1. Cats Start Road To Redemption Off Right
LAS VEGAS -- The stains and scuff marks left behind from the worst season in NBA history aren't removed so easily, especially in a nippy auxiliary court, in pro basketball-deprived Sin City, in the middle of July, against the almost-equally maligned Sacramento Kings.
But if only for a day, the Charlotte Bobcats shifted the conversation in their Las Vegas Summer League opener with something the bulk of their starting lineup here hadn't laid eyes on in nearly five months: a win.
And it was what they were saying, before and after a 121-87 victory in the nightcap from Cox Pavilion, that will probably matter most once the games begin to matter again.
"It counts," Kemba Walker said authoritatively. "It counts. It counts. We playing basketball. The streak has ended. To me. I lost 23 straight games and we got this win tonight. It's -- it counts. I don't care what anybody has to say. It counts to me."
After three games left the crowd in a noticeable lull, and left this bleary-eyed day-tripper running toward the nearest caffeine dispensary, the representatives for a city that once housed the Hornets franchise created a palpable buzz almost instantly in the 30 or so rows of red seats that surround the court on UNLV's campus. Mostly through the strong vocal chords from their shy first-round pick.
Picking up fellow first-rounder Thomas Robinson at midcourt on a press, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the 2012 draft's No. 2 overall selection, smacked his hands together and barked at Robinson. New Bobcats head coach Mike Dunlap said Kidd-Gilchrist ended up on the burly power forward only because of rotations and his prized rookie's comfort guarding positions 1 through 4 ... but not before Dunlap flashed a big grin and chuckle.
Whether it was his clear competitive streak or a chance to face off against a player he had bested just 102 days earlier in the NCAA national championship game -- one who many thought might be a better pick for the Bobcats in Round 1 -- Kidd-Gilchrist seemed to relish the opportunity.
Robinson, who slid to the Kings at No. 5, struggled a bit early, particularly when Kidd-Gilchrist's lanky limbs were impeding his path. The Sacramento forward went on to finish with 21 points on 5-for-11 shooting with five rebounds and eight turnovers -- hardly the burst-on-to-the-scene debut some here in Vegas expected against the team that looked over him in the draft, but a respectable one nonetheless.
However, his defender's outpouring of raw emotion breathed life back into the downtrodden team. That is, after shaking off some pregame nerves, according to his coach.
"He sets the tone for everybody else," Dunlap said. "He's a locker room guy in that he doesn't use a lot of words. But he has an impact with his voice and he also backs it up with his energy."
Playing with the enthusiasm of a kid hopped-up on sweets, Kidd-Gilchrist flew around the court for the better part of his 12 first-half minutes, in which he totaled 15 of his 18 points and three of his seven rebounds. He even tweaked his ankle a bit in the early going by attacking the rim with such energy.
He ran the break, finding fellow rookie Jeffrey Taylor for a crisp alley-oop pass with 3:59 to go in the first. He ran a stolen pass back to the rim and, almost in slow motion, his intent known from the moment he got his hands on the ball, rose up over Rob Kurz for a highlight slam.
He ran everywhere. That's his only setting.
And it's something last year's two lottery picks can appreciate.
"I told somebody earlier that we're a lot alike, just at different positions," said Walker, who last year joined Charlotte months removed from a national title win. "We're both really intense, hard workers. We just hate to lose. It's great to have another guy on the team like that."
Walker finished just 4-for-12 from the field, but he buzzed around the court and pushed the pace, to Dunlap's delight. While Bismack Biyombo largely hasn't been heard nationally since being selected last year, when he was really only buoyed by one strong performance at the Nike Hoop Summit, he put his deep baritone to use early and often. After the second unit forced a shot-clock violation, it was Biyombo (12 points, 6 rebounds) who led the bench in applauding them.
They would do so again just before the final buzzer sounded, with Walker on his backside, clapping furiously.
"Last season's out the window," Walker said. "It's a new year. New coach. New jerseys. New everything, man. We're a new team."
Not exactly. After all, three-fifths of the team's summer league starting lineup played heavy minutes for the Bobcats last season.
But it's a start.
Justin Verrier is an NBA editor for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter.
