LeBron's mission much bigger than titles

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
1:46
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
videoLeBron James shocked the world by returning to a place that at one point had hated him most of all. With Friday's announcement of his move came an elegant, introspective explanation of his motives to Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated.

The return to Cleveland is a staggering comeback tale, an earthquake to the NBA’s ecosystem. So it’s a bit surprising to see James offer humble expectations along with a decision so epic. “I’m not promising a championship,” he says in his explanation letter. “I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way.”

Before the Cleveland rumors started, the consensus opinion was that James would choose whatever situation offered him the best chance at winning -- which Miami did in 2010. Four years later, he is explicitly saying that this route home is about something else entirely. Given the language James is using, he’s on a mission far larger than winning mere titles:

“I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business.”

Claiming that you aren’t ready to win a championship might seem unambitious, but despite that disclaimer, consider the scope of what James is aspiring to. Ohio’s communities have been hit especially hard by the decline in manufacturing over the decades. Cleveland once had roughly three times the population it claims today. Akron has been losing residents since the 1960s. James is far from the only person to abandon his Northeast Ohio home for opportunities elsewhere -- he’s just the most notable to try it.

But James wants to reverse a massive socioeconomic phenomenon that’s been going strong for a half-century. By coming home, he wants to make Ohio whole again. Michael Jordan might be the greatest of all time, but he didn’t dare leverage basketball into something far greater than commerce. LeBron doesn’t just want to change the game -- he wants to change the economy.

There are more prosaic reasons for why this is happening, too. As James explains, leaving home can give you perspective on what you left behind and how much you miss it. Time can heal wounds, as evidenced by Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and James patching things up after an ugly divorce. James said leaving for Miami was the college experience he never had. Many of us can relate to how finding some separation makes the allure of home that much more appealing.

As many have already noted, the letter offers no mention of No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins. If there’s a Kevin Love trade in the works, James might be selling this Cavs team’s chances short.

For now, Cleveland is indeed short on championship-ready players. They’re long on so much else, though. The future is murky, and the past was ugly, but today, the most compelling sports story lives in Northeast Ohio.

The back of the envelope guide to Las Vegas Summer League: The West

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
10:05
AM ET
By D.J. Foster
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Julius Randle, Dante ExumGetty ImagesWelcome to the NBA, rooks. High-profile picks Julius Randle and Dante Exum finally hit the pro stage.
There's something for everyone at Las Vegas Summer League. For all the prized rookies in this year’s draft class, it’s a chance to get their feet wet. For the prospects who haven’t found luck in the league yet, it’s an opportunity to jump-start a career. For others, it’s simply a shot at getting on the radar.

The following is our annual "back of the envelope" guide to the Las Vegas Summer League teams, highlighting some of the more promising and intriguing prospects who will take the floor. The West guide is below, and the East guide is here.


Dallas Mavericks


Gal Mekel: Perhaps it was a show of confidence in Mekel’s abilities that the Mavericks were willing to send both Jose Calderon and Shane Larkin to New York. Raymond Felton may be the worst projected starter at point guard in the league right now, so there’s a clear path to playing time for the Israeli point guard. A great summer league could go a long way.

Ricky Ledo: The mystery is no longer there, but the appeal still will be. Ledo came into Vegas last year without a minute of college or international playing time under his belt, but he’s showed glimpses of being a capable wing scorer. He plays with blinders on sometimes and can chuck a bit, but the talent is there.

Ivan Johnson: He’s the only player in Vegas with the distinction of being “banned forever” from the Korean Basketball League, but Johnson can really play despite some dustups over the years. In two seasons for the Atlanta Hawks, Johnson averaged a 15.1 PER and was solid on both ends. After playing in China last season, he’d make a nice bodyguard for Dirk Nowitzki off the bench.


Denver Nuggets


Quincy Miller: One play he’ll look like Kevin Durant, the next he’ll look like Austin Daye. Miller is a 6-foot-10 wing with guard skills and a sweet stroke from deep, but he’s a little too slow and a little too soft to really put it all to good use. You’ll fall in and out of love with him multiple times over the course of a game.

Gary Harris: He had one of the more surprising falls on draft night, but the Denver Nuggets were smart to snatch up a young 3-and-D wing for Arron Afflalo to mentor. Afflalo, on his second tour in Denver thanks to a pre-draft trade with Orlando, suffered a similar fate on draft night in 2007 despite a strong pedigree, but he turned himself into something much more with his great work ethic. Harris should take notes.

Erick Green: Last year’s second-round pick struggled a bit in Italy last season, and this is still one of the league’s deepest rosters. Green has a knack for creating space and finding his own shot, but with Harris and Miller needing to be fed and the Nuggets probably looking for a third point guard, he should focus more on distributing.


Golden State Warriors

Travis Bader: There have been a lot of great shooters in college basketball history, but Bader holds a spot above them all as the NCAA Division I leader in 3-pointers made, with 504. With shooting coming at a premium (here’s looking at you, Jodie Meeks) in free agency, smart teams may opt for a cheaper, younger specialist like Bader.

Nemanja Nedovic: Being dubbed the “European Derrick Rose” has been the highlight of Nedovic’s career thus far. He couldn’t find playing time under Mark Jackson last season, but with Steve Kerr taking over, Nedovic will get a clean slate and a chance to unleash some of the much heralded athleticism.

Rob Loe: After the Warriors missed out on acquiring Channing Frye and shored up the backcourt instead, the big man from Saint Louis might get a long look to fill the Warriors' need for a stretch big man with legitimate size. Although his percentages weren’t great in college, Loe’s mechanics are literally perfect when he parks himself on the 3-point line.


Houston Rockets


Nick Johnson: Most expected the Rockets to go with an international draft-and-stash candidate in this year's draft to avoid taking on salary, but Daryl Morey and company liked the Arizona guard enough to take the plunge. Early returns have been positive -- Johnson’s nasty throwdown in Orlando is the early favorite for the dunk of the summer.

Omar Oraby: Plenty of countries are represented in Vegas every year, but Oraby is looking to become the first player from Egypt to play in the NBA. The USC grad has size on his side (7-foot-2), but he’ll need to show he can protect the rim without fouling before warranting any serious consideration.

Isaiah Canaan: He got a little bit of burn with the Rockets last season, but Canaan was most impressive with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the 3-happy D-League affiliate of the big club. Canaan hit a whopping 3.7 3s per game on 38.7 percent shooting with that squad, and after teammate Troy Daniels temporarily saved Houston’s hide in the playoffs, Canaan could find a role.


Los Angeles Clippers


Delonte West: It’s no secret that Doc Rivers has an affinity for veterans and his former players, and West qualifies as both. Since 2010, West has worked for a furniture store, been arrested for carrying guns in a guitar case "Desperado" style, and has played in the D-League, China and the NBA in stints. This would be quite the career revival.

Keith Benson: The Clippers could probably stand to add some more depth in the frontcourt even after the signing of Spencer Hawes, and Benson might fill a need. After seeing what he did with DeAndre Jordan, a similar big man in terms of size and athleticism, Rivers may decide to take on another project big man with all the athletic tools and very little polish.

Jon Brockman: A summer-league tradition like no other. Brockman made his debut way back in 2009, and for years now he’s provided dogged offensive rebounding and physical play in the paint in this setting. The proceedings wouldn’t feel quite right without him here.


Los Angeles Lakers


Julius Randle: Randle will have a leg up on some of the other post prospects in town, as he’ll get a buffet of touches thanks to Kendall Marshall. The seventh overall pick should be able to put on a nice show for the always-present Lakers contingency as a magnet for the ball with superior motor and athleticism.

DeAndre Kane: If you tuned into an Iowa State game last season, it was tough to keep your eyes off Kane. His age (25) and lack of a true position kept him out of the draft, but Kane plays a very similar style to Lance Stephenson and can make his impact felt all over the court. He’s a serious sleeper.

Kendall Marshall: Great tweeter, better distributor. Marshall averaged 11 assists per 36 minutes last season for the Lakers, and while some of that is inflated by noted point guard whisperer Mike D’Antoni, Marshall also knocked in 39.9 percent of his shots from beyond the arc. He’ll have questions to answer in a new system, but he has staying power.


Minnesota Timberwolves


Zach LaVine: Minnesota is just going to keep acquiring UCLA guys to try and placate Kevin Love, apparently, as LaVine is the third Bruin (Shabazz Muhammad, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute) to join the roster in the last year. With a ridiculous 46-inch vertical leap and a stylish flair, the raw singman’s dunks should set the internet on fire. Unless there’s an up-and-comer out there named Putmeon LaYouTube, LaVine is probably the most appropriately named prospect we’ve ever had.

Shabazz Muhammad: The Las Vegas native returns for a second run at summer league, this time with a year of NBA experience under his belt. With a new coach in Flip Saunders and a possible youth movement taking place in Minnesota, Muhammad’s sturdy under-the-basket post scoring could be an asset. Question is, can he do anything else?

Gorgui Dieng: One of the lone bright spots in an otherwise lost season, Dieng burst onto the scene late and averaged 12.6 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes. Although he’s stuck behind Love and Nikola Pekovic for the time being, Dieng’s ability to play out of the high post and protect the rim puts him in pretty exclusive company among fellow big men.


New Orleans Pelicans


Josh Howard: Yes, that Josh Howard. At 34 years old, the former Dallas Mavericks forward is hoping to follow in Rasual Butler’s footsteps by performing well in summer league and landing another NBA contract. Injuries have ravaged his career, but given the need in New Orleans for a glue guy at small forward, Howard should get a fair shake if the body is willing.

Russ Smith: The lightning bug Louisville point guard should perform pretty well here, as he’s been blowing by elite opposing point guards for quite some time now. Unlike a few other guards in attendance, the frantic pace Smith played at with Louisville should transfer over nicely.

Patric Young: The Florida big man is a real grinder, and watching him lock horns with other big bodies in the frontcourt is always a treat. Young has some nice role-player potential behind Anthony Davis and Omer Asik in New Orleans, even if he’s limited offensively.


Phoenix Suns


T.J. Warren: NC State gave him all the possessions he could handle, but it’s hard to say how well Warren’s high-usage attack will translate to the next level. He’s a throwback scorer who lives primarily off the in-between stuff like floaters and below-the-rim finishes, but can he survive as an efficient offensive option without a more reliable jumper and better range?

Alex Len: It’s easy to forget that Phoenix battled for a playoff spot without the fifth pick of the 2013 draft involved, but there’s still hope that Len will become the skilled, mobile rim protector the Suns need in the middle. The fight for playing time with Miles Plumlee, who isn’t on the summer league roster, starts right now.

Tyler Ennis: Canada can trot out a pretty dangerous Olympic team all of a sudden, can’t it? Ennis was a somewhat surprising pick since Phoenix has Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe to run the point, but he has the kind of distributing ability and shake off the dribble that could make him a dangerous player down the line. The point guard rich look like they got richer.


Portland Trail Blazers


C.J. McCollum: If McCollum can stay healthy, it’s not hard to imagine him winning a sixth man of the year award in the near future. At the very least he fits the typical profile - a combo guard with the ability to shoot the lights out and create for himself off the dribble. He could be the answer to Portland’s bench woes offensively.

Thomas Robinson: It feels like Robinson should have already moved on from playing in the summer league since he’s bounced around so much, but the fifth pick in the 2012 draft is still just 23 years old and raw enough to justify another appearance. He’s an elite rebounder, but he needs to bring something else to the table to earn real minutes.

Meyers Leonard: Do you trust recently signed big man Chris Kaman to stay healthy for a full season? Me neither. At some point in the near future, Leonard is going to need to soak up minutes at the 5 for a team with legitimate playoff potential. With that in mind, it would be nice if he didn’t float in the background again this summer.


Sacramento Kings


Ben McLemore: It’s been a while since an otherwise legitimate prospect has been crippled by tunnel vision this severe. Last year’s seventh overall pick seems to be lacking a basic feel for his surroundings, but he’s still trouble in transition when he can make straight line drives to the rim. If the jumper starts falling, there’s some 3-and-D potential here.

