in a salary dump, and Milwaukee quickly waived him. Leuer struggled to get healthy and did not catch on with another team.

Sunday he took to Instagram to announce his retirement.

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I love the game of basketball. I still want to play, but I know deep down it’s not the right decision for my health anymore. The past 3 years I’ve dealt with a number of injuries, including 2 that kept me out this whole season. It’s taken me a while to come to grips with this, but I’m truly at peace with my decision to officially retire. As disappointing as these injuries have been, I’m still thankful for every moment I spent playing the game. Basketball has been the most amazing journey of my life. It’s taken me places I only could’ve dreamed about as a kid. The relationships it brought me mean more than anything. I’ve been able to connect with people from all walks of life and forged lifelong bonds with many of them. What this game has brought me stretches way beyond basketball. I’m grateful for this incredible ride and everyone who helped me along the way. 🙏🏼🙌🏼✌🏼

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Leuer — a second-round pick out of Wisconsin for the Bucks in 2011 — averaged 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds a game for the Pistons in the 2016-17 season, and for the years at the peak of his career he was a quality rotational big man teams could trust, either off the bench or as a spot starter.

Over the course of his career he played for the Bucks, Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Suns, and Pistons. He earned more than $37 million in salary, most of it from a three-year contract the Pistons gave him in 2016. It was not long after his body started to betray him.

Leuer has been riding out the quarantine in Minnesota is wife Keegan (NFL coach Brian Billick’s daughter) and the couple is donating thousands of meals a week to the needy in that community.

 

New York Governor clears path for Knicks, Nets to open facilities for workouts

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As of today, 19 NBA teams have their practice facilities open for players to come in for individual workouts, but 11 have yet to open the doors. Some it’s the decision of the team, some it’s that the municipality or state had not allowed it.

The Knicks and Nets — in the heart of New York, the part of the nation hardest hit by COVID-19 — are two of those teams whose facilities are closed. However, on Sunday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said they could open the door for practice.

“I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena — do it! Do it!” Cuomo said at his press conference. “Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

While the teams have not formally announced anything yet, it is likely at least the Nets will open soon for the players still in market to workout (the majority of players from the New York teams went home to other parts of the country). The Knicks, well out of the playoff picture, may be much slower to open their facilities back up.

When they happen, the workouts come with considerable restrictions: one player and one coach at each basket, the coach is wearing gloves and masks, the balls and gym equipment are sanitized, and much more.

One part of a potential plan for the NBA to return to play called for a couple of weeks of a training camp at the team facilities, followed by 14 days of a quarantined training camp in Orlando at the bubble site. Multiple teams reached out to the league about doing their entire training camp in Orlando to avoid having players quarantine twice (once when the player reports back to market, once when the team goes to the bubble city).