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As Summer League ends, what are teams taking away from Las Vegas?

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LAS VEGAS — Knicks fans were lined up out the door, literally overflowing the Cox Arena on the UNLV campus to get a glimpse of Kevin Knox, who averaged 21.3 points per game at Summer League and suddenly was seen as the newest star on Broadway — the perfect pairing for Kristaps Porzingis.

Top pick Deandre Ayton filled the building and had Suns’ fans dreaming of rings with his star power. Memphis’ fans were saying they saw the future of the franchise with Jaren Jackson’s combination of shooting and shot blocking. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander‘s looked like a steal and his play gave Clippers’ fans hope. Atlanta’s Trae Young went from “bust” to “future franchise cornerstone” over the course of two weeks as his play improved through July.

As Summer League has grown over the years — all 30 NBA teams were represented in Las Vegas, every game was televised nationally — so has the importance of these July exhibitions in the minds of fans.

But what do teams — their coaches, scouts, and GMs — take away from Las Vegas?

A baseline.

“It’s just benchmarks for the guys,” new Hawks’ coach Lloyd Pierce told NBC Sports in Las Vegas. “I got bear cubs right now. I saw Omari (Spellman) at Villanova, but I hadn’t touched him. I saw Trae (Young) at Oklahoma, but I hadn’t touched him. Kevin (Huerter) I still haven’t touched (hand surgery).

“So we have a couple areas with Trae, and we have a couple areas with John Collins and a couple areas with Tyler Dorsey where we say, ‘you know what, I know what we need to work on.’ More will come, but at least I have a starting point, and we can have a conversation now.”

That conversation is about how much more work needs to be done.

Summer League has become big business for the NBA, it’s marketed and put on a bigger stage, and with that it’s natural that Summer League games have grown in importance in the eyes of fans (and media). But for teams, the purpose hasn’t changed since the games were an almost forgotten part of the NBA season at the Pyramid on the Long Beach State campus.

Multiple NBA coaches and executives told NBC Sports is just the first post-draft step in evaluation, and where a player is on the scale right now is not nearly as important as where he goes from here. Those decision makers know that 90 percent of the players in Las Vegas will not even be invited to an NBA training camp, then combine that with limited practices and there is only so much big-picture evaluation that can take place.

“I don’t get wrapped up into the rookies, as far as being discouraged with what you see here,” said Bobby Marks, former assistant general manager with the Brooklyn Nets and current ESPN analyst. “I think I’m more discouraged if I have a second- or third-year player who does not play well here…

“You take gradual steps. You look at where you were when you first get to Vegas, where they were at the end of June or early July, then you see where they are in the middle of July.”

A lot of the evaluation from teams is not in those televised Las Vegas games, but rather on the practice court.

“The first thing is you evaluate how coachable they are, because you don’t have a lot of time, but there’s a few things you emphasize just to see if they do it,” said Utah Jazz Summer League coach Alex Jensen. “Summer League is one of those things where they are always trying to showcase themselves, so sometimes it’s not the easiest thing to do, but we want to see how coachable they are.”

For those first-round and high second-round picks, it’s also a chance to put players in NBA situations. For example, Portland Summer League coach Jim Moran said they run a lot of the same sets in Las Vegas they will run come the fall, with the goal of getting guys like Gary Trent Jr. or Anfernee Simons shots they will see come the games that matter.

“We’re trying to put them in situations they’ll be put in the regular season,” Moran said. “So whether it be defensively having our bigs switch out on smaller guys, or learning how to move and keep smaller guys in front of them, or offensively just getting them a feel for where their shots are going to come from in certain plays, we want to see it.”

For a first-round pick such as Portland’s Simons or the Knicks’ Knox or Atlanta’s Young, Summer League is a showcase. Every first-round pick has a guaranteed NBA contract — they are going to get paid come the fall. That’s not to say they don’t play hard or take it seriously, but no matter what happens in Las Vegas they will be on a roster come October.

The real business of Summer League is second-round picks, undrafted players, and guys coming back from playing overseas trying to get noticed — by NBA teams, ideally, but at least by European scouts who can land them good paying gigs playing basketball. It’s an on-court job application for almost everyone in uniform. NBA staffs are taking notes on these guys, as well.

“Second-rounders, undrafted guys, guys you might sign to two-ways, guys you might need to call up on a two way, because you don’t really know,” ESPN’s Marks said of who he watched closely at Summer League in his executive days. “There could be guys who were playing in Europe last year, or maybe from lower level schools and you didn’t bring them in for a workout, there’s a newness to this. So I think it benefits them more than your first round picks.”

Put in a good showing and guys can find their way onto a roster — Trevon Bluiett out of Xavier averaged 18.3 points per game for the Pelicans, and they signed him to a two-way contract. A handful of other guys did the same, or will get training camp invites out of Las Vegas.

Because of that those guys are hustling — say what you want about the glorified pick-up game nature of Summer League play, guys go hard because paychecks are on the line.

