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Notes from second night of Salt Lake Summer League

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz play at the second highest elevation in the NBA, 4,226 feet, or 8/10ths of a mile. The air is a little thin.

For young players working on their conditioning — and especially some young players playing the second night of a back-to-back — it showed on Tuesday. Dylan Windler, the Cavaliers standout from Game 1, looked gassed by the second half. He wasn’t alone. It led to some sloppy basketball at points, even by the sliding scale of Summer League standards.

Here’s my notebook from the second night of games in Salt Lake City.

• With three games in three nights in Utah, the Fourth of July off, then games starting at the Las Vegas Summer League on Friday, teams rested a lot of guys on Tuesday. The Spurs sat Lonnie Walker IV (who scored 20 the night before), and the Grizzlies rested Yuta Watanabe (who also had 20 on opening night). Utah rookie Jarrett Brantley, who looked good in the opener, also got a night off. Combine that with the other guys sitting for injuries, such as Darius Garland (knee), or guys not yet officially traded so they can’t suit up (Kevin Porter Jr. for the Cavs, Brandon Clarke for the Grizzlies) and Tuesday was a little thin on names you know suiting up in Utah.

• It’s gotta be the shoes!

Spurs rookie Keldon Johnson — the Spurs’ No. 29 pick in this draft, a wing out of Kentucky — scored 29 points on 10-of-17 shots, including 3-of-4 from three. But all anyone wanted to talk about was his LeBron kicks.

With Walker and others out for the Spurs, Johnson found the ball in his hands a lot, but it was his defensive effort the Spurs coaching staff — and Johnson himself — liked.

“Defense comes first, then offense will come,” said Johnson, who had questions about his defense going into the draft. “Today I felt I was more assertive and more aggressive, which I felt translated on the offensive end.”

“Expecting that [level of offense] every day is a lot, but I thought he was good,” Spurs Summer League coach Blake Ahearn said. “He made some plays.”

Among those plays was the shot of the night, this half-courter at the buzzer.

The Spurs needed Johnson to step up with all the guys resting, and he did. That’s a good start for the rookie.

• Players who have had even a taste of NBA-level basketball often have a level of competence that means they just take over a Summer League game.

Case in point, Jazz big man Tony Bradley — the No. 28 pick back in 2017, who spent most of last season playing well for Utah in the G-League but has had played in a dozen NBA games — had probably the best night of anyone in Salt Lake Tuesday.

Bradley had 26 points on 9-of-13 shooting, pulled down 16 rebounds, and Cavaliers coach John Beilein credited him for making the Cavaliers miss a lot of shots at the rim.

“After the season, [Jazz coaches] gave me a few things to work on: defensive rebounding, communicating on defense, and being loud…” Bradley said. “I think I’ve done a better job.”

He’s done an impressive job so far.

• Along those same lines, Cleveland’s Naz Mitrou-Long has had a couple of cups of coffee in the NBA — 15 games total, he was on a two-way contract with the Jazz last season — but that little bit of experience and the touch of class he brings was evident in the first two games with the Cavaliers. He had 16 points and 8 assists in the first game on Monday, and 17 points in the second game.

“Experience is definitely the best teacher,” Mitrou-Long said. “I’ve been through this twice now, this is my third time. Especially being in this building, very comfortable here. So it’s something that definitely plays a big role.”

• Spurs Summer League legend Jeff Ledbetter showed out on Tuesday night, scoring 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting from three.

Ledbetter, 31, stands out in Summer League because of his smart play, hustle, shooting — and because he’s on the Spurs Summer League team seemingly every year. He’s not an NBA guy, he has spent the last three seasons with the Spurs G-League team and may do that again, or may go to Europe and bank a little cash. He’s a guy a lot of overseas teams could use.

Whatever happens with him next season, if he’s not back with the Spurs for Summer League next year it will be weird.

• The alley-oop of the day belonged to Utah second-round pick Justin Write-Foreman, who has some hops (and 20 points on the night).

Honorable mention in this category goes to the Spurs Thomas Robinson (yes, that Thomas Robinson).