Nik Stauskas: The problem in Sacramento, as it always seems to be, is that there might not be enough distributors on the roster. We know Stauskas can shoot and shake and bake, but Sacramento may need him to take on more of a creating role, especially if Darren Collison: Starting Point Guard, ends up being a real thing.

Sim Bhullar: Vegas serves as a home for plenty of P.O.U.S (players of unusual size) this time of year, and New Mexico State big man Bhullar is the biggest of them all. Don’t adjust your screen -- Bhullar is really 7-foot-5 and 360 pounds, and he’s a serious threat to crush a cameraman under the basket at some point. If he’s going down, I’m yelling timber. Also, I’m so sorry.


San Antonio Spurs


Kyle Anderson: How did the rest of the league let this happen? Allowing a young Boris Diaw clone to learn from the real Boris Diaw could have serious consequences for the rest of the league down the line. Yes, Anderson is slower than molasses, but his playmaking, size, ballhandling and intelligence are top notch. This is how the Spurs stay the Spurs.

Deshaun Thomas: He can get buckets in a hurry. It’s a little surprising that Thomas hasn’t found a C.J. Miles-type role for an NBA team yet, but at 22 years old, there’s still plenty of time for that to happen. San Antonio’s roster is understandably crowded, but this guy is too good offensively to ignore for much longer.

Vander Blue: Marquette has a history of pumping out pesky perimeter defenders, and Blue certainly qualifies. If his 3-point stroke finally starts to cooperate, Blue could hold down a steady roster spot. For teams that miss out on Kent Bazemore in free agency, Blue should be an option worth considering if his mechanics are cleaned up.


Utah Jazz


Dante Exum: No more chopped up footage from four years ago -- we’re finally getting the real thing. The Australian guard and fifth overall pick in this year’s draft certainly appears to have all the natural tools you love to have from a lead guard, and he could take on a role in the same vein as someone like Brandon Roy once occupied. That kind of star power is exactly what a franchise like Utah needs.

Trey Burke: How’s the potential backcourt of the future going to co-exist? On paper it seems like a good fit, as both Burke and Exum can swing the ball side-to-side and attack against recovering defenses. This could be the start of a beautiful relationship if the two play off each other instead of simply taking turns, which is always tempting in these types of games.

Rudy Gobert: After exploding onto the scene last season in Orlando Summer League by showing surprising mobility, good hands and natural shotblocking ability, it’s easy to dream on what Gobert might look like with a little more seasoning. Big men typically develop a little slower, but here’s hoping he gets unleashed yet again in the Jazz’s first ever summer-league appearance in Las Vegas.

D.J. Foster is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com, ClipperBlog and others. Follow him, @fosterdj.

The back of the envelope guide to Las Vegas Summer League: The East

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
10:00
AM ET
By D.J. Foster
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Jabari Parker and Andrew WigginsGetty ImagesJabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins, the draft's top two, will get their first taste of NBA ball in Vegas.
There’s something for everyone at Las Vegas Summer League. For the prized rookies in the 2014 draft class, it’s a chance to get their feet wet. For the prospects who haven’t found luck in the league yet, it’s an opportunity to jump-start a career. For others, it’s simply a shot at getting on the radar.

The following is our annual "back of the envelope" guide to the Las Vegas Summer League teams, highlighting some of the more promising and intriguing prospects who will take the floor. The East guide is below, and the West guide is here.


Atlanta Hawks


Adreian Payne: Stretch big men are here to stay, and the Hawks continued to hoard them by drafting Payne, a dangerous pick-and-pop threat with legitimate 3-point range. It’s rare to see this kind of size, skill and athleticism in one player, but Payne might be limited to a smaller role because of a lung condition that affects his ability to play long stretches and big minutes.

Dennis Schroder: Watching Schroder run the point is an adventure. He applies legitimate full-court pressure on ball handlers nearly every time up the court, and he’s not bashful about trying to thread the needle through traffic for perfect dimes on the other end. There’s no fear here, and there’s rarely a dull moment, either.

Walter Tavares: It’s stranger than fiction, but Taveras was completely off the basketball radar until a German tourist in Cape Verde recruited him to try out. He had never even touched a basketball until 2010, but at 7-foot-3 with a reported 7-foot-9 wingspan and traffic signal-sized hands, he has what can't be taught.


Charlotte Hornets


Noah Vonleh: His draft-night fall was plenty fortuitous for Charlotte, as it would ultimately need a stretch 4 to pair with Al Jefferson, with Josh McRoberts now committed to the Miami Heat. Vonleh is a little reminiscent of Chris Bosh offensively, and his length and mobility defensively will cover up for mistakes while he learns the ropes. He could be the steal of the draft.

Cody Zeller: Last year’s fourth overall pick surprised a lot of folks by shooting jumpers and playing on the perimeter during last year’s summer league, but it didn’t pay dividends when the real games started. Zeller shot just 27 percent from 16 feet and out as a rookie, and it’s still unclear what his role will be at the NBA level. He’s a great athlete and very active, but Charlotte will need more than that justify his draft slot.

Roberto Nelson: The name might ring a bell if you’ve read George Dohrmann’s excellent book “Play Their Hearts Out." It’s a testament to Nelson’s drive that he’s made it to this point despite some well-documented efforts by AAU sharks to submarine his career. Here’s hoping he gets some minutes to show his stuff.


Chicago Bulls


Doug McDermott: In this strange setting where Anthony Randolph and Adam Morrison have looked unstoppable, McDermott might not quiet concerns of his ability to keep up in the NBA, regardless of how well he plays. That said, he made mincemeat of college competition for four straight years at Creighton, so he’s a strong bet to win MVP in Vegas. For your own sake, though, don’t bet on summer league.

Tony Snell: After an incredibly disappointing rookie campaign wherein Snell had a PER of 8.0 and shot 38.4 percent from the field, he’ll be looking for some redemption. You get the feeling Tom Thibodeau would have never played him if it wasn’t out of total necessity, but the scoring wing could earn some trust going forward with a more assertive offensive performance in Vegas.

Cameron Bairstow: A former teammate of Snell’s at New Mexico, Bairstow exploded on to the draft scene after Snell’s touches started to go his way. Bairstow is a serious inside-outside threat offensively, and if he expands his range on his jumper out to the 3-point line, he’ll be a nice weapon for Thibodeau to utilize off the bench.


Cleveland Cavaliers


Anthony Bennett: After missing out on the opportunity to play in front of UNLV fans last year at summer league because of rotator cuff surgery, Bennett should draw a big crowd even if the hype balloon has deflated some after a rough rookie season. It’s about baby steps at this point with Bennett, though, and showing that he’s at least in shape and playing fast will calm some nerves in Cleveland.

Andrew Wiggins: Another year, another first overall pick from Canada. Wiggins is the wing defender Cleveland desperately needs now, and perhaps he’ll be much more than that down the line. He’s not a stranger to big expectations, but the first days on the job always leave you under the microscope. If his college career foretold anything, no one in Vegas will have his performances more closely scrutinized.

Matthew Dellavedova: He was one of the only players Mike Brown could get consistent effort from last season, which led to more playing time than expected in his rookie season. With Jarrett Jack off to Brooklyn and Kyrie Irving’s shaky injury history, Dellavedova might be thrust into serious action again next season. These could be important reps.


Miami Heat


Shabazz Napier: Kobe Bryant isn’t even following poor Kendall Marshall on Twitter, but LeBron James wasn’t bashful about giving Napier his stamp of approval even before the two were teammates. While that confidence from the best player in the world is great to have, it also puts a big, red bull's-eye on his back. LeBron called him the best point guard in the draft, after all, so now it’s on the former UConn guard to start proving it.

James Ennis: This is just what Miami needs, right? Ennis is an athletic, 3-and-D wing who opted to play professionally in Australia after being drafted in the second round by Miami last season. He has glue guy written all over him, and with Shane Battier stepping away, Ennis could potentially have a role in Miami next season.

Justin Hamilton: He received plenty of burn in the Orlando Summer League (Miami is double-dipping this year along with the Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers), and after playing very well in the D-League last season, the former LSU big man could win a roster spot, particularly if he continues to shoot the ball well from distance. If you haven’t caught on yet, that’s a niche every team wants to fill.


Milwaukee Bucks


Giannis Antetokounmpo: The “Greek Freak” was Cirque De Soleil on a basketball court last season, and now he’s reportedly 2 inches taller and presumably even more capable of ridiculous feats. Few players in this setting will illicit this level of reaction -- you’ll drop your jaw, you’ll yell, you’ll jump out of your seat. He’s big fun.

Jabari Parker: The Bucks might be the hottest ticket in Vegas. Parker, the second overall pick of this year's draft, was touted as being the most "NBA-ready” prospect out there, and he’ll get plenty of chances to show why that is. Milwaukee doesn’t have to get too cute offensively –- just get Parker the ball and get the heck out of the way.

Nate Wolters: It never hurts to have a steady hand at point guard, especially since summer league is basketball’s Wild West. Shots fly everywhere and guys scramble all over the place, but Wolters has shown he’ll stay cool in less-than-ideal circumstances. In 58 played games in hi3s rookie season, Wolters had more than one turnover only 13 times. He’ll be a sight for sore eyes.


New York Knicks


Shane Larkin: The speed merchant might end up being the key to the Tyson Chandler trade despite the fact that he’s coming off a shaky rookie season. Triangle point guards are typically bigger and more physical than Larkin, but he should provide a drastic change of pace to Jose Calderon when he comes off the bench, at the least.

Cleanthony Early: Is he a 3, a small-ball 4, both or neither? Tweener forwards rarely have it easy in the early stages of their careers, but Early is an impressive athlete with a nice stroke that caught a lot of eyeballs during Wichita State’s superb season. His lack of ballhandling skills and ability to score off the dribble probably limit him to being a role player for now, but that’s not the worst thing.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo: He’s one of the few siblings of an NBA player who actually belong here. Nepotism runs wild at summer league, but Giannis' older brother earned his spot by playing very well in the D-League last season as a defensive specialist capable of wreaking havoc in transition. He’s a legitimate prospect, even if he needs more seasoning offensively.


Philadelphia 76ers


Nerlens Noel: There’s some debate over whether Noel will play in Vegas after performing well in Orlando, but maybe that’s just Philadelphia keeping its best-kept secret under wraps a little longer. Don’t forget about the shot-blocking big man in the rookie of the year race this season -- he’s got a leg up on knowing Brett Brown’s playbook (hint: run!), and he’ll get plenty of playing time and opportunities throughout the season.

Jordan McRae: Be still, Jay Bilas' heart. McRae has a 7-foot wingspan despite being just 6-foot-5. Although the Tennessee grad and second-round pick isn’t an insane athlete, those long arms and his decent burst allow him to sneak up on opponents at the rim on drives. He’ll need to hone in on one transferable skill and bulk up that lanky frame, but he’s a whole lot of limbs coming right at you.

Scottie Wilbekin: Being one of the best college players doesn’t always translate to NBA success, and Wilbekin’s lack of size will have him fighting an uphill battle. System-less basketball isn’t always kind to guys who excel at getting their team into sets and managing the game, so it will be interesting to see how the Florida point guard can perform in the chaos.


Toronto Raptors


Bruno Caboclo: He should start a support group with Mickael Pietrus (the “French Michael Jordan”) after being dubbed the “Brazilian Kevin Durant” by Fran Fraschilla on draft night. Caboclo has a 7-foot-7 wingspan and a prayer at ever getting anywhere close to Durant’s level, but performing well against legitimate competition right away could help justify the boldest pick of the draft.

Lucas Nogueira: The Bebe and Bruno show should give Brazilians a nice distraction from their World Cup hangover, as there should be plenty of highlight moments to go around. Nogueira won a lot of fans last year in summer league with his energy and amazing hair, and opposing guards should proceed with caution while he’s patrolling the paint.

