TrueHoop: Cleveland Cavaliers
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That’s Kyrie Irving, just before his disappointing 2013-14 season. Like just about everyone else, Irving saw himself in the lineage of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose: young players who became MVP candidates and led their teams to the playoffs in their third seasons.
Irving accomplished neither in 2013-14. His personal production and his team's performance both stagnated, and the rancor among Irving, his teammates and his coaches could be felt through the TV. Instead of ushering in an era of dominance as a do-it-all point guard, he ranked 37th in WAR at his own position. By summer 2014, Cleveland Cavaliers expert Brian Windhorst was calling his attitude "defeatist," and statistics guru Nate Silver used him as an example of a player who shouldn't receive a max contract.
For someone who had so many trophies -- rookie of the year, All-Star MVP, 3-point Shootout champion -- Irving had won very little. His Cavaliers have never had a record over .500 other than starting the past two seasons 1-0. There were even rumors that LeBron might not want to come to Cleveland unless the Cavaliers dealt Irving. Routinely characterized as selfish, weak spirited and overrated, the Kyrie Irving brand limped into the 2014 offseason.
Yet after this summer, it's almost hard to remember that Irving was so recently so ridiculed. The tsunami of coverage the accompanied James and then Kevin Love joining the Cavs washed that all away.
Irving has helped himself, too. His performance in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup was in step with the paths current NBA greats have taken -- most notably Durant, who torched teams throughout the same tournament four years ago.
Irving has a knack for shining brightest when he's next to other stars. Even among luminaries such as Stephen Curry and James Harden, Irving's talent stood apart. Though his coordination and quickness are undeniably special, Irving has impressive but not exceptional explosiveness -- he's no Rose. Instead, he has an unmatched gift for deceptive dribbling and Steve Nash's ability to carve into the heart of the defense even when he doesn't appear to be moving full speed. He just gets where he wants. Irving's elusiveness is such that defenders can appear to be participating in a choreographed routine that ends with Irving at the rim.
It's untrue to call Irving's international play a revelation; this guy was a better rookie than James was. It was a reminder, in both a good and a bad way. He controlled the pace and mesmerized his defenders. He pressured the ball and sprinted into closeouts. In his committed, commanding performance leading a team full of stars, Irving showed why the Cavaliers and their fans had a right to be disappointed in his previous season.
So maybe he still takes bad angles on defense and it's possible that he is drawn to screens as though by magnets, but is there anything better than Irving walking down his man at the top of the key with a live dribble? There's a certain definition of talent that focuses more on what a player can do rather than what he does. In Irving's game, as in no other young guard's, unexpected method mingles with seemingly inevitable result.
This summer Irving didn't prove he is ready to carry an NBA team (how could he?), but there is no doubt his talent is unmatched among his generation of guards. With Love and James by his side for the foreseeable future, will anyone even remember Irving's underwhelming seasons?
You would forgive the casual fan who really has no idea what Irving's game is about. The Cavaliers played on national TV a total of 10 times in his first three seasons, a rust belt team struggling in obscurity. This season Irving's game will be broadcast nationally 24 times, including five of the 15 showcase games on ABC.
No one outside of Cleveland, and likely few die-hard Cavs fans, will remember Irving slumping his shoulders after a bad turnover or getting torched by D.J. Augustin. These moments, like Kobe Bryant's demands to be traded from the Los Angeles Lakers, will likely end up as blips in Irving's professional legacy.
It’s not exactly an NBA title, or even a playoff berth, but you can add The Summer of 2014 to the list of things Kyrie Irving has won.
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The four years apart have not been among the most enjoyable of the Brazilian center’s career. But he has declared himself ready to play his part in delivering an NBA title with Ohio’s homegrown superstar back in the fold.
Just contending will be a nice change for the lone survivor from the Cavaliers' run to the NBA Finals in 2007 and one of the few holdovers on a roster that has been overhauled this offseason thanks to the additions of James and Kevin Love.
Varejao, now 31, got off to a strong start after James departed, averaging a near-double-double to start the 2010-11 season, but injuries would limit him to just 146 games over the past four seasons, and the shuffle at head coach caused he and the Cavs to lurch from one lottery to the next.
