First Cup: Friday

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
By Nick Borges
  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: Brandon Jennings’ 2008 decision to skip college to play professionally overseas didn’t exactly start a trend. But prep standout Emmanuel Mudiay followed in Jennings’ footsteps this month when he decided to spurn SMU and former Pistons coach Larry Brown to play in China. Multiple reports said Tuesday that the projected lottery pick of next year’s draft signed a deal worth $1.2 million for one season with the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the China Basketball Association. SMU announced last week that Mudiay would head overseas. “This is not an academic issue ... but rather a hardship issue,” Brown said in a statement. Mudiay is a 6-5 point guard. Jennings, who chose to play professionally in Italy in 2008 instead of playing for the University of Arizona, took to Twitter to comment on Mudiay’s signing. “Emmanuel Mudiay’s one-year deal with Guangdong of the China Basketball Association will pay him $1.2M. That’s Baller! Do what you gotta do,” Jennings wrote.
  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: Newest Maverick Jameer Nelson wasn’t a bad 3-point shooter last season. He hit 34.8 percent, which is OK. Except that, by his standards, it’s not. That’s what happens when you lack the proper sidekicks to help make your life easier. The free looks from the perimeter dried up along with the victories in Orlando the last two seasons. Nelson firmly believes that problem will be history in Dallas. After 10 years, an NBA finals trip and two miserable recent seasons with the Magic, Nelson landed in Dallas on Thursday, signing a two-year contract paying him $2.732 million this season. The second season is at Nelson’s option at $2.855 million for a total of $5.587 million. He couldn’t have been more excited — not only to be with a team that has had a booming summer of roster activity but one that fits his profile and has a chance to win a lot of games this season.
  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune: Smart business move or not, dealing Nikola Mirotic after earning his trust over three years would be contrary to everything Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf wants his organizations to represent and a departure from how the Bulls typically operate. It would be bold but borderline betrayal. It might lead to more victories but overall result in the loss of respect, and the Bulls traditionally care about both. Perhaps that explains why, as of Thursday, Mirotic and his representatives remained under the impression the 6-foot-10 forward was not part of any "significant offer" the Bulls made for Love. And without Mirotic included in a package centered around Gibson, the chances of the Bulls' latest Love interest leading to a relationship in Chicago dwindle. Removing a player with Mirotic's potential likely makes competing offers from the Cavaliers and Warriors more attractive to the Timberwolves. ... The Bulls had to call the Timberwolves about Love's availability. They have to keep calling until Love is a former Timberwolf. They must do everything within reason to try to keep Love away from the Cavs. It would be stunning if a Bulls organization headed by Reinsdorf considered breaking a commitment to Mirotic, a player who trusted them implicitly, within reason.
  • Janis Carr of The Orange County Register: Jeremy Lin arrived in Los Angeles this week but don’t expect Linsanity to follow. That’s what the high-profile point guard is hoping when he plays his first season in a Lakers uniform. Lin said Thursday he wants to leave behind the moniker and image he earned as a second-year player in New York when he went from unknown bench player to a starter for the Knicks and overnight sensation three years ago. His upbeat style of play, fresh face, Taiwanese-American roots, Harvard education and uncanny confidence made him a spectacle. He helped turn around the Knicks that season despite having played only 55 minutes through the first 23 games, prompting then Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni to claim he had “hit the lottery” with Lin. Those days are over, though, Lin said during his introductory news conference where he received his No.17 jersey. He said he is looking forward and so should Lakers fans.
  • Matthew Glenesk of The Indianapolis Star: Depending on how you decode some tweets from Pacers star Paul George, it appears, at least to conspiracy theorists, that George is considering a switch from his traditional 24 to 13. On Wednesday, George tweeted: "Got something in store for y'all in a couple weeks Indy!" OK, benign enough, but this morning, for the fourth time in three days, George tweeted: "#Trece". For those non-Spanish speakers, trece is 13 in Espanol. Now maybe George keeps scoring 13 goals in 'FIFA14' or perhaps there's some new energy drink or music group I don't know about, but a change could be a smart business move for a player already enjoying endorsements with Papa John's and Gatorade. A switch to 13 would allow George to be called PG-13, an idea that Jimmy Kimmel ran by him in January.
  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: The ongoing saga of Manu Ginobili’s status for the upcoming FIBA Basketball World Cup took yet another turn after long-time national teammate/friend Luis Scola gave a scathing interview in the Argentine media threatening to boycott the event in light of rampant corruption within the country’s hoops federation. Ginobili is scheduled to receive an update on the stress fracture in his lower right leg on Friday. But even if healthy and cleared to participate, there now seems to be a chance that Ginobili and others could follow Scola’s lead if he does indeed follow through on his threat. As a native Argentine and knowledgeable basketball fan, J.J. Gomez of Pounding the Rock has done a wonderful job providing context and insight ever since Ginobili’s injury came to light, not just of the unique pressures Ginobili is under in his home country to play internationally but how it all fits within the parameters of a governing body that has succumbed to institutional rot.
  • A. Sherrod Blakely of There's still plenty of time for Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics to slim down this bursting-at-the-seams roster. But even after a few contracts are shed from the payroll, there will still be a growing need for a Hunger Games-like emergence of someone from a young but talented cast of players that includes third-year big man Jared Sullinger. The 6-foot-9 forward returned this past season following lower back surgery to lead the team in rebounds (8.1 per game) in addition to averaging 13.3 points per game. And like the Celtics roster, the burly forward wouldn't mind being a little leaner this season as well. While dropping a few pounds is certainly something that Sullinger and the Celtics know can only help him, all agree that improving his game and not just his girth, should be the focus.
  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: Before Kevin Seraphin agreed to sign a $3.89 million qualifying offer from the Wizards, he had a minor procedure to clean out his troublesome right knee, had confirmed late Wednesday with a person with knowledge of the situation and a second person Thursday morning. Then FIBA released a list of players who wouldn't be competing in the Basketball World Cup in Spain on Thursday which included Seraphin. The Wizards would not release him to play because of the surgery which was minor. The surgery was expected given Seraphin's difficult season with the Wizards in which he had recurring issues with swelling in the knee. His playing time was sporadic, and when he had a chance to play his way back into the rotation he couldn't because of the health issues.
  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: The Suns waived shooting guard Dionte Christmas on Thursday, avoiding a $1.15 million guaranteed contract for him and leaving some roster flexibility for the coming season. If Christmas had remained on the Suns roster for another week, he would have been guaranteed a $1.15 million for next season. The Suns' projected roster already has six guards and Christmas, 27, did not project to crack the rotation after only making 31 brief appearances during his rookie season and not doing enough at NBA Summer League to project for more. Without Christmas, the Suns expect to have 14 guaranteed contracts for training camp with the addition of first-round picks T.J. Warren and Tyler Ennis and the expectation that they will re-sign restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe. With a league roster maximum of 15 for opening night, the Suns now have space for training camp free agents to compete for a job or the flexibility to add a player through free agency or trade.
  • Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: The 76ers signed injured point guard Pierre Jackson to a one-year, partially guaranteed contract Thursday. The 5-foot-10 rookie will be sidelined six to 12 months after rupturing his right Achilles tendon July 5 in a game against the Magic in the Orlando Pro Summer League. Jackson suffered the injury while attempting to make a move in the backcourt. He reached down to grab his Achilles and hopped on one leg twice before resting at midcourt. ... "Obviously we were devastated by Pierre's injury," said Jackson's agent, Colin Bryant. "However, with the outstanding support of general manager Sam Hinkie, coach Brett Brown, and the Sixers medical staff, he is on the road to recovery and looks forward to getting healthy and returning to the court soon."
  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: It certainly didn't take long for the Heat to move on from the free-agency departure of swingman James Jones, with swingman Danny Granger to wear the No. 22 that Jones wore the past six seasons. Forward Luol Deng will wear the No. 9 that Rashard Lewis had worn the past two seasons. Forward Josh McRoberts will wear the No. 4 most recently worn with the Heat by Gerald Fitch and best known with the Heat for being first worn by Rony Seikaly and later Caron Butler. Rookie forward James Ennis will wear the No. 32 mostly recently worn by Mickell Gladness and previously worn with the Heat by Shaquille O'Neal. And rookie guard Shabazz Napier will wear the No. 13 most recently worn with the Heat by Mike Miller.

Teams have Twitter fun with #NBASitcoms

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
By Adam Reisinger
The NBA offseason isn't much fun for the people running NBA team Twitter feeds. With Las Vegas Summer League wrapped up and only a few notable players left unsigned in free agency, the flow of NBA news has become a mere trickle. So teams are left to fill the void with creativity, and that's just what they've done. The other day, a handful of teams went all in on the #NBAmusicians trend, and they were back at it on Thursday, this time focusing on #NBASitcoms.

The @Suns got the ball rolling.

The @dallasmavs were the first other team to jump in.

From there the Suns kept it going, and other teams quickly got involved.

