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Top of the draft board shines at Summer League

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The depth and quality of the 2017 NBA draft had teams tanking at the end of the regular season in hopes of vaulting into the top three picks.

With the huge caveat being that it was only summer league action, those at the top of the draft made quite a first impression.

Summer league play was set to end on Monday night after Portland played the Lakers in the Las Vegas league championship game. Over leagues played in Orlando, Salt Lake City and Vegas, many of the top 10 picks gave their teams plenty to feel good about before heading into the league’s quiet period for the next two months.

No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball owned Vegas with a pair of triple-doubles to help the Los Angeles Lakers reach the title game. Top pick Markelle Fultz showed off his wide array of scoring tricks in Utah before sitting out much of Vegas with an ankle injury and No. 3 pick Jayson Tatum of Boston was drawing comparisons to Paul Pierce while dominating both in Utah and Nevada.

The competition these rookies will face will increase exponentially when training camps open in October. And there is a long list of summer league standouts – Nikoloz Tskitishvili, anyone? – who never amounted to anything in the NBA. But for struggling franchises like the Lakers, Sixers, Suns and Kings, seeing some real promise from their youngsters the first time they step on the court is encouraging.

“Every day, Magic and I say: `How are we pursuing excellence?”‘ Lakers GM Rob Pelinka told reporters in Vegas on Sunday, referring to new Lakers president Magic Johnson. “To win the Summer League (would be) a step in that direction.”

Whether the Lakers achieve that goal or not doesn’t mean the suffering of the last four years is over. Far from it.

The real test awaits in a couple of months. But for several franchises that are in the business of selling hope right now, business is good.

Here are some other takeaways from summer league action:

PACKED HOUSE: Buoyed by Ball and the Lakers, the Vegas Summer League enjoyed record attendance numbers, including multiple sell-outs of Thomas & Mack Center.

What started as a gathering of a few teams 13 years ago has turned into a full-fledged event under the guidance of coaching agent Warren LeGarie and Albert Hall. Sponsors are lining up to get in on the action, fans crowd the concourses looking for autographs of the next big things and established stars like LeBron James, Isaiah Thomas and John Wall sit courtside to watch the games.

ESPN and NBATV televise the games and over 500 media credentials were given out for the Las Vegas site alone.

The Vegas tournament has grown to include 24 teams and is also home to the league meetings, where owners gather to consider rules changes and other orders of business for the season ahead.

“I told Mayor Goodman that we should get a commission for the NFL and the NHL following in our footsteps,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said last week. “We were here when some leagues weren’t even taking advertising in Las Vegas, and we’re proud to be here. I feel our Summer League has become a fixture in Las Vegas, part of the permanent summer calendar.”

OTHER STANDOUTS: Fultz, Tatum and Ball weren’t the only youngsters to have strong showings in summer league.

Dennis Smith Jr., the No. 9 pick by Dallas, may have been the best player in Las Vegas, averaging 17.3 points and 4.2 assists per game for the Mavericks and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell averaged 28 points per game in just two games for the Jazz.

Sacramento’s De'Aaron Fox, the fifth overall pick out of Kentucky, displayed his athleticism and defensive instincts for the Kings. Josh Jackson, the No. 4 overall pick by Phoenix, averaged 17.4 points and 9.2 rebounds in Vegas and played with a competitive fire that intrigued many scouts leading up to the draft.

Portland’s Caleb Swanigan was consistent throughout and San Antonio’s Bryn Forbes had a pair of 35-point games to give the Spurs another promising young talent in the pipeline as they wait to hear from Manu Ginobili on his future.

FLIP SIDE: Just as we shouldn’t read too much into the successes of summer league, so to should the struggles be taken with a grain of salt. But Lauri Markkanen, the Bulls’ No. 7 overall pick who came over in the draft-night trade that sent Jimmy Butler to Minnesota, shot just 24 percent (6 for 25 on 3-pointers) in Las Vegas, not a great sign for a 7-footer billed as the best shooter in the draft.

