First Cup: Monday

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
By Nick Borges
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Months after Chandler Parsons had been among the keys to the Rockets’ hopes, their captain and perhaps the league’s best bargain, he is none of those things. He is instead the Dallas Mavericks prized free agent acquisition and the symbol of the Rockets’ off-season gone wrong. A year to the day after the Rockets officially signed Dwight Howard, they chose not to match the offer sheet signed by the player that helped recruit Howard, letting Parsons jump to the Mavericks and a three-year, $46 million contract. The Rockets chose to let Parsons go to Dallas on Sunday because they believed that with the contracts held by Parsons, Howard and James Harden they would be essentially locked out of other moves, a person with knowledge of the decision said. They instead opted to take the hit in exchange for the flexibility, with several potential deal-making moves, believing their chances of building a contender would be better with the ability to make other moves. By letting Parsons go, the Rockets could have up to max cap room (depending on the next salary cap) next summer, and a substantial trade exception this season to position themselves to build in the ways they could not this week and the draft pick from the New Orleans Pelicans set up nearly identically to the pick that brought them James Harden.
  • Kevin Sherrington of The Dallas Morning News: If the draft is a perennial non-event and every summer they swing and miss at the big-name free agent, give the Mavs this: They’re getting pretty good at Plan B. They missed out on Melo and LeBron but won a game of chicken with Houston for Chandler Parsons. Next question: How much better will the Mavs be next season? Given the additions of Parsons, Tyson Chandler and Richard Jefferson and the subtraction of Vince Carter and probably Shawn Marion, too, they should score and defend the rim much better, even if they aren’t as good defensively on the perimeter. Parsons is a large upgrade over Marion offensively at small forward, and he’s only 25, a point not to be taken lightly on an aging team without much to build around. He’s just not close to as good defensively as Marion, who’ll be missed. ... All things considered, the Mavs did a very nice job of fitting the likes of free agents Dirk Nowitzki, Devin Harris, Parsons and Jefferson under the cap. But can this group do better than taking the Spurs to the wall in the first round? Only if Parsons’ career numbers continue to rise and Chandler redirects the traffic headed his way.
  • Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News: And that was the way it used to look in the old days when it was Patrick Ewing, another great Knick without a championship portfolio, against the world; when Patrick had John Starks as the Knicks’ next best scoring option the way Anthony has had J.R. Smith. So now Anthony, who wanted the Knicks and wanted to get paid when he was leaving Denver, stays with the Knicks. And gets paid even bigger this time. So now we begin to find out, over the length of his contract and Phil Jackson’s and Derek Fisher’s, if his destiny at the Garden will be different than Ewing’s; if he can get past LeBron the way Patrick never got past Michael Jordan, go from there and win an NBA title. He has been here for only three-and-half years. His first game was against the Bucks in February of 2011 and he scored 27 points and had 10 rebounds and this is what his coach at the time, Mike D’Antoni, said afterward: “This was ordinary for him, and that’s the highest compliment of what he does. You drop him in any place, any playground, any place in the world and he’ll put up 27 points and 10 rebounds. That’s what he does for a living.” Now it is official that he still makes his living here. We will find out the rest of the way if he can do better here when the real money is on the table than Patrick ever did.
  • Judd Zulgad of Whether Kevin Love realizes it, he will have the best chance to win if he's not the main man on his team. Love could be considered a 1B or the second-best player on the roster, but he has never shown the mental makeup of a take-charge 1A winner. This means that if he wants to pursue titles, Love will accept the fact he shouldn't be the highest-paid guy on his team. A 1B-type player doesn't deserve 1A-type money. If the Cavaliers don't relent on giving up Wiggins, this won't matter. The Wolves would be foolish to make a trade that doesn't involve him. But if the Cavaliers do include Wiggins, Love might have to make an interesting decision about just how much he wants to win in the short-term, even if it means taking less money or not getting any real assurances regarding James for the long term.
  • Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times: And the Bulls get 34-year-old 7-footer Pau Gasol. His contract is said to be starting at somewhere around $6.5 million, but forget about money and think about basketball. I like this. I do. It’s not great, not earth-shattering, but it’s nice. The Bulls have pursued every top-tier free agent for years — from Dwyane Wade to Melo to King James himself — and have gotten none of them. Being close means being losers. We could try to determine what the Bulls’ problems are in terms of failing to snag the best talent in the league, but let’s instead revel in the addition of a tall fellow from Spain who has a deft touch both in passing the ball and shooting it.
  • Roderick Boone of Newsday: Apparently, the Nets' hierarchy found reason to pause after nearly $200 million in payroll, luxury tax and amnesty payments bought five playoff wins and a second-round exit. The franchise reportedly lost upward of $144 million last season, and even for billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov, that can't sit too well. Because they're so far over the luxury-tax threshold, if they signed Pierce to a deal worth, say, $5 million, it would have cost the Nets north of $20 million. That'll give you reason to pause, too. He's just not worth that, and the Nets are doing the responsible thing, even though it might not be the most popular decision after they yielded all those assets.
  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: When the Toronto Raptors traded him to the Spurs on June 21, 2006, Matt Bonner wanted only to prove to his new team that his 3-point shooting could help them compete for another NBA championship. Eight years and two championships later, the player known as “The Red Mamba” has agreed to return for a ninth season in silver and black. Bonner's new deal is for one season at the 10-year veteran minimum of $1,448,490. Bonner is the third of the team's unrestricted free agents to agree to return. Only restricted free-agent big man Aron Baynes remains unsigned, though the Spurs tendered a qualifying offer to him that allows them to match any offer sheet he gets from another team. ... “I've been hoping to get the call that I'd be coming back the whole time since free agency started,” he said. “I was just waiting for the Spurs to do their due diligence on the free-agent market. I'm super thrilled it worked out and excited to come back to the Spurs' organization and the city of San Antonio and try to win another championship."
  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: He is the youngest player at Summer League and everyone in the NBA will be older too, but do not expect Bruno Caboclo to be intimidated by those facts. Not if the Raptors draft pick was fine with leaving home and living alone from the age of 16. Not considering his up-bringing in Brazil, where his family was so poor that Caboclo could not afford basketball shoes, as well as other things at times. Caboclo is going to come to Toronto at 18, live by himself, and if he sees any game action, no guarantee since he is a ways off from being a regular contributor, he is going to let everyone know he is out there. ... “I love people saying he’s two years away from being two years away, they don’t know anything about basketball if that’s the case,” added Dwane Casey. He is already here in at least one sense. Following another good game Saturday, Caboclo, who is taking English lessons and picking up the language quickly, was told he will soon have his picture taken so his likeness will be in this year’s NBA video games. “So when you play as yourself, it will be accurate,” he was told.
  • Craig Grialou of Another lost summer for Phoenix Suns center Alex Len. What was expected to be a big summer for the second-year pro has been cut short by a broken right pinky finger. Len suffered the injury in his Summer League debut -- a 74-72 loss to the Golden State Warriors Saturday at Cox Pavilion. "I swiped for the ball. I think it was in the third quarter," he said. "I swiped for the ball and my pinky got stuck in the jersey. I think it was (Justin) Holiday. I thought it was just dislocated. It was like looking awkward so I put it back in place." An X-ray after the game revealed the break. "It's bad timing, but it is what it is," he said prior to the Suns second game, a 93-82 win over the Milwaukee Bucks. "I don't know how long exactly I am out for." Len, who missed last summer's action because of surgeries to both of his ankles, will have the finger evaluated further when he returns to Phoenix on Monday.

