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Notes from first night of Salt Lake Summer League

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SALT LAKE CITY — At Summer League in Salt Lake, all anyone could talk about was… Kawhi Leonard. Like every other NBA fan. Jazz fans rightfully watched the moves their team made this offseason and saw themselves as threats to win the West, but the whispers of a Lakers’ three-man superteam has them spooked.

Oh, and there was actual basketball. Played by a few guys who will be on NBA rosters next season, and a lot of guys trying to make that dream a reality. Here’s my notebook out of the first night of games in beautiful Utah.

• Cleveland may have something in Dylan Windler.

Judging a player on one Summer League game is like judging a burger joint after tasting one French fry. Summer League openers at best give us the start of a baseline off which to judge players. That said, Windler turned a few heads on his way to 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including 3-of-8 from three. The shooting itself wasn’t a surprise, that’s why he got drafted No. 26 out of Belmont.

Rather, it was his feel for the game and playmaking that was more unexpected.

“I just like the way he moves,” Cavs coach John Beilein said. “He instinctively has a really good feel for the game. Seems to make the game somewhat easier, just finding the open man.”

With Cavaliers’ rookie guards Darius Garland and Kevin Porter Jr. out for Salt Lake City, Windler had the ball in his hands a lot more as a shot creator. They ran the offense through him for long stretches, with Beilein saying he wanted to see how Windler handled it. He acquitted himself well, although there were some tough lessons to be learned — twice had a defender just snuff his pass as it came out of his hands. This isn’t the Ohio Valley Conference anymore, he can’t just throw the ball over the top of guys.

“I need to be more sound on the ball for sure,” Windler said. “Coming off the pick-and-rolls they did a good job getting into me, so I need to be a little craftier with that….

“Everybody on the floor, we’re all pros now, there’s no weak links, there’s no guy you can just keep attacking… the pace of play is different, and just the spacing of the floor is a lot different.”

Welcome to adjusting to the NBA style of game. Summer League is like NBA lite — the talent and athleticism is not the same, teams aren’t nearly as dialed in, but what Windler saw in Salt Lake City Monday was a step up from what he has faced in the past. That’s why his strong performance was impressive.

“I think he’s one of those guys who will make everybody better by giving you the space, or just making the simple, easy pass to the next open man,” Beilein said.

• San Antonio would love for Lonnie Walker IV to step up and give them quality minutes this coming season.

A second-year player who can do that should be the best player on the court in a Summer League game, and Walker was that, scoring 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting and using bursts of his athleticism to make plays. That said, his performance was a little hit and miss. He said he felt comfortable out on the court this summer.

“Just knowing where everybody is, taking better shots, feeling comfortable with my shots, and just knowing a lot more things,” Walker said. “Going into my rookie year, there were a lot of things I thought I knew I really didn’t know. This time, I have a lot of things [moving] like in slow motion, it’s more comfortable, and I could stay in my rhythm.”

That rhythm includes the fact Walker does not fear the pull-up midrange shot, and he drained a couple nice ones. That shot might get him in trouble on some teams, but he plays for the Spurs, so it just fit right in.

• A lot of names hoops fans might know were drafted by the four teams in Salt Lake City but are not suiting up due to injuries. The Grizzlies drafted Ja Morant second overall, but he had his knee scoped and may play in Las Vegas but not here. Also, Brandon Clarke for the Grizzlies is not playing. For Cleveland, Darius Garland (the No. 5 pick) is not playing in Salt Lake as they are careful with his knee, and No. 30 pick Kevin Porter Jr. is out, too.

• For the home Utah Jazz, second-round pick Jarrell Brantley had a nice night with 11 points, 4 rebounds (8 personal fouls)… and one serious blocked shot.

Drafted No. 50 out of the University of Charleston, Brantley was a guy who turned heads at the Portsmouth Invitational and impressed enough in workouts to get drafted. The knock was he’s not an explosive athlete, but that blocked shot made me question that a little.

• On his first drive to the rim, Spurs draftee Luka Samanic took a good first step, put his shoulder down and muscled his way to the rim, but then struggled to finish against length on the contest.

For a lot of players, that is a tough adjustment at the NBA level — the guys trying to block your shot at the rim are taller, longer, and more athletic.

• Things got better for Samanic, he picked up his first bucket in the second quarter when he pump faked at the arc, drove to his left and finished at the rim through a little contact (from a guard, but still).

