The NBA has scheduled two regular-season games in Mexico City for the third straight year.
And for the third straight year, a lousy-looking team will “host” the pair of games.
The Magic will face:
Bulls on Dec. 13
Jazz on Dec. 15
Unlike the previous Mexico City “hosts” – Suns in 2016-17 and Nets in 2017-18 – Orlando drew fairly decent home attendance the prior year. I wonder how the Magic got picked to surrender two home games.
Neither of these games look like barnburners. Orlando is building around Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac and Mohamed Bamba, but that frontcourt – especially with the Magic’s guards – doesn’t appear ready to make a significant impact. Chicago could bring offensive firepower some nights, but that group is not reliable. Utah should be excellent, but defensive-first teams don’t typically excite fans, even when led by the incredibly impressive Rudy Gobert.
Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell will be the main event. He has the transcendent talent and inviting personality to turn heads.
Jarell Martin averaged nearly 23 minutes a night and scored 7.7 points per game for the Grizzlies last season, having pressed into more service than Memphis had hoped due to injury. Martin does most of his scoring at the rim, but he can step out and hit a three if needed (he only took 1.3 a game but he shot a respectable 34.7 percent).
The Memphis Grizzlies have agreed to trade forward Jarell Martin and cash to the Orlando Magic for center Dakari Johnson, league sources told ESPN.
The deal includes the Magic sending Memphis the draft rights to Tyler Harvey, a 2015 second-round pick, a league source said. The Grizzlies will save on salary and luxury tax with the deal, dropping them $473,000 below the luxury tax.
I’d like to thank the @memgrizz organization for giving me this opportunity. I want to thank my teammates, coaches and staff for all your support. Most importantly, to the city of Memphis and all its great fans, thank you #GrindCity for embracing me and showing me love. pic.twitter.com/kn9ltJbtxF
For Orlando, they get some cash, and in Johnson a center who has spent the first three years of his career in the G-League but got up for 31 games with the Thunder last season. Johnson is at best their third center now behind Marc Gasol and Ivan Raab.
For Martin, this trade sucks. He spent most of last season playing the four and getting run, but the Magic have just-resigned Aaron Gordon and Summer League standout Jonathan Isaac to eat up most of the minutes there (plus Khem Birch on the bench). Martin can play a little small-ball five, but again the Magic are stacked at that spot with Nikola Vucevic, Mohamed Bamba, and Timofey Mozgov. Martin is going to have a hard time seeing the court in Orlando, he’s going to see his minutes go down.
LAS VEGAS — For NBA teams, Summer League is less about whether a young player is good or not, and far more about benchmarking where they are and seeing what areas that player needs to work on going forward. It’s a first step.
But some of those first steps are more impressive than others.
After watching a dozen days of Summer League games — in person in both Salt Lake City and Las Vegas — here are 10 players who stood out to me. This list is not all-inclusive by any means — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Grayson Allen, and Trae Young would get an honorable mention here — nor is it just a list of the best players I have seen. Instead, this is a list of players that turned my head, or those of scouts/team executives that I spoke with, because of their success and what they have shown in Summer League. It’s a list of guys who caught my eye.
Here is my Top 10 for 2018:
1) Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis Grizzlies). From the minute he stepped on the court in Salt Lake, he looked like the future of the NBA five — he can drain threes, runs the court, is strong and physical inside, and can get up and block shots. In Utah he averaged 15.7 points per game and five boards a night. Interestingly, through much the summer games the Grizzlies tried to pair him with a true center, seemingly getting him used to playing the four next to Marc Gasol come next season. Jackson looked a little tired and struggled some in Las Vegas — especially the night he battled Jonathan Isaac and Mohamed Bamba on his fifth game in seven days — but he worked hard and still made plays. The Grizzlies may have something special with him.
2) John Collins (Atlanta Hawks). Everyone already knew he was good — he made NBA All-Rookie second team and averaged 10.5 points and 7.3 rebounds a game shooting 57.6 percent last season. However, after watching in Las Vegas and Salt Lake, he has shown the potential to be a future star, his game is improving. He’s averaging 24 points and 8 boards a game in Vegas, playing good defense in the paint, but more importantly he has shown improved three-point stroke and handles. He’s done for the summer, but in limited games he showed he should be on this list.
3) Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns). Yes, the No. 1 pick should be good, but he has looked like a man among boys going up against some of the other rookie big men in Las Vegas. Ayton pushed Bamba around all game long, for example. He’s averaging 16 points a game on 67 percent shooting, plus 11 boards a contest, and he’s got versatility to his game. There’s work to do on defense and passing, but he has the potential to be special.
4) Kevin Knox (New York Knicks). He’s looked like a rookie at points, he’s blown everyone’s doors off at others. Tuesday’s game against the Lakers was the perfect example: He started 0-of-6 from the floor and finished the night with seven turnovers. He’s got work to do. However, he finished that Laker game with 22 points and was 5-of-7 from three, he’s got the athleticism to get by guys with a first step and he can finish. And he’s just 18. The Knicks may have another crucial rebuilding block with Knox.
5) Jonathan Isaac (Orlando Magic). He was a roll of the dice at No. 6 in the 2017 draft, a guy with a lot of potential but a project, then he missed most of his rookie season with injuries. Nobody seemed exactly sure what Orlando had. In Vegas he has turned heads with his play —14.3 points and 7 boards a game, he’s physically a lot stronger and his shooting stroke is smooth. He has banged inside and held his own with Memphis’ Jackson, and has just been a better athlete than everyone he’s gone up against. Pair him along the front with Bamba and Aaron Gordon, and that is an interesting team in Orlando. And when was the last time we said that?
6) Josh Hart (Los Angeles Lakers). He might be the MVP of Summer League so far, averaging 23.3 points per game and just running the team like a pro. Which he is — he showed he could do this with the Lakers last season, but asked to take on more of a scoring role in Vegas he has stepped up. Bottom line, there’s a reason every time a team talks to the Lakers about a trade they want Hart thrown in the mix. He’s got a lot of fans around the league, and that has only grown this summer.
7) Wendell Carter Jr. (Chicago Bulls). I will own it: I was not high on Carter Jr. coming into the draft, but he has impressed in Las Vegas. As expected, he has a versatile and polished offensive game with a nearly unstoppable turnaround from the post, ability to score with either hand, range on his jumper, plus he is a surprisingly good passer. The book on him coming into the draft was defensive questions, but he has been better on that front than expected — he works hard and is athletic enough to be disruptive. We will see how he fares against NBA-level competition on that end, but the work ethic and tools are there.
8) Harry Giles (Sacramento Kings). He was a low-risk gamble pick by the Kings at No. 20 in 2017, a guy who was maybe the top player in his class as a high school sophomore until the injuries hit (ACL, MCL and a meniscus tear in his left knee, plus another surgery on his right knee). The Kings took him and red-shirted him last season, but in Vegas he has been impressive and solid (12 points and 7 rebounds a game in Sin City). He looks like he could be a rotation NBA big man (at least, the Kings think he can be more than that), someone Sacramento can count on besides Marvin Bagley III. Giles has been a pleasant surprise.
9) Jordan Bell (Golden State Warriors). He’s only on this list for one reason. Yes, he’s looked good in limited Summer League run — the guy was playing serious minutes in the NBA Finals a month ago, of course he looks good going against a bunch of non-NBA players. What got him there was this one moment against the Jazz.
Wait a damn second hold up. Did Jordan Bell really swat somebody’s dunk and then look at Donovan Mitchell’s girlfriend and say call me?
10) De'Anthony Melton (Houston Rockets). He could end up being a second-round steal for the Rockets. Melton didn’t play last season at USC (he was the guy at the heart of the FBI probe) so he slid down to 46th overall. In Vegas he has looked like a quality rotation guard, averaging 16.3 points, 7 rebounds, and 2.7 steals a game. Guard minutes are tight to come by on the Rockets this season, but he’s going to make the opening night roster and will get his shot.
In NBA going small and offensive, Orlando trying big and defensive
There was a moment Sunday night, in the first minute against Memphis, when Jaren Jackson — the best rookie through Summer League so far — drove the lane only to see Mohamed Bamba and Jonathan Isaac both rotate over into his path. The 6’11” Jackson changed his mind and decided not to go for the dunk and instead tried to throw an alley-oop to a baseline cutter. Bamba and Isaac both got up so high they blocked it anyway.