But the veteran big man who has spent all 10 of his NBA seasons in Cleveland is already showing signs of his former self at the the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Playing for his home country of Brazil, the center has scrapped for points and chipped in on defense like the highly effective role player of old. Through six games in Spain so far, Varejao is averaging 8.3 points and 7.8 rebounds in 23 minutes per night
“I’ve enjoyed it,” he said. “I’ve had some tough years in Cleveland with injuries and going through a rebuilding process. It’s never fun. But I’m happy right now. I’m healthy and that’s who I want to be.
“The only thing that players worry about is getting injuries. It was tough for me but now I’m fine I’m 100 percent and looking forward to staying healthy forever.”
Including Wednesday, he hopes, when Brazil faces Serbia for a place in the semifinals against either Spain or France.
Having overcome old rival Argentina in the previous round, the 2016 Olympic hosts know all too well what the Serbs are capable of after blowing an 18-point lead against them in group play before securing an 81-73 win.
“We know how tough it will be,” Varejao said. “They have a lot of size. But we’ve prepared ourselves for this. We came here to fight for the championship. That’s what we want.
“We know we’ll have to play well to beat Serbia but if we do a good job, we have a chance.”
Nick Grossman, 16, said he was walking the Virginia Beach boardwalk when he saw a shop that made henna tattoos of NBA players. When Grossman saw both James, available in a Heat jersey, and Love, available in a Timberwolves jersey, the lightbulb went off.
"I asked if they could put LeBron and Love in Cavs jerseys instead and they said they could if I showed them what the jersey looked like," said Grossman, who is from Richmond, Virginia, but grew up a Cavs fan (his father's family is from the Cleveland area).
Thirty minutes and $60 later, Grossman brought LeBron and Love together on his shoulder blades.
Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that it's likely that Love gets traded to the Cavaliers on either Aug. 23 or 24. Cavs rookie Andrew Wiggins, who is expected to be part of the deal, is first eligible to be traded on Aug. 23.
If somehow the deal doesn't work out, the best part is that the tattoo is temporary, but Grossman doesn't think of it that way.
"It lasts up to a month, so it still should be on by the time Love gets traded to Cleveland," Grossman said.
Even though Grossman said he knew the Cavaliers had retired No. 42 for Nate Thurmond, he noted that UCLA had retired that number for Walt Hazzard and Love still wore that number after receiving permission from Hazzard.
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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.
As LeBron is returning to his Ohio roots, his former Cleveland teammate is attempting to reboot his NBA career. West hasn’t played in the league since 2011-12, after a fraught divorce with the Mavericks. It appears he has a window of opportunity with the Clippers this summer. Doc Rivers says he’s considering West for a spot on his roster. It would be a resurrection of a career that has an almost haunted quality, given how associated West is with a time and place in LeBron’s saga that ended so abruptly. A combination of West’s personal struggles and misinformation about those struggles has fueled the sense that a promising career went irrevocably astray.
Life doesn’t seem so bleak when you talk to West, though. He’s engaging, hopeful, introspective and reflective. Now a father, his world has grown beyond the next game. It’s unclear if he will get to reprise his NBA role, but West appears to have gained an improved perspective regardless of whether that happens for him.
Actually, it's not, because we don't have a consistent go-to guy, and therefore you have to use your team and your offense to create most of your offense. And collectively, we have to win games offensively and defensively. Somebody has to be from whatever position more of a creator, like a point forward or a point shooting guard. If my pass leads to a bucket, that's what all this is about.
I read the Slate article about all that you've been through. Would making the league again be an even bigger accomplishment than the first time you made it.
Yeah. Yeah. 'Cause, since, I mean, since I, I've pretty much taken care of my body over the years. I feel like I'm in the Jason Kidd, Derek Fisher boat, not as far as age just yet, but as far as can play eight more years. Those guys played 'til 38. I feel almost like a rookie again, and it feels great because you have a whole different perspective because my game done changed, introducing it all over again. It's fun for me. I'm more confident. So I'm just enjoying this, like I said. This time around will be better than last time around.
I'm putting pieces together off of my complete game. I've been successful in this league being able to be a piece on a puzzle. And now I'm coming back. I'm giving teams the whole puzzle, and therefore I think I'll be a real asset.