Las Vegas Summer League, Day 3 grades

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
By D.J. Foster
Ten notable performances from Day 3 at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas:

Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland Cavaliers | Grade: C+
You can see how the narrative about the lack of a “killer instinct” got started. Wiggins seems to have a nasty habit of letting his defender off the hook after a lightning-quick first step or dribble move, opting to shoot his pet step-back jumper instead of really punishing weaker defenders. Even though he had some nice moments, the pedal wasn’t close to the floor.

Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers | Grade: C
His debut provided some hope that he won’t kill floor spacing at the 4. Even though Randle seemed to be hovering around aimlessly on the perimeter, he did a nice job of waiting until the perfect moment to dive to the rim on a few occasions. It’s tough for post players to really work with their back to the basket in this setting, but Randle’s willingness to face up is a good sign, even if the overall results were pedestrian.

Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks | Grade: D
Dreadful shot selection, bad decision-making, mental lapses defensively and selfish play marred Parker’s night, as he seemed uncomfortable with the idea of letting anyone else make a play with the ball. There’s pretty much no reason for someone with Parker’s speed and strength to draw just one shooting foul, especially against this level of competition. This was a troubling performance for the second overall pick.

Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers | Grade: B
His weight is down, but his appetite is up. Bennett looked more interested in hitting the boards (14 rebounds) and running the floor than he was during most of his rookie season, and those are two critical areas of concern for a player who projects to be a nonfactor defensively. Bennett loves the top of the key and playing as a pick-and-pop specialist, but it’s reasonable to expect this level of effort elsewhere on a consistent basis.

Dennis Schroder, Atlanta Hawks | Grade: B+
You have to ding him a bit for coughing up the ball during double-overtime sudden-death basketball (yes, that’s a thing), but Schroder’s ability to get his man on his hip and force his way into the paint all game was awfully impressive for someone his size. There were lot of ambitious drives here (30 points, eight turnovers), but Schroder showed he’s a handful to guard when he’s in attack mode like this.

Doug McDermott, Chicago Bulls | Grade: A-
There he is. After a shaky debut, McDermott got back to the ridiculously efficient scoring he was known for in college, piling in 31 points on just 12 shots. Often matched up against a smaller defender, McDermott did a nice job of bumping his way into contact and getting to the line. Really, though, it’s his spot-up 3-point shooting that should put a smile (or at least less of a scowl) on head coach Tom Thibodeau’s face.

Seth Curry, Phoenix Suns | Grade: A
It runs in the family, right? Seth brought an NBA vibe to the proceedings, as there was something comforting about seeing a Curry wearing the No. 30 jersey bomb from deep and deliver daggers. Curry finished with 26 points on a tidy nine attempts, and with perimeter shooting at a premium around the league -- just look at what Stan Van Gundy’s paying in Detroit -- you have to think Curry helped his chances to land a roster spot this season with this barrage.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks | Grade: B
A timed pump-and-go from the 3-point line to the rim should be the NBA’s version of the 40-yard dash. It sounds obvious, but it really is absurd how much ground he can cover in just a few short steps. Defensively, open shots become contested, and once he’s by you with his first step? He’s by you. There were mistakes and blown finishes, but he’s getting where he wants to be on the floor seemingly at will.

Glen Rice Jr., Washington Wizards | Grade: A-
Another game, another really convincing performance. Rice’s stroke opens up the rest of his game so well, as defenders simply can’t stay pressed on him because of his athleticism going to the rim. If you had no idea of his draft position, you’d think for sure he was taken well before the more ground-bound Otto Porter, right? Keep an eye on this position battle.

Donatas Motiejunas, Houston Rockets | Grade: C+
After Houston’s offseason, Motiejunas is pretty important all of a sudden as the projected third big man. It doesn’t look as though he’s added a whole lot to his attack, but he’s still sneaky good in the post with his quirky movements around the rim. Ideally, you’d like to see Motiejunas lock in defensively with more regularity, but he's useful when he's an offensive focus.

Las Vegas Summer League, Day 2 grades

July, 13, 2014
Jul 13
By D.J. Foster
Ten notable performances from Day 2 at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas:

Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks | Grade: C-
Here’s the Tim Hardaway Jr. basketball logic tree: Am I open? Shoot it. Am I covered? Shoot it. Someone else has the ball? Do nothing until I get it ... and then shoot it. Hardaway put up 16 attempts in 25 minutes and registered zero rebounds, zero assists and zero steals. Knicks teammate J.R. Smith catches a lot of heat for chucking, but Hardaway makes him look like a regular Magic Johnson by comparison.

Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets | Grade: A
Is there a little more to Harris than originally projected? The Michigan State guard split defenders and attacked in the pick-and-roll game, looking more like a complete wing scorer than a limited 3-and-D guy. Even though 3-point shooting was his calling card (5-for-10 from deep) and should continue to be going forward, the whole package was on display.

C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers | Grade: B
Even on an iffy shooting night (4-for-11), it’s easy to see why McCollum is a big-time scorer in the making. Rarely do you find a wing with this combination of size, shake and shooting ability, and perhaps more importantly, the smarts to use those skills and base an attack around threes and free throws. Making even your worst shooting nights palatable is an underrated aspect of being a quality scorer, and McCollum can do just that.

Otto Porter Jr., Washington Wizards | Grade: B
With Trevor Ariza off to the Houston Rockets and Martell Webster out with another back surgery, the third pick in the 2013 draft might have to grow up in a hurry. Porter is a little reminiscent offensively of Tayshaun Prince, as he curls well off baseline screens and uses his length to shoot over the top on contested midrange jumpers. While you’d like to see him extend his range, establishing a comfort zone might be more important for the time being.

Glen Rice Jr., Washington Wizards | Grade: B+
There are a lot of aggressive dudes at Summer League trying to bully and pound their way onto a roster, but no one attacked the rim on Saturday quite like Rice. In just 26 minutes, Rice went to the line a whopping 16 times. Considering he’s a better athlete and shooter than Porter, Rice could really syphon some minutes from Porter this season if he keeps up this level of aggression offensively.

Shabazz Muhammad, Minnesota Timberwolves | Grade: C+
Muhammad has mastered the art of throwing garbage up at the rim while simultaneously creating space with his huge frame for an easier putback attempt after securing the offensive rebound (7 on the game). I’m not entirely sure that’s a viable strategy against better athletes, but Muhammad’s whole bag is non-traditional scoring.

Justin Holiday, Golden State Warriors | Grade: A
It’s not often you see a player smile while making a game-winner, but Holiday couldn’t help but grin as he caught an airball (or a Kobe assist?) under the basket to flip in, effectively keeping Golden State’s summer league winning streak alive and well. Holiday has always lacked a “specialty” that really appeals to NBA teams, but his smooth all-around game and length served him well Saturday.

Tony Snell, Chicago Bulls | Grade: A
Maybe Doug McDermott loaned out his jumper for the evening, as it was Snell who stole the show in his debut by hitting just about everything he put up (10-for-14, 27 points) while McDermott struggled (2-for-8). Chicago can always use more perimeter shooting and scoring, and Snell looked confident firing from deep and flying in with long strides on drives to the rim.

Dante Exum, Utah Jazz | Grade: A-
Hype machine, activate! Comparisons to a young Kobe Bryant, Penny Hardaway and Brandon Roy were flying around after Exum’s first game, and his displays of smooth athleticism and skill were often breathtaking. Although there were better overall performances elsewhere, no one flashed more star potential than Exum did. With his vision and first step, he has lead guard written all over him.

Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz | Grade: B
Sometimes all it takes for players with high motors is one positive play to start a chain reaction. That happened for Gobert a few times, as a block or a steal would lead to an offensive rebound, which would then turn into an easy bucket. The consistency isn’t quite there yet, but Gobert absolutely has the natural ability to impact a game defensively in spurts.

Las Vegas Summer League, Day 1 grades

July, 12, 2014
Jul 12
By Fred Katz

Ten notable performances from Day 1 at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas:

Andrew Wiggins, Cleveland Cavaliers | Grade: C+
Wiggins found ways to score inside, but his aversion to dribbling was well on display Friday. The athleticism, defense and transition game are all there. One of the most exciting plays of the entire day was a half-court alley-oop that just barely went over the fingertips of the flying Wiggins. Yes, 18 points look good, but a 1-for-8 night from 3-point range looks a little worse, and the way he got those points still needs to improve.

Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks | Grade: A-
All we hear about Parker is his skills as a scorer, but on Friday we saw some of his distributing ability. The rookie might only have totaled one assist, but he moved the ball within the Bucks' offense and had a couple of beautiful interior passes to set up his teammates. Parker still scored at a commendable rate -- 17 points on 11 shots -- but in Las Vegas, between the facilitating and the nine boards, he showed exactly why he’s so much more than just a scorer.

Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks | Grade: A-
Hardaway might never pass the ball in Vegas. Seriously, it could never happen, but that’s perfectly fine if he’s going to shoot like he did Friday. The Michigan alum dropped in 25 points on just 15 shots in chucking his way to becoming the day’s high scorer. There aren’t many guys out west with the arsenal Hardaway possesses, tallying points off the dribble and spotting up from long range. The Knicks should be excited about the prospects of yet another volume shooter.

Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers | Grade: B-
Bennett might have disappointed in his rookie season, but he looked notably slimmer in his first Summer League contest Friday evening, finishing with 15 points and even throwing down one of the dunks of the day, a vicious finish in transition. He still struggled a bit on the defensive end, but just imagine what the Cavs could be like with contributions from Bennett this season to add to their refreshed roster.

Ricky Ledo, Dallas Mavericks | Grade: B-
Ledo might have shot just 4-of-14 from the field, but his performance was more about grace and command than anything else. Sure, maybe he wasn’t that effective, but he surely looked the part, galloping to the hoop seemingly whenever he wanted to get there. Considering the 21-year-old is 6-foot-7 and is learning to play either guard spot, that’s a pretty useful skill moving forward.

Noah Vonleh, Charlotte Hornets | Grade: D-
Noah? More like NO-ah. Vonleh couldn’t have struggled more in his initial summer league game, clanking like he was playing the lead in "Stomp." Vonleh ended his first ever pro contest scoreless, finishing 0-for-13 from the field, 0-for-4 from long range and even missing his only two free throw attempts. Vonleh could easily come back and wow in his second match, but he set the bar extremely low in Game No. 1.

Jordan Clarkson, Los Angeles Lakers | Grade: B+
Clarkson might not have been the biggest name entering summer league, but he was surely one of the most impressive performers on the first day, knocking in 21 points, including some nifty finishes around the basket. It wasn’t just about finishing at the rim, either. Clarkson was distributing off the bounce as well, finding teammates down low as he dribbled around screens. If the 6-foot-5 point guard can lock down his shooting form, the Lakers could end up very happy after selecting him with the 46th overall pick.

Nik Stauskas, Sacramento Kings | Grade: B
It’s always encouraging to see a scorer who can shoot in a variety of ways. Stauskas showed off those exact skills in his first summer league performance. In college, he earned a reputation as more of a spot-up shooter, but he progressively learned how to hit shots off the dribble. Friday, we saw him dribbling around screens and accurately pulling up for controlled attempts off the bounce. He might have attempted just nine shots, but the way he got them was plenty encouraging.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks | Grade: B+
Last season’s rookie darling is starting to show off a more refined skill set in Vegas. He’s packed on some extra brawn to complement the two inches he’s grown since being drafted last summer, important if only because it gives his jersey a little extra room to spell out his surname. After playing with a more hesitant offensive mindset as a rookie, Giannis was assertive during his first summer league contest, dropping 17 points on 12 attempts and coming up with the block of the day in the process.

Kyle Anderson, San Antonio Spurs | Grade: B
Can Slow-Mo work in the NBA? Anderson enters summer league as one of the most intriguing prospects in Vegas. Watching him in his first game, you could see what you wanted to see. At times, he was a little slow to dribble by his man. At others, he found space and when he did that, he always seemed to find an open teammate. He made arguably his best play of the game driving baseline, pulling in a help defender and kicking to an unguarded Marcus Denmon for a corner 3. That’s Anderson: polarizing, but always fluid.

Was Wiggins showcasing or auditioning?

