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Wednesday, August 2, 2000
Updated: September 20, 10:44 AM ET
Summer league update: Suns are shining

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

The purpose of the summer camps is to develop a first-round draft pick, see if a second-round pick can play, find a free agent pickup and get some valuable minutes for a veteran who needs his confidence stroked.

Milwaukee and Seattle came out of Boston's summer league as the big winners because of the impressive play of their draft picks and veteran players, like point guard Rafer Alston and guard Michael Redd for the Bucks and point guard Shammond Williams and forward Desmond Mason for the Sonics.

Utah found out that high school senior and first-round pick DeShawn Stevenson can be unselfish and mature on and off the court during a week at the Rocky Mountain Revue.

But no team in Salt Lake City last week maximized its summer as much as Phoenix.

The Suns, who are still trying to secure first-round pick Iakovos Tsakalidis away from AEK Greece, needed to find backups to starting center Luc Longley. Enter 7-1 big man Daniel Santiago.

The former New Mexico center, who was never able to get his game in gear in a brief two-season college career, spent the past two seasons in Varese, Italy. Brian Colangelo, the Suns president and general manager, watched him play in Italy and took notice during last year's McDonald's Championship against San Antonio.

Heading into the summer, Colangelo had essentially promised Santiago a spot on the team. But he didn't have to go back on his word after Santiago scored 22 points and grabbed eight boards in his final game over the weekend. Santiago used to be a gangly, awkward knee and elbow-pad wearing center. Now, he's got legit skills with a chance to be a defensive pest in place of Longley (oddly enough a former New Mexico center, too).

"He's got a knack for blocking shots," Colangelo said. "That was the first thing that intrigued me. Then he did some things I wasn't sure he could do. He had an up-and-under move that I wasn't sure he had. He had a reverse dunk and layup and showed a flash of athleticism. He's stronger and tougher than he was in college."

Colangelo said Tsakalidis' situation for next season is still up in the air but he didn't want to get into daily updates. Meanwhile, he bulked up the frontcourt reserves by snagging Ruben Garces away from Denver's summer team. The two-year CBA vet averaged 10.3 boards for the Nuggets in Salt Lake City.

"He was the best available rebounder," Colangelo said. "He can come in and provide exactly what we're looking for."

What the Suns weren't sure they had in camp was an athletic, slashing scorer who could compliment Jason Kidd, Penny Hardaway and newly-signed free agent Tony Delk. Paul McPherson may be the answer.

He wowed the Suns (especially coach Scott Skiles) and everyone else watching the Revue by taking his defenders one-on-one to the basket with ease. The one-year wonder from DePaul (he played two years of JC after one brief stint with the Blue Demons) went undrafted last June. He wasn't even invited to the Chicago pre-draft camp. DePaul coach Pat Kennedy had McPherson playing on the wing, but he was aggressive going to the basket. But it's easier to do that at 6-2 in college than in the NBA. Instead of labeling him too small to play shooting guard and not deft enough with the ball to be a point, Skiles told Colangelo that McPherson would create his own place on the floor.

"He was the buzz of the camp," Colangelo said. "He had a collective interest of zero prior to the summer. He has made a name for himself. He definitely can play in this league. He's got a unique ability to score and can make impact plays by grabbing a rebound, defending or creating mismatches."

Colangelo agreed that McPherson is out of a position at 6-2 but he wasn't about to pigeon hole him into a specific spot.

"It's almost impossible to block his shot," Colangelo said. "He's on the cusp of making the team after arguably having the biggest impact at the Rocky Mountain Revue."

The Suns added more insurance for Tom Gugliotta, Longley and Tsakalidis with Corey Blount.

Meanwhile, their focus veteran on the summer team -- Shawn Marion -- got the necessary reps by averaging double figures and being a featured offensive player.

"That was the first goal," Colangelo said. "We're still short a shooter but we still got a lot out of the summer."

So did a number of other teams:

The Summer's Top 10 Hits
  • 1. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas: The third-year pro proved that he wants to win the hardest worker award by showing up for his third-straight summer league. He played every spot on the floor, ran the offense, posted up and never tired.

  • 2. James Posey, Denver: The second-year vet raised his offensive game to where his defense was a year ago by being a featured player for the Nuggets. According to scouts in attendance, Posey seemed at ease with his role, especially handling the ball. He was an inside threat at Xavier but proved he can play more on the perimeter.

  • 3. Paul McPherson, Phoenix: Went undrafted but probably earned himself a spot on the Suns with his athleticism. McPherson was tough to stop going straight to the basket and may be the best free agent pickup of the summer.

  • 4. DeShawn Stevenson, Utah: The high school senior had more pressure on him than anyone else because of his age and the stigma attached to him. Getting into trouble on draft night didn't help his image. But passing well, playing unselfishly and leading the Jazz in scoring and assists did wonders to improve his stock. He showed he's ready to play now.

  • 5. Desmond Mason, Seattle: The high-flying Oklahoma State forward was the MVP of the Boston summer league. He immediately improves the Sonics' athleticism on the wing. Mason is line with fellow first-round picks Stromile Swift (Grizzlies) and Chris Mihm (Cavs), who proved that ego shouldn't be a factor in the summer.

  • 6. Shammond Williams, Seattle: He was the leading scorer in Boston and should now erase any doubt that he'll be Gary Payton's backup. The dropoff shouldn't be as grand if he can keep up the pace.

  • 7. Morris Peterson, Toronto: The Raptors may have picked up the steal of the draft with the Michigan State guard. Scouts loved his rugged competitiveness. He made shots and, better yet, made them look easy.

  • 8. Stephen Jackson, Vancouver: Once ridiculed for skipping out on college and going in the second round in '97, Jackson has finally earned a spot on a team. The Grizzlies can use his services off the bench after he averaged 20.3 points and shot 65 percent in Salt Lake City.

  • 9. Robert Traylor, Cleveland: Traylor had to show the Cavs that he was worth the draft day trade with the Bucks. He arrived still very thick but he ran the floor well (it's easy with Andre Miller at the point), rebounded and worked well next to Mihm. Put him in a rotation with Mihm and Shawn Kemp (and possibly Zydrunas Illgauskas) and the Cavs have a frontline worth fearing.

  • 10. Dan Langhi, Houston: Langhi heads a list of second-round steals (Dallas' Eduardo Najera, New York's Lavor Postell and Pete Mickeal, Sacramento's Jabari Smith, Miami's Ernest Brown, Milwaukee's Michael Redd and Atlanta's Hanno Mottola). The 6-11 Langhi fits the Rockets plans with his face-the-basket scoring skills. He was a regular in double figures in Salt Lake City and didn't seem to get bothered by a little inside contact. Langhi, like the rest of the other second-round steals, locked up a spot this fall.

    Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.