However, for bigger name, higher drafted players, performance in Las Vegas matters more to fans than it does the franchise.

“There are takeaways, it gives you a baseline for the rest of the summer,” Marks said.

And that’s just the first step. By Halloween, all these games will be a distant memory.

Warriors tip-off bittersweet final season in Oakland with title celebration

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — If anybody understands an arena’s link to a city, to a faithful fan base, Kevin Durant does.

Durant played the final NBA game in KeyArena for the Seattle SuperSonics a decade ago before the franchise’s relocation to Oklahoma City, then returned for a nostalgic exhibition earlier this month in the venue’s final event. On Tuesday night, he will play an opener against his former Thunder team — and raise another championship banner — to begin Golden State’s goodbye season at Oracle Arena.

The two-time reigning NBA Finals MVP wants to make sure the Warriors leave more positive memories and defining moments before next year’s move to new Chase Center in San Francisco.

“Luckily we’re not moving to the middle of the country, we’re moving across a 20- to 30-minute drive,” Durant said, “so hopefully that’s a little better for fans to take.”

The Warriors’ pending move comes amid a recent spate of upgrades for NBA franchises.

In Milwaukee, the Bucks will try to build momentum in their new downtown Fiserv Forum next door to the old Bradley Center where they spent the past 30 years. The Timberwolves will play in new-look Target Center following a two-year renovation that cost about $140 million and features a complete overhaul of the arena bowl, a glass entryway outside and other amenities such as a modernized team store and concession stands.

The Sacramento Kings begin their third season in sparkling Golden 1 Center.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer was an assistant in San Antonio when the Spurs moved from the Alamodome to a new basketball-only arena in 2002.

“There’s nothing like having a great home atmosphere, having great energy in the building,” Budenholzer said. “There’s no doubt you go into certain cities in the NBA, you know that the crowd is going to be on top of you, the crowd is going to be loud. You have a tough night as a team because of that crowd.”

In Atlanta, Hawks will unveil their $192.5 million makeover of State Farm Arena, formerly Philips Arena. The Hawks say the renovation, which overlapped two seasons, is one of the largest in NBA history. Among the most compelling new features in the arena – in which capacity has been slightly reduced to 16,600 – will be the league’s third-largest center-hung scoreboard with a rounded, 360-degree video screen.

Golden State’s move across San Francisco Bay will be a tough one for many. Fans, players, coaches, even executives, realize how much the Warriors have done for the East Bay in nearly five decades at Oracle. Even through all the down years.

In blue-collar Oakland and right off one of California’s busiest freeways, Oracle has become one of the most imposing stops for opponents on either coast – the frenzied crowd cheering the talented Warriors makes its presence felt.

“It’s still tough for us moving out of Oakland,” Durant said. “But we’re just trying to come out this season and let them know that even though we’re moving we’re still going to be here in the Bay Area, we’re still going to be your team and hopefully people understand that and realize we’re still going to be the Bay Area’s team no matter if we’re playing in San Jose, Oakland or San Francisco.”

The Warriors are offering a similar message: “We’re leaving a building, we’re not leaving a city.”

That’s the motto COO and President Rick Welts is sharing as Golden State, winner of three titles over the past four years, prepares to move into that snazzy, privately funded new arena. Welts hopes fans will stick it out through the transition – realizing full well some might feel abandoned.

“When we talk about the magic of Oracle, the magic of Oracle is the people that are in Oracle,” Welts said. “And to know that four out of five of those people are coming to Chase Center it’s one other element of wanting to maintain that incredible atmosphere that we have.”

From all the down years to the thrilling “We Believe” playoffs of 2007 when Baron Davis and the Warriors ended a 12-year postseason drought then stunned the Mavericks in the first round, loyal fans in the East Bay have experienced all the highs right along with the lowest of lows.

One of the arena’s loudest moments ever was when Davis drove left to the baseline for a powerful one-handed slam over Utah’s Andrei Kirilenko during a 125-105 Game 3 victory in the Western Conference semifinals, Golden State’s lone win of that series.

The lead up to that playoff run left a lasting impression on those players involved in the turnaround. Long before tipoff, the noise was deafening.

“It didn’t matter who showed up, whether we had 10 people, they were going to be as loud and as proud as they could be for our team,” former center Adonal Foyle recalled. “There’s a really amazing spirit to Oakland and what the teams mean to their lives. I think more than anything else what I wanted more than anything with `We Believe’ was to just win one for the people that were in the stands every day supporting us.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr could feel it even back during his playing days coming through.

He always loved playing in Oakland even when the Warriors were bad because the fans were so committed, so loud.