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss

Any No. 1 overall pick works under a lot of scrutiny, but today’s events created a bizarre strain of scrutiny trained on Andrew Wiggins. His showdown with Jabari Parker at Las Vegas Summer League was sure to be hyped before Friday’s LeBron James news. After James’ epic announcement, the main Summer League event reached another level of intrigue.

LeBron’s entrance to Cleveland brought with it Kevin Love’s shadow. James did not mention Wiggins by name in his “I’m coming back to Cleveland” announcement letter, leading to questions about whether the Cavs might trade their 19-year-old rookie for the services of Minnesota’s available, unhappy star.

The Cavs have made pitches for Love, according to reports, but none so far that involve Wiggins. Given the struggles of Cleveland’s previous No. 1 pick, Anthony Bennett, it’s difficult to envision how the Cavs could get a Love deal done without surrendering Wiggins. For now, the Cavs seem unwilling to part with him.

All the LeBron and attached free-agency frenzy was enough to make you forget that Jabari Parker is Wiggins’ perceived rival as a rising young wing. This would be the first time we’ve seen the two measure up against each other since Kansas beat Duke at the United Center last November.
[+] EnlargeAndrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker
Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty ImagesAndrew Wiggins outscored Jabari Parker in their first matchup as pros.

The suspense in the cozy Cox Pavilion was palpable from the jump. Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson took courtside seats to watch their Raptors play in the game before Bucks vs. Cavs. That’s not notable, but here’s what is: The Raptors players didn’t move after their team’s game ended, preferring to hold their seats as the crowd slowly entered the arena. That’s rarely seen in a Summer League setting where established veterans file in and out.

Wiggins’ athleticism was on display, even if his shot and handle were shaky (he finished with 18 points on 18 shots). Terms like “athleticism” can be too reductive when describing players because everyone moves in their own way. Wiggins’ way is so much lighter than commonly seen. He’s perpetually on the balls of his feet, bouncing softly around in a manner that feels more ballet than basketball. That is, until he uncoils those springs in his legs and attacks. He probably didn’t attack enough, electing to loft eight 3-point attempts, but the Cavs did win in the end 70-68.

Parker impressed in spurts, but might have to do something about his conditioning. He was noticeably winded throughout the contest, but he didn’t let that stop him from scoring 17 points on 11 shots. His strength was on display when he converted a late bucket by posting up Wiggins out of the picture.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Bennett actually generated the best highlights in this one. Bennett uncorked a monster two-handed slam in transition, and Antetokounmpo managed to easily dunk after dribbling twice from behind half court. It was a great game for yet-to-be-realized potential.

Maybe LeBron sees the talent on Cleveland’s side and believes in that potential. Maybe he believes in David Blatt’s ability to get something more out of this Cavs roster, even if he’s met Blatt only twice, as Cleveland’s new coach indicated in an interview.

James is approaching 30 years old, but betrays little fear of his own aging process. Despite not mentioning Wiggins upon arrival, he’s waxing patient. In his announcement letter, James specifically said, “I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic.”

If James is indeed willing to help rebuild the Cavs slowly, then Wiggins is more protégé than trade piece. It’s difficult to foresee if Wiggins will eventually fulfill his promise, but the future feels bright in Cleveland. The question is whether LeBron’s talents will last long enough for it to arrive.

LeBron's mission much bigger than titles

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
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 socio-economic 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. It's 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
By D.J. Foster
Special to
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, ClipperBlog and others. Follow him, @fosterdj.

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

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
By D.J. Foster
Special to
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, ClipperBlog and others. Follow him, @fosterdj.

First Cup: Friday

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
By Nick Borges
  • 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 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
By Tom Westerholm
Here, in no particular order, are some notable performances from Day 6 of the Orlando Pro Summer League:

Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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
By Adam Reisinger
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
By Nick Borges
  • 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
By Tom Westerholm
Here, in no particular order, are some notable performances from Day 5 of the Orlando Pro Summer League:

Jeremy Lamb, Oklahoma City Thunder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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
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
By Nick Borges
  • 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 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.