TrueHoop: Kevin Pelton

Andrew Wiggins' dunk inspires Cavs hopes

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
Pelton By Kevin Pelton

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.

Golden State Warriors: working year-round

July, 13, 2013
Pelton By Kevin Pelton
Golden State Warriors
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesBoys of Summer: The Golden State Warriors own Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS -- In a real sense, the Golden State Warriors' first playoff season in six years started last July at the NBA Summer League. Before the NBA went to a tournament format in Las Vegas, the Warriors were unofficially crowned champions after finishing as the only undefeated team in last summer's competition. Ten months later, Golden State upset the Denver Nuggets in the playoffs before a hard-fought six-game series against the eventual conference champion San Antonio Spurs. Members of the organization saw a connection between those facts.

"I thought it was great last summer to win ballgames during the summer league," said Golden State coach Mark Jackson after this summer's Warriors opened play with a 56-52 win over the Washington Wizards. "We had great draft picks and we were teaching them. It was good for us and it propelled us into the regular season."

Many of the players who dominated the opposition in Las Vegas ended up factoring into the Warriors' resurgent season. Rookies Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green were all part of the team's rotation. Barnes and second-year guard Klay Thompson were both starters. And even undrafted rookie Kent Bazemore saw playoff action against the Spurs, converting a key layup in Game 1 of the series.

"Those were guys who ended up getting meaningful minutes for us, not only in the regular season but in the playoffs," said Warriors general manager Bob Myers. "To give those players an opportunity to experience some success and have some time with them to teach them different philosophies about defense, things like that, was really beneficial for those guys - kind of a springboard into the regular season."

Summer league was uniquely important to the Warriors not only because of the youth of their roster but also because Jackson was entering his second season after taking over a perennial lottery team. The coaching staff's increased emphasis on defense and competitive spirit started in Las Vegas and continued throughout the year.

"What we tried to do," Barnes said, "is establish a culture that Coach Jackson wanted to see and we used as a bridge to turn this program around."

"Summer league is probably primarily for developing your young talent, but then you also can attempt to instill certain cultural components that you'd like to have happen within your organization," added Myers. "Our coaches did a good job of really focusing on defense, which I think was a new concept for some of our young players. I think that did carry over to the season."

Barnes saw the benefit when he arrived for his first NBA training camp.

"It was huge, because we didn't have to have as long of a learning curve as rookies," he said. "We were able to step into practices and go game speed and not have to worry about slowing everyone down."

Indeed, what Barnes and his teammates started in last year's summer league didn't slow down until mid-May.

Brandon Roy calls it a career

June, 24, 2013
Pelton By Kevin Pelton
SEATTLE - Brandon Roy's basketball career came full circle on Sunday. After the University of Washington's Alumni Game, where he returned to the court where he first reached national prominence, Roy told reporters he's almost certainly played his last game in the NBA.

"I haven't come out and said it publicly, but for me mentally, I've just started to settle into living a normal life," he said. "I haven't officially announced anything, but right now I haven't thought about playing in the NBA."

This decision seems far more likely to stick than Roy's first retirement in December 2011, when he walked away from the Portland Trail Blazers after the lockout. Then, Roy was gobsmacked by the assessment that his knees had deteriorated too badly to continue playing. So when an American version of the Orthokine knee treatment that has helped several NBA players offered Roy the hope of improved health, he returned to the league with the Minnesota Timberwolves last summer.

That comeback lasted just five games before Roy suffered a setback. He underwent knee surgery in the hopes of returning, but never made it back on the court. On May 10, Minnesota waived Roy, clearing his non-guaranteed contract from the salary cap.

While Roy might not have found the second act he hoped for, last season did help him come to peace with the end of his career.

"Any time you walk away from the game, you have what ifs," Roy said. "I feel like I was able to answer those questions last year by going out there and giving it a try. For me, it's a little bit easier to walk away. It's never going to be easy, but it's a little smoother knowing I gave it a try and now it's time to move on."

Roy, who won't turn 29 until next month, enjoyed a meteoric NBA career. He arrived in the league as the 2006-07 Rookie of the Year and made three All-Star appearances and two All-NBA teams in five seasons in Portland. Had his knees cooperated, Roy would still have been in the prime of his career. Instead, he's preparing to move on to a new one, probably involving basketball and perhaps coaching.

While Roy said he plans to continue to train with the Seattle natives and UW products who spend their summers preparing to play in the NBA, his basketball exploits will probably be limited to future UW Alumni Games. On Sunday, he showed glimpses of his former self, including a vintage three-point play off the dribble. More often his knees got the better of him, and he drew nothing but air on his last two shot attempts in the fourth quarter.

Still, after getting the loudest ovation of the day from a sold-out Hec Edmundson Pavilion, Roy was at peace with a journey that took him from making $11 an hour as a dock worker while awaiting his qualifying SAT score to NBA stardom.

"I remember sitting in those nosebleed seats when I was waiting to get into school," he said. "To sit back and look at things 10, 11 years later and look back on what I've been able to accomplish over my basketball career, it's been really great. Really satisfying. We all wish we could play longer, but in my case I feel like I gave it all I had and I have a lot of great memories to look back on."

Seattle group ready to fight for Kings

April, 30, 2013
Pelton By Kevin Pelton
"It's going to get ugly." That's how a source close to the ownership group attempting to purchase the Sacramento Kings and move them to Seattle described the next steps after the NBA relocation committee recommended that the team should stay put.

The Seattle group isn't taking no for an answer. They plan to take their case to the Board of Governors during a meeting scheduled two weeks from now to formally vote on the Seattle proposal.

In a statement posted Monday night on the group's Web site,, lead investor Chris Hansen vowed to fight.

"While this represents yet another obstacle to achieving our goal," wrote Hansen in a letter addressed to Sonics fans, "I just wanted to reassure all of you that we have numerous options at our disposal and have absolutely no plans to give up."

In the statement, Hansen made clear the aggressive argument he plans to make to the Board of Governors. He said that his group is "one of the best ownership groups ever assembled," has offered "a much higher price" for the Kings and has "a much more solid Arena plan" in Seattle than the proposal to build a new arena in Sacramento.

The task ahead of the Seattle group is challenging: They must convince at least half of the league's owners to vote against the relocation committee's recommendation. According to the source, multiple owners indicated in private conversations they intend to vote along the lines of the recommendation. The Seattle group has to hope that the entire Board of Governors is more favorable to its position than the seven-member committee, which included four owners from small markets.

Working against the Seattle group is the sentiment Stern expressed on NBA TV in explaining the decision.

"I didn't see a unanimous vote coming," he told reporter Dei Lynam, "but they decided as strong as the Seattle bid was -- and it was very strong -- there's some benefit that should be given to a city that has supported us for so long and has stepped up to contribute to building a new building as well."

It's clear the recommendation caught the Seattle group off guard. Investor Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft, told local radio host Mitch Levy that he was "horribly, horribly disappointed" by the decision. But the decision isn't final yet, and the Seattle group still believes it can win the fight for the Kings.