Dwight Buycks: Lots of players are fighting just for a camp invite, but Buycks has a little more on the line. If he’s not waived before July 22, which is right after the end of summer league, the point guard’s contract for next season becomes guaranteed. After a performance last season that really put him on the radar, he’ll be scrapping to keep his status this time around.


Washington Wizards


Otto Porter Jr.: It’s been a rough 365 days for last year’s third overall pick, as his awful debut in summer league led right into a completely unproductive rookie season. Truthfully, it would have been a bigger deal had Anthony Bennett not absorbed all the ire, but Porter has to put it all behind him. The Wizards might need the jack-of-all-trades forward to play a big role next season with Martell Webster out three to five months for another back surgery and Trevor Ariza still an unrestricted free agent.

Glen Rice Jr.: They’ll be teammates here, but they might be battling for the same playing time. Rice Jr. barely played last season, but his 3-point stroke could come in handy for the Wizards. He’s been pretty solid as a shooter and scorer in the D-League, so he’ll get plenty of chances, especially if Porter looks out of place once again.

Khem Birch: We’ll see how the UNLV faithful treat him; he was very productive and won Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year two seasons in a row, but he also left after his junior year only to go undrafted. Birch should win neutral fans and general managers over anyway, as he’s a good hustle player and an active athlete at the 4.

D.J. Foster is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com, ClipperBlog and others. Follow him, @fosterdj.

First Cup: Friday

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
5:46
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer: Not Lance Stephenson. Let’s start there, shall we? If the Charlotte Hornets don’t get Gordon Hayward – and it looks like they won’t – they don’t need to blow in the ear of Stephenson and whisper sweet nothings to get him to Charlotte. Charlotte has a lot of money to spend, and throwing as much as humanly possible at Hayward is a good gamble. Hayward isn’t going to tug on LeBron James’ cape, as Stephenson has done repeatedly (flashing the “choke” sign after a missed LBJ free throw, blowing in James’ ear during the playoffs, calling James’ trash talk “a sign of weakness,” and on and on and on). ... The Hornets have got to do something to replace Josh McRoberts, to sign a veteran point guard to back up Kemba Walker and to figure out how to get some more outside shooting. There are a lot of options out there. Lance Stephenson should not be one of them.
  • Mike Wise of The Washington Post: Personally, I thought he had all he wanted in Miami, and if Riles could just tweak the roster and acquire genuine all-around players rather than specialists, the Heat would have at least three more title runs left But if he or his people felt slighted by the man in charge, well, divas do what divas do when they don’t get their way; they seek refuge in people who give them their way. Either way, let’s get this over. Now. It’s not just that the storm has passed here or that ESPN’s Josina Anderson probably does not want to stay up all night in front of Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena waiting for her next live hit. The longer this LeBron-a-thon goes, the worse it looks for a player who owes no team or town anything other than a phone call before he tells the nation he is leaving his current home. If he learned anything from 2010, it’s that breakups are less painful when everyone involved knows exactly where they stand. Somebody is going to be crestfallen. Some team will not get the final rose. The least he could do is let the runner-up know before we do.
  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: One certainty is that the Rockets will wait as long as possible before announcing whether they will match the offer. That would tie the Mavericks’ hands in executing any Plan B scenarios until at least Sunday evening. And if the Rockets do match the offer? It wouldn’t be the first time the Mavericks have gone down this road. They signed restricted free agent Marcin Gortat in 2009 to an offer sheet and, despite already having Howard at center, the Orlando Magic matched the deal. In 2002, Michael Redd was a RFA target, but the Mavericks’ offer sheet was matched by the Milwaukee Bucks. Not all restricted free agents stay put. But the majority do. So it would behoove the Mavericks to have alternatives at the ready. “We’ve got a lot of grease boards in that office up there with lots of different scenarios,” Nelson said. “I can’t tell you which scenario is going to pan out, but one of them is going to pan out. We will have a small forward with the Mavericks next year. Guaranteed.” It just might not be Parsons, in spite of the Mavericks’ best efforts. If that’s the case, then Plan B goes into effect and Pierce, Ariza and Luol Deng come into play.
  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Carmelo Anthony’s agonizing extended into another day. Despite reports Anthony would make his return to the Knicks official on Thursday, the Bulls still hadn’t been notified of the All-Star forward’s intentions as the first full day of allowed signings passed. A source said the Bulls continued efforts to find a third team to make potential sign-and-trade possibilities work if Anthony were to have a change of heart and leave the Knicks. Otherwise, not much changed: The Bulls believe they made a strong impression on Anthony during their in-person pitch July 1 in Chicago.
  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: A source told The Post new Knicks point guard Jose Calderon also has texted his countryman/friend Gasol several times about joining him in New York. “Pau knows Jose wants him on the team," the source said. The Post reported one reason Anthony is close to re-signing is having a shot at the 34-year-old Gasol, who then could recruit his brother, Marc Gasol. The Memphis center is a free agent in 2015 when the Knicks should have plenty of cap space. Pau, however, would have to take less to play in New York for Jackson, his former coach, and for rookie coach Derek Fisher, Gasol’s former teammate.
  • A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com: There are still a couple of i's in need of dotting and t's crossed before Avery Bradley's return to the Boston Celtics becomes official. Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, said the 6-foot-2 guard's new deal with the Green team still has some "final details" to be worked out. But Ainge makes it clear that it should not be confused with there being a snag that would prevent the deal, reportedly a four-year, $32 million contract, from being consummated soon. "Avery's a big part of our future," Ainge said. "We have very intention of getting something done with him in the next day or two; just working out the final details."
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Follow the money. Avery Bradley agreed to re-sign with Boston for $32 million over four years. Kyle Lowry will remain with Toronto for $48 million over four years. Chandler Parsons received a near max offer from Dallas. Gordon Hayward got a max offer from Charlotte. One look at the coin players are commanding on the free-agent market this summer should be enough to send a scare through all of Oklahoma. It’s proof that Thunder guard Reggie Jackson won’t come cheap. Jackson, of course, is now eligible for a contract extension. If the two sides don’t agree on a deal before the Oct. 31 deadline, Jackson will become a restricted free agent next summer. The Thunder would then have the opportunity to match any offer Jackson receives from another team. Good luck with that.
  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: Fun. That seems to be the word that best describes this bunch of players who make up the 76ers entrant in the Orlando Pro Summer League. The team plays with incredible speed, led by diminutive guard Casper Ware, who may be securing himself a spot in the league with his play down here, averaging 19 points and close to five assists a game. They have been able to knock down three-pointers at a 37 percent clip, have blocked shots and possess two of the best leapers in this Summer League, in Nerlens Noel and Ronald Roberts. All eyes, of course, have been fixed on Noel - and he is the epitome of fun. Though his timing is a bit off on both ends of the floor -- understandably so as he hadn't played for about a year and a half - he has averaged 13.7 points, shot 52 percent from the floor, made 15 of his 19 free throws and blocked nine shots. He has battled through fatigue, a tweak of his left ankle and the rustiness that was expected. "I've definitely felt it," said Noel of the fatigue.
  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo did not play in the NBA Summer League before his rookie season, instead competing with Greece's Under-20 team in the European U-20 Championship. Now he's 2 inches taller and with a year of NBA experience tucked away as he makes his Vegas summer league debut on Friday when the Bucks play the Cleveland Cavaliers. "I want to come in and be more aggressive and get more experience," the 6-foot-11 Antetokounmpo said after the Bucks' practice session Thursday at the Thomas & Mack Center. What specifically does he want to work on? "I want to work in the set game, when we play in the half-court, figure out ways to score," he said. "For sure, in defense, to be in the right spots. It's different over here than in Europe. "For sure, my shot, my scoring ability, my skills." Antetokounmpo said he is eager to play with No. 2 overall pick Jabari Parker and has seen enough already to know the Bucks have a future star.
  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: Jodie Meeks spent last season with the Lakers, turning an opportunity for minutes and shots into a career year, averaging 15.7 points for a team that desperately needed scoring. The Pistons gave him a three-year deal worth nearly $20 million. When his contract figures came to light early in free agency, many speculated the Pistons were playing the “Detroit tax,” considering it’s not Los Angeles or New York. But Van Gundy doesn’t believe they necessarily overpaid for a player who made $5.3 million total in his first five seasons. Van Gundy said the Pistons’ recent history, having missed the playoffs since the 2008-09 season, probably was more of a factor than any negative perceptions about the city or region. “It’s not a matter of where you are,” Van Gundy said. “Detroit’s a great place with great tradition. The problem is we’ve been down for five years. So I’m not gonna say overpay, but you have to be more aggressive. You don’t want to sit back waiting and everybody else is showing the same level of interest you are.”
  • Gordon Monson of The Salt Lake Tribune: When Exum first stepped on the court, he was blown away by the ovation he got from the crowd. And perhaps a little freaked out. Ten-thousand people at a summer scrimmage for a rookie used to playing in high school gyms? It was a lot to absorb. "When they started clapping for me, it kind of hit me a bit," he said. "It took me a bit to settle down." Not sure that Exum ever did. "My shots weren’t falling," he said. "But it was about getting my teammates involved." Exum missed an open jumper. He bricked a 3. He clanked a reverse layup off a drive. He squibbed a shot that hit nothing but air. He shook his head in disgust. Yeah, about that shot: "It’s something I’m going to have to work on," he said. Quin Snyder seemed unconcerned about the teenager’s accuracy, or lack thereof, mentioning how hard all the summer league guys have been working in practice, tearing down their legs. Instead, Snyder stressed the positives. "[Exum] sees things on the court," he said. "That’s something you can’t teach. … He’s got a feel for the game."

Orlando Summer League, Day 6 notables

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
10:53
PM ET
By Tom Westerholm
ESPN.com
Archive
Here, in no particular order, are some notable performances from Day 6 of the Orlando Pro Summer League:

Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
lastname

After Elfrid Payton torched Phil Pressey on consecutive possessions, the Celtics switched Smart onto Payton, which proved to be extremely effective. Smart moves his feet very quickly on defense, and despite not having elite lateral speed, he makes himself an extremely tough defender by keeping his hands high and defending with his chest. Smart missed most of his jumpers (2-for-9 from 3-point range), but in isolation, he uses his size to his advantage, bodying defenders out of the way. When he gets a head of steam toward the basket, he’s going to either score or draw a foul -- both options are attractive since he’s a solid free throw shooter (7-for-8 on Thursday). Smart finished with 19 points and five assists.

Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic
lastname

Payton couldn’t beat Smart off the dribble in a matchup of 2014 lottery point guards, but in Payton’s defense, Smart presented a unique challenge: a point guard with equivalent size and strength. For much of the game, Payton controlled the offense. His court vision goes a long way toward making up for his abysmal jump shot -- he had nine assists and ran an effective pick-and-roll. As a scorer, his only real skill is driving at the rim, where he can finish over smaller defenders (such as Boston’s Phil Pressey, who could do very little to stop him) thanks to his strength and length. He’s an incredibly quick defender with lightning-fast reflexes -- a trait that, combined with his length, allows him to recover against shooters.

Nick Johnson, Houston Rockets
lastname

Yesterday, Mitch McGary showed us how effective a player can be without an aesthetically pleasing skill set. On Thursday, Johnson showed us the opposite -- an entertaining skill set that translates to an effective offensive game. Johnson makes highlight plays within the flow of the offense. He explodes toward the basket off the dribble and leaps out of the gym to both finish and block shots. As a shooting guard, he’s a little undersized, but he showed point guard attributes -- good vision, a sense of how to look off opposing defenders before making a pass and a tight handle. When he pulls up, his jumper is feathery soft and he can finish well around the rim. Johnson was 9-for-14 from the field against Memphis and 2-for-5 from 3-point range for 22 points.

Maarty Leunen, Houston Rockets
lastname

Sometimes, NBA players aren’t particularly complicated. Sometimes a very tall man can just shoot the ball. Leunen’s skill is shooting the ball. He spots up effectively, finds empty spots on the floor, and can run a pick-and-pop. When he catches a pass, he squares up quickly and doesn’t appear to be adversely affected by having a hand in his face. But boiled down, Leunen’s game is extremely simple: He’s 6-foot-9, and he’s 9-for-17 from 3-point range at Summer League. Leunen scored 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting from behind the arc today.