The teams are still going, and you can get in on the fun by using the hashtag #NBASitcoms on Twitter.


Andrew Wiggins and the power of potential

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
By Seerat Sohi
Special to
Andrew WigginsJack Arent/NBAE/Getty ImagesWho is Andrew Wiggins as a pro? Who knows? But his promise is driving NBA-shaping trade talks.
It’s Thursday night at summer league in Las Vegas, the Cleveland Cavaliers are playing the Houston Rockets and for a brief moment, Andrew Wiggins appears to be in control of his destiny.

Wiggins catches the ball, sizes up Nick Johnson and begins to back him down. In a matter of seconds, the whistle blows. The 6-foot-9 Maarty Leunen, who came over to help and ended up fouling Wiggins’ jumper, is visibly exasperated. For an undersized power forward just trying to make it in the NBA, ticky-tack fouls like this one may be a death blow. Wiggins, who is about to line up for his 19th and 20th free throw attempts, has been dealing them all game.

The Cavaliers' reported willingness to include Wiggins in a deal for Minnesota's Kevin Love has been met with mixed reviews. From a pure basketball standpoint, Love is the obvious choice. He is coming off a 26-point, 12-rebound season. His best skills -- shooting, court vision and fundamentally superior rebounding -- are the kind that age like good scotch. At 25, he’s still young enough to take over the team once LeBron James wears down. Any defensive upgrade Wiggins could provide is offset by the fact that young players almost always take years to translate their defensive chops onto the court. A trade for the disgruntled big man would pair two of the league's most efficient superstars with one the best young point guards. So, yes, Love is by all means the better basketball player. But there is no one who is better than what Wiggins represents.

Wiggins carries unprecedented star power, even for a No. 1 pick. He doesn’t just inspire belief in his future, he inspires us to prioritize it over a sure thing. Think of how many players have been able to do that before stepping on an NBA court. It’s a short list.

But in about 25 minutes, Wiggins will be shuttled away under some guise or another -- perhaps a photo shoot or an autograph session -- from reporters trying to unearth how he feels about the prospect of being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Underneath all those layers of potential and hope through which we’ve come to understand Wiggins is a guy who is just as clueless as everyone else. He doesn’t even know where he’s going to play, let alone how he’ll perform.

A San Antonio Spurs, David Robinson-to-Tim Duncan-esque scenario, where Wiggins eases LeBron’s load until eventually taking over, is tantalizing. It’s funny, when you think about it: The same “built vs. bought” and “right vs. wrong” paradigm that infiltrated the Spurs vs. Miami Heat NBA Finals just a month ago is back again, except this time, LeBron and the Cavs have a choice between the two.

A tendency to side toward keeping Wiggins -- and the route of unhurried team-building -- has little if anything to do with winning the ever-so-preachy “right” way, but with how some prefer to experience their favorite teams. The biggest draw the NBA has against the NCAA is that the former gives you the chance to watch something grow. The zenith of fandom, of course, is winning the last game of the season. But before that, there’s an entire process of imagining and contemplating a team’s trajectory. There are little joys along the way, like watching the result of a veteran player teaching a young player old tricks, and seeing tiny improvements -- as well as their ripple effects -- laid bare on the court.

To be a fan of an up-and-comer is to hope that things go right. To be a fan of a contender is to pray nothing goes wrong. In essence, optimism is more fun than anxiety.

Of course, trading Love for Wiggins isn’t as extreme. Any team featuring LeBron is bound to be a contender, but a trade for Love shifts the team’s focus from salivating over the sheer possibilities to figuring out how to fix the pipes. It’s already prominent in most trade discussions. The questions that skew heavy in a LeBron-Love-Kyrie Irving scenario -- How will they defend? How will they shore up their frontcourt depth? -- are surprisingly absent when you replace Love with Wiggins.

Such is the world of dreaming: fun, inconsequential and limitless. Everyone has to wake up at some point though, and when they do, the world around them won’t be likely to conform to those dreams. The reality in Cleveland is replete with “ifs," even outside of how Wiggins will pan out. No one knows what to make of Anthony Bennett, who showed up to summer league slender and invigorated. Whether Dion Waiters will smarten up under LeBron’s influence is another if. The verdict, to a lesser extent, is out on Tristan Thompson. Throw in injury-prone Anderson Varejao’s health concerns, too. On the other hand, there is concrete evidence that Love is a top-10 player.

There’s nothing wrong with nosediving in the possibilities of what isn’t yet known -- it’s a lot of fun! That's the entire point of the draft. But curiosity needs to be measured with an eye toward reality. Combine too many unknowns and the ground underneath them starts to get shaky. Trading Wiggins for Love wouldn’t sell the future for the present; it would stabilize both.

Seerat Sohi writes for the TrueHoop Network. Follow her, @DamianTrillard.

First Cup: Thursday

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
By Nick Borges
  • A. Sherrod Blakely of There's no waiving of the white flag just yet, but the Boston Celtics appear to be ready to move on from their pursuit of Minnesota star Kevin Love, league sources tell "The more teams step up and show interest in Love, the further Boston falls in the pack," a source said on Wednesday. "Danny's a smart guy. He knows when to keep pushing for something and when to move on." That's why the Celtics are reportedly among the clubs to express some interest in being a third team to help facilitate a trade involving Love to what one source said has become his "preferred" destination, Cleveland. I know. Cleveland.
  • Chris Fedor of The Plain Dealer: The Cavs will win the title in 2014-15 if they trade Wiggins, Bennett and at least one future first-round pick for Love. Fact: Isn't it way too early for this question? Can't I answer in October? Fine, then my answer is yes. Sure, they would be relatively inexperienced. They would have a head coach who hasn't coached in the NBA. The roster wouldn't be filled out completely. Chemistry would need to take place. The teams in the Western Conference are really, really good. I just don't see how a team with James, Irving and Love loses four times in seven games. That's three guys who can dominate games for long stretches of time all on the same court. That's two of the top 10 players in the league on the same team who fit perfectly next to each other. That's the top two players (James and Love) available this off-season going to the same team. Can they start printing the banners now?
  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Each time Taj Gibson works out at the Berto Center, team officials tell him not to focus on trade rumors involving his name. That said, they’re not stopping. And Wednesday brought another round as the Bulls continue talking with the Timberwolves about Kevin Love. ... The Tribune previously reported that Nikola Mirotic sought a commitment from the Bulls before completing his buyout from Real Madrid. And league sources indicated to the Tribune on Wednesday that reports of offers of Mirotic and first-round acquisition Doug McDermott for Love are “overstated.” Plus, Pau Gasol is under the impression he’s starting. In fact, the Bulls were positioned better to acquire Love without gutting their team in June with Carlos Boozer’s expiring contract, two first-round picks and non-guaranteed deals of salary-cap filler that were waived in July.
  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News: Amid all the unanswered questions who the Lakers will hire as their next head coach and when, two team sources strongly disputed that any delay stems from waiting out to see if Clippers coach Doc Rivers will become available because of embattled owner Donald Sterling prolonging a costly litigation battle. ESPN’s Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose each brought up that prospective theory on why the Lakers have gone three months without hiring a coach since Mike D’Antoni’s resignation on April 30. Clippers interim Chief executive Dick Parsons also testified in court Tuesday that Rivers does not want to continue to coach if Sterling still owns the team next season. ... The Lakers have said that the prolonged delay all stemmed from wanting to concentrate on the NBA draft and filling out their roster during free agency. They also said the personnel would dictate who they hire as a coach. But after initially believing the coaching hire would be resolved within this week, a Lakers official on Wednesday hardly provided much clarity on the finality. Still, the Lakers have not interviewed any candidates since free agency began this month except for Byron Scott last week, according to league sources familiar with the situation. The Lakers also have not currently scheduled any future interviews.
  • Tom Sorensen of The Charlotte Observer: Last season Kemba Walker helped recruit Al Jefferson. This month he pushed for Lance Stephenson. There is no offseason. “Of course I was excited,” says Walker. “You always want great talent around you and he’s really good. I think he can do so much on the basketball court and elevate the games of a lot of players. You always need a guy like that on your team.” Describe his game. “He’s a New York City guard,” says Walker. “He’s super tough, he’ll never back down from anything, and for his height (6-5) he handles the ball really well. He does the pick and roll really well. He passes the ball. He’s a great overall player.” What will Stephenson do for you aside from bringing a little New York? “He’ll help me in a lot of aspects,” says Walker. “I think he can make shots; I think he can take a lot of pressure off me as well. In late game situations we can go to him. And I can go off the ball at times. If he rebounds I can run and depend on him to make some plays." Stephenson can run an offense? "No question," says Walker.
  • Cody Stavenhagen of The Oklahoman: Registration for Kevin Durant’s basketball camp at the University of Oklahoma’s Huston Huffman Center filled after a couple of weeks, but 900 children were left on the waiting list. The solution? For Durant — maybe only for someone like Durant — it was to open a second camp that will run simultaneously Aug. 7-8, and having it in a community still recovering from a catastrophic tornado. Durant announced Wednesday he will host a second camp at Westmoore High School in Moore, allowing 600 additional kids to attend. Durant is reserving free camp spots for children affected by the May 2013 Moore tornado. He will even have a special spot for Hezekiah Darbon, a tornado survivor from Briarwood Elementary who was featured in a piece Durant narrated for ESPN.
  • Eric Koreen of the National Post: One extra win last summer could have drastically changed this summer for Canada’s men’s basketball team. If they had managed a single additional victory, it might have been enough to land the team in the top four of last year’s FIBA Americas tournament, qualifying them for this year’s FIBA World Cup in Spain — the renamed world championships. Instead, they fell short, and have been reduced to playing some exhibition games in Europe. Understandably, the likes of Tristan Thompson, hunting for a new contract, Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, possible trade chips in Cleveland, and Nik Stauskas and Tyler Ennis, getting set for their rookie years in the NBA, are not participating. For various reasons — insurance money for players’ contracts, a team’s wishes and more — it does not make sense for them to play in low-stakes games. However, a hypothetical: Would those players, pointed to as long-term cornerstones of the program, be in red and white if these games mattered more?
  • Dwain Price of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Jameer Nelson is expected to sign a one-year free-agent contract worth $2.73 million with the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday, a source said. Nelson is slated to meet with Mavericks officials in Dallas on Thursday. If all goes well he could then sign his new contract, the source said. Wednesday’s news regarding the 6-foot point guard was part of a whirlwind day that also saw the Mavericks void the contract of power forward Rashard Lewis, in addition to seeing point guard Raymond Felton plead guilty in a New York courtroom to attempted criminal possession of a weapon and criminal possession of a firearm. The Mavs also didn’t waste time fretting over the loss of Lewis as they reached an agreement late Wednesday with forward Al-Farouq Aminu (6-9, 215) on a two-year contract worth $2.1 million. The second year of the contract includes a player option for $1.1 million.
  • Dwight Jaynes of I almost feel that if Victor Claver is still a Portland Trail Blazer on opening night this season, someone should be carrying a sign around the Moda Center that reads, "Free Victor Claver." ... I had the feeling many times the team had just already made its mind up he is not part of the future here and the young players were in line for playing time ahead of him. OK, fair enough, I guess. And I may be all wrong about him as a player. Perhaps he's just not very good. So why is he still here? Is he going to be paid $1.33 million during the 2014-15 season NOT to play in games again? I hope not. If a team cannot be found willing to give up a future second-round pick for him, I'd suggest waiving him. Yes, take that salary on your cap but at this point, so what? It will be gone next summer when the space is needed. And I think by now he's served his time. Paid his dues. I'd like to see him get another chance someplace else or, at worst, go back home to Spain and not waste any more time here.
  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: The Wizards would like to do a better job resting key players, particularly at the end of the season, to make sure everyone is fresh for a postseason run. The Spurs are a high benchmark, but look at how often their best players played en route to winning their fifth NBA championship because of coach Gregg Popovich's deep rotations and willingness to rest aging starters on back-to-backs: Tony Parker missed 14 games and averaged 29.4 minutes per game; Manu Ginobili missed 14 games and averaged 22.8 minutes; and Tim Duncan missed eight games and averaged 29.2 minutes. And while solid, their bench isn't a list of future Hall of Famers. In doing so, the Spurs still won 62 games and were the much fresher team than the Miami Heat who were dispatched in five games. Maybe that's too much of a reach for 2014-15 for the Wizards, but having a goal and the pieces in place to reach it is a start. They made a 15-game improvement last season. At least 50 wins and a Southeast Division crown are well within reach. Now comes the difficult part in all of this -- execution.