Samanic finished with 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting, looking raw but the kind of raw the Spurs turn into a dangerous player in a few years.

• Thomas Robinson, the former No. 5 overall pick of the Kings in 2012 who has been out of the league for a couple of years now, is playing for the Spurs trying to earn his way back into the league. He had 8 points on 2-of-3 shooting in limited minutes.

• Spurs second-round draft pick Quinndary Weatherspoon had a couple of nice drives to the rim where he showed some athleticism and strength, then the touch to finish. He needs to get stronger, but an interesting player.

Heat’s Goran Dragic says he’s not going to Slovenia during layoff

Heat guard Goran Dragic
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MIAMI (AP) — Goran Dragic of the Miami Heat said Tuesday that he is prepared to forgo his annual offseason move back to his native Slovenia if that is what the NBA schedule necessitates.

Dragic, his wife and their two children are in Miami and have no plans to leave for Slovenia amid the global coronavirus pandemic. His parents recently left Miami to return home, but the Heat guard says he’s staying.

“Three days ago they flew back home because they had to, the government said that all the Slovenian citizens needed to get back,” Dragic said, referring to his parents, adding that they wore masks and gloves on their not-very-full flight back to Slovenia. “But my situation is different. Here is my home. We have health insurance in America and we have a home to go to, so we’re going to stay here.”

Dragic and his family have gotten a firsthand global view of the pandemic.

He’s in Miami, and so is his uncle — who is staying in the U.S. because he cannot get back to his native Serbia because Dragic said that country has essentially locked its borders over health concerns. Dragic’s brother Zoran, a former Heat guard, was quarantined while playing in Spain, then returned to Slovenia recently and is under quarantine again, unable to leave his hotel room for a couple more weeks.

“It’s a really crazy situation over there,” Dragic said, detailing what his brother went through in Spain — one of the hardest-hit nations with more than 94,000 confirmed cases of the virus and more than 8,000 deaths attributed to the virus, the second-highest total worldwide behind only Italy. Slovenia has confirmed 802 cases through Tuesday, with 15 deaths.

In Miami, though, Dragic is trying to keep some sense of normalcy.

Dragic said the Heat are participating in a daily team workout on Zoom most mornings, those sessions often including strength and conditioning coach Eric Foran and Heat assistant coach Chris Quinn, among others.

“We try to work together, in isolation,” Dragic said.

Dragic has been working out individually as well at his waterfront home, trying to stay fit. He’s hopeful that the season resumes at some point, and said he hopes the league has teams play no more than a handful of games before starting the playoffs.

“I’m running around the house. I’m going to be in good shape,” Dragic said.

Dragic is averaging 16.1 points and 5.1 assists this season for the Heat, coming off the bench in all but one of his 54 games.

Report: NBA, players’ union in talks to withhold some of players’ salaries

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The forced suspension of the NBA’s regular season is hitting the league hard — and it’s about to hit players’ paychecks hard.

The NBA and the players’ union are in negotiations to withhold more of players’ paychecks in an escrow account if the rest of the NBA season is canceled, as is seeming more and more likely. Up to 25 percent of the players’ salaries will be withheld, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The NBA and National Basketball Players Association are discussing scenarios for withholding up to 25 percent of players’ remaining salaries in a league escrow should regular-season games eventually be canceled, sources tell ESPN…

The Collective Bargaining Agreement maintains that players lose approximately 1 percent of salary per canceled game based on a Force Majeure provision, which covers several catastrophic circumstances, including epidemics and pandemics…

Commissioner Adam Silver, NBPA executive director Michele Roberts and a group of league and union lawyers have been discussing a number of ways to prepare financially for how the likely cancelling of scheduled games will impact some percentage of lost salary for players, sources said.

In every NBA check, even in a typical season, 10 percent of a players’ salary is held back in an escrow fund. Then, at the end of the season when the books are balanced, and the players get 50 percent of the basketball related income (BRI). If league income was slightly lower than projected, the players do not get all of their money back from the escrow fund, the league takes whatever portion is needed to get to the CBA’s prescribed 50/50 BRI split (and the rest is returned to the players).

This season, due to the coronavirus possibly canceling more than 20 percent of the season and condensing the playoffs, there is going to be more than a 10 percent shortfall in the projected BRI.

Players will get a full regular paycheck on Wednesday, April 1. If the NBA and players union reach an agreement before April 15, that check could start to see the reductions as money goes to the escrow account.