• Spurs first-round pick Luka Samanic once again showed he has a good feel for the game, once again showed his three-point range (although he hesitated on a couple he should have pulled the trigger on), and displayed some deft passing skills. Also once again showed he’s just got to get stronger — three times over two days he tried to drive and dunk on someone only to get rejected. He got pushed around a few other times on defense. There’s a lot to like, but he’s a project.

Luka Doncic greets Mexico City fans in Spanish, a tough act for Blake Griffin to follow (video)

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The Pistons had a rough time in Mexico.

Andre Drummond suffered an allergic reaction to avocado. Detroit lost to the Mavericks. And Blake Griffin had to follow Luka Doncic in addressing Mexico City fans.

A Slovenian, Doncic spent several years playing for Real Madrid in Spain. We knew that prepared him for the NBA. We didn’t know it prepared him this well.

‘Seinfeld’ predicted last night’s Cavaliers-Spurs game 28 years ago (video)

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On a 1991 episode of “Seinfeld,” Jerry woke up in the middle of the night with a joke idea for his stand-up routine. He scribbled it down on paper by his bed. But when he woke the next morning, he couldn’t read what he had written.

George suffered what he thought was a heart attack. On Kramer’s advice, George visited a holistic healer.

The storylines converged when Jerry, accompanying his friend to mock alternative medicine, asked the healer to read his note. The healer read it, laughed and said:

“Cleveland 117, San Antonio 109”

The score of last night’s Cavaliers-Spurs game?

Cleveland 117, San Antonio 109

Bucks easing into life after Malcolm Brogdon

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George Hill has become a trusted voice within the Bucks. The savvy veteran is in his 12th season. He began his career with the Spurs when they were still the gold-standard franchise, started for the championship-contending Pacers, helped the Jazz become a breakout team, played for the Kings, joined the Cavaliers as they made a run to the NBA Finals, stayed in Cleveland for the Cavs’ post-LeBron James freefall then came to Milwaukee. In other words, Hill has been (basketball) hell and back. He knows the game, knows the league.

Among his biggest talking points: role acceptance.

“I think that’s the difference between good teams and bad teams,” Hill said. “Good teams have guys that accept that role and excel in that role. That’s what good organizations do. And the bad teams have the ones that are just trying to chase their own stats.”

That sounds nice for someone where Hill is in his career. But what about young players still trying to establish themselves?

“You can make a lot of money being a great role guy,” Hill said. “You can last a lot longer in this league being a great role guy, a great teammate, a guy that everyone wants to play with and a guy that teams want you because they know you know how to win and you can fit with any type of style of play.”

A shining example of Hill’s worldview? Malcolm Brogdon.

Brogdon was mere months removed from winning Rookie of the Year when Milwaukee supplanted him at point guard – his preferred position – by trading for Eric Bledsoe. So, Brogdon shifted to shooting guard. He learned to keep the ball moving quickly rather than stunting the offense for his own looks. He sharpened his defense. He kept working hard.

The Pacers rewarded Brogdon with a four-year, $85 million contract and a leading role. Brogdon is flourishing in Indiana, building a case as an All-Star.

Meanwhile, the Bucks are trying to move on without him.

Milwaukee letting Brogdon leave in restricted free agency was the most consequential choice an NBA team made last summer. The Bucks are competing for a championship. They’re one season from Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s super-max decision. And they let a player as good as Brogdon depart?

There are reasons good (getting a first-rounder and second-rounder in a sign-and-trade with Indiana, maintaining flexibility without being tied to a long-term contract for someone with concerning injury issues, opening the door for cost-efficient replacements) and bad (avoiding the luxury tax) for the move. But it’s dangerous to willingly take a step back at such a critical juncture.

Except Milwaukee looks like it has hardly missed a beat.

The Bucks are 22-3. Their overall net rating season (+12.9) is higher than their net rating with Brogdon – who spent considerable time with other starters – on the floor last season (+10.7).