Josh Huestis, first stashed domestic pick?

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
Young By Royce Young
Josh HuestisMike Stobe/Getty ImagesWhen the Thunder selected Josh Huestis in the first round, they had an innovative plan in mind.
Nobody saw it coming when the Oklahoma City Thunder selected Stanford forward Josh Huestis with the 29th overall pick in last month's draft.

Except, apparently, Josh Huestis.

As noted by Zach Lowe, Huestis and his agent, Mitchell Butler, had a prearranged agreement with the Thunder before the draft. The Thunder would take him with the No. 29 pick in the 2014 draft, but Huestis wouldn't sign his guaranteed rookie contract.

Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman laid out the parameters of the innovative agreement last week. Projected by all accounts to be a second-round pick, Huestis elected to become a bit of a draft pioneer, the NBA's first domestic draft-and-stash player. He would leave his rookie contract unsigned, a deal that would pay him somewhere between $750,000 and $900,000, to sign with the Thunder's D-League affiliate instead. Then in a year or two Huestis would, presumably, sign his rookie deal.

It was a clever idea by one of the most forward-thinking front offices in the league. Huestis isn't exactly NBA-ready, but he could potentially be a future replacement for Thabo Sefolosha, who signed with the Atlanta Hawks this offseason. By not signing him immediately, the Thunder aren't clogging a roster spot with a player they won't use and aren't eating up almost a million bucks of cap space on him. And better yet, it stops the clock on Huestis' rookie deal, which would have been only a year behind the one signed by Andre Roberson, a player with similar skills, last season.

Smart, right? The real question is this: Was all this legal, or is Sam Presti the NBA's Wolf of Wall Street?

A pre-draft arrangement like this isn't against the rules, as there are ample amounts of gray area within which to operate. But it's certainly against the spirit of the draft, as Tom Ziller of SB Nation notes. And because of it, one would think the National Basketball Players Association has some interest in this situation. On the surface of this is a first-round pick willingly giving up his guaranteed first-round rookie-scale deal, which locks him into roughly almost $2 million over the next two years and up to $5 million over the next five, for a $25,000 D-League contract.

Why would Huestis agree to this? Because of the potential guarantee of an NBA contract, and thereby bigger overall earnings. By all accounts, it was extremely unlikely that Huestis would be picked in the first round and find himself with a guaranteed deal. He was headed for the second round and was probably going to the D-League regardless. So instead of having to work himself into a future NBA deal, he's simply delaying it. In a roundabout way, it gave him control to pick the team he wanted, and presents him with something he likely wouldn't have otherwise had -- an actual NBA deal. Per his agent, Huestis had interest in doing this only with either the Thunder or Spurs. So think of it like a college grad who really wants to work at Google deciding to take an unpaid internship out of college, turning down a more lucrative offer with a company he didn't think he'd fit as well with.

Now, there are ample amounts of risk in this move for Huestis. What if he blows out his knee or has some kind of medical issue that derails his career? But there was also risk going the other way, getting picked by the wrong team in the second round and watching his career slip away for a shot at a $500,000 nonguaranteed contract.

[+] EnlargeJosh Huestis
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Josh Huestis suited up for OKC in the Orlando Summer League. Is the D-League his next stop?
It's a complicated situation that might be a win-win for both the Thunder and Huestis, but there should be concern with the precedent it could set. Front offices are prone to deception. They promise players they'll select them in the first round if they leave college early. They tell them not to work out for other teams. They tell them they're going to take them no matter what, and then don't. With the way the Thunder operate, regardless of what happens, they're likely to uphold the agreement with Huestis. But would all 29 other teams? At some point, some prospect is sure to get burned.

This isn't the first time Presti persuaded a late first-round pick to work with him. Roberson, the 26th overall pick, signed his rookie deal at 80 percent of its worth last season, reducing the cap hit by a couple hundred thousand dollars. Again, savvy stuff from the Thunder, who are pinching every penny possible in order to avoid the luxury tax for as long as possible. But there's also the unseemly aspect of an organization pulling in almost $30 million in profit strong-arming prospects to take less money.

The obvious question: Why not just take Huestis in the second round if this was the plan? The Thunder didn't have a second-round pick until they bought No. 55 and selected Semaj Christon. Huestis was a surprise pick at 29 to start with, so unless there was a major concern of the Spurs snatching him at 30, why not trade that 29th pick to drop to 31 or 32 and snag Huestis at a spot where his contract wasn't guaranteed? That's what the Thunder did with Grant Jerrett last season and now he has a multiyear deal signed with the team. Problem is, the Thunder would've been rolling the dice on losing a player they liked to someone else. Second-round picks have their own value because the contracts aren't guaranteed. We can assume a team at 31-35 would've bit to move up to 29, but those teams may not have wanted a guaranteed rookie deal on their books either.

Plenty of first-round picks have opted not to sign their first-round deals. In all of those cases, though, they were international draft-and-stash moves, like Serge Ibaka, who stayed an extra season in Spain after being taken 24th overall. The difference between those type of moves and Huestis is that an international player is still making a hefty salary, certainly more than a D-Leaguer's $25,000 a year.

The real issue here isn't with the Thunder or Huestis, it's with the D-League-NBA relationship. The league desperately wants to grow its developmental ground, but with a lot of teams not owning their own affiliates outright and having a one-to-one relationship, there's not enough synergy or continuity. The Thunder have been on the forefront of utilizing their D-League team, but with backward roster restrictions in place, it creates the need to get creative.