Jarnell Stokes, Memphis Grizzles
lastname

Jarnell Stokes just isn’t very tall. The 35th pick in the 2014 draft, Stokes is generously listed at 6-foot-8. He’s extremely strong and has an excellent wingspan, but on the offensive end, Stokes has shot inefficiently against length. In Memphis’ matchup with Houston, the Rockets matched 6-foot-11 Miro Bilan against Stokes, bothering him into a 3-for-10 day from the floor. Stokes isn’t particularly creative in the post, generally preferring to put his head down and go straight at the basket, but big men often enter the NBA with raw back-to-the-basket games. He isn’t without his strengths, of course. Stokes is already an effective screener -- cutting guards are almost always sufficiently freed to catch the ball coming around his body. He also has good instincts as a rebounder despite his height: He grabbed seven rebounds and tipped out a few others that weren’t counted, but he hasn’t figured out how to overcome his height disadvantage quite yet.


James Nunnally, Indiana Pacers
lastname

When trying to name every player on Philadelphia’s roster last season, James Nunnally’s name might be one of the most difficult to place. The 6-foot-7 small forward played just 165 minutes in 13 games for Philly and took 46 shots during the regular season. As a member of Indiana’s Summer League roster Thursday, however, Nunnally found a nice rhythm for his smooth jumper, scoring 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the floor and 3-for-5 from behind the arc. Nunnally is a very effective spot-up shooter, finding his spot in transition, filling the floor nicely and setting himself quickly coming off screens in half-court sets.


Kevin Jones, Indiana Pacers
lastname

Jones is an extremely large man, and he uses that size to his advantage. Against Miami, Jones carved out space for himself in the paint, pulling down 15 rebounds, 10 of which came in the first half. Jones scored 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting and pulled down four offensive rebounds. An NBA squad in need of help on the boards might be willing to take a look at Jones as a contributor off the bench.


Shabazz Napier, Miami Heat
lastname

Tempered expectations are important in Summer League. The sometimes-ragged games are a chance for players to try things out that they can’t try in regular-season contests. Bigs can try pick-and-pops or corner 3-pointers, guards can attempt floaters and layups around the rim, and poor shooters can see if their offseason work has provided them with a better touch. Napier has had a bad week in Orlando, and Thursday was no exception. He shot 2-for-13, 1-for-6 from 3-point range, and finished with just seven points. There were flashes -- five assists, including a beautiful lob to James Ennis for a big dunk -- that may mean that Miami simply wants to see how Napier can develop as a scoring point guard, but he may also just be struggling. That wouldn’t be uncommon for a point guard at Summer League.









Conspiracy theories: The LeBron files

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
11:08
AM ET
By Adam Reisinger
ESPN.com
Archive
NBA Lebron James - ClevelandIllustration by Elias SteinWhat will LeBron do? Is a return to Cleveland in the cards? Social media is searching for answers.

What will LeBron ultimately decide about his future? From cupcakes to planes to cars to cops, social media is searching for answers while we wait ...

July 5: Home sweet home?






July 6: Dan Gilbert's plane flies to Florida




July 9: LeBron's cars on the move




July 9: Mike Miller posts a picture ... of LeBron's Cavs jersey




July 10: Tracking LeBron's official website




July 10: Cleveland Zoo's owl picks Miami





July 10: Checking in with the police




July 10: Party at LeBron's house




Almost makes you long for the days of a one-hour TV special.

First Cup: Thursday

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
5:31
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Chandler Parsons will go from the NBA’s best bargain to a $15 million a year contract. Which team will reward him so greatly will soon be in the Rockets’ hands. The Rockets gambled by making Parsons a restricted free agent. The Mavericks will make them pay, costing them either their starting small forward and team captain or the $45 million over three seasons it will take to keep him. Parsons signed an offer sheet with the Mavericks, giving the Rockets three days from when they receive it to either match the offer or let Parsons jump to their in-state rivals. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban posted a photo with Parsons and Parsons’ family on his Cyber Dust account. Parsons later posted a tweet. Extremely humbled! One night of fun and back to work. THANK YOU to everyone who has helped me! I am blessed."
  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: The deal for Parsons was done in part because it became clear earlier Wednesday that Anthony and James had axed the Mavericks off their list of potential destinations. The Mavericks always considered themselves longshots to land either. While the Mavericks wait for Houston’s decision on Parsons, they will try to get sixth man Vince Carter to agree to the $2.7 million exception the Mavericks can use as a team under the salary cap. With the offer to Parsons, that would be the most they could offer Carter. That means anybody else who joins the team — and the Mavericks will have at least four more potential spots available — would have to sign for minimum contracts. Right now, Nowitzki, Harris, Tyson Chandler, Monta Ellis, Brandan Wright, Raymond Felton, Jae Crowder, Ricky Ledo and Gal Mekel are the only players confirmed on the roster. Add whoever starts at small forward, presumably Parsons, and Carter and that makes 11 players.
  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: If James spurns them yet again, it won’t be on him this time. He hasn’t given any indication he’s returning, because from all accounts, he has kept quiet since the season ended. But the Cavs met with Paul last week and have been working toward this reunion for years. Wednesday’s trade was simply the most obvious step. The Cavs have let Spencer Hawes and C.J. Miles walk in free agency without putting up a fight. Luol Deng will be the next to go. Gordon Hayward arrived in town last week believing he was going to get an offer sheet, but left without one and ultimately agreed to a max offer sheet instead with the Charlotte Bobcats. If the Cavs swing and miss on James, there isn’t much left. Chandler Parsons agreed to an offer sheet from the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, leaving only Trevor Ariza. Ariza’s name has been floated as a possibility, but the Cavs had enough space to pursue him without all these moves. And let’s be honest: Expecting James and landing Ariza is like inviting the pope to dinner and watching Father Guido Sarducci give the blessing. Much like four years ago, the Cavs are all in on LeBron James. Now they’ll sit, wait and wonder if he feels the same way.
  • Dan Le Batard of The Miami Herald: There isn’t a lot of precedent for this spectacle we are presently Witnessing. So much power. So, so, so much power. LeBron James is the most powerful athlete in sports, by a lot, and what is going on around him these days is equal parts lunacy and chaos. It isn’t just that a basketball legend has to fly across the country to get a few minutes with him because James has 100 percent of the leverage and champion czar Pat Riley somehow has exactly zero. (Come over here and kiss the King’s ring, Pat, and he’ll get back to you at his earliest convenience.) It isn’t just that James has hijacked the sports-news cycle in a way that is overwhelming and annoying, turning ESPN into the Worldwide Leader In Covering One Player, drained fans all over the country losing sleep and spraining fingers refreshing Twitter accounts for any microscopic crumb of information or misinformation or speculation or lie. It isn’'t just that James has two NBA teams behaving — with millions of dollars and James-appeasing player transactions — as if they both think they are going to sign him very soon … and that all the rest of the teams in the league would behave the same way if he so much as winked in their direction. It is the deli line of basketball power taking a number just to stand in line behind James, waiting to please be fed after the biggest dog finally decides that, yes, now is the time he shall eat.
  • Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News: It was the late George Young who said this to me nearly 30 years ago, when he was in the middle of a tough contract negotiation when the Giants were set up to win the first Super Bowl in their history. “When they say it’s not about the money,” Young said to me, and famously, "it’s always about the money." I also believe Anthony wants to win a pro title before he is through to go with the college title he won at Syracuse when he was a freshman with as complete a game for a kid his age I had ever seen in a Final Four. I believe he wants to put an NBA title with the gold he has won at the Olympics, playing with LeBron and his other famous friends. But he was never going to leave around $30 million on the table, nor should he have been expected to leave that kind of money on the table. No player in recent memory has made the current system in the NBA work better for him than Anthony has. He forced his way out of Denver and got paid here. Now he gets paid again, bigger than before.
  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: Things got a little interesting in regards to Gordon Hayward on Wednesday after he agreed to terms of a max contract with Charlotte owner Michael Jordan and the Hornets. Utah Jazz fans debated about him. Teammates expressed a desire to continue to play with him. The man who could be his future coach gave a compliment but also deftly deflected questions about him. And the company running his basketball camp in Salt Lake City this week canceled a media availability for him. The NBA team that Hayward has played for the past four seasons now has three days to officially match the Hornets' $63 million offer sheet to keep him. Utah, which has first right of refusal on Hayward's contract, was expected to be put on the clock late Wednesday night when the 24-year-old signed with Charlotte, which hopes to reunite him with former Jazz center Al Jefferson.
  • Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer: I like the gamble. If the Jazz doesn’t match – and Utah is reportedly $30 million under the salary cap, with far more room to maneuver than Charlotte – then Hayward will make more than Al Jefferson and everyone else on the Hornets, and he obviously would not be Charlotte’s best player. That would be either Jefferson or point guard Kemba Walker, and Walker is going to command a similarly huge contract at some point. But Jefferson and Walker truly want to win, and this is how you do it. You sign a guy like Hayward instead of a loose cannon like Lance Stephenson. You play Hayward more at shooting guard – he can do either that or small forward, but if he plays shooting guard you can use Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s defensive prowess more effectively. Hayward becomes more of a scoring threat immediately than Gerald Henderson is from outside, which gives Jefferson (who Hayward knows how to play with, having done so in Utah) more room inside. Isn’t it interesting, by the way, how the tenor of the criticism for the Hornets has changed? Once, people said Michael Jordan was cheap. No one can say that anymore. Now they just say he’s giving the wrong guys too much money.
  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: The Raptors have another piece of the off-season puzzle in place. Greivis Vasquez has agreed to a two-year, $13 million contract, according to team and league sources, as Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri continues to lock up necessary pieces from last year’s team. Vasquez, who was a restricted free agent, averaged 9.5 points and 3.7 assists in 61 games with the Raptors after being acquired from the Sacramento Kings about a quarter of the way through the season. By getting Vasquez on a two-year deal, the Raptors won’t dip further into the cap space they have for the summer of 2016, when a handful of key NBAers can become free agents.
  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: The window to use the amnesty provision on Carlos Boozer's salary officially opened at 11:01 p.m. Wednesday. But the Bulls all along have been trying to trade him, not only to relieve themselves of their financial commitment to him but more to stay above the salary cap. This would allow them to use exceptions to sign other players. Nikola Mirotic, Trevor Ariza, Shawn Marion, Kirk Hinrich and Ramon Sessions are just some of the possibilities. With the NBA setting the salary cap for the 2014-15 season at $63.065 million, the Bulls would have $10 million of cap space if they have to use the amnesty route on Boozer, who won't be back. The Bulls have until July 17 to use the amnesty provision.
  • Tim Kawkami of the San Jose Mercury News: Last question: Does Klay Thompson's ballooning long-term price make it more likely that the Warriors would be willing to put him into a Love deal? Last answer: You'd initially think so. How can they fit Love's expected massive deal in with Thompson and all the rest, even if Lee goes to Minnesota in the projected trade? Wouldn't Thompson have to go, too? But again, I've heard that the Warriors believe they don't get into title contention with Love unless they keep Thompson, too. I'm told the Warriors have done the spreadsheet work and believe Thompson can still be squeezed in. Unsaid: I think the Warriors can fit Thompson's long-term money into this ... only if they can move either Lee's or Iguodala's contract before then. And if Love comes on board, it'd take the off-loading of both Lee (in the trade) and Iguodala (at some point) to fit Thompson's new market rate, I believe. That's a lot of pieces all put in motion without Klay Thompson doing much of anything, except watch his stock price go through the roof. It's not a bad way to spend a summer.
  • Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: When Caron Butler reached a buyout with the Milwaukee Bucks back in February, a number of teams coveted the veteran forward’s services for the playoff run. Butler, of course, chose the Oklahoma City Thunder. He opted for the Western Conference powerhouse for a number of reasons, one being the persuasiveness of Thunder superstar Kevin Durant. Butler is a free agent again and Durant is making his pitch to convince his friend to re-sign with the Thunder. Durant flew from Los Angeles, where he had been working out, to attend Butler’s basketball camp at Park High School in Racine. “I would love to have him back,” said Durant, the NBA’s reigning MVP. “He can definitely help us. But some things are out of your control; management makes those decisions. But I’d like to have him back.”
  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: Best Blazer ever? Clyde Drexler? Totally disagree with Aldridge's target. I understand that the metrics Aldridge, and many, use here is that Drexler is the all-time franchise leader in points scored (18,040). I get that Drexler (apologies to Brandon Roy) is the most recent example of a generational super star who has worn a Blazers uniform. I understand that before Game 1 of the Rockets-Blazers series Aldridge passed Drexler in the hallway and joked, "I'm coming for you," before going out and scoring 46 points. But I bristle at the notion that it's Drexler, and not legendary center Bill Walton, that Aldridge needs to surpass to be the franchise's greatest star player. For Aldridge, waiting to sign an extension is about money. It's about security. It's about legacy. For the Trail Blazers, giving Aldridge the opportunity to attain all three of those things is about one thing, and one thing only --- winning a championship. Walton delivered one on June 5, 1977. Don't care that he never brought Portland a second one. He brought the only one. Something Drexler failed to do, even as he went into the Hall of Fame scoring and trying. There has been only one player in franchise history to be a league Most Valuable Player and an NBA Finals MVP --- Walton.