2. Beal Steady As Ever In Wizards Debut
"If you look at his game, it's like no emotion," Wizards coach Sam Cassell said about Bradley Beal. "If you walk in the gym, you couldn't tell if he got one point or 30 points, and that's a trait that a lot of guys in this league don't have and sometimes they never will get it."
High praise from the flamboyant Cassell, best known for his suggestive dance after hitting big buckets. Beal certainly wasn't perfect en route to a team-high 22 points in a 20-point blowout loss to the Hawks. Nor did the third-overall pick dazzle the crowd with his moves. Instead, he showed the type of discipline that's perpetually underappreciated.
Beal moved his feet on defense (learning valuable lessons against a shooter like Atlanta's John Jenkins, who had 19 points). He swatted a couple of shots with deceptive hops (once sending a corner 3-point attempt back John Shurna). He used his barely 19-year-old body like a vet to draw contact. (Beal went 9-for-10 from the free throw line.)
If he was frustrated from missing eight of his 14 shot attempts, or if he had nerves from his first game as a professional, he didn't show it.
"My parents always told me, 'Never let anybody see you sweat. Never let anybody know you're nervous or weak. They'll know you're having a bad game if you show it,'" Beal said. "I just keep the same demeanor because it always keeps the defense off guard."
Eventually the silky jump shot will fall, but Beal's game, and demeanor, will surely stay the same.
"You know, Bradley Beal is my least concern, my least concern," Cassell said.
3. One-On-One: Bryan Colangelo
A brief summer league chit-chat with Toronto Raptors president Bryan Colangelo.
On first-round pick Terrence Ross: "He came out here on the court and displayed a lot of the same things we had seen. He's really quick defensively, he gets after it and he has all kind of skill level. We need to improve our perimeter shooting and I think he brings some of that. But he's a shot-creator, too, and he's finding ways to create his own shot. It's something we're pretty excited to see."
On missing out on Steve Nash: "I don't fault him at all for his decision. And we move on. We'll be fine without him, but we would've had a nice opportunity to really expand our team and our credibility. He would've been good from the standpoint of ushering in a young Jonas Valanciunas into the league."
On new point guard Kyle Lowry: "One thing we talked about was improving our point guard position, finding a point guard of the future, so to speak, and I think we found that in Kyle Lowry. He's a gritty, tough, hard-nosed young player, has got great offensive numbers -- statistically he projects out very well as a top-10 point guard."
4. Coach's Corner
ESPN.com's head coach, David Thorpe, gives his first impressions on Warriors rookie Harrison Barnes, who had 23 points in his summer league debut:
LAS VEGAS -- I thought Harrison Barnes was likely going to be the best or second-best player in the 2012 draft and should have gone second overall on draft night.
Nothing I saw Friday changed my mind.
Barnes showed off so much of his polished game -- from the occasional post-up to a strong perimeter game. We saw him defend point guards with ease, and it was a reason why he totaled only two rebounds.
He still has a lot of growing to do -- more slashes, more offensive-rebound crashes and more full-court dashes would be a great start. But when 6-foot-8 athletes have skill and feel, they are in rare company. Combine it with Barnes' overall basketball IQ and it can become special.
I tweeted that I expect him to one day be on Team USA, and I think he projects to be an All-Star small forward. That can happen only if he stays hungry.
David Thorpe in an NBA analyst for Scouts Inc. Follow him on Twitter.
5. Big Ross Man
6. Friday's Best
Donatas Motiejunas, Rockets: The 7-footer took advantage of the smallish Raptors in his first sanctioned game on U.S. soil. Motiejunas, the 20th overall pick in 2011, finished with an opening day-high 29 points on 11-for-13 shooting to go along with nine rebounds and two steals.
7. Friday's Worst
Los Angeles Lakers: Only about three months until Steve Nash officially suits up. In the meantime, things might not be so pretty. Against a stacked Warriors summer league team, the Lakers' gaggle of second-rounders and hangers-on were nearly doubled-up in their opening game.
8. Tweet Of The Night
9. Quote Of The Night
"Listen, now I can tell Europe is really hard. I mean, in Europe, they try to, I feel like, they try to beat the s--- out of me. Like literally try to hit me, like, on every foul."
-- Donatas Motiejunas, on the physicality of the summer league compared to Europe, as told to Danny Chau.
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