Top 10 standout players from NBA Summer League

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LAS VEGAS — For NBA teams, Summer League is less about whether a young player is good or not, and far more about benchmarking where they are and seeing what areas that player needs to work on going forward. It’s a first step.

But some of those first steps are more impressive than others.

After watching a dozen days of Summer League games — in person in both Salt Lake City and Las Vegas — here are 10 players who stood out to me. This list is not all-inclusive by any means — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Grayson Allen, and Trae Young would get an honorable mention here — nor is it just a list of the best players I have seen. Instead, this is a list of players that turned my head, or those of scouts/team executives that I spoke with, because of their success and what they have shown in Summer League. It’s a list of guys who caught my eye.

Here is my Top 10 for 2018:

1) Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis Grizzlies). From the minute he stepped on the court in Salt Lake, he looked like the future of the NBA five — he can drain threes, runs the court, is strong and physical inside, and can get up and block shots. In Utah he averaged 15.7 points per game and five boards a night. Interestingly, through much the summer games the Grizzlies tried to pair him with a true center, seemingly getting him used to playing the four next to Marc Gasol come next season. Jackson looked a little tired and struggled some in Las Vegas — especially the night he battled Jonathan Isaac and Mohamed Bamba on his fifth game in seven days — but he worked hard and still made plays. The Grizzlies may have something special with him.

2) John Collins (Atlanta Hawks). Everyone already knew he was  good — he made NBA All-Rookie second team and averaged 10.5 points and 7.3 rebounds a game shooting 57.6 percent last season. However, after watching in Las Vegas and Salt Lake, he has shown the potential to be a future star, his game is improving. He’s averaging 24 points and 8 boards a game in Vegas, playing good defense in the paint, but more importantly he has shown improved three-point stroke and handles. He’s done for the summer, but in limited games he showed he should be on this list.

3) Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns). Yes, the No. 1 pick should be good, but he has looked like a man among boys going up against some of the other rookie big men in Las Vegas. Ayton pushed Bamba around all game long, for example. He’s averaging 16 points a game on 67 percent shooting, plus 11 boards a contest, and he’s got versatility to his game. There’s work to do on defense and passing, but he has the potential to be special.

4) Kevin Knox (New York Knicks). He’s looked like a rookie at points, he’s blown everyone’s doors off at others. Tuesday’s game against the Lakers was the perfect example: He started 0-of-6 from the floor and finished the night with seven turnovers. He’s got work to do. However, he finished that Laker game with 22 points and was 5-of-7 from three, he’s got the athleticism to get by guys with a first step and he can finish. And he’s just 18. The Knicks may have another crucial rebuilding block with Knox.

5) Jonathan Isaac (Orlando Magic). He was a roll of the dice at No. 6 in the 2017 draft, a guy with a lot of potential but a project, then he missed most of his rookie season with injuries. Nobody seemed exactly sure what Orlando had. In Vegas he has turned heads with his play —14.3 points and 7 boards a game, he’s physically a lot stronger and his shooting stroke is smooth. He has banged inside and held his own with Memphis’ Jackson, and has just been a better athlete than everyone he’s gone up against. Pair him along the front with Bamba and Aaron Gordon, and that is an interesting team in Orlando. And when was the last time we said that?

6) Josh Hart (Los Angeles Lakers). He might be the MVP of Summer League so far, averaging 23.3 points per game and just running the team like a pro. Which he is — he showed he could do this with the Lakers last season, but asked to take on more of a scoring role in Vegas he has stepped up. Bottom line, there’s a reason every time a team talks to the Lakers about a trade they want Hart thrown in the mix. He’s got a lot of fans around the league, and that has only grown this summer.

7) Wendell Carter Jr. (Chicago Bulls). I will own it: I was not high on Carter Jr. coming into the draft, but he has impressed in Las Vegas. As expected, he has a versatile and polished offensive game with a nearly unstoppable turnaround from the post, ability to score with either hand, range on his jumper, plus he is a surprisingly good passer. The book on him coming into the draft was defensive questions, but he has been better on that front than expected — he works hard and is athletic enough to be disruptive. We will see how he fares against NBA-level competition on that end, but the work ethic and tools are there.

8) Harry Giles (Sacramento Kings). He was a low-risk gamble pick by the Kings at No. 20 in 2017, a guy who was maybe the top player in his class as a high school sophomore until the injuries hit (ACL, MCL and a meniscus tear in his left knee, plus another surgery on his right knee). The Kings took him and red-shirted him last season, but in Vegas he has been impressive and solid (12 points and 7 rebounds a game in Sin City). He looks like he could be a rotation NBA big man (at least, the Kings think he can be more than that), someone Sacramento can count on besides Marvin Bagley III. Giles has been a pleasant surprise.