Orlando Summer League, Day 5 notables

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
9:49
PM ET
By Tom Westerholm
ESPN.com
Archive
Here, in no particular order, are some notable performances from Day 5 of the Orlando Pro Summer League:

Jeremy Lamb, Oklahoma City Thunder
lastname

If Oklahoma City’s goal was to build up Lamb’s confidence by having him play his third consecutive Summer League, things could not have gone worse to this point. The lanky guard is averaging 17.3 points per game, but he’s shooting an abysmal 32 percent from the field, including 4-for-23 from 3-point range. He’s very smooth off the dribble, but he hasn’t been able to finish at the rim, and he rarely looks confident when he rises for a jumper. All of the physical tools remain, of course, but his skill set does not appear to translate to being handed the reins of an offense. He was 4-for-17 Wednesday.

Frank Gaines, Indiana Pacers
lastname

Summer League results mean very little, but after an ugly blowout in its first game of the week, Indiana’s team has become extremely entertaining. Wednesday, Gaines caught fire in the second quarter, scoring 11 points in just under two minutes en route to 17 points on 7-for-13 shooting. Gaines -- who played for the Maine Red Claws of the D-League this past season -- showed a perfect stroke and the ability to set himself and rise in rhythm quickly, both in spot-up situations and off the dribble. He’s small for an NBA two-guard and too much of a scorer to play the point, but it’ll be interesting to see if a team that needs scoring off the bench gives him a shot.

Mitch McGary, Oklahoma City Thunder
lastname

Aggressive and energetic, McGary’s game isn’t very aesthetically pleasing, but he’s proving effective for Oklahoma City. He scored 15 points Wednesday against Indiana on 5-for-7 shooting. As a high-post big, McGary let the offense run around him, waiting until his defender sagged to knock down midrange jumpers effectively. McGary’s numbers, however, may not be an accurate depiction of his impact. He creates chaos, tipping loose balls and throwing his body around the floor -- an infusion of energy that might impact a regular-season game as the season drags on.

Casper Ware, Philadelphia 76ers
lastname

There are a lot of reasons to like Ware’s Summer League thus far. The tiny guard is averaging 19 points and nearly five assists per game, scoring on floaters, driving and dishing well to bigs in the paint and pressuring ball handlers all the way up the court. He is stretching the floor as well, knocking down 40 percent of his 3-pointers. In Philadelphia’s win over Brooklyn on Wednesday, Ware scored 24 points and dished out eight assists, running the offense relatively effectively throughout. Ware hasn’t shown much proficiency as a drive-and-kick point guard, and his size limits his effectiveness as a passer since -- logically -- it’s difficult to see over people that much bigger, and he’ll likely see a drop in efficiency against NBA defenders. Like Gaines, Ware may be effective as quick offense off the bench.

Jerami Grant, Philadelphia 76ers
lastname

After struggling in his Summer League debut, Grant has put together consecutive strong games. He followed a 4-for-9, 12-point game on Tuesday with another 12-point game Wednesday. Grant showed his range, finishing 2-for-3 from 3-point range, and he played a very effective pick-and-pop game against Brooklyn, working well as the screener with Casper Ware and demonstrating his ability to stretch the floor effectively in a half-court offense. Grant struggled at times defensively with Nets big man Donte Greene, but after disappointing early in the week, Grant appeared much more comfortable and confident Wednesday.

Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
lastname

Smart’s 14-point performance on Wednesday was hit or miss. He was a relatively inefficient 4-for-13 from the field, and he shot 2-for-7 from 3-point range. Smart passed out of several difficult shots he clearly wanted to take, but he took several tough shots he would have been better off leaving alone. Boston played him with Phil Pressey for much of the game, running both point guards on and off the ball interchangeably, and Smart appeared comfortable both running a pick-and-roll and driving from the wing. He finished with six assists and five rebounds.


Chris Babb, Boston Celtics
lastname

Babb faces another tough climb to make Boston’s roster in 2014-15, and Boston’s impending acquisition of Marcus Thornton didn’t help matters. But Babb took the first steps on Wednesday, defending Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to a standstill, making smart rotations and contesting everything. Offensively, Babb -- who is generally just a spot-up shooter -- drove hard to the basket, beating his defender multiple times and scoring efficiently. Babb’s game is still predicated on catch-and-shoot jumpers, but he showed some versatility Wednesday. He finished 5-for-8 with 10 points.

Brian Cook, Detroit Pistons
lastname

The Brian Cook Reunion Tour rolls on. After shooting poorly against Memphis on Sunday, Cook scored 14 points including 4-for-7 from 3-point range against Boston on Wednesday. He’s solely a pick-and-pop big at this point, but he has been very effective in that role, stretching the defense and creating driving lanes for his guards.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons
lastname

A Summer League MVP candidate to this point, Caldwell-Pope was mostly ineffective against Boston before exploding late and nearly bringing Detroit back. Caldwell-Pope scored nine points in the final three minutes and missed a shot that would have won the game for Detroit. He struggled against Babb’s tough defense, finishing 8-for-21 and 3-for-9 from 3-point range, but his late push gave him 26 points.

Big and bigger in Sacramento

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
11:26
AM ET
By ESPN.com
ESPN.com
Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins is listed at 6-foot-11 and 270 pounds. By any standard, he is a huge human being. It takes a lot to make him look small. Sim Bhullar is officially "a lot."



Bhullar is listed at 7-foot-5 and 355 pounds. He went undrafted last month, but he signed with the Kings after the draft and has been working with them in advance of the Las Vegas Summer League, which starts Friday. Bhullar, who was born in Canada and is of Indian descent, averaged 10.2 PPG, 7.2 RPG and 2.9 blocks per game in two seasons at New Mexico State.

First Cup: Wednesday

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
5:27
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: This is Carmelo Anthony’s “dream” — play in New York with LeBron James this season. That’s right. New York. Not Miami. Too bad it’s a long shot to happen. According to a friend of Anthony’s, Melo has held out faint hope Knicks president Phil Jackson can pull a miracle and clear out the necessary salary-cap space to get it done, but he is running out of time. Anthony’s decision could come in the next couple of days. It would require Jackson to ship out Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani’s expiring contracts, and for Anthony and James to take less than the max. Iman Shumpert might have to be dealt, and the rights to Jeremy Tyler renounced. One report said Jackson conceivably can move $40 million under the cap with a flurry of moves — as long as he doesn’t take back salary. “He really wants LeBron to come to New York," the source said. “That’s his dream right now. Phil is trying to get it done."
  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: Right now there’s nothing more than a possibility that Bosh, James or both don’t return to Miami. But it’s a very, very dark possibility. Here’s the Heat roster right now if James and Bosh depart: Wade (because no other team is going to pay him what an indebted Miami can and inevitably will), McRoberts, Granger, Norris Cole, Justin Hamilton and Shabazz Napier. The free agent market isn’t going to replenish losses of that magnitude. And Miami doesn’t have attractive assets it could afford to trade. The Heat could go from a four-year NBA Finals streak to a black hole. So, Riley’s task is easily stated if not easily executed. To maintain his kingdom and his ever-present cool, he needs to keep James, Bosh and Wade together.
  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: It's like this: If Lance Stephenson, the Pacers' 23-year-old free agent shooting guard, doesn't want a five-year, $44 million contract, if that's not enough to keep him in one of the few places where he's still accepted whether he's "Good Lance" or "Bad Lance," let him go. See ya. Au revoir. Nice knowing you. Listen, if Stephenson can get $10 million a year on the open market — and that's what his agent is paid to do — the more power to him and his family. But I'm saying this now: Stephenson will never have as good a support system (read: Bird) as he has now in Indianapolis. He will never find a group of teammates more willing (however grudgingly) to put up with his antics, both on the practice court and in games. He will never find a fan base more willing to embrace him, a fan base that loves him despite all his warts, much like Ron Artest, the former Pacers All-Star now named Metta World Peace. If I'm Bird, I'm not moving off that offer. I'm not budging because the contract offer fully reflects Stephenson's worth. Yes, he is a tremendous raw talent who led the league in triple-doubles. He's also enigmatic, which is a nice way of saying he can be a complete knucklehead at times. He's a time bomb in the same way Artest was forever poised to explode.
  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: The patience of the Bulls’ front office continued to be tested Tuesday, with free agent Carmelo Anthony’s indecision still seemingly keeping them from pursuing a Plan B. According to a source, the Bulls feel that if Anthony goes elsewhere, they are one of the leading candidates to land free-agent big man Pau Gasol — unless Anthony happens to choose the Los Angeles Lakers, which could start the dominos falling and convince Gasol to re-sign with the Lakers. "It’s frustrating for [the front office], but it’s free agency," the source said. That’s one way to describe it. Besides the Bulls, Gasol was being targeted by the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Miami Heat, the Lakers, the San Antonio Spurs and the New York Knicks.
  • Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: This is the NBA's silly season, when trade rumors fly. As expected, 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie is the most popular guy at the Orlando Pro Summer League. That's what happens when your club is $30 million under the salary cap and teams looking to shed salaries are lining up to make trade offers. "This time of year, there are way more [offers] leaked than real, and way more postured by one team or another than there's any legs to," Hinkie said Tuesday before the Sixers' 92-71 victory over the Houston Rockets at the Amway Center practice court. "We are involved in a lot of conversations. We are not involved in as many as has been reported." The Sixers have received phone calls from just about every team in the league. The most buzz surrounds the report that the team was discussing a trade for Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin.
  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: LaMarcus Aldridge has decided he wants to finish his career with the Trail Blazers. But he will delay that commitment for one summer. Aldridge on Tuesday told The Oregonian he has opted to postpone signing a contract extension with the Blazers until next summer, when he can sign for more years and significantly more money. The three-time All-Star made it clear his decision had nothing to do with his commitment to the franchise or his happiness in Portland. Quite simply, he said, it was a business move. "I'm happy to stay, happy to be here, happy with the direction the team has gone the last year or two," Aldridge told The Oregonian in a phone interview. "This has no impact on my interest in staying in Portland. I just want to get a five-year deal. I feel like that's the best decision on my part."
  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: If the NBA is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, then during free agency, it goes one step further. As in: How can I make life a little more miserable for the competition. The Mavericks are trying to do just that to the Houston Rockets, and it might qualify as a pretty decent chunk of payback. The Mavericks are taking dead aim at restricted free-agent small forward Chandler Parsons, whose stock has risen to the point that he takes a back seat to no free agents after LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. If the Mavericks sign Parsons to an offer sheet that starts in the $10 million to $12 million range, then the Rockets will have three days to match it. The problem is if the Rockets are able to sign Chris Bosh to a maximum contract, as they have offered the Miami Heat big man, that would give them three players making in excess of $14 million per season. Add Parson’s $12 million, and the Rockets would quickly be creeping into the luxury tax by the time they filled out their team. This could be called the Dwight Howard rule.
  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: After scoring 26, 30 and 26 points this week – all Detroit Pistons victories – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope doesn’t have much left to prove. So it would be understandable if the Pistons decide to shelve the second-year shooting guard with two games remaining after his winning triple Tuesday beat the Miami Heat, 80-78. It’s doubly understandable considering he tweaked his ankle in the first half. “We’re going to be very smart about that because he’s played incredibly well, hard and passionate. We’ll kind of evaluate that (today),” assistant coach Bob Beyer said. You can tell if Caldwell-Pope has his way, he will be in the lineup Wednesday against the Celtics. He said it never crossed his mind to come out of Tuesday’s game.
  • Jody Genessy of the Deseret News: Coach Quin Snyder already thought highly of Dante Exum when the Utah Jazz drafted him fifth overall last month. But those impressions came from seeing game tape of Exum, and there wasn’t a whole lot of footage considering the young Australian didn’t play college ball and had limited experience and exposure outside of an international all-star game (Nike Hoop Summit) and two FIBA world tournaments for teens. Tuesday marked the first day Snyder got to observe the soon-to-be 19-year-old Exum in an up-close working environment, as the rookie point guard and 14 other players began a mini-camp to prepare for the upcoming NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. So, coach? “He’s fast,” Snyder said. “I think more than anything he really looks like he knows how to play.”
  • Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune: There were some who thought taking LaVine, a 19-year-old coming off an up-and-down freshman season at UCLA, was something of a reach. LaVine can run like the wind and jump out of the gym. But, critics said, he is raw and will need a lot of work. Turns out LaVine, unlike many pro athletes, readily admits to reading everything written about him that he can find. He knows what people are saying. So, when asked what his goals were for the upcoming NBA Summer League in Las Vegas – the Wolves’ entry plays its first game Saturday – this is what he said: “Whenever I step on the court I want to be the best player,” LaVine said. “I have a lot of high goals for myself. There are still a lot of doubters out there. I read all of the things on Twitter. I keep those in my back pocket. I feel I turned a lot of heads since I came out (of college). I’ll still continue to do that.” Again, it’s a short sample size, but LaVine played a lot of point guard Monday, and will do so in Vegas, too. After Monday’s workout Saunders said he had no question in his mind that LaVine could play both shooting guard and some at the point.
  • A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com: The Boston Celtics would love to add a big man with the skills of Detroit's Greg Monroe. But all indications are that the Pistons are going to do whatever they have to do in order to re-sign the restricted free agent this offseason. "He's more important than anyone else on the free agent market to us, to the Detroit Pistons," Stan Van Gundy told reporters on Tuesday. "He's extremely important." Talented big men are hard to find, and just as hard to keep in the fold. Van Gundy is well aware of this, which is why he's preparing for any and all potential scenarios involving the 6-foot-11 big man. "I'm not going to get into the business side of things, and certainly not help other teams in terms of building their strategy or anything else," said Van Gundy.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Last season's NBA Summer League laid an ideal foundation for a newly constructed Suns team to begin building its eventual success. Alex Lenis ready for his turn. After surgeries on each ankle following the end of his collegiate career last year, Len lost the usual rookie opportunity at the Summer League to get the NBA equivalent of new employee orientation. Unable to do much beyond set-shooting last offseason, last year's No. 5 overall draft pick is making the most of this summer. The Suns' summer team started two-a-day practices Tuesday, but it is just a continuation of offseason work for Len. He kept Phoenix as his home during the offseason and spent five days a week working out at US Airways Center. The proof is in his noticeably stronger upper body. Len said he has added 10 pounds to his 7-foot-1 frame since the season ended, putting the 21-year-old at 260 pounds. "I just feel more comfortable on the court and more confident and just a little stronger," Len said. "Defensively, it's easier. Overall, I move better because my ankles are better, too." Len had setbacks early last season due to ankle issues, but a midseason respite helped.
  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Longtime Chicago Bulls athletic trainer Fred Tedeschi, hired by former general manager Jerry Krause in August 1998, has left the organization. Tedeschi twice won the NBATA's Joe O'Toole Trainer of the Year award. According to a team spokesman, he has accepted a position at Oregon State, where his daughter is enrolled in graduate school. After enduring recent injury-plagued seasons, the Bulls last summer hired Jen Swanson as director of sports performance to oversee the training and strength and conditioning staffs. Swanson had worked extensively with Derrick Rose at a Los Angeles-based rehabilitation clinic during his recovery from ACL surgery.