Do you think with what you've added that you're better than you were on those Cleveland teams?
Yeah, definitely. You know, I'm confident in my ability, growth. All those things off the court. I preach this to young guys all the time. That translates on the court. How good was Joe Schmo All-Star when he first came out of college or high school, and look how good he is eight to 10 years later. He's a phenom now, but look at him then. Pulling up 3-pointers, everything, so, that's that age range where you go from a phenom and a super talent to a super player, and super players win championships.
Does LeBron returning to Cleveland evoke any nostalgia for you?
You know, Cleveland is still home for me. Cleveland is one of those cities. It's blue-collar, it's been through so much, and I can relate to all that. Anytime I been anywhere in the world, I ain't been to too many places, tell 'em I go through Cleveland. Clevelanders, you know, they just good people, man. And they deserve some greatness. And LeBron knows that and he's doing the right thing. It's great, man. It's great.
Has being a father changed your perspective immensely?
Well, you just can't make the same silly decisions. Everybody gets frustrated when a call don't go your way or something and you want somebody to know you're mad. See that's my thing -- I always wore my emotions on my sleeve. You just want someone to know I'm upset. Injustice! Didn't y'all see that?! But, as you get older and wiser, you learn everybody gets technical fouls. Last season I played, I might have had two techs the whole season. For me, if those little things like that are causing teams' second-guessing, then out the window. And that comes with growth and maturity.
[A few players congratulate West on his game.] It seems like you get a lot of love here.
I'm a team player, man. I think when I've been out there, even in the past, I want to see a smile on my face. And that's how you should compete. If you look back at the days when gladiators were athletes. People would probably chop somebody up, and then after winning, they put their sword down and have a cocktail or something, you know? So as a point guard I compete and battle, but I want to show the teams that I can compete with a smile too if that's a problem.
In Dallas, what didn't exactly work out? Why wasn't the fit ideal?
It was ideal. Obviously it had nothing to do with the team. I kind of, in the summer, put all my eggs in one basket. In my own thinking, this next contract was going to be a step up for me. But that's my own thinking then. Like, that was probably going to be that situation, which the organization explained to me if certain pieces fell into place, like Dwight Howard, or this guy or that guy. So, it was almost a rebuilding, and they had a lot of young guys. And at 29, 30, I just wasn't receiving that well. I was looking for more stability.
You know, [Mark] Cuban used to talk to me all the time, talk to me all the time, even afterward. He would call me, "Whatcha got going on? You still working hard?" And that's what's up. He was a mentor to me for a while even after I left Dallas with the whole Twitter thing, finances and tax situation. He'd go, "I know you're in a tough financial spot, but you can't focus on the contract. You should focus on basketball. He told me once or twice. The third time he was like, "Look dude, this is the direction we're going to go." So I understood that.
It seemed like you were misunderstood, and it contributed to this stigma that wasn't exactly fair. What are your thoughts on that now?
Life is not fair, and I'm so thankful and blessed for these last two years of my life. That's for real. The hardest thing about being, is when you set yourself up. And then it hurts you more when you set yourself up, know what I mean? If that situation forced me to take control, to grow up, to fight through, not accepting being bipolar and fighting through it and talking to the right people and making sure I am understood and I'm not the only man in the world that has to do that. People in all walks of life have to go to work and prove themselves every day. It helped me grow as a person and a man, so I'm very grateful for that. And sometimes you gotta learn by bumping your head and going through it, and that's what I did.
LAS VEGAS -- It was only the second quarter, but Andrew Wiggins won Monday's NBA Summer League game pitting his Cleveland Cavaliers against the Philadelphia 76ers with his incredible dunk. Dribbling toward the baseline, Wiggins spun free and rose above the defense to dunk powerfully yet gracefully.
The crowd in the intimate Cox Pavilion went wild. Writers declared Wiggins a superstar, too good to trade for Kevin Love. Fans chanted for a replay, and booed when it failed to materialize on the video board.
The dunk was breathtaking. It was athletic. It showcased Wiggins' potential. It was also his only basket of the first half. Consider that a microcosm of the disconnect between the excitement generated in Las Vegas by Wiggins and his fellow No. 1 pick (and Canadian), Cavaliers teammate Anthony Bennett, and their production on the court.