The fixes are obvious. One, as Ziller pointed out, is to make a provisional 16th roster spot, one that doesn't count against your cap. Another is more complicated, but probably necessary anyway: Raise D-League wages. If the NBA wants the D-League to become more of a true minor league system, with teams utilizing it as an actual developmental tool, players would need to be able to earn legitimate money there. Probably never to the extent international guys do for CSKA Moscow or Besiktas or whoever, but at least provide a decent financial alternative.

The arrangement between the Thunder and Huestis is not breaking the rules, per se, and it's certainly an advantageous move for the Thunder to pull, and really, good for Huestis. Potentially.

But it could set a poor precedent and open a slippery slope as front offices try to manipulate the cap as much as possible, thereby hurting impressionable players desperate for an NBA contract. Remember: Chandler Parsons was a second-round pick, and after making a couple million dollars, just signed with the Mavericks for $46 million over three years. What the Thunder and Huestis have engineered all works in theory, so long as owners and front offices follow through. But nothing is guaranteed when it comes to this stuff. Well, except for first-round contracts. Or at least they were supposed to be.

The Clippers' no-win situation

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
Adande By J.A. Adande
There’s no need for Doc Rivers, Chris Paul or any other member of the Los Angeles Clippers to abandon ship now, because there’s no way for them to beat Donald Sterling. You can’t defeat a man who doesn’t care if he loses, and Sterling’s made it clear he fears no loss at all. He doesn’t care if he loses out on the $2 billion he could get if he signed off on the sale of the team to Steve Ballmer. He doesn’t care about salvaging whatever respect accompanied his name. He doesn’t care about paying attorneys for a never-ending series of lawsuits.

There’s no reason to prove a point to the NBA because commissioner Adam Silver and the league are on their side, having banned Sterling for life with a willingness to vote to oust him if need be. If the forced sale gets tied up in the legal system, so will an attempt by Sterling to overturn his ban. Either way, don’t expect Sterling to be sitting courtside on opening night. So what would a resignation by Rivers – as interim CEO Richard Parsons suggested could happen -- or a player boycott accomplish? It would create nothing but hardship for other players, fans, arena workers and broadcast partners.

For anyone contemplating bailing, it’s really about resolving a conflict with their own conscience. And the only way to do that would be to give back every dollar they ever made from Sterling. They can’t act as if Sterling’s true nature only came to light when TMZ posted the V. Stiviano recordings in April. If they signed their contracts in a shroud of ignorance, that’s on them.

Sterling’s lawyers are trying to portray this entire saga as an unfair exploitation of an illegally recorded private conversation. It’s so far beyond that now. Every act of defiance by Sterling, every sponsor who stays away from the Clippers while he still owns the team, every day this story drags on all conspire to “affect the Association…adversely”, which is one of the criteria for the NBA to terminate ownership. So is delinquency in paying debts to the league, and the NBA says Sterling still hasn’t paid the $2.5 million fine levied by Silver.

It’s impossible to discern Sterling’s end game. He can’t realistically hope to keep his team. He’s not looking to get as much money as possible. He apparently enjoys inconveniencing as many people for as long as he can. The option of inconveniencing him right back isn’t viable. He takes the witness stand and disparages everyone in the NBA, yet he resists a $2 billion opportunity to rid himself of their company forever. Apparently, he prefers this misery.

Even if the players, sponsors and fans abandon him and he feels compelled to sell he’ll still reap a windfall. We just witnessed the Clippers go through a no-leverage sale (get rid of the team immediately or have the league do it for you) and get sold at quadruple the market value. Apparently there’s nothing that can depreciate this asset. Sterling’s best efforts couldn’t.

The irony of Rivers weighing the option of quitting is that it would be the equivalent of firing someone who had just typed up a letter of resignation.

First Cup: Wednesday

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
By Nick Borges
  • Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: And on the next day closer to a Kevin Love trade ... Cleveland completed a trade with Utah that brought back three players with non-guaranteed contracts Tuesday, assets they can use to make a trade for the Timberwolves star work under the NBA’s complicated salary-cap rules. Also Tuesday, Wolves President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders pulled owner Glen Taylor out of the third quarter of the WNBA’s Lynx game at Target Center, presumably to attend to an urgent Wolves’ matter in the team’s upstairs arena offices. He returned to watch the end of the Lynx’s double-overtime victory and then quickly returned to the Wolves’ offices. In a matter of days, the Cavaliers have gone from insisting they absolutely will not trade No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins to positioning themselves for a blockbuster trade that’d acquire a third star to go along with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. The Cavaliers did so Monday by swinging a trade that sent away guard Carrick Felix’s guaranteed minimum contract, a second-round pick and $1 million to Utah for guards John Lucas and forwards Malcolm Thomas and Erik Murphy.
  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: If the Bulls are back in the Kevin Love sweepstakes, as ESPN reported Tuesday, that would be news to a source close to the situation. “I would like to know which side let that out," the source said, inferring that it sounded more like the Timberwolves were playing chicken with more serious bidders such as the Warriors and Cavaliers. The Bulls were one of the first teams to throw a serious package at the Timberwolves in June, headlined by Taj Gibson, Tony Snell and multiple draft picks, but it wasn’t to be.
  • Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun: Speaking with fellow ESPNer Keith Olbermann, Jason Whitlock, no stranger to controversial, attention-grabbing comments, said “Andrew Wiggins’ effort and intensity sometimes was inconsistent at Kansas and that might be a personality quark he’ll deal with throughout his career. “That’s why (the Cavs) would probably prefer to play with Kevin Love. This is what a lot of NBA people believe. American-born ... players have more intensity, they’re not as laid back.” Canadians were defiant at training camp at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday in dismissing Whitlock’s statements. “They say different things like that. We have many athletes in many different sports that can excel at many high levels,” said Carl English, a 33-year-old guard who has led the Spanish ACB, the world’s second-best league, in scoring. ... Orlando Magic forward Andrew Nicholson, who played extremely aggressively, getting himself into foul trouble a year ago, was stunned when he heard the quote. “Wow. I don’t agree with that. I know we have motivation, that’s why we are here,” Nicholson said. ... “It’s a wonderful sweeping generalization. Really good. Hit it on the head there. Our hockey team lacks a lot of competitiveness and determination for sure,” Steve Nash said, tongue firmly in cheek.
  • Cliff Pinckard of The Plain Dealer: LeBron James is a caring neighbor. Earlier this month, Cleveland Cavaliers fans and journalists arrived in droves outside of James' home in Bath Township as they waited for his announcement on where he would play next season. It caused quite a furor in the neighborhood, and extra police were called in to manage the crowd. James is aware of this and to make amends, he sent a note of apology accompanied with cupcakes to his neighbors on Tuesday.
  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: Kendall Marshall describes himself as a "pass-first" point guard. That could be just what the Milwaukee Bucks need. So it was not too surprising that the Bucks jumped to make a waiver claim after the Los Angeles Lakers released the 6-foot-4 Marshall last week. One moment Marshall was playing for the Lakers' summer league team in Las Vegas and the next he was a member of the Bucks' suddenly changing guard corps. Or as he put it nicely on Twitter: #FeartheBeardedDeer. "I'm very excited about it," Marshall said Tuesday in a phone interview. "I like the young core they have. With the athletes they have it's going to be more probable to get in the open court." Marshall will be reunited with his former North Carolina teammate John Henson. The 22-year-old Virginia native provides a true point guard option to go along with Brandon Knight and newcomer Jerryd Bayless, both considered hybrid types that can play either point guard or shooting guard. ... Playing under new Bucks coach Jason Kidd, a future Hall of Fame point guard, is an opportunity Marshall relishes.
  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: The Celtics are banking that the Evan Turner who arrives at TD Garden is the one who averaged 17.4 points in 54 games with Philadelphia last season before being traded to Indiana. The Turner who played for the Pacers had no defined role or responsibility on a team that became increasingly dysfunctional. Turner walked right into the NBA’s version of “Bad Girls Club.” It’s a fresh opportunity for a kid who has received more scrutiny than he deserved. Turner is tired of talking about what hasn’t happened with his career and why. He won’t face that type of pressure in Boston, and Ainge and Stevens will give him ample opportunity to show he’s got game left. Now it’s about creating the right situation for that to occur.
  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: After weeks referring to second-round pick Nick Johnson as if he already was a signed member of their roster, the Rockets will soon make it official. A day after the Rockets completed play in the Las Vegas Summer League, the Rockets expected the signing of Johnson to be imminent, a person with knowledge of their talks said. Johnson will sign a three-year deal. The Rockets are also expected to sign first-round pick Clint Capela. Johnson and Capela are, however, the only players from the large list of prospects whose rights the Rockets hold expected on the roster. Second-round pick Alessandro Gentile is expected to remain in Europe for at least another season. The Rockets last week did not come to terms with forward Kostas Papanikolaou after several days of talks.
  • Staff of The Dallas Morning News: On Chandler Parsons ... Mark Cuban: "I was pretty confident. Houston is a very logical organization. They do things by the book. They'll follow logic as opposed to some other human elements ... I guess I can't think of a better way to put it. And so, by the book, they were not going to match. We priced it so if they tried to do a sign-and-trade, they were up against the CBA's hard cap. And that would limit their options. We knew if they didn't do anything with Chris Bosh, it would create limitations for their future flexibility. If they did bring in Chris Bosh, they basically were going to have to get rid of everybody. We tried to make it as difficult as possible on them."
  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: Mark Barnhill, senior partner at Platinum Equity, issued a statement Tuesday reflecting the sentiments of Pistons owner Tom Gores, in light of the Ilitch family unveiling plans for a $650 million entertainment district downtown. The Pistons are the lone pro sports team in Detroit that isn't downtown, and they are not currently weighing the possibility of moving from The Palace of Auburn Hills, Barnhill said. "We have a beautiful arena, and we have invested tens of millions of dollars over the past three years to modernize and improve that facility," said Barnhill in the statement. "At the same time, we would never close the door on alternatives if they made good sense for our fans, for our team, for our business and for Michigan." The Palace is the only arena among the four used by Detroit’s pro sports teams that was built solely by private funds -- by late owner William Davidson in the 1980s.
  • Scott Horner of The Indianapolis Star: Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert had some rather accomplished company for dinner Tuesday night -- basketball legends Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Bird also happens to be Hibbert's boss as Pacers president. Hibbert's tweet indicates he got to ask them plenty of questions. Wonder if any were these: Can you teach me that sky hook? Who would win a game of H-O-R-S-E (hook vs. 3-pointers)? Inch-for-inch, which of you was better? Bird (6-9) averaged 24.3 points and 10 rebounds per game over 13 seasons, with three NBA titles, three straight NBA MVP awards and 12 All-Star Game honors. Abdul-Jabbar (7-2) averaged 24.6 points and 11.2 rebounds per game over 20 seasons, with six NBA titles, six NBA MVP awards and 19 All-Star Game honors.