Orlando Summer League: Day 4 notables

July, 8, 2014
Jul 8
10:04
PM ET
By Jordan White
ESPN.com
Archive
Here, in no particular order, are some notable performances from Day 4 of the Orlando Pro Summer League:

Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic
lastname

The second of the Magic's first-round picks continued his upward trajectory in terms of improvement, looking nothing like his jittery first-game self. Payton admitted that the speed of the game bothered him a bit initially, but he seemed well adjusted Tuesday. He ran the pick-and-roll about as well as can be expected, creating opportunities out of it both for himself and his teammates. His one-on-one ability was also on full display, taking his defender off the dribble several times, getting into the lane with little turbulence. Payton's clearly playing to his strengths so far, as he's yet to shoot from distance, which was one of the biggest knocks on him coming into the draft.

Jamaal Franklin, Memphis Grizzlies
lastname

Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes, the Grizzlies' draft picks this year, have been the main story for Memphis so far, but Franklin, the team's high second-round pick in 2013, is also here for the Grizzlies. Unfortunately, he hasn't played nearly as well as the other parts of the team's youth movement. Franklin was always going to be a development project, but he hasn't really shown any discernible progress from last summer. He only shot 2-of-8 Tuesday, and most of the ones he took from any sort of distance were well short. He's not much of a ball handler, either, as he turned the ball over three times. Obviously, no one expected Franklin to completely transform into a useful player in just a year, but it's a bit disheartening to see a lack of progress on the offensive end.

DeAndre Liggins, Detroit Pistons
lastname

Summer League is an opportunity for those who had a brief taste of the NBA to prove they still belong at the table. They know they'll never be stars, but they want to show teams they can contribute in some valuable way. Liggins is one of those players. Tuesday, he displayed what he can bring to an NBA team: first was his defense, as he guarded both point guards, shooting guards and even some small forwards. Second was his shooting. He was 3-of-4 from beyond the arc, each shot coming from good movement without the ball. Third was his ball movement. Liggins will never be asked to run a team, but today he made several nice passes that showed you can trust him to not kill your team with turnovers.


Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons
lastname

It wasn't KCP's best day in terms of shooting, as he went just 8-for-20 from the field, but he showed great perseverance. Caldwell-Pope must have been knocked down a half dozen times, including one scary fall that saw him leave the game momentarily with an apparent ankle injury. Every time, however, he got up and kept playing, going hard to the rim since, at least at first, his outside shot wouldn't fall. The ankle injury may have been KCP's personal lowlight of the game, but his highlight was a nice slam that finished a nice alley-oop on the break.


Tony Mitchell, Detroit Pistons
lastname

The Pistons drafted Mitchell in 2013 in hopes that his basketball IQ would catch up to his immense physical gifts. And while Mitchell was 4-for-5 from the field Tuesday, it still seems like Mitchell has a long way to go before he can be counted on to produce at the NBA level. He often looks lost on the court if he doesn't have the ball in his hands or if he's not at least heavily involved with the offense. His two blocks were certainly nice, especially one he had at the rim, but the other nuances of defense -- footwork, positioning, timing -- seemed mostly lost on him. Mitchell's case is similar to that of Franklin, in that while a one-year transformation was never a possibility, some sort of development would have been nice to see.


Kalin Lucas, Memphis Grizzlies
lastname

The Grizzlies went with a different look at point guard Tuesday, starting Lucas in place of Scottie Wilbekin. The result of the move was a steadier offense and more production at the point guard position on both sides of the ball. Steady may not sound exciting, but it's how Lucas needs to perform if he's going to make the team. He played mostly mistake-free, posting just one turnover to his three assists. Lucas is undersized, listed at just 6-1, but he has a knack for getting into the teeth of the defense and, once he's in the paint, scoring with a nice array of floaters and layups.

Hollis Thompson, Philadelphia 76ers
lastname

There's so much to like about Thompson's game. He's a tweener, but in a good way, able to play both the three and the four depending on the matchup. He's a good defender, a great rebounder (he had 14 in his first game in Orlando), a much-improved shooter and an able passer. He seamlessly morphs and shifts from role to role, depending on what the Sixers need him to do. His stat sheet reads like a poor man's Andrei Kirilenko -- a few blocks and steals here, double-digit rebounding and scoring here, and who knows, maybe even a few assists. Thompson emerged last season as a diamond in the rough unearthed by Philadelphia. The key to him sticking in the league now is consistency. He struggled with his shooting in his first game (hitting none of his 3-pointers), but flourished Tuesday, hitting four of them. If he can consistently perform at this level, filling up the stat sheet as he does, he won't be a one-year wonder.




