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: Gregg Popovich met with Kawhi Leonard in San Diego

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Don’t count the San Antonio Spurs out of the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes just yet.

We have been waiting on pins and needles to see whether or not Spurs coach Gregg Popovich would meet with the apparently disgruntled Leonard this week before San Antonio approaches Thursday night’s NBA draft.

According to Yahoo! Sports’ Shams Charania, Leonard and Popovich met on Tuesday night in San Diego where Leonard has been working out.

Via Twitter:

For what it is worth, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reporterd that Popovich has not yet met with Leonard, but is traveling to Southern California to meet with the Spurs forward. Even further, Leonard has reportedly requested a trade to Los Angeles from the Spurs, specifically to the Lakers.

Via ESPN:

Leonard wants a trade to Los Angeles, preferably the Lakers over the Clippers, league sources said. He has privately maintained that he no longer wants to play in San Antonio, and will eventually alert rival teams considering trades for him that his intentions are to sign in Los Angeles — preferably with the Lakers — when he can become a free agent in 2019, league sources said.

Leonard had told confidants that he did not want to sit down with Popovich and has been purposely difficult for the Spurs to reach recently. Among the issues, Leonard is angry over what he believes was the Spurs’ mishandling of a quad injury, and remains irate with public comments out of teammate Tony Parker and Popovich that he felt were not supportive of him, league sources said.

We had to know this was coming. San Antonio wasn’t going to let Leonard dictate the terms of his departure from Texas all by himself. Although Leonard has put the Spurs in a tough situation given his reported open request to play in Los Angeles, no doubt both parties would be better off from a basketball perspective if they were together. San Antonio apparently doesn’t want to make a deal with a Western Conference team, either.

Since the Spurs were trying to get in touch with Leonard before Thursday’s big selection night, it could be a signal that Leonard is on the move. Several teams, including the Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, and Cleveland Cavaliers are rumored to be interested in Leonard’s services.

Rumor: Cavaliers could have trade interest in Kemba Walker

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are trying to do everything in their power to retain LeBron James. They are also doing everything they can do to prepare themselves for if James decides to leave Cleveland once and for all.

Last week we heard rumors about how the Cavaliers were trying to prepare an offer to snag Kawhi Leonard away from the San Antonio Spurs. That move could be seen either as an intent to entice James to stay, or as a replacement for The King.

Now, we have rumor that the Cavaliers could be interested in acquiring an Eastern Conference point guard, presumably to help LeBron next season.

According to Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, the Cavaliers have inquired to the Charlotte Hornets about the availability of point guard Kemba Walker.

Walker, 28, just became the Hornets all-time leading scorer this last season. The University of Connecticut product has just one year left on his current deal at $12 million, and could be both a good rental for a season as a means to bolster another James Finals run, or as a focal piece moving forward.

As is the issue with any package for Leonard, a trade to the Cavaliers from Charlotte for Walker really depends on what a third trade partner can bring into the mix. Not many of Cleveland’s young players have performed well enough to be used as trade bait for marquee guys. That necessarily means that Kevin Love will be the main trade bait, and it is tough for many teams to have interest in the sharp-shooting forward given many already have that position filled.

We are just 48 hours away from the 2018 NBA Draft and no doubt rumors like this will continue to heat up as we get closer to 4 p.m. Eastern on Thursday night.

Michael Porter Jr. compares himself to Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo

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It has been rumored that Michael Porter Jr could be the player the Sacramento Kings draft at No. 2 overall on Thursday night in the 2018 NBA Draft. Meanwhile, according to Porter himself, there is good reason for his sudden leap up the draft boards.

Speaking on CBS Sports Radio on Monday, Porter said that he thought the players he most compared to right now were Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, and Tracy McGrady.

Of course, the context here is that Porter was prompted to give a current NBA comparison, and as a shooter and physical player, he was unlikely to compare himself to a role player. Still, it’s a bold statement from Porter to say that he is akin to the second best player in the league at this moment. Durant has a skill set that hasn’t been replicated or really seen in the NBA, so it’s tough for anyone to really compare themselves to him.

Here is the quote, transcribed thanks to Deadspin:

Right now, I’m a little, I’m a mix of Giannis and KD. You know, I like going to the hole a little more than KD does, I like bumping into people a little more physical than KD. But I also, you know I like to shoot the ball more than Giannis. So that’s what I like to compare myself to. Then also Tracy McGrady. I get compared to him a lot and I like that one a lot too. You know, those are three amazing players. So it doesn’t feel bad to be in the same conversation as them.

In a recent interview with Dime Magazine, Porter said that he thinks Durant is the best player in the league, particularly when he plays against LeBron James. So really, Porder compared himself to the best player in the league.

The Missouri product has a litany of both character and injury questions. Rumors are abound about how well he will fit into an NBA locker room, and he famously decamped to Missouri Lorenzo Romar was fired in Washington.

Porder sat out most of the year with a nagging back injury, and had to call off some of his draft workouts because of a hip issue. Porter has tried to downplay his injury concerns, and has said that former Portland Trail Blazers star Brandon Roy told him to remain patient through injury.

The draft is less than 48 hours away, and most believe that taking Porter at No. 2 is a huge risk for the Kings. We will see just how confident Sacramento is about Porter’s ability to become an NBA teammate and stay healthy here soon enough.

Michael Jordan will still have input on Hornets draft day decisions

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Michael Jordan hired proven general manager Mitch Kupchak this offseason to help turn around a franchise mired in mediocrity since he became the Charlotte Hornets’ majority owner eight years ago.

But that doesn’t mean the highly competitive Jordan won’t have input on personnel decisions, beginning with the NBA draft on Thursday night.

Kupchak said in a pre-draft news conference Tuesday that he’ll have final say in who the Hornets select before quickly adding, “well, with the exception of one person – and obviously that’s ownership.”

Kupchak has won 10 NBA championships, including seven as an executive with the Los Angeles Lakers – so he knows a thing or two about building a winning roster. But he’s quickly learning that Jordan, who many consider the best NBA player ever, is still very much a hands-on owner when it comes to the players he employs.

And Kupchak understands that.

“There is a huge business component to our relationship,” Kupchak said.

Kupchak said he has communicated with Jordan on the phone and via text throughout the draft evaluation process. The 55-year-old Jordan arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina on Monday and the two have been studying tape on potential draft picks since.

The Hornets, who have failed to make the playoffs three of the past four seasons, have the 11th overall pick in the draft.

Kupchak has known Jordan since he was a freshman at the University of North Carolina.

However, Kupchak said that while they both are former Tar Heels, he never had considered Jordan a friend prior to being hired this past offseason to replace Rich Cho as Hornets general manager.

Since then they have had dinner together and gotten to know each other a little more.

He said the relationship has changed for the better.

“Hopefully when all is said and done, our other relationship, which is our friend relationship continues to grow and is not altered in any way,” Kupchak said. “There are no favors being done here. We’re friends and I think we’ll remain friends, but the bottom line in this business is success and winning games.”

Kupchak was rather forthcoming in the team’s pre-draft press conference Tuesday, saying the does not expect to trade the 11th overall pick.

He also said he expects that the handful of top-notch big men will be off the board by the time the Hornets make their selection.

“Right now I think the best player on the board is the player we are going to go after – and I’d expect that player to be a guard or a wing,” Kupchak said. “… I think we expect that we will be looking at guards and wings, but we will see.”