First Cup: Tuesday

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
By Nick Borges
  • Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press: Hall of fame coach Mike Krzyzewski says a Kevin Love-to-Cleveland trade would have his approval -- and that it doesn't take much thought. There were reports last week that the Cavaliers could be willing to trade the previous two top picks in the NBA draft -- Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett -- to the Timberwolves in exchange for Love, but the trigger has yet to be pulled. Krzyzewski, who coaches Duke and the U.S. men's national team, told CBS Sports radio Monday that if he were with Cleveland, he would trade for Love in an instant. But if Cleveland signs Wiggins to a contract within a week, as reported Sunday by ESPN, a possible trade would be delayed for 30 days.
  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: Yes, Mark Jackson is gone, but his standard of defense still exists. Kevin Love doesn't bolster the Warriors defense, and losing Thompson would be a big blow. You think new coach Steve Kerr -- who we've reported prefers to keep Thompson -- wants to be the reason for reverting back to the old Warriors who gave up 110 a night? And then there is this: Curry doesn't want Thompson to go. Can the Warriors really afford to spurn the wishes of their best player again? If his influence keeps getting diminished by management, why would he want to stay when his contract comes up? The Warriors have a star playing on the most favorable contract in the league. He's still a bit skeptical from the ouster of the coach who finally introduced him to winning. It's risky business to now take away his backcourt mate after he asks management not to. Can the Warriors do it? Sure. Curry is on the books for three more years, and winning can smooth over hurt feelings. But what if they don't win? That could mean losing Thompson and eventually Curry for the difference between Love and David Lee. Still a no-brainer?
  • Steven Lounge of While the roster won’t officially be released until after the camp, the team Triano will be bringing with him will look very similar to the one from last summer, headlined by NBA players Joseph, Andrew Nicholson and Kelly Olynyk. The most noteworthy absences include the Cleveland Cavalier trio of Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett, as well as the two other Canadians drafted in the first round of this year’s NBA draft, Nik Stauskas and Tyler Ennis. When asked about this, Steve Nash explained that there is a lot of interest from everyone in the national team, but the program ultimately didn’t want to interfere with those players’ NBA commitments. “Everyone’s shown interest but for various reasons it’s not that simple,” Nash said. “You’ve got interests of the club, the players’ level of health, fatigue, but first and foremost we want our young guys to be in good stead with their team. So I think some more guys could be here but right now they’re trying to fulfill their obligations to their team.” Despite saying all that, Nash seemed to allude to the fact that Wiggins could be joining the team this summer. “Andrew’s shown a lot of interest, right now he’s got a lot of attention on him, and a phenomenally difficult and trying last year, but his team is also really concerned about what he does and when he does it,” the NBA’s oldest player said.
  • Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee: Ben McLemore has worked on his game. The second-year guard is hardly a finished product, but he showed important signs of growth. McLemore won’t be trying out for the Harlem Globetrotters based on his ballhandling, but it was improved after the Kings’ first summer league game, in which he had eight turnovers. McLemore also showed he can begin to do more than camp out at the three-point line. McLemore was active without the ball and showed he also could become a competent rebounder. McLemore could have been a mess considering the Kings used this year’s first-round pick on another shooting guard, Nik Stauskas. Perhaps the addition motivated McLemore to continue improving. McLemore could have been more consistent, but the Kings like the growth he showed.
  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: This offseason, Tony Snell lost the braids he had worn since elementary school and gained 10 pounds of muscle. The Bulls hope he also found sustained confidence that he showed only in spurts during an uneven rookie season. "If you're not confident out there, you shouldn't be playing," Snell said in a recent interview in Las Vegas. "I've got a lot of shots up this summer and I feel pretty confident." Snell earned first-team All-NBA Summer League honors by virtue of averaging 20 points in the Bulls' five games. Snell shot 46.6 percent overall and 50 percent from 3-point range and averaged 4.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists. "I got a lot stronger and faster, so that's a good sign," Snell said. "I've been working hard all summer."
  • Bryan Gibberman of The Phoenix Suns lost one integral member of their roster from last season when Channing Frye signed a four-year deal with the Orlando Magic. To help fill the void created by Frye's absence, the team signed Anthony Tolliver, a six-year veteran who has played for six different NBA teams. Once Frye agreed to terms with Orlando, Tolliver targeted Phoenix as a potential landing spot. ... The big question is if Tolliver can shoot with the same type of consistency Frye has over the years. The 6-foot-8 forward has eclipsed the 40 percent mark from three-point range twice in his career, but hit just 24 percent in 2011-12 and 34 percent in 2012-13. Tolliver is confident in his ability to shoot from deep because he's been working on this aspect of his game for a long time.
  • Tom Sorensen of The Charlotte Observer: Marvin Williams, who nine seasons ago helped lead North Carolina to the NCAA basketball championship, is 6-foot-9. He’ll play power forward and small forward, likely more of the former. He played for Atlanta and then Utah, and in nine seasons averaged 10.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists. Williams, who turned 28 last month, won’t be asked to win games. He’ll be asked to hit shots from the perimeter, hit the open man and drive to the basket. He’ll also be an influence on the younger players the Hornets collect, and he won’t have to be asked. We don’t know what free agent Lance Stephenson or rookie P.J. Hairston will bring. But a strong core of players is essential. Williams makes a strong group stronger.
  • Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe: A couple of years ago, the Celtics turned their office on Causeway Street, near TD Garden, into a pseudo museum detailing the franchise’s history, with pictures and memorabilia covering nearly every square inch of space. And down one hallway, all the Celtics logos dating to the team’s founding in 1946 were splashed on the wall, each carrying the story behind its origin. Those stories sparked an idea for something new with a touch of the past, and after 18 months of work, that idea will debut this week: a new alternate logo. Created in-house, the logo, which is known as the “Lucky Alternate,” pays homage to the early 1960s illustration created by Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach’s brother, Zang, a former editorial and sports artist for newspapers in Washington. ... “It’s such an iconic silhouette that people, when they see it, they’ll know exactly what it is,” said Shawn Sullivan, the team’s chief marketing officer. The logo will first be used on adidas team apparel and merchandise on sale through the team’s online store beginning this month.
  • Cody Stavenhagen of The Oklahoman: It’s no surprise, but the Oklahoma City Thunder is making a firm stand in establishing an independent identity. Christopher Arena — the NBA’s vice president of outfitting, identity and equipment — told The Oklahoman in a phone interview Monday the Thunder will not honor the Seattle SuperSonics’ 1979 NBA title with the league’s new championship tags. Beginning in 2014-15, the NBA and Adidas will add small gold mark on the back jersey collar of teams that have won an NBA championship. The mark features a depiction of the Larry O’Brien Trophy along with a notation indicating how many times the franchise has won the NBA Finals. Last week, a leaked PDF of an Adidas catalog showed Thunder jerseys appearing without the tag, but the organization has yet to confirm or deny the decision. “As of right now, they are not wearing it,” Arena said.
  • Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: The NBA’s inevitable march toward having advertising on its jerseys has continued with a subtle change to their style this season. By moving the league’s iconic silhouette logo from the left chest area to the back above the player’s name, the NBA has now opened up a prime piece of real estate on the front of its jerseys to eventually place advertising on them. While the idea of having ads on jerseys is against the sensibilities of most American sports fans, they are commonplace in Europe, and since taking over for David Stern back in February, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has made it clear it’s only a matter of time before they’ll be seen on NBA jerseys. “I think it’s inevitable,” Silver said in March at the 2014 IMG World Congress of Sports, according to Ad Age.