The vast majority of players have their pay stretched out for the entire year (the first and 15th of every month), but some players take an option to get more of that money up front. Regardless, everyone will pay into the escrow fund.

The NBA has not officially announced the cancelation of regular season games yet, but games will be lost. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said he doesn’t expect the Warriors will play any more games this season. More and more sources think the regular season is lost, but the league is holding out hope.

It’s impossible to calculate how big the revenue hit to the league will be until a plan for the postseason is put together (if one is put together), but it will be massive. Possibly more than a billion dollars if the season and playoffs are canceled. Right now, the league is simply running a lot of scenarios to try and project how to lessen that blow when they do return to action.

Still, the coronavirus suspension is going to hit the players’ pocketbooks. This increased escrow account is just the first wave.

 

LeBron James, Kevin Durant among handful of players who got this year’s contract money up front

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Years ago, NBA players (like those in other professional sports), got paid every other week during the regular season. They might get a bonus during the playoffs if the team did well, but in the offseason they had no money flowing into their pockets.

Over the past decade that changed. Now the standard contract now calls for players to get paid over 12 months, giving them cash flow all year long.

This also means the vast majority of NBA players have yet to get most of their pay for this year, which will get interesting as the owners and players union start discussing the “Force Majeure” clause in the CBA to take some of the players’ salaries because of canceled games.

Mark Stein of the New York Times talked about it on Twitter.

However, a handful of big-name players got more their money up front — the CBA allows players to get a chunk of their money in advance then get then rest over a 12-check, six-month span. Some of the biggest names in the sport went for that.

In addition to LeBron James, players such as Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Blake Griffin have gotten the majority of their pay already.

NBA owners are scheduled to have a remote meeting soon to discuss next steps. They are talking both about the restart of the season (in whatever form that takes) and about invoking the “Force Majeure” clause. That CBA clause allows teams to reduce players’ salaries in the event of an “act of god” kind of event that cancels games – things like war, natural disaster, and epidemics. Obviously, the epidemic part has come into play and shut down the league.

If the NBA doesn’t play any more regular season games — which reports have said is seeming more likely — teams and players will miss about 25 percent of the season (give or take depending on how many games their team played) and owners would want to recoup some money. Doing some of that through “Force Majeure” is on the table, with the canceled games triggering the clause.

The players union warned its members this could happen. For LeBron, Durant and other players who have gotten most of their money up front it could mean checks next season will be docked to make up the difference.

Damian Lillard opposes idea of later NBA season start running into summer

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At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference a few weeks back (although it feels like a lifetime ago), Atlanta  CEO Steve Koonin suggested the NBA should permanently shift its schedule to a mid-December start with the Finals running into August. The idea was to stop going head-to-head with the NFL and college football at the start of the season. Then the pushed back playoffs forced by the coronavirus have made that discussion more relevant. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said everything is on the table.

Damian Lillard is not a fan of the idea.

He likes the schedule just the way it is, something he said during a video conference with the media on Tuesday, hat tip to Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Portland.

“I just don’t see it. I mean, the season starts when it starts now, then February all-star weekend, getting toward the end of the season in April and then getting into the playoffs. You get that early June Finals and then you get to go off into your summer…

“You get to enjoy real-time summer,” Lillard said. “Our break is into the summer and then you get to come back as summer is leaving. I think that’s been perfect…

“It’s been perfect for us,” Lillard said. “So, for that to change and for things to be pushed back, I’m definitely not a fan of that and I don’t see many guys being a fan of that.”

Lillard is not alone in thinking this way, but Silver is more open to change than most sports commissioners. That said, changes that break with long-standing traditions are hard to make a reality.

There would be a lot of questions around a schedule change. Would the ratings still be as high for a Finals series in the heart of the summer? The NBA season no longer would sync with the NCAA or international leagues’ schedules, leading to questions about the draft and timing for players who want to test the waters. There would need to be reworked television contracts, both regionally and nationally. It could make scheduling a challenge at arenas used to having more concerts and other events in the summer.

Plus, all of this would need to be negotiated with the players union — and Lillard speaks for a lot of players on this issue.

If the NBA could somehow convince players that starting later meant more money in their pocket, those union negotiations would take on a different tone. But would the move increase revenue? That’s not an easy sell.

With this NBA season likely running late, the start of next season could be pushed back, and this theory could get a little bit of a test. Or, the next season could be shortened a little to get the league back on its regular schedule.

Which would make Lillard happy.