First Cup: Tuesday

July, 8, 2014
Jul 8
5:38
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: In the wake of Jason Kidd’s maneuvering, it’s good to know that Lionel Hollins isn’t angling for something other than his well-paid gig on the sideline. And here’s the thing about Hollins that already gives him a leg up over his predecessor: You can believe what he says. “It’s just nice to be able to do your job. That’s all I want to do. I’m a basketball coach. I don’t want to do (GM Billy King’s) job,” Hollins relayed Monday. “I don’t want to do anybody else’s job in the organization but the one I’m hired to do. That’s important to me. I’m very low maintenance.” The Nets are trying to cleanse themselves of that stench left by Kidd, who has taken his front-office ambitions to the Bucks. His jersey remains in the Barclays Center rafters, but he has been hilariously cropped out of pictures on the team’s website. ... No nonsense from Hollins. It was a refreshing first impression.
  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: On the opening night of free agency, the Celtics reached out to more than two dozen players, getting caught up in the open-market frenzy, expressing their admiration for players, many of whom they realized they never would sign. A week later, the Celtics are eerily quiet. They only have signed their own restricted free agent, Avery Bradley, on the second day of signings. An NBA source said they are backing off their pursuit of free agent Kris Humphries. However, a league source said Monday that president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is attempting to gather assets to acquire Kevin Love, convinced he can devise a package that would entice Minnesota Timberwolves president Flip Saunders to move the three-time All-Star, who will be a free agent next season. Ainge admitted that things have been quiet so far, and of course was reluctant to discuss anything dealing with free agency.
  • Scott Cacciola of The New York Times: In some ways, though, the public narrative has had less to do with choosing among three teams — or five, if the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks are still considered to be in the mix — than it does with picking between his bank account and his legacy. It goes something like this: If Anthony is really all that interested in chasing championships, he will choose the Bulls. If he wants the biggest bucks, he will stay with the Knicks. If he wants the aura of the Lakers, he will decamp for Los Angeles, where he has been offered the maximum $96 million over four years, according to multiple reports. It is an either/or situation that rubs some people the wrong way, and perhaps for good reason. Count Charles Grantham, a former head of the players union, among them. His argument: At age 30, having put in ample years of service, Anthony has every right to capitalize on his earning power, and should not have to take less — either by choosing to go elsewhere or by being pressured to agree to a hometown discount to stay in New York. "It’s ridiculous," Grantham said by telephone. "If I have a unique talent that I want to sell here, why should I be expected to take less? And if I don’t take less, why am I being greedy? Are you being selfish because there’s a salary cap that’s been imposed? That’s not your fault."
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The Rockets had not been told they were out of the race for Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, but always considered Anthony, Bosh and LeBron James their top targets. Amid reports that Anthony was choosing between the Knicks and Lakers and James might consider leaving Miami to return to Cleveland, the Rockets made their move on Bosh. They had been in talks with Bosh’s representatives, but had not spoken directly with Bosh until Monday. The Rockets had been the first team to meet with Bosh in 2010, but never were close to signing Bosh when he had the chance to join forces with Dwyane Wade and James in Miami. Bosh had been outspoken about his intention to remain with the Heat, but with uncertainty about James’ plans, Bosh began lining up an option to form another Big Three with the Rockets’ James Harden and Dwight Howard.
  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: If LeBron James ultimately decides to return to the Cavaliers, it won’t be because of a mysterious plane that landed Sunday evening in South Florida. Contrary to popular belief, Zydrunas Ilgauskas was not on that plane. Neither were Cavs General Manager David Griffin nor owner Dan Gilbert. Griffin was in Cleveland on Sunday, Gilbert was at home in Detroit and Ilgauskas never boarded the private jet that flew from Detroit to South Florida, several sources with knowledge of the situation have confirmed to the Beacon Journal. One source with knowledge of Gilbert’s inner workings said the Cavs owner, who has a hand in more than 70 companies, has regular business in South Florida. Twitter erupted Sunday when it was learned a Gulfstream jet registered to Gilbert’s Rock Construction Co. was scheduled to fly from Detroit to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: Nerlens Noel was back on the court and in the weight room yesterday, so fear not, Sixers fans. Not playing in Sunday's game after his successful debut on Saturday was just a precaution taken by the team. "I felt a little sore [all over] but not much really," he said. "We had a pretty tough training camp the week before so I felt conditioned for that. It's all just real precautionary. I was just glad I got out on the court and I know there aren't any limitations. We're just being steady on this Summer League, making sure we're not overdoing it, working on my game." Noel said he will play tonight when the team plays the Houston Rockets at 7. After that, the Sixers will decide whether he'll go again on Wednesday or take another day off.
  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Jabari Parker will make his debut as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday, and it promises to be a high-profile first act. Parker, the No. 2 overall pick in the June 26 draft, will face off against top overall pick Andrew Wiggins as the Bucks meet the Cleveland Cavaliers in their NBA Summer League opener in Las Vegas. There was plenty of drama on draft week in New York about which player would go No. 1 overall. In the end, it was Wiggins going to Cleveland and Parker landing in his preferred destination with Milwaukee. ... Jason Kidd, in some of his first comments as Bucks coach, praised the 19-year-old Parker and even made a comparison to LeBron James. That was high praise indeed for the former Duke player and Chicago native who led his high school team (Simeon) to four consecutive state titles. The summer league will give Kidd a chance to evaluate the Bucks' young talent, including Parker, second-year forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and second-year point guard Nate Wolters.
  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: It took two summer-league games for the Orlando Magic to learn something about their rookie point guard, Elfrid Payton. He bounces back well. Two days after Payton played shakily in his pro debut, he nearly recorded a triple-double Monday as the Magic beat the Houston Rockets 87-69. Payton scored 12 points, gathered eight rebounds and dished out nine assists to go along with four turnovers. "I was just coming out and trying to be the aggressor and be more aggressive," Payton said. "That's something that I think separates me, and I need to do a better job of doing that."
  • Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer: What P.J. Hairston did Sunday afternoon – punching a high school basketball player during a pickup game at a Durham YMCA – was outrageous. It was ridiculous. It was dumb. And the question we must all wonder about this newly minted Charlotte Hornet now is: Was that punch the end of something for Hairston? Or was it just the beginning? He just made himself and the Hornets look very bad. If he’s not going to start making better decisions soon, it will happen again. Couple that with the loss of Josh McRoberts on Monday to Miami, and it was a terrible 24 hours for the Hornets. Their third-best player just flew the coop in McRoberts, whose passing and unselfishness will be sorely missed. And one of their 2014 first-round draft choices – the one with all the character concerns – just slugged a teenager. Everybody agrees Hairston threw at least one punch. Beyond that, it is unclear. According to 17-year-old Kentrell Barkley, he was hit twice by Hairston with little to no provocation.
  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Kings shooting guard Ben McLemore used his Twitter account to congratulate Nik Stauskas and welcome him to the team after he was selected eighth in last month’s NBA draft. But that doesn’t mean McLemore, drafted seventh overall last year, wasn’t surprised the Kings selected a shooting guard. “I wasn’t expecting that,” McLemore said after a quick laugh. “At the same time, they felt he was the best available draft pick, so I’m fine with it. At the end of the day, it’s a business, and I’m just going to do what I have to do to get better as a player.” McLemore has plenty to prove after struggling for most of his rookie season that started with a trying stint during summer league. He believes he will play much better this summer when the Kings open Friday against the San Antonio Spurs.
  • Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press: After a sophomore slog in which his stats and his sentiment suffered, Timberwolves shooting guard Alexey Shved has accepted his new job duty as a point guard. "It doesn't matter -- point guard, shooting guard," said Shved after the Wolves' first minicamp practice before the Las Vegas summer league. "I just want to play." On draft night, Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders said Shved's longevity in the NBA likely relied on his ability to play the point. On Monday, Saunders said the switch wouldn't be full time. The bigger point, Saunders said, is reinstating his confidence, which waned a year ago.
  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: Spencer Dinwiddie is so in tune with his rehab that he sounds like a physician, speed-rapping the process he’s been through since his January surgery. Platelet-Rich Plasma, hyperbaric chambers and muscle atrophy fall off his tongue as if he’s heard those terms dozens of times since his injury, and done nothing but press his doctors for answers, and for ways to push himself beyond his limits. “I don’t have any movement pattern restrictions,” Dinwiddie said. “Obviously they’re not letting me play but there’s nothing I can’t do, running, jumping, anything.” He uses the chamber so the ACL will heal faster but he acknowledges there’s no shortcut to getting back on the floor. “Other than that it’s been regular hard work,” he said. “Squats, lunges, step-ups, things like that. Being really dedicated. When they clear me, I’ll push myself, I’m not the type to be scared. When they said I could jump, I was like, alright, it’s time to dunk, not hop.”
  • Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: So, it wasn’t surprising that when Herb Kohl recently sold his NBA franchise, he didn’t forget about the people who worked under him. You may have read where Kohl gave gifts of $500 to employees at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, where the Bucks played their home games. What you haven’t read, though, is that Kohl’s generosity extended much further. He also bestowed significant financial gifts to others in the organization, from secretaries to sales personnel to basketball operations officials. The amount Kohl gave those employees varied and was based on different criterion, not the least of which was longevity with the organization. Some Bucks employees received $40,000 while others received nearly $100,000. And there were even some individuals who were given checks that one person close to the situation described as “life changing.”

Orlando Summer League: Day 3 notables

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
10:12
PM ET
By Jordan White
ESPN.com
Archive
Here, in no particular order, are some notable performances from Day 3 of the Orlando Pro Summer League:

Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic
lastname

Much like Shabazz Napier on Sunday, Payton was much more comfortable in his second game than his first. On Saturday, Payton struggled even to bring the ball up the court against pressure from even a smaller guard like Casper Ware. Monday, he had a much better command of his dribble, and was miles more confident in taking his man one-on-one. Defensively, Payton used his massive wingspan to bother the likes of Nick Johnson and Jahii Carson, forcing them to initiate the offense farther out than desired or even into taking a timeout. Payton also displayed his impressive vision and passing skills, including one perfectly lofted lead pass to his big man for an easy layup.

Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic
lastname

Athleticism is a wonderful boon to any NBA hopeful. However, it can carry one only so far. Just as important as that exceptional athleticism is the ability to harness it in such a way that it actually impacts the game. Gordon is a special athlete, and he uses that athleticism to augment his natural defensive and cutting instincts. His cuts to the basket were sharp, precise and perfectly timed. As a ball handler, Gordon is further along than most expected, but he still had a few issues Monday. He brings the ball up too high, has a tendency to dribble without a purpose and can get too fancy. However, once Gordon corrects these issues, something that he should be able to do quickly, he'll be dangerous with the ball in his hands.

Phil Pressey, Boston Celtics
lastname

We'll start with where it went wrong for Pressey, because it's the only way to understand where it went right. Near the end of the third quarter, Pressey found himself matched up on defense against the Pacers' Donald Sloan, who crossed over the diminutive guard and sent him skating to the floor (Sloan then knocked down a pull-up jumper, just to add insult to injury). Some players, after suffering such humiliation, have the impulse to forsake the game plan in favor of one-upping the offender. Pressey, however, shook off the Annie Oakley instinct on the Celtics' next offensive possession, with Sloan defending, and calmly got the Celtics into their set. It's a small moment in the grand scheme of things, but it helps to illustrate Pressey's poise and maturity.

Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
lastname

So far, the Celtics' experiment with Smart playing off the ball has yet to yield any sort of promising results. Then again, neither has Smart playing at his normal point guard position. Smart shot just 3-of-15 from the field, including 1-of-5 from deep. While Smart's struggles from deep aren't necessarily surprising, given that it was seen as a weakness before the draft, that a third of his shots came from beyond the arc isn't encouraging for his shot selection. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Celtics try to play Smart exclusively at point as the week goes on, just to see if he gets into a better rhythm at his more natural position.

Willie Reed, Indiana Pacers
lastname

In truth, the entire Pacers frontcourt deserves mention for its performance Monday, but Reed gets the nod for his breakout showing. His 18 points came mostly around the rim, both on opportunities he created and ones his guards created for him. He showed a nice ability to move without the ball in the post, flashing to the basket at just the right time. Defensively, he bothered the Celtics' less athletic frontcourt to the tune of four blocked shots and several more altered.

Mitch McGary, Oklahoma City Thunder
lastname

When you don't get to see a player for an entire year, it's easy to forget what made him so enticing in the first place. Rather than focus on his strengths and weaknesses, or how he's grown in the year, all teams are able to focus on are the lingering doubts regarding injury or character. Through two games, McGary's reminding everyone why he was projected as a lottery pick last year. He's shown no ill effects from the back injury that sidelined him last season at Michigan, bounding up and down the court easily (at times even running the break) and diving for loose balls. While his stance isn't great, he moves his feet on defense very well. Monday, McGary showed flashes of another aspect of his game, hitting his teammates with several nice passes both on the break and in the half court.

Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics
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Did someone Space Jam Kelly Olynyk's talent? Last year, Olynyk was the best rookie at Summer League, probably even the best non-Andre Drummond player. He was Dirk Nowitzki-lite, hitting jumpers from all over the place and even dominating the boards despite his T-Rex wingspan. Even though there were better athletes than Olynyk, he succeeded despite their advantage. Monday, Olynyk couldn't overcome that superior athleticism, fouling six times, nor could he find a shooting rhythm, evidenced by his 5-of-13 performance from the field. Here's hoping Olynyk rediscovers his lost talent. (An aside: No offense to Olynyk, but if aliens truly did possess the power to steal talent, why would you target Olynyk?)

Tarik Black, Houston Rockets
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It's not easy being a big man at summer league, given the guard-dominated play. It's even tougher when you're not a featured big, but rather a lunch-pail, energy guy just fighting for a spot on the team. Yet, in spite of all of these built-in disadvantages, Black has been able to show just what he can bring to a team. He won't wow you with his athleticism, he won't take your breath away with his defense and he should never be allowed to shoot the ball outside of 10 feet. But his motor never stops, he sets good screens and muscles post players while also showing enough athletic ability to stick with more mobile bigs. Summer League is all about finding the non-stars, the end-of-the-bench guys who, at the very least, will always bring the intensity. Black, at least Monday, looked the part.

Melo Ball goes back to the future

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
1:35
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Carmelo AnthonyAP Photo/Seth WenigOnce a poster boy for an outdated, iso-based game, Carmelo Anthony is a face of change in the NBA.
There was a time when it didn’t look as if Carmelo Anthony would be so sought after at age 30. When he was traded from the Denver Nuggets to the New York Knicks in February 2011, he was the bane of the advanced-stats community, his reputation sliced sharpest by cutting-edge analysis.

