News, notes from Summer League Thursday: Kristaps Porzingis learned some lessons in Vegas

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LAS VEGAS — The Summer League playoffs continued in Las Vegas Thursday, and while the crowds have dwindled a little — the Lakers weren’t playing, and frankly even Laker fans are not flocking to watch this Summer League team anymore — the action has still been good.

Here are some news and notes from Las Vegas (and with the PBT crew headed home, this will be our last notes column from Sin City, so savor it).

• Kristaps Porzingis isn’t the first guy to learn some lessons — a few of them hard lessons — in Las Vegas.

But his could have some payoff for the Knicks. Porzingis is a project, but just through the course of four games in Las Vegas there has been clear growth. One of the biggest adjustments was just the schedule — four games in six days.

“For me it’s something new, because I had at most two games per week the first part of the season, then the second part of the season only one game, so you have to recover and stuff,” Porzingis said. “That’s not an excuse, that’s how the NBA schedule is so I just got to get used to it… You’ve got to have the same energy and going out there and competing. I can learn.”

There also was the lesson where for a half the Sixer’s Jahlil Okafor bullied him in the paint. To Porzingis’ credit, he adjusted and used his length to deny and frustrate Okafor some, even blocking a couple shots in the second half. But there were hard lessons to learn.

“I just could see just how big he is, how physical he is,” Porzingis said. “Those are the five men I’m going to have to guard sometimes in the league. I’m going to be playing the four mostly, but there are moments I’ll be playing the five, so I’ve got to be ready for that physicality.”

The important thing is that Porzingis did learn and did improve as the games in Vegas went on (the Knicks have one more game but Porzingis could sit out). Coach Derek Fisher would not commit to starting Porzingis come the regular season, but he liked what he saw.

“Just how it complements so many different players and situations,” Fisher said. “I think defensively he complements guys because of his length and his rim protection. He’s pretty active and can guard multiple guys. I think offensively because of his ability to stretch the floor and do some things around the basket as well. I think he’s a player that fits with just about any lineup, no matter how you’re trying to play. So I think that versatility has been obvious during Summer League.”

Knicks fans need to be a little patient, but they have a good player here, maybe more than good.

• After the injuries to Marcus Smart and Allen Crabbe, expect teams to start pulling guys who could be part of their rosters and rotations come the fall. At this point, what they learn in another Summer League game may not be worth the injury risk.

• Can a point guard who had 7 turnovers and 1 assist still look good? Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay did Thursday. It may have been an off night for him, but he was still making smart passes and just controlling the game for stretches despite the Hawks throwing hard doubles at him every chance they got.

The project for Mudiay will be to work on his shooting, he hit just 37.2 percent overall and 14.3 percent from three through his first three games in Las Vegas.

“This weekend I wasn’t too focused on the scoring part because I wanted to facilitate,” Mudiay said, saying he prefers to be a passing point guard not just a scorer. “The reads I was making was was wide open for my teammates…

“I didn’t shoot it like I wanted to, but I’m gonna keep shooting. You’ve got to put pressure on the defense. It’s only four games, you can’t go off four games.”

He said he also wants to work on finishing around the rim, too.

• The Spurs are just winning here in Vegas (shocking, I know), but the only name on this roster who will likely be playing for the team come the fall is Kyle Anderson — and he has looked good. Like a guy who has put in the work good. Like Popovich needs to find him a little run good.

Anderson has averaged 21.3 points a game for the Spurs and helped the Spurs execute at the end on Thursday and beat the Nets.

“I think he’s great,” said Spurs coach Becky Hammon. “The last defensive possession he’s the one who rallied everyone on the court, he’s the one who’s speaking, he’s the one being more demonstrative in a leadership role — and that’s really what we want to see from him in this setting. It was nice to see him take ownership of the situation.”

• By the way, a lot has been written about Hammon and how she’s breaking barriers at Summer League as a woman coach. And that should be lauded. But here’s what you really need to know about her:

She can flat out coach. She’s as good as any other coach in Vegas.