Maybe Milwaukee knew the guards – Wesley Matthews, Donte DiVincenzo, Pat Connaughton, Sterling Brown – that could be added/empowered without Brogdon justified letting Brogdon walk. After all, the Bucks also have Bledsoe, Hill, Khris Middleton and Kyle Korver to bolster the lineup.

“That collection of wings,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said with a chuckle, “it’s really good. I don’t know how I can play them all.”

Matthews has replaced Brogdon in the starting lineup. Matthews brings a ruggedness that perfectly fits the Bucks’ NBA-best defense. Shooting 39% on 3-pointers, he also provides essential floor spacing.

It seems clear Brogdon’s exit ushered in Matthews’ entrance. Matthews signed a 1+1 minimum-salary contract last offseason, returning to the state where he grew up and played collegiately at Marquette.

“I’ve been eying Milwaukee for a couple years now,” Mathews said, “and it was just the timing was right, the fit, the style of play.”

Did Brogdon leaving and vacating a role factor?

“That’s part of saying the timing is right,” Matthews said. “They probably wouldn’t have called if Malcolm didn’t leave.”

What if they kept Brogdon and still called, wanting Matthews for depth?

“Fit was the key part,” Matthews said. “So, it probably would have been a different situation.”

The Bucks’ other notable minimum salary signing last summer, Kyle Korver, said Brogdon leaving a role open didn’t really factor into his decision.

Ditto for Hill, who re-signed for three years, $28,771,806 with $20 million guaranteed

“It was pretty much a no-brainer,” Hill said. “The camaraderie we have, from the top guy in Giannis all the way down to the bottom teammates, were amazing. The time that we had here, the success that we had, made it fun to be here.”

Brogdon’s departure also opened the door for a few incumbent players – DiVincenzo, Connaughton and Brown – to step up.

DiVincenzo has especially taken advantage. Though he was happy for Brogdon, DiVincenzo also recognized opportunity for himself after barely playing as a rookie.

“The Bucks drafted me for a reason,” said DiVincenzo, last year’s No. 17 pick. “I don’t think they drafted me just to sit on the bench. I think they drafted me to develop and put trust in me.”

DiVincenzo has already played more this season than last season, and he should be a Most Improved Player-ballot candidate. His defense has been tenacious. He’s growing into his role offensively as someone who can shoot, dribble and pass.

In the shuffle, Brown and Connaughton are actually receiving fewer minutes per game than last season. That can’t be easy in contract years. But they appear to be following Hill’s lead.

“It’s great!” Brown said of Milwaukee’s guard depth. “I love it. It’s competition all-around. Practices are great.”

For his part, Connaughton said he prides himself on always being ready regardless of his role. When he gave up professional baseball to play in the NBA, he made a conscious decision to enjoy every aspect of the process. So, sitting doesn’t bother him – especially with the Bucks winning. On all teams, it’s more difficult for anyone to gripe about playing time when winning.

Of course, it always comes back to Antetokounmpo. Without Brogdon’s playmaking, Antetokounmpo has taken on an even larger burden. Antetokounmpo is creating more of his own and his teammates’ shots, combining the differing skill sets he employed in previous years. That’s why he’s favored to win Most Valuable Player again.

Everything the Bucks are doing now is encouraging. The real tests will come in the playoffs and, relatedly, when Antetokounmpo has that super-max offer in front of him.

Antetokounmpo said he wanted Brogdon to remain Milwaukee. Kind words about a friend or a message to management? The answer will become clearer in the offseason.

First, the Bucks will look to build on last year’s run to the Eastern Conference finals. They’ll do it, for better or worse, without Brogdon.

“Yes, we wish we could have kept Malcolm,” Hill said. “It would have been great. But we know it’s a business, and we still thought that we have enough pieces to take a shot at it.”

Andre Drummond suffers allergic reaction to avocado with Pistons playing in Mexico

Andre Drummond
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The NBA sent the wrong team to Mexico.

There to face the Mavericks last night, Pistons center Andre Drummond couldn’t even enjoy a local treat.

Keith Langlois of Pistons.com:

Drummond toughed it out and played.

His reward? Getting dunked on by a mean-mugging Kristaps Porzingis in a 122-111 Detroit loss.