Five biggest surprises from Summer League

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The Las Vegas Summer League has its champion, its MVP, and its standout players. Before we move on from Las Vegas however, let’s take a look at one more group:

The surprises.

The players we didn’t expect to perform well, or otherwise did something unexpected. Here are the five guys on my list.

• Russ Smith (New Orleans Pelicans). Summer League often becomes the world of point guards trying to get noticed by shooting the ball. Big men with good post position go hungry while guards pound the ball into the ground then cross-over, step back and fire away. Not Russ Smith, the Louisville guard playing for the Pelicans was a real floor general. Yes he scored 16 points a game but he had 6.4 assists a game as well in Vegas. There are adjustments to be made for him to stick in the league long term (more than four turnovers a game) but he was a second round pick who looks like a guy who could give the Pelicans some steady minutes at the point as a reserve.

• Glen Rice Jr. (Washington Wizards). We’ve covered the Summer League MVP more than once here at PBT, but he has to go on this list as well — we didn’t expect him to put up these kinds of numbers for Washington (25 points a game and did it shooting better than 50 percent until a rough last outing dropped him to 46.9 percent). He and Otto Porter showed some real chemistry together and look for Randy Wittman to give them a chance when the games matter to prove that pairing can have success outside Vegas.

• Ivan Johnson gets ejected. I’ve been attending NBA Summer League since it was in the Pyramid in Long Beach and I don’t remember ever seeing a player get ejected before (it may have happened, but I don’t recall it). Ivan Johnson changed that. A day after a classic interview with Basketball Insiders where he said exactly what he would do to anyone who got in front of him, Johnson (playing for the Mavericks) got frustrated with a non-call against the Hornets and used some words we can’t reprint here and that got him sent to the showers. Johnson is the one guy banned from the Korean league for life, at least nothing went that far.

• T.J Warren (Phoenix Suns). Warren was one of the best scorers in college last season but there were questions about whether his game could translate to the NBA. Well, it can if he gets out and runs in transition then scores at the basket — Warren averaged 17.8 points a game and shot 54.4 percent. Warren landed in the right place with Jeff Hornacek and the up-tempo Suns, if he gets out and runs with the bench players, and can keep finishing like he did in Vegas, he’ll get some points.

• Anthony Bennett (Cleveland Cavaliers). Another guy from our standouts list who re-appears here because, well, who expected anything out of Bennett? After missing last summer with a shoulder injury then having a historically bad rookie season for a No. 1 pick, Bennett showed up to Vegas in shape and ready to work — he averaged 13.3 points and 7.8 rebounds a game. More importantly, he was in shape enough to play hard and physical for a full quarter. He still needs a lot of polish to his game but he looked like a guy who can be a rotation big man, which is more than you would have said much of last season.

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).