Wiggins has delivered multiple flashes of the talent that made him the top pick in this talented draft. Shortly after his dunk, he rose to reject a Nerlens Noel attempt from behind, the kind of defensively play few wings can make. And he's been a consistent presence at the defensive end of the floor, racking up deflections with his long arms.
As at Kansas, however, Wiggins' offensive contributions have come and gone. His scoring totals have gone down each game, from 18 in Friday's debut to 13 on Sunday to just 10 points Monday. Philadelphia rookie K.J. McDaniels, the No. 32 pick, took defending the No. 1 pick as a personal challenge, keeping him from seeing any airspace in the half-court offense. (When Wiggins shook free for the dunk, McDaniels was on the bench.)
Something similar is true of Bennett, who's enjoying the soft bigotry of low expectations. Bennett was so bad as a rookie that any positive contributions are met by huge excitement. Consider the positive response to Bennett getting in shape, something that's usually a bare minimum for NBA players.
Bennett too has offered momentary reminders of why he was considered a consensus top-five pick a year ago, if a surprise at No. 1. He's been aggressive in attempting to dunk any opportunity around the rim, and his rebounding (26 in 94 minutes, a cool 10.0 per 36) has been impressive.
The concern remains Bennett's shot selection. If Wiggins can occasionally get too passive on offense, that's never been an issue for Bennett, who's happy to lob off-balance 3-pointers at the rim if given the slightest opening. Bennett has shot 2-of-11 from 3-point range (18.2 percent), a step back from the 24.5 percent he made during his rookie season.
Still, there's plenty of time for such skepticism during the long regular season. Summer league is all about dreaming on players, and Wiggins' dunk and Bennett's explosiveness have given Cleveland fans reason to keep dreaming.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Otto Porter Jr.: It’s been a rough 365 days for last year’s third overall pick, as his awful debut in summer league led right into a completely unproductive rookie season. Truthfully, it would have been a bigger deal had Anthony Bennett not absorbed all the ire, but Porter has to put it all behind him. The Wizards might need the jack-of-all-trades forward to play a big role next season with Martell Webster out three to five months for another back surgery and Trevor Ariza still an unrestricted free agent.
Glen Rice Jr.: They’ll be teammates here, but they might be battling for the same playing time. Rice Jr. barely played last season, but his 3-point stroke could come in handy for the Wizards. He’s been pretty solid as a shooter and scorer in the D-League, so he’ll get plenty of chances, especially if Porter looks out of place once again.
Khem Birch: We’ll see how the UNLV faithful treat him; he was very productive and won Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year two seasons in a row, but he also left after his junior year only to go undrafted. Birch should win neutral fans and general managers over anyway, as he’s a good hustle player and an active athlete at the 4.
D.J. Foster is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com, ClipperBlog and others. Follow him, @fosterdj.
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
“. @LullOnSports:Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is currently en route to south Florida.” I am? Sorry folks but enjoying weather in my backyard today— Dan Gilbert (@cavsdan) July 6, 2014
July 9: LeBron's cars on the move
Two Exotic Auto Transport Trucks outside of LeBron's home have just left after loading cars. pic.twitter.com/V6fmN8L6kW— Jorge Sedano (@SedanoESPN) July 9, 2014
I can say this now, unequivocally: LeBron James moves his cars every summer.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) July 9, 2014
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
Folks in Bath feel strongly that LBJ will sign w/ CLE. LBJ's camp contacted cops hour ago to alert them of tonight's annoucement. #kingjames— PHIL TREXLER-ABJ (@PhilTrexler) July 10, 2014
Bath Township, Ohio police -- home to Lebron James -- tells NBC News they are NOT preparing for an announcement or extra police details.— Tom Winter (@Tom_Winter) July 10, 2014
July 10: Party at LeBron's house
The current scene at LeBron James' house. pic.twitter.com/3KqnltcGQA— Ben Belden (@CST_BenB) July 10, 2014
You all need to get off me.— LeBron's Lawn (@LeBronsLawn) July 10, 2014
Almost makes you long for the days of a one-hour TV special.