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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.

Dwight Howard will join Lakers for restart, donate check to social justice cause

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“Basketball, or entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment, and will only be a distraction… I would love nothing more than to win my very first NBA Championship. But the unity of My People would be an even bigger Championship, that’s just too beautiful to pass up. What better time than now for us to be focusing on our families? This is a rare opportunity that, I believe, we as a community should be taking full advantage of. When have we ever had this amount of time to sit and be with our families? This is where our unity starts. At home! With Family!!”

Those are the words of Dwight Howard, who was among the players questioning the NBA’s restart in Orlando.  He was grieving the loss of Melissa Rios, the mother of his 6-year-old son, David, and was looking at his family as the biggest priority in his life. As it should be. Howard also is committed to the Black Lives Matter movement and, as he stated, saw the NBA’s return as a distraction.

In the end, he has decided to play in the NBA restart and donate his checks the rest of this season to charity, something Howard announced on CNN (hat tip Dave McMenamin).

That is about a $700,000 donation by Howard to Breathe Again.

Howard played a central role as a big man off the bench on a Lakers’ team that is the odds-on favorite to win it all. A ring would be the cherry on top of his Hall of Fame career.

Howard wants to be a part of that, but it means sacrificing time with family. He said it was not an easy decision, and he is putting his money where his mouth is donating his earnings to charity.

The thoughtfulness behind those decisions shows the kind of maturity Howard has grown into, even if fans never see it.

Jaylen Brown heads to restart with Boston, plans to use voice for social justice

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The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown has been one of the most active NBA players in the Black Lives Matters movement — even driving from Boston to Atlanta to lead a protest.

That’s not changing because he’s going to Orlando for the NBA restart.

Brown admitted he considered not playing in Orlando due to the pandemic, but the opportunity the NBA’s platform provided to speak on social issues was too great to pass up, Brown said in a conference call with reporters Monday, via the Associated Press.

“Once I thought about the opportunity that the organization and the NBA presented to play for something bigger than myself, I was signed up,” he said. “I plan on using my voice while I’m down there. I plan on spreading light on things that are getting dimmed and hopefully the NBA and our organization can understand.”

Brown is not alone in thinking that. Portland’s CJ McCollum is on the executive committee of the National Basketball Players Association as well and said a lot of players see the same opportunity.

“But now [the talk is] more around what impact we can make to support what is going on in the real world, to continue to support Black Lives Matter and the things we’re facing as a society,” McCollum told NBC Sports. “Those are the calls we’re having now. How can we impact? How can we spread awareness on certain things in the world that are going on?…

“The biggest thing is to take advantage of the platform [in Orlando], to coincide with the NBA and figure out productive ways we can continue to spread information, to continue to educate, to continue to put light on things that have often been behind closed doors and never been brought out to the public eye, so I think those are the conversations we’ll continue to have.”

One way players can make a statement is by replacing the name on the back of jerseys with a message pre-approved by the league. Brown, like 76ers forward Mike Scott, is not a fan of how the NBA handled it.

“I think that list is an example of a form of limitations,” Brown said. “I think we should be able to express our struggle just a little bit more…

“The bottom line is there are improvements that need to be made,” Brown said. “The NBA has a great voice, a lot of resources and a lot of influence. We’re appreciative that they’re helping and aiding in a lot of those things that we care about. That’s really important.”

Brown understands the NBA’s voice, and he heads to Orlando planning to use his.

76ers’ Mike Scott on social-justice messages on NBA jerseys: ‘That was terrible. It was a bad list’

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The NBA approved a list of social-justice messages players can wear on their jerseys:

  • Black Lives Matter
  • Say Their Names
  • Vote
  • I Can’t Breathe
  • Justice
  • Peace
  • Equality
  • Freedom
  • Enough
  • Power to the People
  • Justice Now
  • Say Her Name
  • Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can)
  • Liberation
  • See Us
  • Hear Us
  • Respect Us
  • Love Us
  • Listen
  • Listen to Us
  • Stand Up
  • Ally
  • Anti-Racist
  • I Am A Man
  • Speak Up
  • How Many More
  • Group Economics
  • Education Reform
  • Mentor

76ers forward Mike Scott, via Paul Hudrick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

They gave us some names and phrases to put on the back of jerseys,” Scott said. “That was terrible. It was a bad list, bad choice. They didn’t give players a chance to voice their opinion on it. They just gave us a list to pick from. That was bad. That’s terrible. Just voice your opinion, how you feel.

“I don’t know how you can use your platform. I don’t know. Vote. Of course, vote. See what laws we can change. But I’m all about just doing, instead of just saying or posting or putting something on the back of your jersey. I don’t think that’s going to stop anything. I don’t know how you do it. I don’t know.

Celtics wing Jaylen Brown, via Darren Hartwell of NBC Sports Boston:

“I would like to see — because I think it can still happen — more options available to put on the back of our jerseys,” Brown said Monday in a video conference with reporters. “We understand anything vulgar our league doesn’t necessarily represent, but for histories and causes such as now, I think that that list is an example of a form of limitation. I think we should be able to express our struggle just a little bit more.

” … I was very disappointed in the list that was agreed to. I think things were tried and attempts were made to add to that list, but the NBA agreed that that list was satisfactory. Hopefully we can get some more names on that list.”

“Maybe ‘Break the Cycle,’ ‘Results’ — that’s what everybody is really playing for — ‘Inequality by Design,’ ” Brown said, “things like that I think may have a deeper impact than some of the things that were given to us. I think it was a little bit limiting.”

As far as Scott’s complaint about players not having a voice in the list, the plan was presented as developed in conjunction with the National Basketball Players Association. Perhaps, this is another example of union leadership not being on the same page as its members. But to be fair, it’s difficult to satisfy everyone. Scott and Brown don’t necessarily speak for players en masse.

Of course the NBA – a multi-billion-dollar company – was going to allow only sanitized phrases. The middle has shifted, but not enough for mainstream support for a sharp criticism like Brown’s “Inequality by Design.” (He’s right, though.) The NBA doesn’t want too much controversy.

However, simply by operating, the league gives players platforms and resources .

Nobody should have expected these jersey messages to be the primary means of change. They’re fine and can help draw attention.

But players can do more outside the league’s formal structure, including speaking up in interviews – like Scott and Brown did today.

Pelicans sign Sindarius Thornwell as substitute player. For whom?

Sindarius Thornwell vs. Pelicans
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Three Pelicans tested positive for coronavirus. At least.

Is one of them not playing in the NBA’s resumption at Disney World?

Despite having a full roster, New Orleans is signing Sindarius Thornwell.

Pelicans release:

The New Orleans Pelicans today announced that the team has signed free agent guard Sindarius Thornwell as a substitute player for the remainder of the 2019-20 season.

Thornwell will wear #12 for the Pelicans.

Christian Clark of The Times-Picayune:

At this stage, only players who can’t play due to coronavirus or choose to it out can be replaced. That’s not Darius Miller, who’s still recovering from an Achilles injury.

With Zion Williamson looking fit, the Pelicans could be dangerous. They’re in a tight race to force play-in games. But they don’t have much margin for error in the playoff race.

So, keep an eye on whom Thornwell is replacing.