9) Jordan Bell (Golden State Warriors). He’s only on this list for one reason. Yes, he’s looked good in limited Summer League run — the guy was playing serious minutes in the NBA Finals a month ago, of course he looks good going against a bunch of non-NBA players. What got him there was this one moment against the Jazz.

(To be clear, Bell and Donovan Mitchell are tight, and Mitchell thought this was funny.)

10) De'Anthony Melton (Houston Rockets). He could end up being a second-round steal for the Rockets. Melton didn’t play last season at USC (he was the guy at the heart of the FBI probe) so he slid down to 46th overall. In Vegas he has looked like a quality rotation guard, averaging 16.3 points, 7 rebounds, and 2.7 steals a game. Guard minutes are tight to come by on the Rockets this season, but he’s going to make the opening night roster and will get his shot.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri apologizes to DeMar DeRozan for ‘maybe a gap of miscommunication’

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DeMar DeRozan has made his stance clear: The Raptors lied to him before trading him to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard.

Today, Raptors president Masai Ujiri explained himself.

Eric Koreen of The Athletic:

Josh Lewenberg of TSN:

Ujiri should have not have lied to DeRozan. If he did, Ujiri should face immense criticism for it.

But I don’t know whether Ujiri lied and am definitely not assuming he did.

He didn’t necessarily owe it to DeRozan to explain exactly where negotiations with San Antonio stood. If Ujiri said he “didn’t plan to trade” DeRozan and truly meant that but was also trying to trade DeRozan, saying he “didn’t plan to trade” DeRozan wouldn’t have been a lie.

There’s no point in upsetting a player you might keep – as long as it doesn’t require dishonesty. I’m OK with misleading technicalities. That’s on players and agents to decipher.

As Ujiri said, his job is to win. That’s sometimes a messy and upsetting process.

There is some room for kindness, but it’s often at times like this – after the player is traded. I believe Ujiri went out of his way today to praise and try to placate the likable DeRozan. That’s why I don’t take Ujiri’s apology as an admission of wrongdoing. Better just to be nice now.

A couple weeks ago, Ujiri’s role was different. He was trying to negotiate a high-stakes trade, not please a potentially outgoing player.

As long as Ujiri did so honestly, I’m OK with that.

Report: 76ers trading Richaun Holmes to Suns, signing Jonah Bolden

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The Thunder-Hawks-76ers three-team trade was reportedly on hold to becoming official while Philadelphia eyed another move.

Trading Jerryd Bayless (and surely something positive, like a draft pick) for Kyle Korver? The 76ers could still do that.

But this appears to be the move that had to precede the three-team trade – and the move that completed the Suns’ trade with the Nets.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

The Suns did well to add Richaun Holmes, a 24-year-old energy center. The only question is whether did it in the optimal way.

Instead of trading a second-rounder to go from Jared Dudley‘s $9,530,000 salary to Darrell Arthur‘s $7,464,912 salary, Phoenix could have cleared the cap room necessary to acquire Holmes by waiving Davon Reed or Shaquille Harrison.

Instead, Phoenix will keep Reed and Harrison. The Suns should know Reed and Harrison, both of whom played limited minutes as rookies last year, better than outsiders do. To a certain extent, there’s little choice but to defer to the team’s judgment.

Holmes was behind Joel Embiid and Amir Johnson at center in Philadelphia. Given Embiid’s injury history, third center is an important role on the 76ers. But, after Nemanja Bjelica backed out of his deal with them, they traded for Mike Muscala as their stretch four. However, unlike Bjelica (who swung more toward small forward when switching positions), Muscala swings toward center. He provides enough depth behind Embiid and Johnson.

So, Holmes became the odd man out with Philadelphia needing to clear a roster spot to sign 2017 No. 36 pick Jonah Bolden (a player I liked quite a bit in the draft).

Bolden’s minimum salary would have been $5,721,234 over the next four years. So, he got a little more and likely some of it guaranteed. In exchange, he gave the 76ers team control at a cheap salary for the longest possible time. He’s betting against himself.

After signing Bolden into cap space, Philadelphia can now execute the deal with Oklahoma City and Atlanta.

Kawhi Leonard for DeMar DeRozan could be NBA’s first immediately clear and enduring star-for-star trade in nearly two decades

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In 2011 – well before DeMar DeRozan earned even serious All-Star or All-NBA consideration – Kawhi Leonard called him a “great player.”

In 2014 – before Leonard became Finals MVP and arguably the NBA’s best two-way player – DeRozan said, “If Kawhi gets his hands on you, you’re not going anywhere.”

Leonard and DeRozan were ahead of the curve on assessing each other, but the rest of us have caught up. Both players are universally recognized as stars. Traded for each other this week, they could fulfill the Raptors-Spurs deal as a rare trade that was recognized immediately and in hindsight as star-for-star.

