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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.

Report: Lakers have interest in Joakim Noah

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The Los Angeles Lakers are reportedly interested in Dwight Howard. He has not yet been bought out by the Memphis Grizzlies, but a return to L.A. for Howard would be one of the most Lakers things of all time.

Howard infamously left Los Angeles under an auspicious circumstances in 2013 after things went south during the 2012-13 season between him, Kobe Bryant, and Steve Nash. He signed with the Houston Rockets that summer.

But Howard is not the only aging center under consideration by the Lakers. According to Shams Charania, Los Angeles is also considering adding Joakim Noah to their roster.

Via Twitter:

DeMarcus Cousins’ ACL injury has created a dearth of center depth for the Lakers, one that cannot be easily filled quickly. There aren’t a lot of available players left, and Los Angeles doesn’t have much to help facilitate a trade.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis need some help moving forward if they want to go deep into the Western Conference playoffs, and having only JaVale McGee playing at the center position won’t help them do that. They need to add somebody, but Howard or Noah being the answer to that is a scary proposition for a team with championship hopes.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar didn’t like how Bruce Lee was portrayed by Quentin Tarantino

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was friends with Bruce Lee before the actor’s tragic death in 1973. He was his teacher, pal, and co-star in in 1972’s Game of Death. Naturally, Abdul-Jabbar is protective of his friend’s legacy, and he’s not too happy about the way Lee was portrayed in Quentin Tarantino’s latest film.

Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a meandering, beautiful, boring tribute to the film industry as it was changing at the end of the 1960s. It’s worth seeing just as a thing to look at, but the narrative — or lack thereof — is plodding, and the ending harkens back to a kind of transposed version of Inglourious Basterds that leaves you wondering what the point of making the film was in the first place.

Somewhere in the middle of its 2h 45m runtime, there’s an extended scene in Once Upon A Time where Brad Pitt’s character Cliff fights Bruce Lee. Why? Probably because Tarantino wanted to pay tribute to Lee being an important part of that era, and because Tarantino is so untouchable that nobody can tell him to leave extemporaneous scenes on the cutting room floor.

Instead, what Tarantino’s tribute scene appears to have done is angered Abdul-Jabbar along with members of Lee’s family.

In an article penned in The Hollywood Reporter this week, Abdul-Jabbar called Lee’s portrayal “sloppy” and “somewhat racist”.

Via THR:

Quentin Tarantino’s portrayal of Bruce Lee in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood does not live up to this standard. Of course, Tarantino has the artistic right to portray Bruce any way he wants. But to do so in such a sloppy and somewhat racist way is a failure both as an artist and as a human being.

The John Wayne machismo attitude of Cliff (Brad Pitt), an aging stuntman who defeats the arrogant, uppity Chinese guy harks back to the very stereotypes Bruce was trying to dismantle. Of course the blond, white beefcake American can beat your fancy Asian chopsocky dude because that foreign crap doesn’t fly here.

Lee’s family, including daughter Shannon, has also spoken up about how Lee was portrayed in the film. In an interview with The Wrap, Shannon Lee said that, “He comes across as an arrogant asshole who was full of hot air.”

Once Upon A Time is a forgettable movie wrapped in the trappings of modern prestige media, where viewers are either unable separate production value from content, or unwilling to do so. It is beautiful, and the people involved are heavy hitters. But halfway through, the viewer is left asking “What’s the plot of this movie?” and that question remains until the final 15 minutes, when the inevitable, telegraphed ending finally, mercifully closes the story and the end credits roll.

Meanwhile, in true Tarantino form, his indulgences have created a mini-storm around one of his films in the most unnecessary way. An ill-conceived and executed scene that added nothing but length to Once Upon A Time has turned into a grating talking point for people like Abdul-Jabbar and Shannon Lee.

Rachel Nichols and Maria Taylor to host ‘NBA Countdown’

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Things just keep getting better for NBA fans when it comes to national TV broadcasts.

It was announced in August that TNT would be doing away with the “Players Only” broadcast that appeared on NBA TV. Those broadcast crews were roundly criticized as being meandering and uninformed when it came to the product on the floor.

Now fans are getting more of what they want in the form of Rachel Nichols and Maria Taylor.

According to a report from Richard Deitsch, Nichols and Taylor will be the hosts of ESPN’s pregame show, NBA Countdown.

Paul Pierce and Chauncey Billups Won’t return as analysts on the pregame show next year, leaving just Jalen Rose. That means there are a couple of spots open, and we don’t yet know who ESPN will fill them with. Nichols will reportedly continue to host her regular show “The Jump”.

As the league continues to get more popular, it makes sense that broadcast partners listen to the audience. Nichols is an NBA favorite, so having her be more visible makes a lot of sense.

NBA players roast Kyle Kuzma over outfit posted to Instagram (PHOTOS)

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Kyle Kuzma is going to be expected to have a big year for the Los Angeles Lakers. He thinks he can have the impact of a third star for L.A., a team that didn’t add Kawhi Leonard to go alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis this summer.

That’s big talk from Kuzma, but perhaps that talk has boosted his confidence a little bit. In a photo posted to Instagram this week, Kuzma could be seen wearing… whatever this is.

Via Twitter:

Twitter had a great time with Kuzma outfit, which looks like something pulled straight out of an early 2000s episode of TRL.

Kuzma’s contemporaries in the NBA thought he was getting a little wild with it, too, with several hopping onto the post to roast the Lakers big man.

Via Twitter:

I don’t know what this means for the upcoming Lakers season, but I’m sure it’s something interesting.