Las Vegas Summer League, Day 11 grades

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
By Fred Katz

Here are eight notable performances from the Sacramento Kings' 77-68 win over the Houston Rockets in the championship game on Day 11 at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas:

Ray McCallum, Sacramento Kings | Grade: A-plus-plus-plus
Anytime you can actually pull off the Jordan shrug in summer league, something is going right for you. McCallum did exactly that, reining in MVP of the summer league championship game by scoring 29 points on just 15 shots. He made his open jumpers. He dribbled around screens like a legitimate NBA, offense-controlling point guard -- a rarity at summer league. By the end, the Kings point guard was so hot, he was pulling up from 30 feet. Controlled willpower with the ability to capitalize when you got for it all; that's not exactly common to find in Vegas.

Nik Stauskas, Sacramento Kings | Grade: B-minus
With only seconds remaining in the second quarter, Isaiah Canaan barreled down the court, heading straight to the hoop. Figuring he could get by a flat-footed and backpedaling Stauskas, he dribbled right and tried to turn the corner. But Stauskas bodied him up, used his help-defender and forced a wild shot from Canaan. That’s a learned play from the offensive-minded Kings rookie, who failed to score in the second half against the Rockets. Discovering defense is the next step, and slowly but surely he’s starting to do that.

Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings | Grade: C-minus
Summer league hasn’t been kind to McLemore. Another game, another day without any assists. Three turnovers in the LVSL championship game gave the former first-rounder a 9-to-26 assist-to-turnover ratio in his second summer league. For a kid who is supposed to be working on his facilitating, that’s not necessarily the most encouraging performance, especially considering how many open shots he missed Monday.

MarShon Brooks, Sacramento Kings | Grade: C
If Brooks’ best shot to make a roster -- and then earn playing time next season -- has to do with his decision-making, he should hope NBA teams weren’t tuned in to Monday’s championship game. He always seems to be looking for his shot, which is a fine attribute, but not when it yields indiscriminate irresponsibility. He’s shooting no matter what, like on a third-quarter play when two defenders came in his area and he attempted a step-back jumper with time left on the shot clock instead of kicking to a wide-open, red-hot McCallum in the corner. If you’re going to try to play like Jamal Crawford, you'd better hope you can actually play like Jamal Crawford.

Quincy Acy, Sacramento Kings | Grade: B-plus
No one pulls off the intimidation walk quite like the Baylor alum: chest out, thighs fighting through the air like they're in a workout pool, and eyes glaring enough to make anyone dive out of the way of their sight line. "Squints" Acy matched Monday's game style with that walk. He might have totaled just six points, but his defense was fierce and physical. He bullied anyone with a pulse on the way to eight boards. The beard is scraggly. So is his game. But it works.

Isaiah Canaan, Houston Rockets | Grade: B-plus
It’s incredibly possible that Canaan has never passed up a shot when his defender fails to fight through a screen. Go under a pick when you’re guarding him, and the ball is going up every time. Every single time -- and he makes his shots, too. Canaan finished summer league averaging just fewer than six 3-point attempts per 36 minutes. Isaiah’s not even a gunner. He’s something bigger. He’s a Canaan.

Donatas Motiejunas, Houston Rockets | Grade: B
Motiejunas is potentially going to provide an interesting case study for the Rockets this season. If he plays anything like he did in summer league, we’ll see a decent amount of midrange jumpers and post-ups. That’s not Houston’s style, but in Vegas those moves worked, and he finished with 16 points in the championship game.

Nick Johnson, Houston Rockets | Grade: B
Johnson’s reputation pegs him as shooter, but he’s shown off many more skills at both the Las Vegas and Orlando summer leagues. He can handle and has the athleticism to attack the rim; now all he needs to do is finish in the paint consistently. Johnson missed a couple of layups that could’ve put his grade over the top, but his activity on the boards and on the defensive end still completes a solid final game for him.