Sometimes, we don’t realize when a star-for-star trade is made. Paul George for Victor Oladipo was a star-for-star trade, but we didn’t yet grasp Oladipo’s abilities.

Sometimes, we think a star-for-star trade was made and it wasn’t. Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas looked like a star-for-star trade, but Thomas hasn’t been healthy since and the odds are strongly against him regaining star status.

I’m looking for trades immediately recognized as star-for-star and then stood the test of time. To set a parameter, both players were All-Stars before and after the trade. There have been just nine such trades in NBA history:

2008: Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson (Denver Nuggets-Detroit Pistons)

I needed some way to define star-for-star trades, and this deal technically fits. But it completely violates the spirit of the exercise and is included here for only posterity. Allen Iverson deteriorated rapidly in Detroit. He made a couple more All-Star games from the fan vote, nothing to do with his remaining ability.

2001: Jason Kidd for Stephon Marbury (New Jersey Nets-Phoenix Suns)

Kidd pleaded guilty to spousal abuse earlier that year, perhaps opening the door for his exit from Phoenix. He was clearly the better player and only continued to prove it after the trade, leading the Nets to consecutive Eastern Conference titles.

Marbury was at least intriguing – four years younger and a flashy scorer. He was legitimately good during the two All-Star seasons of his career, his last in New Jersey and second in Phoenix. But he mostly confirmed he was a big-stats-on-a-bad-team player.

1997: Shawn Kemp for Vin Baker (Cleveland Cavaliers-Seattle SuperSonics-Milwaukee Bucks)

This actually looked like a star-for-star-for-star trade with Kemp (Seattle to Cleveland), Baker (Milwaukee to Seattle) and Terrell Brandon (Cleveland to Milwaukee). Brandon was coming off consecutive All-Star seasons with the Cavs, but he never regained that level. Kemp and Baker didn’t maintain it for long. Each remained an All-Star the season following the trade then never made it again.

Kemp was unhappy with the Sonics because he got paid less than Jim McIlvaine, who signed a seven-year, $33 million deal. The Collective Bargaining Agreement allowed no feasible way for Seattle to renegotiate Kemp’s contract, so he rebelled by arriving late to practices and flights. His weight ballooned in Cleveland, and cocaine and alcohol issues steadily derailed his career over the next several years.

Baker appeared disenchanted with the Bucks after they posted losing records his first four seasons, and Milwaukee feared him leaving in 1999 free agency. The result for the Sonics was far worse than the one the Bucks feared for themselves. Baker began drinking heavily in Seattle. Before, after and even during games. But the Sonics still re-signed him to a seven-year, $86 million deal in 1999 that proved to be highly toxic. Baker hung around longer than Kemp, but both trended sharply downward after this trade.

1982: Bernard King for Micheal Ray Richardson (New York Knicks-Golden State Warriors)

Coming off an All-Star year with the Warriors, King signed an offer sheet with the Knicks. Golden State matched and King planned to return. But just before the season, the Warriors traded him to the Knicks for Richardson.

Richardson was a perennial All-Star in New York, but the Knicks had tired of his attitude and contract demands. Unfortunately, this trade contributed to his spiral. While his agent negotiated terms with the Warriors, Richardson remained in New York and abused drugs. He didn’t kick the habit in Golden State and lasted less than a season there, getting flipped to the Nets. He got clean in 1985, winning Comeback Player of the Year and regaining his All-Star status. But it didn’t last, and Richardson was banned from the league in 1986 for his third positive test for cocaine.

King was no stranger to off-court problems himself. He won Comeback Player of the Year in 1981 after issues with alcohol and pleading guilty to misdemeanor attempted sexual assault (and facing more serious related charges). He starred for the Knicks a couple seasons, hurt his knee then was never the same player again.

1980: Dennis Johnson for Paul Westphal (Phoenix Suns-Seattle SuperSonics)

This is another trade that fits by technicality, not spirit. Westphal got hurt, crossed the wrong side of 30 and underwhelmed in his lone season in Seattle. He was never the same player again. But fans voted the popular guard an All-Star starter that year with the Sonics, anyway.

1978: Bobby Jones for George McGinnis (Philadelphia 76ers-Denver Nuggets)

George McGinnis possessed so much size, athleticism and natural talent, people always wanted more from him. So, every problem involving him in Philadelphia felt huge. He fit poorly with Julius Erving. McGinnis had some bad moments in the playoffs on a team with championship expectations. His practice habits were poor even when he wasn’t sneaking cigarettes.

Eventually, the 76ers had enough and shipped him to Denver for Bobby Jones.

Jones, still a star in his own right, was much more adept at fitting in. He made six All-Defensive first teams in Philadelphia. After consecutive All-Star appearances with the 76ers, Jones won Sixth Man of the Year on their 1983 title team.

