1. Rockets' Young Core Key To Any Deals
LAS VEGAS -- When his eyes weren't peering into his lap, glued to the black cell phone cradled in his hands while his thumbs likely pounded out the words that may put Jeremy Lin back onto his roster seven months after cutting the much-discussed point guard from it, Daryl Morey looked out onto the court at Cox Pavilion and into the future.
Whether or not it's his Houston Rockets' or some other NBA club's remains to be seen.
While the rumor mill continued to churn in cyberspace, the Houston Trade Assets, the guys who will serve as the carrots in any major move the Rockets general manager will make before the 2013 trade deadline, were in the midst of a worse-than-it-sounds 76-70 loss to the Bradley Beal-led Washington Wizards in Day 2 of Las Vegas Summer League.
The defeat, Houston's first in two straight days of action here, means virtually zip. But the performances of the young, cheap and talented players up and down its summertime roster could wind up having a Dwight Howard-sized impact on both the team and the league.
The Rockets' starting lineup on Saturday consisted of four of the five first-rounders they've taken in the past two drafts: wings Jeremy Lamb and Terrence Jones, and big men Donatas Motiejunas and Royce White. And the fifth, Kentucky forward Terrence Jones, was on the bench, along with other possible trade bait in Chandler Parsons and Patrick Patterson, who watched in street clothes.
Given its recent roster moves -- waiving Luis Scola just two years into a hefty five-year deal via the amnesty clause, shipping Kyle Lowry off to Toronto, letting Goran Dragic escape in free agency and dealing Samuel Dalembert -- the veteran club that strung together 34 wins this past season, good for ninth place in the Western Conference, has quickly dissolved into, well, its summer league squad.
The youth movement is well under way.
"It is what it is," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "Everybody wants to coach veterans, but we're not gonna have veterans, we're going to have young guys. So you're just going to have to go out there and coach 'em up, teach 'em up."
Or trade 'em.
While Houston's new-look roster might struggle to not finish at the bottom of the conference, even with Lin and Omer Asik in tow, it has enough intriguing youngsters, and the franchise enough open cap space, to pique the interest of new Orlando Magic GM Rob Hennigan.
But for now, they're all Houston's.
And as of now, they don't really have much to hang their hats on.
After coasting past the Raptors on Friday, Houston struggled to keep up with an equally youth-dependent Wizards team. Motiejunas in particular.
Motiejunas, the 20th pick in 2011, was arguably the most impressive player on Day 1 in Sin City, totaling 25 points and nine rebounds in his first NBA-sanctioned game after spending last season abroad. But against a more sizable Washington frontcourt, the 21-year-old 7-footer mustered just a single point.
"A little bit of size [on the other team], a little bit he didn't get things going," McHale said of Motiejunas' struggles. "Mostly it's just, in our league, you play night after night, you play back to back, you play four in five nights. You've got to be able to bring it."
Something Royce White, the team's second of three first-round picks three weeks ago, will readily admit he's struggling with.
"I've played like s--- both games," said the burly White, who has a combined 10 points on 4-for-10 shooting thus far in Vegas. "I can't find anything -- no type of rhythm, no type of anything."
"It's just different from what I'm used to. Last year, I was used to having the ball in my hands a lot, and trying to get my teammates involved early. Now I'm trying to find ways to get into it without that."
They weren't all bad, of course.
Lamb flashed a silky smooth jumper en route to a game-high 26 points. Jones, who was dogged by talk of him dogging it in college, looked engaged and totaled 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting. And the "veteran" Marcus Morris was feisty before a blow to the head sent him out of the game and onto the doctor's table for four stitches above his right eye.
There are encouraging signs there if you mine for them, even though the Rockets had to double their third-quarter output in the fourth just to keep the game within six.
"You just have to understand that it's going to be a process and they're going to be up and down," McHale said. "I like what a lot of our guys do. They're good, hard workers. They all have different skills. They're going to be fine."
But more so than any team other here in Vegas, the Rockets need better than just fine.
It could very well be the difference in what Morey has been so feverishly typing into his phone. And ultimately, the team's suddenly tenuous future.
Justin Verrier is an NBA editor for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Summer League Dimes past: July 13
2. What Can We Expect From Warriors' Barnes?
After an underwhelming NCAA career, a slight draft-night drop and an intriguing summer league debut, what do we really know about Harrison Barnes?