First Cup: Monday

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
By Nick Borges
  • Billy Witz of The New York Times: Natalie Nakase, the Clippers’ assistant video coordinator, is trying to earn credibility in the coaching profession the same way: by proving her worth. She landed a spot as an assistant coach on the Clippers’ bench during the two-week N.B.A. Summer League here, a first according to the Clippers and a step toward her goal of becoming an N.B.A. coach — something no woman has ever accomplished. “I don’t want to just coach,” Nakase said. “I want to win championships.” On that point, she is echoing the mantra of Doc Rivers, who joined the Clippers last summer as coach and chief executive of basketball operations, and who in the wake of the Donald Sterling scandal became an inspirational beacon for the organization. Rivers has said the Clippers do not just want championship players, but championship sales representatives, accountants and marketers. So when Nakase, 34, sat on the bench recently on the staff of Brendan O’Connor, the summer league coach, it was an acknowledgment of the work she has put in over the last two seasons as a video intern.
  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: When Larry Bird met with Lance Stephenson, his family and his agent the first night of free agency, he had a couple of five-year options and was sure one of them was going to be acceptable. But a few days later, Ebanks called back Bird and told him, "I don't think this is going to work. I don't believe you have the money available to re-sign Lance." Bird was stunned. They ultimately went back and forth, contemplated different options, but the money was never right. Of all the head-scratchers, this is the biggest: Why would Stephenson accept a team option in the third year? A player option would make some sense. If he blew up and became an All-Star, he could opt out and hit the lottery. But a team option gives Michael Jordan and the Hornets all the leverage. If Stephenson develops into a top-tier player, Jordan locks him into the last year of the contract. If he struggles or screws up, the team can just drop him. Bizarre. Bird could stomach this if Stephenson had left for much greener pastures, a lot more cash. But the argument can be made that he left for a worse deal. ... In the end, he wasn't worth $10 million or more. Not to the Pacers, not to anybody, in the end.
  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: Why are so many contracts during free agency — including that of LeBron James — for the short term? James signed a two-year deal with the Cavaliers intentionally, understanding the league’s television deal is up for negotiation in 2016 and Fox Sports will join the NBA broadcasting partners along with ESPN and TNT. With perhaps a 100 percent increase in television revenue over the $930 million, eight-year deal signed in 2008, the salary cap could approach $90 million for the 2016-17 season, and the owners and players split the basketball-related revenue 50-50, according to the collective bargaining agreement. “Well, I think it’s appropriate in that the players are our partners,” Silver said about players taking shorter teams to ensure themselves a raise with their next contracts. “We have a system in place in which the players receive roughly 50 percent of the revenue, and we’ve been very transparent with you, the media, obviously our owners know what’s going on, but we’ve also included the Players Association directly in updates on those discussions.” It’s interesting that Silver would acknowledge the expected increase, an indication that the league is soaring in popularity. The desire of Fox Sports to pursue a Saturday national game of the week only confirms that.
  • Ben Standig of CSN Washington: In a good news, bad news situation, Glen Rice Jr. learned he would not leave Las Vegas empty handed moments after the Wizards were bounced from the summer league. Rice was named the Las Vegas summer league Most Valuable Player after leading all scorers with 25 points per game. He had 36 points in Washington's triple-ovetime against San Antonio on Saturday and tallied 24 in Sunday's 74-62 loss to Sacramento. Otto Porter also received first-team honors. The third overall selection in the 2013 draft averaged 19 points and 5.8 rebounds. "Were just trying to build off of last year," Rice said of the Wizards overall. "Like you said, Otto Porter played extremely well in this tournament. That made it a lot easier for me. He drew a lot of double teams." Joining the Wizards duo on the first team included Houston's Donatas Motiejunas and Chicago's Tony Snell and Doug McDermott, the lone rookie in this group.
  • Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer: The 76ers may have acquired a second-round steal in Jordan McRae. The 6-foot-6, 185-pound swingman garnered second-team all-NBA Summer League honors on Sunday. The rookie out of Tennessee averaged a team-leading 21 points. ... McRae was also a shutdown defender during the summer league, finishing with a total of seven steals and three blocks. Not bad for someone drafted by the San Antonio Spurs with the 58th overall pick and traded to the Sixers on draft night. ... Rudy Gobert (Jazz), Tim Hardaway Jr. (Knicks), Russ Smith (Pelicans) and T.J. Warren (Suns) accompanied McRae on the second team.
  • Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: Andrei Kirilenko apparently doesn’t get why Jason Kidd chose to leave Brooklyn for Milwaukee. In an interview with SovSport, a Russian national daily sports newspaper, Kirilenko said Kidd’s decision to move on from his job as head coach of the Nets to take the same position with the Bucks was an “unequal exchange,” and seemed to wonder whether or not Kidd wanted to deal with the microscope that comes with working in New York City. “The pressure is huge,” Kirilenko said, according to a Google translation of the interview. “And Kidd couldn’t handle it … or maybe he didn’t want to.” This isn’t the first time a Kirilenko has criticized Kidd over the last year. After the versatile forward was left on the bench for all of the Nets’ victory in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Raptors this spring, his wife Masha took to Instagram to post a picture of her husband sitting on the bench with the caption, “... And are you Kidding like Jason,” which appeared to be a reference to Nelly’s song, “Hot in Herre,” which includes the line, “I’m just kiddin’ like Jason.”
  • Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press: We know, of course, that there is a 99 percent chance that Kevin Love will be traded, especially now that LeBron has weighed in and officially requested his presence in Cleveland. Yet notice that Saunders didn't jump right away, even after the Cavs allegedly included Wiggins in the package. The Timberwolves appear to have gone from being tapped out to holding all the cards. There is a buzz surrounding the team, and it's more positive than negative. It seems as if something big is about to happen. Something good or, at least, not horrible. Who'd have thought we'd get from there to here in a couple of months? So congrats to Flip Saunders and the organization. It's hard to say how it will all work out but, for now, they've made chicken salad out of chicken, um, droppings.
  • Bob Finnan of The News-Herald: The Cavaliers insist rookie swingman Andrew Wiggins has not been offered in a possible trade for Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love. No one involved would guarantee it wouldn’t happen at a later date, but for now the Cavaliers will proceed in Love negotiations without using the mercurial Wiggins as a trade chip, a source told The News-Herald. Another source told The News-Herald last week the Cavaliers would be willing to deal the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft in a trade for Love — and that might still happen. ESPN the Magazine’s Chris Broussard and USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt also reported the same thing. All-Star forward LeBron James has reportedly spoken to Love about joining forces in Cleveland, according to a Yahoo! Sports report. Love is apparently open to signing an extension with the Cavs or the Golden State Warriors. Golden State and the Boston Celtics are also trying to acquire the 6-foot-10, 250-pound Love. The Warriors have maintained they won’t trade shooting guard Klay Thompson in any deal for Love. If they budge on that stance, that might force the Cavs to reconsider with Wiggins.
  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: But the legend of Charles Barkley is an enduring, endearing, evolving fable. Charities continue calling. Adversaries plead for help. Individuals such as NBA executive Rod Thorn – who levied the fine in 1991 and was among the USA Basketball officials who only reluctantly endorsed his inclusion on the Dream Team – are among his most vocal fans. There simply is no one quite like Charles. He is a human being with flaws, but with enormous compassion. He cares. He keeps giving. Mustard Seed School can’t wait for his return.
  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: There weren’t a whole lot of NBA players making stops in Paul George’s hometown back in the day. The Antelope Valley might only be 64 miles from Los Angeles, but when it comes to luring star power it might as well be on the other side of the planet. So when George looked out to the 100 or so wide-eyed faces staring back at him at his one-day camp at Heritage Christian High in North Hills on Saturday, he really didn’t see himself as much as who he wanted to be all those years ago. “I never had the chance being out in Palmdale,” George said. “We never got the opportunity to even meet someone in the NBA.” It’s one of the reasons the Indiana Pacers All-Star forward is so adamant about making the necessary time to give back to his young fans. His annual camp in Indianapolis and the one in Los Angeles is his way of giving youths something he didn’t have access to growing up. George gets just as much out of it as the kids.
  • Kirkland Crawford of the Detroit Free Press: Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond continues to be the unofficial reigning champion of social media in the NBA. He recently posted a Vine video titled “Why NBA players shouldn’t bowl.” With the help of his friends, the classic “Sweet Georgia Brown” song and a key sound effect, Drummond put a comedic twist on the 7-footer’s foray from the lane to the lanes.
  • Brennan Smith of The Salt Lake Tribune: Utah Jazz fans have been excited about the addition of Dante Exum, but this guy took it to another level. Twitter user @dilldrape7 sent out that picture of himself Saturday, apparently getting the shoulder sunburn from some summer yardwork around his home. Making the best of an unpleasant situation, he drew the outline of an Exum jersey and the rookie’s number, 11, mentioning both Exum (@daanteee) and Rodney Hood (@rodneymhood) in separate tweets. Asked how long it will take to get the paint off his back, he corrected another Twitter user, saying: "It was a sharpie. Maybe a couple of days. But no, it was a spur of the moment thing. Maybe if it wins me a free jersey." The official Jazz account retweeted the photo Sunday afternoon and the new publicity has already earned the photo 50 more retweets and 88 favorites.

Las Vegas Summer League, Day 10 grades

July, 20, 2014
Jul 20
By Fred Katz
MotiejunasGarrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesDonatas Motiejunas' moves helped lift Houston into Monday's LVSL final against the Kings.

Here are seven notable performances from Day 10 at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas:

Noah Vonleh, Charlotte Hornets | Grade: C
Vonleh finished his time in Vegas on a down note, shooting just 2-for-12 from the field. Sunday, he was bricking from all over, rimming out a few looks in the paint and finding metal on his 12-footers, the shots he’s supposed to make. But it wasn’t all bad for the rookie forward. Nine offensive boards helped keep his team far closer than it should’ve been in a game during which the Hornets shot less than 36 percent from the field.

P.J. Hairston, Charlotte Hornets | Grade: C-plus
When Hairston wants to shoot, you’re not stopping him from doing it. That goes for the defenses he faces on a per-game basis. It also goes for his teammates. The rookie chucked it up 24 times Sunday, some good shots, some bad shots, some OK shots. But really, that’s all he provided: shots. Creating offense for yourself is clearly a valuable skill, and Hairston’s gaudy 27 points look good to the naked eye, but an inefficient scoring game without much else to complement it didn’t help the Hornets in their loss to Houston.

Donatas Motiejunas, Houston Rockets | Grade: A-minus
Sunday didn’t exactly turn Donatas into Dunkin’ Donuts, but we did see the craftier side of his game: postups, right-handed hook shots, smooth jumpers. The offensive arsenal looked totally clean. In a way, Donuts looks too good even to be participating in summer league. The 13 boards he added only helped him on the way to one of his best Vegas performances.

Isaiah Canaan, Houston Rockets | Grade: B
The Rockets love their undersized, gunner point guards, and Canaan fits perfectly into that category. He always has had the ability and confidence to dribble down the court and pull up from anywhere -- and that’s still completely true, as Canaan showed multiple times against the Hornets. He’s still the guy who hit seven straight 3-pointers against Austin Peay. Sunday, though, he commanded the floor impressively, even while totaling just one assist. Canaan used to look to pull up when dribbling around screens. Against Charlotte, he split pick-and-rolls and made the defense move effectively.

Nik Stauskas, Sacramento Kings | Grade: C-minus
Stauskas has hit a bit of a wall over his past few games, struggling to create off the dribble and generally missing opportunities to facilitate for his teammates. Sunday he had his worst shooting night in Vegas, generally settling for jumpers, which tended to fall short of the rim. A kid who excelled off the dribble at Michigan, though, should consider this type of performance more flukish than anything else.

Eric Moreland, Sacramento Kings | Grade: A-minus
Moreland does not stop rebounding. Seriously, he is absolutely relentless. After 12 more boards against the Kings, the Oregon State alum upped his average to 16.5 rebounds per 36 minutes at summer league. The big man plays some defense, too. Three more blocks Sunday gave him 13 during five games in Vegas, and the guy is not even averaging 20 minutes a night.

Glen Rice Jr., Washington Wizards | Grade: B-minus
You can’t perfect your Michael Jordan impersonation every day. Apparently, Rice now realizes that. He may have followed up his 36-point thrashing of the Spurs with another 24-point performance (extending his 20-point-games streak to six), but Rice was missing from all over the floor, chucking and clanking enough to total eight missed shots from long range. The Wizards won on the backs of Rice and Otto Porter on Saturday. They lost their first and only summer league game Sunday because they couldn’t replicate the dominant production from the previous evening.