“(Isaac) got the credit for the block? Aw, come on,” Bamba joked after the game. Together, Bamba and Isaac are averaging 5 blocks a game in Las Vegas.
It’s just Summer League, but Orlando is interesting for the first time in years because they have zigged when the league has zagged — come October they can roll out a lineup of Bamba, Isaac, and just-resigned Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Simmons. Under the guidance of new, defensive-minded coach Steve Clifford, the Magic can go big, long, and defense-first in an NBA leaning more toward the Warriors’ model of small and offense first.
“The potential between me and (Isaac) is unreal, I think in Summer League we’re starting to bridge that potential into production with the small things we do,” Bamba said. “I think we got three 24-second shot clock violations (against Memphis).”
“To tell you the truth, I don’t even think (their defensive play in Summer League) scratches the surface in terms of where Mo is going to be in a year or two years, or where I am going to be in a year or two years,” Isaac said of the team’s potential. “Physically, mentally, game wise, you throw in AG and all those guys we have on our team now, and I think we will be a defensive nightmare for a lot of teams.”
Other players on the roster, such as Gordon and Simmons, can fit right into this defensive mold. The team is long and can protect the rim, but the big men such as Bamba and Isaac are athletic enough to switch — or at least show and recover — on point guards off a high pick-and-roll. Against this size and length, getting to the rim is not going to be easy. Bamba’s length just eats up guys driving the lane.
“That’s one of the things the league is going to — how hard can you make it (on drivers),” Magic summer league head coach Pat Delany said of what the team wants to do.
Isaac has been one of the standout players of Summer League so far, having gotten stronger in the past year, adjusting to the pace and style of the game, and just gotten healthy. Memphis’ Jackson has overwhelmed other young players he has gone against between both the Salt Lake and Las Vegas Summer Leagues, but Isaac held his own in that matchup, blocking shots and making life hard on Jackson. (To be fair, it was Jackson’s fifth game in seven days and he looked worn down at points.)
Isaac, about to enter his second NBA season, is one of the guys who looks ready to make a leap in games that matter starting in October.
It’s not all been smooth sailing for Bamba — Monday night No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton pushed him around physically, slowed Bamba’s offensive game, and got to the glass (Ayton had five offensive rebounds on the night). Phoenix players such as Josh Jackson found driving lanes because Bamba couldn’t help off Ayton. That said, the defensive potential of Bamba and the Magic was still on display in the game, as Bamba had five blocks — including an Ayton hook shot early in the game.
Bamba understands there’s a lot of work to do.
“I just have to establish myself as a roller, it really opens up a lot for our team, even if I don’t necessarily get the ball it opens up guys in the corner or in spots as teams adjust to how we are playing…” Bamba said.
“I want to be a guy who comes in and has an impact immediately. One of my goals is to be Defensive Player of the Year, one of my goals is to be Rookie of the Year. One of my long-term goals is to be walking across the stage to get a jacket with a Hall of Fame patch. There’s definitely some work to do in between there.”
Not some, a lot of work.
But in Orlando, this Summer League has provided hope — something in short supply in recent years. The Magic are going to be interesting, and worth watching, because they are staking out a course different from the way the league is trending.
And it just might work.
Report: Magic re-sign Aaron Gordon to four-year, $84 million contract
Gordon’s deal is a 4-year, $84 million contract with no opt-outs. The contract will run through Gordon’s age 26 season.
This seems like a relatively safe bet for Gordon, who was also linked to the Indiana Pacers as a restricted free agent candidate. The Magic selected Gordon fourth overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, and it’s a smart move to retain their own budding star in the face of the current NBA landscape.
What Gordon’s signing means for the Magic is another thing. Orlando won just 25 games last season, and although James is now no longer atop the Eastern Conference, it’s not as though Orlando will be contending soon.
They have at several contracts on their books that don’t look good in hindsight, including that of Biyombo. Nikola Vucevic has been rumored to be on the trade block, so there is still lots of roster tinkering to be done in Central Florida before the Magic are contending for a playoff spot