Sacramento’s Buddy Hield, the centerpiece of the trade that sent DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans in February, shot just 35 percent in three games in Las Vegas, a mark was aided by a binge of six 3s in his final game against the Lakers. Not what you want to see from a second-year player who will turn 24 in December.

 

DeMar DeRozan with classy goodbye to Toronto fans

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DeMar DeRozan did not want to be traded from the Raptors.

He will eventually warm to San Antonio and the Spurs, but for a franchise that has seen star after star push their way out of town — Chris Bosh, Vince Carter, Damon Stoudamire, and on down the list — DeRozan was the one guy who embraced the city, repped it, and not only said he wanted to stay but did just that. DeRozan was all in on Toronto and loyal, and they shipped him out anyway. It may well have been the right basketball move, but it was cold. And a lot of Raptors fans were not happy about how it went down.

DeRozan, classy as always, thanked the Raptors fans in a heartfelt Instagram post.

Someday they will retire DeRozan’s jersey in Toronto. Deservedly so.

LeBron James loves fan made NBA 2K video of him playing with son for Lakers

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LeBron James has been up front about this before: He wants to play with his son LeBron Jr. for a couple of years in the NBA before retiring. That son, about to enter ninth grade, would graduate in 2022 — the year the NBA is expected to go back to allowing teams to draft players out of high school, and the year LeBron’s Laker contract ends.

(Does LeBron Jr. want this? Of course he’ll say publicly he does, but would you want your dad with you in the locker room and on the road with you when you’re an NBA rookie finally out of the house and able to explore life a little?)

Taking that to the next step, Twitter user @Shady00018 pieced together an NBA 2K mixtape of LeBron playing with his son. LeBron saw it and LOVED it.

We’re a long way from that, but you know LeBron wants it to happen.

Here’s a first look at Kawhi Leonard, DeMar DeRozan in new jerseys, via NBA 2K

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Kawhi Leonard is a member of the Toronto Raptors now. There’s no way of getting around it. Even with rumors swirling about whether or not he will be happy in Canada, the truth is that we have already seen some embrace of Leonard in the six.

Likewise, DeMar DeRozan is a member of the San Antonio Spurs whether he likes it or not. Now, each have been seen for the first time in their new jerseys.

The only catch? It’s via a video game.

2K Games decided to tweet out new rendered images of both players in their respective jerseys. To be honest, I don’t think they look all that bad.

Via Twitter:

It’s going to feel a bit like a real life franchise mode of NBA 2K19 when we see these guys on the court in their new kits next season. But eventually we will get used to it, much in the way we will no doubt get used to LeBron James in a Los Angeles Lakers jersey or Tony Parker in a Charlotte Hornets jersey.

We’re going to have the matchup between the Raptors and the Spurs circled on our calendar next year. That is, if Leonard ends up playing in it. There still might be some doubts in that department.

Another LeBron James mural vandalized in Los Angeles

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Most of Los Angeles — and the vast majority of Lakers fans — are fired up that LeBron James is coming to Los Angeles. They see a return to glory for the franchise (well, once they get the rest of the roster right… sorry Lance Stephenson).

However, there is a segment — particularly the die-hard Kobe fans — who are having trouble assimilating to the new reality.

So when an artist did a LeBron James mural near Venice in Los Angeles recently — a really well-done tribute — it was quickly vandalized. Then eventually covered up.

This week another artist did another impressive LeBron/Lakers mural — this one with LeBron looking up at the Lakers’ legends — and once again, it was vandalized.

I’m not shocked by any of this, but it is depressing. If you’re vandalizing art, you are a cowardly buffoon.

There’s no way to really know the motivation behind the second attack, although the smart money is on it being the same as the first one — a few people think they are protecting the Lakers’ brand by not welcoming the best player on the planet to a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in five years. It’s incredibly flawed logic, but frankly flawed logic has become trendy in recent years, it can get you elected to all kinds of offices.

Credit real Lakers fans who showed up to help fix this.