• Phoenix’s T.J. Warren continues to be one of the best players in Las Vegas. Thursday he put up 23 points, four assists and three rebounds to lead the Suns to a blowout win. His averages for Summer League are 20.3 points on 56.9 percent shooting, and on defense he’s averaging 1.7 steals and 1.3 blocks a game.

Report: Pelicans, Nance agree to two-year, $21.6 million extension

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Larry Nance has been a stabilizing influence in New Orleans since coming over mid-season as part of the trade for CJ McCollum. Nance is a versatile player who can play the four or the five, knocks down his threes, is very strong on the glass, can be a disruptive defender in passing lanes, and fits in — and he has the veteran attitude of work this team needs.

So the Pelicans have reached an extension to keep the 29-year-old around for two years past this coming season, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a signing that should make Pelicans fans happy. Importantly, it makes CJ McCollum happy — they are tight and this is something McCollum wanted to see. The money on this deal seems fair, about the league average for a solid rotation player.

Nance is the kind of veteran this team needs considering its young core of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram (just turned 25), Herb Jones, and guys like Trey Murphy III, Jose Alvarado, and others. Nance compared it to the young Lakers teams he was on, but noted that team lacked the same level of veteran leadership this Pelicans team has.

We may see more Nance at the five lineups — small ball with Zion at the four — to close games this season in New Orleans, that could be their best lineup because Nance can defend but also spaces the floor for Zion on offense. Coach Willie Green has a lot of different players and matchups to experiment with.

And now he has the stability of Nance for a few more years.

Durant tired of talking Nets dramatic offseason: ‘I didn’t miss any games’

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No team had an offseason quite like the Brooklyn Nets. First, they would not give a long-term extension to Kyrie Irving, which sent the star guard looking for a new team (but there were no offers that worked for everyone, so he opted in with Brooklyn). Then Kevin Durant asked for a trade, and to gain a little leverage reportedly threw down an ultimatum of him or the coach and GM. No trade could be found — how much the Nets wanted one is up for debate — so he is back in Brooklyn. And all that is not even getting into the return of Ben Simmons, a trade for Royce O’Neal, or anything else.

The Nets drama and how they move past it has been the talk of training camp. The only talk at training camp, it feels like.

When asked Friday if there were any inaccuracies in the reporting of the Nets summer he would like to clear up, Durant sounded weary of rehashing the summer.

The only thing that will start to move the conversation in a new direction is the Nets playing and winning games (they open the preseason Monday against the 76ers). And even those wins will have the shadow of the offseason cast over them. Durant and Irving made this bed.

Part of the fascination is the Nets remain the team hardest to predict in the league. They arguably have the most talented roster in the league and, if everything comes together just right, they can contend for a title. It’s also possible the wheels fall off early and by Christmas the Nets are looking to trade Durant again. Both things feel possible (even if reality most likely lands somewhere in the middle).

That uncertainty about the Nets’ future is the drama that will keep eyeballs on them — which also means more questions about this past offseason. Durant can choose not to answer them, but the questions aren’t going away.

Highlights from Clippers preseason win fueled by Luke Kennard

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No Kawhi Leonard. Or Paul George. Or John Wall, Norman Powell, Reggie Jackson and Nic Batum. The Clippers decided to rest six key rotation players in their preseason opener in Seattle against Maccabi Ra’anana, a game played in Seattle.

All those guys are expected to suit up Monday when the Clippers play the Portland Trail Blazers in a preseason game also in Seattle, the first NBA exhibition game played in the city since 2018.

Against Maccabi, it was the Luke Kennard show as he had 16 points.

The Clippers also got 14 points and 13 boards from Moses Brown. As a team, the Clippers cruised and put up a few highlights.

The Clippers have great depth, which should allow them to survive a season where both Leonard and George are expected to get their share of load management nights off. Leonard missed all of last season coming off a torn ACL, and George played in just 31 games due to a few injuries, including a shoulder issue. Still, the Clippers finished eighth in the West with a 42-40 record and had a top 10 defense in the league.

Adding Leonard and George to that mix is why the Clippers are considered title contenders out West. Monday night against the Blazers we should get our first look at the real Clippers team for this season. But Los Angeles is 1-0 this preseason.

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.