With his less-than-super-efficient high scoring average, Anthony might well have symbolized how casual fans get snookered into worshipping false idols. His volume shooting was the past, and players of more balanced yet subtle skill sets were the future. That iso ball that the "eye test" loves was so early Iverson era. It had no place in the NBA’s version of a Moneyball revolution.

Less than four years later, Anthony plays host to a vigorous recruitment effort from advanced-stats godfather and Rockets general manager Daryl Morey. Melo is the missing piece in Chicago, the foundation of a new era in Los Angeles. Yes, there are still concerns over whether Anthony will be worth a five-year max contract, and there remains criticism of Anthony's defense. But ultimately, Anthony’s New York adventure has seen a rehabilitation of his game, if not his reputation.

It took some unfortunate injuries to Amar'e Stoudemire, but the Knicks managed to stumble upon a Carmelo Anthony better suited for this era. Playing power forward, Anthony received better spacing, and he ultimately started making better choices. In the season before his trade to the Knicks, fewer than 14 percent of Anthony’s shots were 3-pointers. Last season, 25 percent of his shots were from behind the arc.

By shifting his shot selection from the dreaded “long 2” zone out to where shots count for an extra point, he moved to the forefront of basketball. Shooting is in, "stretch-4s" are in. The game had seemingly left isolation scorers behind, but Melo, one of the shiniest examples, has persevered.

After a shaky, injury-addled first full season in New York, Anthony notched his two best seasons according to player efficiency (PER) and win shares. Not only did the numbers look better, but his game got more aesthetically pleasing. Decisions were quicker, the ball stuck less often. He turns the ball over far less than he did back in Denver. There are still bouts of grinding iso-ball, but it’s not like the old days, when Anthony would average more turnovers than assists.

You can blame him for the lack of options (the Knicks were strip-mined because Anthony forced a trade to New York), but it’s getting harder to find fault with his offensive approach. His game has matured from headstrong to nuanced. Guard him with a mobile wing and he can post that guy into some pain. Guard him with a burly big and he can lose that guy for many an open 3-pointer.

“Olympic Melo” is the nickname for that sweet-shooting forward we’ve seen in international competition. He thrives in an environment where the ball is shared around the arc and shot from behind it. That’s where basketball is heading, if this latest, emphatic San Antonio Spurs championship is any indication. The NBA is trending toward a drive-and-kick international style that just so perfectly fits the guy who, earlier in his career, was the caricature of American-style hero ball. Melo was the past before he took a few steps back and became the future.

First Cup: Monday

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
6:00
AM ET
By Nick Borges
ESPN.com
Archive
  • William C. Rhoden of The New York Times: Four years ago, LeBron James set a new tone for free agency when he left Cleveland, using his leverage to determine where he would play and with whom. His move to Miami showed how valuable he was not just to his team but to an entire region, with Cleveland’s economy seeming to take a hit. Anthony should keep that in mind and not accept a nickel less than he feels he is worth. Athletes are conditioned early on to feel grateful to be on the team. The reality is that their schools, and, later, their franchises, depend on the athletes to have a program. Athletes are the show. If the Knicks ask Anthony to take a pay cut, or when Pat Riley appeals to James’s sense of loyalty, the Clippers’ pending sale should be a glowing reminder to say no. In an often coldblooded industry focused on the bottom line, players still invariably lead with their hearts, often to their detriment. The new rules of engagement should be, simply, money first.
  • Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: Pat Riley called adding a Carmelo Anthony-type max-salary player to the Heat "a pipe dream," and so far during free agency the Heat president has been proven correct. Marvin Williams, formerly with the Hawks and Jazz and considered a third-tier free agent, is the latest player to be recruited by the Heat, which on Sunday was still waiting to get a commitment from LeBron James. But James, in turn, is waiting to see what Riley gets in the free-agent market before he reups for perhaps only one more season. And so far, it can’t be very encouraging for the four-time MVP. The Heat hasn’t added anyone, although Miami has gone after Kyle Lowry, Luol Deng, Marcin Gortat, Pau Gasol and Trevor Ariza. If Riley doesn’t get moving, James just might start looking at teams that have already visited his agent, Rich Paul, in Cleveland. Those teams include the Lakers, Suns and Cavaliers. As they’ve found out in Miami, the Heat simply doesn’t have the cap space to be able to afford big-name talent, so it’s been busy talking to the likes of Williams, who was drafted No. 2 overall by Atlanta in 2005.
  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: LeBron James' future in South Florida is expected to be decided this week in a face-to-face meeting with Miami Heat President Pat Riley. A source close to the situation told the Sun Sentinel late Sunday night, "there is an in-person meeting being scheduled for next two, three days."Confirmation of the meeting came amid a wild flurry of media reports that ranged from the Cleveland Cavaliers surpassing the Heat as the free-agency front-runner for James, to the Cavaliers working to create salary-cap space to accommodate James, to fellow Heat free-agent teammate Chris Bosh being poised to a move to the Houston Rockets amid the James uncertainty, to ESPN speculation of Carmelo Anthony replacing Bosh alongside James with the Heat. The most-recent wave of conjecture began hours after agent Henry Thomas, who represents Bosh and Heat free-agent guard Dwyane Wade, told the Sun Sentinel that previous speculation about his clients had been wildly off-base. While James has maintained a low-key presence since Tuesday's start of free agency, Riley has been scouring the free-agent market for players to bolster James' supporting cast, including recent meetings with Pau Gasol, Trevor Ariza, Luol Deng and Marvin Williams.
  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: The news of Ben Gordon’s impending signing has shocked some fans and analysts who think the Magic will overpay for a player who didn’t crack the Bobcats’ rotation during the 2013-14 season. Charlotte released Gordon shortly after the trade deadline after he had appeared in just 19 games. “I just want to be successful like any other basketball player,” Gordon said. “Whether people are happy with what I do or not, I can’t really control that. But I’ve just got my goals that I want to live up to and as long as I prove that to myself, then I’ll be satisfied.” But Orlando is far under the projected salary floor of $56,880,000 for the 2014-15 season. Teams that finish the season below the floor must pay a surcharge for the amount they are under the floor, and the money collected from that surcharge is distributed to the players on the roster. After the draft-day trade of shooting guard Arron Afflalo, the team’s best scorer and long-range shooter, as well as the decision to waive point guard Jameer Nelson, the Magic desperately need someone who can contribute on offense. Team officials will not comment about Gordon, but it’s believed they view Gordon as a low-risk signing because the second year of Gordon’s contract won’t become guaranteed until July 1, 2015. Gordon should have a lot to prove with the Magic.
  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: This is known: As of Sunday evening, the Bulls hadn't been informed of any decision from Carmelo Anthony. And unlike some who are living and dying with each speculative twist and turn to this saga, Bulls management merely methodically kept working on contingency plans to improve whether or not Anthony comes. Some of those have been documented. The Bulls met with Pau Gasol, who turned 34 Sunday, on Thursday in Los Angeles. They have begun preliminary negotiations with Nikola Mirotic, their 2011 draft-day acquisition who is now more likely to join the Bulls this season than next. And they kept dialogue open with representatives for a multitude of small forwards should they fail to land Anthony. The Bulls have touched base with agents for Chandler Parsons, Paul Pierce, Shawn Marion, Luol Deng and Trevor Ariza, among others.
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: As has been the case since well before free agency recruiting began, the Rockets’ chance at Chris Bosh could be triggered by LeBron James leaving Miami. While that has seemed more likely than a week ago, he too has no meetings scheduled, other than a sit down this week with Heat president Pat Riley reported by USA Today in which Riley could give a roster-building progress report. Those potential twists came after a weekend of reports that Anthony was choosing between the Lakers and Knicks, Anthony and Kobe Bryant reportedly stopped by UCLA for some pickup ball. Though it turned out they were never there at the same time, or with Kevin Love as some Tweets suggested, the tale quickly went viral, as if Anthony needed to see Bryant in action as he had Derrick Rose in Chicago. Things were odder earlier in the day when Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert’s plane was tracked heading to South Florida, moving him to announce that he was relaxing happily in his backyard. Still, strange as it has been, if Anthony does choose to take his talents to Westwood or keep them on Broadway, the Rockets would happily go through the whole thing again with James or Bosh, if either was so inclined
  • A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com: As the Boston Celtics summer league players took to the court to start practice on Sunday, James Young remained a spectator on the sideline. And it may stay that way for the rest of summer league. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said he expects to get more information on Young's status on Monday. "I don't know if he'll play this week," Stevens said. "From everything I know, it's from unlikely to probably not tomorrow (against the Indiana Pacers), and then from there we have another day off and we'll see about later in the week." Young, selected by Boston with the No. 17 pick in the June 26 NBA draft, was involved in a car accident a couple weeks prior to draft which resulted in him canceling a handful of workouts for teams that included the Boston Celtics. Since arriving in Boston, the 19-year-old guard/forward has been limited to non-contact work such as riding a stationary bike and some light shooting.
  • John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Daily News: Saturday's action was just 26 minutes of hopefully thousands of minutes that the 20-year-old Noel will log in a long NBA career, just one game of hopefully the hundreds he will play at a high level for the Sixers. There were glimpses of why the Sixers felt it was worth the risk when they traded a young All-Star point guard for the high-ceiling potential of an injured young big man. Noel's amazing athleticism and quickness for a player his size are obvious. The injury does not appear to have taken anything away. "No mental blocks," Noel said. "It's been 18 months out. I haven't been thinking about the knee for many months now. I'm definitely going to continue to get it strong, as strong as possible, and continue working. I was nervous at the beginning, but I seemed to play a little better when I'm anxious. [The dunk] definitely helped the jitters and set the tone for the game. It's very validating. I'm real happy, but I can't get too happy because it's a long road ahead of me." Breaking down Noel's positives and negatives will be an ongoing process that is just starting this week in Orlando. Still, if a first impression is what you are looking for, the competitive fire that appears to rage within Noel is a perfect start.
  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is playing the part of “Mr. July,” hoping it’ll translate into November. The second-year guard scored 30 and grabbed 12 rebounds in the Pistons’ 85-82 win Sunday over the Memphis Grizzlies. Before a pass made its way to Caldwell-Pope in the right corner, Peyton Siva could be heard saying, “Bang, bang!,” signaling the ensuing triple. Siva, who played another heady game with 12 points, seven assists and five rebounds in 28 minutes, was already backpedaling downcourt. Considering Caldwell-Pope began the game with a rare six-point trip, where he was fouled on a triple make, grabbed the rebound off his missed free-throw and hit another three, it’s not surprising to see everyone having supreme confidence in a player who had a disappointing rookie season.
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Steven Adams could return to Oklahoma City with a new weapon. A back-to-the basket game. The Thunder has spent the first two days of the Orlando Pro Summer League running a ton of offense through the post, and Adams, the second-year center, got ample chances to go to work from the low block Sunday. Adams finished with 12 points on 4-for-5 shooting, showing off a pretty jump hook with his right hand on one possession and another nifty finish with his left later. “That’s something that we want to add to Steven’s game,” said Thunder assistant and summer league coach Darko Rajakovic. “He’s a great defender, a great rim protector. But we want to have more possessions and more touches for Steven in the low post. That’s what he needs to work on and continue to develop to add to his game."
  • Doug Smith of the Toronto Star: League sources said Saturday that restricted free agent P.J. Tucker of the Phoenix Suns, a one-time Raptor, has caught Toronto’s interest. Tucker made less than $1 million last season and the Suns might match any offer he gets but Phoenix is also chasing the big game of this year’s free agent crop and has bigger issues to deal with. Whatever happens, the mastery of what Ujiri has done is that he hasn’t put in jeopardy a chance a year from now to make some significant noise on the free agent market. The salary cap machinations of Friday’s trade of Steve Novak to the Utah Jazz for the waivable Diante Garrett should leave Ujiri with the ability to offer a maximum value contract to a free agent year from now, even with a potential Vasquez signing. And if Ujiri’s short history in Toronto has shown anything, it’s that any addition he makes now will come on a team-favourable short-term contract that won’t limit that summer of 2015 cap flexibility.

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