He's a good scorer unless he drifts in the offense, a long, capable defender save for when he's disengaged, and a credible shot-creator when he's not settling for jumpers. He's a complicated talent that's been touted as a sure thing for years, and yet the only definitive claim we can make about Barnes as he enters his rookie season in the NBA is that his promise begets his need to stabilize and improve. He's both interesting and incomplete, as illustrated splendidly in the contrast between his 23-point outburst on the first night of the Las Vegas Summer League and his 5-of-17 misstep just a day later.
Yet Barnes was perfectly comfortable in his oscillation from success to inefficiency, unphased even with the official beginning of his rookie year looming.
"I'm trying to just step in and do what I can," Barnes said. "I'm not the franchise player, so just whatever I can do for the team, I do."
A wide range in performance is to be expected from a player so young and so undefined, and yet with Barnes the natural ups and downs inevitably become perceived as something more. Such is the fate of the player that has for so long been on the tip of the basketball nation's collective tongue; in trumpeting the emerging scorer as the next big thing, the Harrison Barnes Hype Machine also positioned a work in progress for instant evaluation against a lofty standard.
But Barnes himself has more modest goals in mind, focused solely on his current limitations and context.
"Obviously I think I can score, and I think this team wants me to be a driver," Barnes said. "And with Steph [Curry] and Klay [Thompson] they want someone they can put on the floor that can create shots, and that's something I'm working on. Defensively, [I'm] just trying to work on guarding those 3s. Having a really good small forward is something this team needs, so I'm trying to be that player."
What do we really know about Harrison Barnes? That despite makes or misses, wins or losses, blue-chip hype or draft-night slide, he's still fully capable of filling a needed role for Golden State, and self-aware enough to grow into the player he was always supposed to be.
3. One-On-One: Baron Davis
A brief summer league chit-chat with Baron Davis, who sat with Mike Woodson in the first half of New York's opener and rocked an official Knicks warmup tee despite being an unrestricted free agent.
On his status after tearing the ACL and MCL in his right knee: "Just working everyday. Work on my knee, and just keep my head down, stay focused. Just worry about getting my knee 100 percent."
On if he's seen footage of his gruesome injury: "Nah. [Long pause] I don't even want to talk about it. It was unfortunate that it happened. It builds character ... blessing in disguise, all that."
On his relationship with the Knicks: "I'm just supporting, supporting some young guys. Still doing my rehab and just enjoying the summer. I'm in New York now. It's definitely been a different experience [than his hometown, Los Angeles]. It's definitely been a change of pace, a place I'm proud to be in."
On playing again in the league: "Ultimately, that's the goal. But right now, you just have to take it day by day. I'm not anywhere close [to coming back], so I don't want to hear it. I'm at a stage right now that all the little things matter."
4. Coach's Corner
ESPN.com's head coach, David Thorpe, gives his first impressions on Grizzlies rookie Tony Wroten Jr., who had 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists in his summer league debut:
I often talk about how a team can help a player just as much, if not more, than the player can help his team. Watching Wroten play under control in his first summer league action made me think how lucky the point guard is to have "fallen" to Memphis.
When he did, he was terrific, showing amazing abilities to change direction off the dribble and his already proven court vision. Then, shockingly, he looked like a solid perimeter shooter.
Hmmm. Quick and big guard who can dribble drive, pass, and shoot? Sounds like a surefire lottery pick to me.
Under the tutelage of Lionel Hollins and his strong team culture, Wroten has a good chance to make a lot of lottery teams wish they hadn't passed on him. Of course, we know that he might not be the same guy playing somewhere else.
David Thorpe in an NBA analyst for Scouts Inc. Follow him on Twitter.
5. King Without A Crown
6. Saturday's Best
Josh Akognon, Kings: The Lakers sure could use some shooters. Instead, they watched as Akognon gunned them down. The veteran journeyman who has spent his entire pro career overseas shot 4-for-8 from 3 and 10-for-16 overall for 26 points in Sactown's win.
7. Saturday's Worst
Donatas Motiejunas, Rockets: Oh, the difference a day makes. A day after feasting on the Raptors' frontcourt for 25 points and earning "Friday's Best" honors, the athletic center totalled just one point and missed all five of his shots from the floor.
8. Tweet Of The Night
9. Quote Of The Night
"Not taking anything away from him, but if he can play in the league there's no way possible that I can't play in the league & it's just no way possible."
-- 5-foot-10 Jerome Randle on 5-foot-9 Isaiah Thomas, as told to James Herbert.
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