“It is bittersweet. I think the new arena’s going to be amazing and we’re all excited about that but we’re all bummed to be moving on from Oracle,” Kerr said. “So, we would love to finish it the right way. It’s hard to replicate an atmosphere like Oracle’s. I think back to Boston Garden, going to the new Garden, the old Chicago Stadium where I played to the new one. It’s hard to create that same sort of intimacy when you’re building a new arena with suites and concourses and everything else. We know this new arena’s going to be great for our organization. It’s going to provide an incredible viewing experience for people coming in. But that doesn’t make it any easier to leave Oracle and leave Oakland.”

At Chase Center, white exterior panels have already gone up on the east and south sides and are beginning to wrap around to the western end near the main lobby entrance. A waterfront park project is also underway.

“It is crazy. I don’t even know what to think about that yet because Oracle has always … that’s been my experience as a Warrior,” two-time MVP Stephen Curry said. “I don’t think I’m ready to think about what’s next yet.”

AP Sports Writers Genaro C. Armas in Milwaukee and Dave Campbell in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Grading every NBA team’s 2018 offseason

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman graded every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there. The full results with links to each writeup:

Atlanta Hawks: B-

Boston Celtics: C+

Brooklyn Nets: B+

Charlotte Hornets: D

Chicago Bulls: C-

Cleveland Cavaliers: F

Dallas Mavericks: B

Denver Nuggets: B-

Detroit Pistons: C

Golden State Warriors: A

Houston Rockets: D

Indiana Pacers: B+

Los Angeles Clippers: C-

Los Angeles Lakers: A+

Memphis Grizzlies: B-

Miami Heat: C

Milwaukee Bucks: B-

Minnesota Timberwolves: D

New Orleans Pelicans: C

New York Knicks: C-

Oklahoma City Thunder: A

Orlando Magic: B

Philadelphia 76ers: C-

Phoenix Suns: D+

Portland Trail Blazers: C

Sacramento Kings: C-

San Antonio Spurs: D-

Toronto Raptors: A

Utah Jazz: C

Washington Wizards: B-

Wizards hire WNBA All-Star Kristi Toliver as assistant coach

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WASHINGTON (AP) — WNBA All-Star Kristi Toliver will be an assistant coach for player development for the NBA’s Washington Wizards this season.

Toliver’s job was one of several changes to coach Scott Brooks’ staff announced by the Wizards on Tuesday, two days before they host the Miami Heat to open the season.

Toliver played for the Washington Mystics and helped them reach the WNBA Finals this year, when she also assisted the Wizards’ coaching staff during the NBA Summer League and training game. She is a 10-year pro and two-time All-Star who won an NCAA title at Maryland.

She joins David Adkins, Mike Terpstra and Maz Trakh on the back of the Wizards’ bench. Alex McLean and Landon Tatum were both promoted to assistant coach for player development.

Robert Pack and Ryan Richman will be with Brooks and Tony Brown on the front of the bench.

Pack was a scout for the Portland Trail Blazers last season, after spending two seasons as an assistant coach for the New Orleans Pelicans. He also was an assistant to Brooks with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2013-15.

 

Austin Rivers: Everybody, ‘so f—ing gassed up on the Celtics and the Sixers,’ overlooking Wizards and Pacers

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We picked the Celtics, Raptors, 76ers and Bucks to be the top four teams in the Eastern Conference this year and ranked the Wizards and Pacers next. If that’s not the consensus, it’s close to it.

Wizards guard Austin Rivers, via James Herbert of CBSSports.com:

“I think we’re heavily slept-on,” he tells me. “Team’s been to the playoffs, what, the last five, four or five years? Then going into this year, you add me, Dwight Howard, Jeff Green and nobody seems to talk about us. So I just think we’re heavily slept-on, but that’s fine. At the end of the day, nothing really matters until the season starts and we set that tone for ourselves. I get the hype of a couple of the other teams, but I think we have a chance to compete with the best of the East.”

I tell him I recently spoke to Tyreke Evans, who said something similar about the Indiana Pacers. Rivers gets more animated.

“Yeah, I would say Indiana’s the other team that gets slept-on, too,” he says. “You look at Indiana, they took Cleveland to seven games and then damn near, arguably could have beaten them.”

Rivers rattles off Evans’ stats from last season, then continues: “That’s who they just added to the team? And nobody seems to talk about the Pacers because everybody’s so f—ing gassed up on the Celtics and the Sixers. And rightfully so: they’re both talented teams. But Indiana is just as good as both those teams. And I think we’re in the same situation.”

I agree the Wizards and Pacers had positive offseasons. But Indiana might have been punching slightly above its weight as a surprise team last year, and Washington’s problem has often been overconfidence.

In that regard, Rivers – acquired in an offseason trade from the Clippers – is already fitting right in. The brashness might be good for Rivers, but it’s not what the Wizards need.

Washington could have a good season. John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are a strong starting point in the Eastern Conference, and Dwight Howard could help with the right attitude and health. Rivers is a quality reserve. But let’s pump the brakes on calling Jeff Green a key addition, though Rivers would be only one of many – including someone in his immediate family – to make that error.