McGinnis remained an All-Star his first year with the Nuggets, but his experience in Denver largely made everyone there miserable. Nuggets coach Larry Brown endorsed trading for McGinnis, loathed the forward’s practice habits then wanted McGinnis traded. Larry Brown changing his mind – who ever heard of such a thing? When Denver kept McGinnis, Brown resigned. But McGinnis got hurt and lost his confidence, and the Nuggets traded him back to Indiana, where he played in the ABA before signing with Philadelphia and finished his career.

1972: Elvin Hayes for Jack Marin (Baltimore Bullets-Houston Rockets)

Drafted No. 1 by the Rockets, Elvin Hayes led the entire NBA in scoring as a rookie. But four losing seasons later, Hayes and the Rockets were losing patience with each other. Houston blamed him for posting stats – 27 points and 16 rebounds per game – that were more gaudy than actually helpful. He blamed the team for putting so much pressure on him, it caused health problems.

Despite already having Wes Unseld – who actually won Rookie of the Year over Hayes – as a big and sharing widespread concern over Hayes’ mindset, the Bullets rolled the dice on Hayes anyway. Asked whether the trade was a one-for-one, Bullets coach Gene Shue quipped, “No. We get Elvin’s psychiatrist, too.”

The Bullets eventually realized what a steal they got. Hayes was an all-time great. In nine years together, Hayes and Unseld led the Bullets to three conference titles and the 1978 NBA championship.

Marin had just two All-Star seasons – the year before this trade and the year after. The Bullets just wisely traded him at age 27, in the middle of his short prime.

1968: Wilt Chamberlain for Archie Clark (Los Angeles Lakers-Philadelphia 76ers)

This trade is often listed as one of the most lopsided in NBA history – for good reason. The Lakers got Wilt Chamberlain, arguably a top-five-ever player coming off an MVP season. Philadelphia got the unmemorable trio of Archie Clark, Darrall Imhoff and Jerry Chambers.

But Clark was an All-Star, both the season prior to this trade and a few years later after the 76ers flipped him to the Baltimore Bullets.

Chamberlain declined from peak form in Los Angeles, but he remained excellent during his five years there and helped the Lakers win a title.

1964: Bailey Howell and Don Ohl for Terry Dischinger (Baltimore Bullets-Detroit Pistons)

The first star-for-star trade was actually a star-and-star-for-star deal. And Baltimore got the two best pieces in the deal.

The Pistons had just suffered through a miserable year – losing a lot while playing for a tyrant coach. Charlie Wolf imposed strict rules that alienated his players. Howell and Ohl were happy to leave town, and each remained very good with the Bullets.

Dischinger, 1963 Rookie of the Year, certainly seemed to be worth acquiring. And he continued to produce like a star his first season in Detroit. But he went into active military service, missed the following two seasons and returned a far lesser player.

Who could have predicted the escalating conflict in Vietnam would swing the Pistons’ fortunes so significantly?

That uncertainty is why we don’t know whether the Leonard-DeRozan trade will join this club.

Each player must make an another All-Star team. Leonard is a lock if healthy, but his quad issues are a huge uncertainty. DeRozan will turn 29, and he’s heading to the better conference. But he’s joining a well-coached team built to win now, and success will boost his chances. The NBA, with captain-picked All-Star teams, might even pick All-Stars regardless of conference. The league should also increase All-Star rosters to 13 players each, matching the regular-season active-roster size, but that idea has less traction.

There are so many variables.

But this trade has a better chance than any recently to fit my star-for-star criteria.

Report: Suns trade Jared Dudley, second-rounder to Nets

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The Nets already got draft picks for taking Kenneth Faried‘s ($13,764,045) and Darrell Arthur‘s ($7,464,912) expiring contracts from the tax-avoiding Nuggets.

Now, Brooklyn will get more draft consideration for flipping Arthur for Jared Dudley‘s costlier expiring contract ($9,530,000).

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

What happens if the pick lands between Nos. 31 and 35? That determines exactly how valuable it is, but this still seems like a high price to save just $2,065,088 – especially when it’s probably just about the real money, not the cap room.

The Suns open a little more cap space, but still less than their $4,449,000 room exception. At this point, it appears unlikely they use either.

Owner Rob Sarver will appreciate the reduced payroll, and if general manager Ryan McDonough doesn’t keep the owner happy, the lost draft pick will be the next guy’s problem.

Brooklyn is already over the cap and never counted on Arthur as a player. The only cost of this trade is the real money in the difference between Dudley’s and Arthur’s salaries, and the Nets are willing to pay that for a draft pick. Good for them.

Neither Dudley nor Arthur played much last year. Maybe that’s because Dudley was on a tanking team trying to empower youth and Arthur was buried behind a deep power-forward rotation. But maybe Dudley (33) and Arthur (30) are just washed up and no longer capable of contributing at an NBA level. Getting them in different situations could reveal plenty. They’re both smart players, the type teams want to add.