Las Vegas Summer League: Day 9 grades

July, 20, 2014
Jul 20
By Andrew Han and Fred Katz

Here are 11 notable performances from Day 9 at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas:

Glen Rice Jr., Washington Wizards | Grade: A
Rice continued his scoring spurt at summer league in dropping a game-high 36 points, including six 3-pointers, in the Wizards’ triple-overtime win over the Spurs. The league’s leading scorer still hasn’t dropped fewer than 22 in any game while in Vegas. Add 11 boards to Saturday’s effort, and Rice is truly making his case for summer league MVP. -- Katz

Noah Vonleh, Charlotte Hornets | Grade: B-plus
Summer league is hard for a big man. Teammates consistently looked off Vonleh’s rim rolls, settling for breaking down the defense or taking contested shots. When the first-round pick did get the ball, the passes were poor or dumped off in awkward spaces on the floor. Vonleh crashed the boards, though, and collected 10 rebounds (five offensive) in the first three quarters. He also shot 3-for-4 in the fourth quarter to help secure the Hornets' advancement, with 15 total points. --Han

Nik Stauskas, Sacramento Kings | Grade: C-plus
Stauskas' making shots shouldn’t be news, so his hitting both of his 3-point attempts in a win over the Bulls isn’t particularly shocking, but the rookie struggled in other aspects of the game, mainly in court awareness on the offensive end. He struggled to create for teammates when dribbling around screens (usually a strength of his) and even passed up a late three to take one dribble in and sink a heel-on-the-line 2-pointer instead. It wasn’t a bad shot, per se; he just wasn’t playing to his strengths, a theme throughout Saturday’s contest. -- Katz

Otto Porter Jr., Washington Wizards | Grade: A-minus
Porter and Rice are like the Jordan and Pippen of Las Vegas Summer League; the two of them worked so intuitively together in the Wizards’ close victory over the Spurs. Porter, specifically, handled the ball as he did in college, with him bringing the rock up the court, often leading the break and finding Rice for a go-ahead transition 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter. As well as he played, though, scoring 27 points of his own, the question remains whether the former No. 3 overall pick can find comfort in a more off-the-ball role in Washington, something he’ll have to adapt to as he plays with John Wall and Bradley Beal. -- Katz

Vander Blue, San Antonio Spurs | Grade: A-minus
Former Marquette coach Buzz Williams is like the NBA’s version of Red Bull. His players provide the league with energy, he gives it wings, and he always looks like he has condensation on him. Blue is one of those wings, and he showed off his pesky defensive skills against the Wizards -- literally taking the ball away from opposing guards on a couple possessions Saturday night. But where Blue stood out from his usual self was in his ability to create for others, distribute on dribble-drives and make a couple perfect bounce passes to set his buddies up for scores. -- Katz

Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks | Grade: B-plus
Hardaway showed the complete arsenal of shot-chucking. The Knicks guard largely stayed clear of driving the lane until the final frame and shot 20 field goal attempts in 29 total minutes -- 15 of which came in 20 minutes over the first three quarters. To offer some context on how shot-happy Hardaway was, he had two fewer 3-point attempts than the rest of the Knicks combined. Still, he ended with an impressive 27 points in the Knicks’ 82-79 loss. --Han

P.J. Hairston, Charlotte Hornets | Grade: B-minus
Hairston was suckered into a chucker's duel with his Knicks counterpart, Hardaway. It was like a neutron star had imploded as Hairston and Hardaway both swallowed possessions in their head-to-head duel. The rookie burned too intensely, though, as the matchup instigated a taunting technical after a Hardaway offensive foul. --Han

Dennis Schroder, Atlanta Hawks | Grade: A-minus
Another game with issues taking care of the ball -- four assists to four turnovers -- but the second-year point guard again exhibited calm in the chaos of summer league. Schroder consistently probed the lane and cycled through the paint with intentions to observe how the defense reacted. Although his shot wasn't falling, Schroder finished with two steals and 10 free throw attempts to go with seven rebounds. --Han

Donatas Motiejunas, Houston Rockets | Grade: A
The Rockets' big led all players with 19 points, rarely forcing the issue around the basket. Motiejunas focused most of his efforts on offense off secondary action -- after the dribble hand-off on the perimeter and quick leakouts to take advantage of the Hawks' more plodding bigs. D-Mo's continued increase in effort on the glass -- 13 rebounds in the Rockets’ win -- offers optimism for the third-year player’s ability to handle an elevated role next season. --Han

Tony Snell, Chicago Bulls | Grade: B
For someone who struggled as a long-range shooter in his rookie season, Snell has become a 3-point threat at summer league. The body control and release simply look more consistent, and they were fluid enough for the rising sophomore to pull off a four-point play in the third quarter of the Bulls’ “playoff” loss to the Kings. Pair the shooting with the ability to get to the rim, and Snell was really the only Bull able to create his own offense Saturday evening. –- Katz

Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings | Grade: B-minus
McLemore had a 0-to-18 assist-to-turnover ratio in Vegas last year. This season, it didn’t start out much better, as he gave the ball away 16 times in his first three summer league games while failing to record an assist. But over his past two contests, McLemore has been a little more controlled and totaled seven assists, compared to just five turnovers. The points total might have been down a little Saturday, but at the very least, it’s encouraging to see McLemore control the floor in non-scoring ways a little more competently. -- Katz

Las Vegas Summer League: Day 8 grades

July, 19, 2014
Jul 19
By D.J. Foster and Fred Katz

Nine notable performances from Day 8 at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas:

Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks | Grade: A-
He exercised a level of control that we hadn’t seen from him in this setting yet. Because Parker is so strong off the bounce, sometimes he loses sight of when it’s appropriate to change speeds. When you see the mix of a few balanced, smooth pull-up jumpers combined with those power moves in the lane, you begin to understand how much potential as a scorer Parker really has when he assesses the defense properly. --Foster

Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers | Grade: C-plus
Defenders don’t respect Randle’s jumper, but that can actually play to his advantage in a weird Rajon Rondo sort of way. With the provided space vacated by his defender when he faces up and isolates, Randle can build momentum, put it on the deck and get his man on his heels before lowering a shoulder. After the game, opposing forward Jerrelle Benimon called Randle "a train.” He had some issues finishing at the rim once he got there (5-for-14), but you care more about the process than the results. --Foster

Dante Exum, Utah Jazz | Grade: B-minus
Here’s Exum’s night in a nutshell. On a late fourth-quarter possession, he attempted to turn the corner going left and was turned away easily at the rim by the big man in waiting. The very next possession, in nearly the exact same situation, Exum effectively froze the help defense with a side-step dribble before tossing up a soft floater over the top. It’s always nice to see a young guard decide not to keep banging his head against the wall. --Foster

Zach LaVine, Minnesota Timberwolves | Grade: B-plus
When we say someone is a project, it usually implies that a player has the body and athleticism to succeed in the NBA, but he’s yet to develop the necessary skill set. LaVine, in that sense, is a project who deserves some clarification. He has the body and athleticism. He also has a handle along with the ability to shoot and finish in traffic. He just doesn’t always make the right decision. Friday, though, he looked impressively aggressive in spurts, getting to the line 10 times in the game and turning the ball over just once in the first half. If he were as careful with the rock in the second half as he was in the first, he would’ve earned himself a perfect grade. -- Katz

Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz | Grade: B-plus
A lot of Gobert’s shot-blocking ability has to do with his length, naturally, but he also could be the next big benefactor of the “verticality” rule that has allowed Roy Hibbert to anchor one of the league’s best defenses over the last few years. Defending without fouling is always a challenge for young shot-blockers, but Gobert displayed some good lateral mobility along with the patience to stay down and keep himself in rebounding position. --Foster

T.J. Warren, Phoenix Suns | Grade: C
Warren finally had a subpar offensive performance, shooting 3-for-11 and failing to hit the 20-point mark for only the second time in Las Vegas. Still, he used his impressive length well, cutting off passing lanes and contributing in help defense. He’s long enough that we could start calling him “Warren Peace.” --Katz

Bruno Caboclo, Toronto Raptors | Grade: B
Caboclo continued his inconsistency, this time trending upward. What we’ve learned about the 18-year-old rookie on defense remained true in the Raptors’ win over the Clippers: He may get caught looking in the wrong direction often, but his 7-foot-7 wingspan can make up for it. Though he often hangs around in the right corner on offense, he looked a little more active against the Clips, tipping a few boards to teammates and getting to the hoop from distances where “normal” players wouldn’t be able to reach the rim. -- Katz

Kevin Jones, D-League Selects | Grade: B-plus
If you haven’t watched Jones since his collegiate days at West Virginia, you might be shocked to see how broad the formerly scrawny forward’s shoulders have become. Jones has size, and he uses it now to his advantage, especially as a screen setter. The former Mountaineer is adamant about bodying guys up on his picks. He’ll set a ball-screen, then re-screen, and then screen again just for the heck of it until he finally pins a guy so he can pop open. Friday, his physicality worked to the tune of 21 points and nine boards. -- Katz

C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers | Grade: A
Another day, another scoring outburst from McCollum, who dropped 21 points on the Jazz in his final summer league contest. The former first-round selection picked apart the Utah defense with his jumper, sinking attempts from all over the floor, mostly away from the rim. McCollum now leaves Vegas without scoring fewer than 16 points in any game, pretty consistent for a guy who spent too much of his rookie season banged up and on the sidelines. -- Katz

Vegas odds for 2015 NBA championship

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
Ethan Sherwood Strauss and Amin Elhassan discuss the Las Vegas championship odds for prominent teams.

LeBron James, popularity king

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss