1. The Buzz From Las Vegas Summer League
LAS VEGAS -- There's a different texture to summer league this July. Coming on the heels of Team USA's circus here in Las Vegas, it felt a little bit like an afterparty than a main event. No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis left with the Olympians, while Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Austin Rivers were shut down after one and two games, respectively.
Oddities aside, the 10-day festival of hoops still served as an industry summit, with owners, front-office executives, agents, scouts and current players dropping into town to talk shop. Whether they're huddled in the upper reaches of Aisle 119 in Cox Pavilion to hash out a deal, or just schmoozing at a bar on the Las Vegas Strip, the conversation was as lively as ever.
Here were some of the headline themes that dominated the chatter:
The Dwight Howard saga
Ask three NBA executives and you'll get five opinions about where Dwight Howard will land.
Some believe that the drama is playing out in the Lakers' favor. In their trademark fashion, the Lakers will show up late to the party but still leave with the best-looking date, just as they did in the Steve Nash Sweepstakes. "The Lakers aren't his first choice, but they're his best choice," one executive said. "And the Magic know they need Dwight on board to get the most in return."
Others feel Orlando is content to wait, and many of them have quickly become admirers of new Magic general manager Rob Hennigan. "He's not in a hurry," an NBA executive said. "He has a very cool attitude, as if he knows something the rest of the league doesn't know. It makes you wonder, is there a third wave of suitors out there? Is he holding out for [James] Harden or [Serge] Ibaka?"
Every executive agreed that, despite his petulance, Howard is worth a ton. "He's an emotional midget," one said. "But he's worth moving a roster for."
The end of traditional positions
Most professional organizations have a diversity of opinion on a given issue or philosophy. Many of those inside front offices who have espoused a broader interpretation of what it means to be an NBA power forward, shooting guard or center feel vindicated by the way in which the Miami Heat won the title.
"The NBA is a pick-and-roll game, not a post game, so you need guys who have defined skills regardless of their size," one scout said. "The league has been that way for a long time, but we ignored it because the Lakers and Celtics were winning, so size seemed like it matter. We told ourselves that you needed to be big and long to win."
It's not that rebounding and height aren't valuable commodities. Watching your 6-foot-2 shooting guard rotate to close on a 6-foot-10 sharpshooter is as painful as ever, but coaches, execs and scouts uniformly maintain that valuing -- or devaluing -- a player strictly because of his size is an antiquated exercise.
The dawn of the new CBA
Those with their fingers on the purse strings are still acclimating to the new collective bargaining agreement. Many changes won't take effect until next summer, but the contours of the new deal are being felt. Shorter contracts that create more player movement are obvious consequences, but some subtler features have surfaced as well.
"You want to be one of two kinds of teams," one executive said. "Either be a very good team that manages the gap between the [salary] cap and the [luxury] tax, or be the last man standing with [salary cap] room so you can take advantage of teams that are spending and can't afford to go into the tax. Do that and people are going to come to you like the sky is falling."
Understanding dualities like these will allow a front office to find value in a marketplace that will be increasingly flooded because teams are moving away from long contracts.
"Look at Chris Kaman," one cap-savvy basketball operations staffer said. "That guy gets a long-term deal in the last CBA. Now, he's at one year, $8 million."
The "B+" draft class
Around New Year's Eve, we heard the first signals that the 2012 draft class might not live up to its substantial hype, and summer league has affirmed the sketpics.
"Discount this a little because Davis isn't here and [Charlotte] sat Kidd-Gilchrist, but I don't know if there's a true superstar here," a general manager said. "We're seeing a lot of strong, B-plus players, but nobody who can put a team on [his] back."
"He's strong," an NBA assistant coach said. "I like him in the pick-and-roll and I like his defensive instincts. He and LaMarcus [Aldridge] will be tough to defend, especially if [Portland] can pick up some shooters."
Despite a subpar performance here in Las Vegas, Rivers has his believers, too. Scouts and coaches alike feel the shooting guard can make the transition to point guard by learning on the job. Several cited New Orleans head coach Monty Williams as the most decisive factor in their belief.
The global village of basketball
Not so long ago, if a player wasn't tapped by an NBA franchise, he looked across the Atlantic Ocean for a job. Financial crisis has hit European clubs hard, though, and now the middle of the labor scale is getting pinched, with fewer well-paying gigs available for American players.
It's not all bad news. Over the past couple of years, China has started to pay serious money to international players, as agents are quickly acquainting themselves with the particulars of the market. The day after summer league wraps up, the Korean Basketball League will hold tryouts for foreign players at a nearby high school in Las Vegas, before conducting its draft at the Palms Hotel on Thursday.
Then there's the D-League, which has become an increasingly attractive option for players. "The stigma is long gone," a general manager said. Players and their agents now see the D-League as the most plausible route to the NBA and that perception has been fortified over the past 10 days with Jeremy Lin's new deal from Houston and even the one-year guaranteed contract signed by Cartier Martin with Washington.
As basketball matures, its economic forecast looks a lot like the rest of the world -- more geographically diverse with emerging markets growing alongside the traditional powerhouses.
Kevin Arnovtz covers the NBA for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter.
2. Will The Warriors Run The Table?
Heading into the final weekend in Las Vegas, the Golden State Warriors stand as the final undefeated team (4-0) of either NBA summer league. This has not happened by accident.
While most teams send a nice prospect or two, and may be looking to unearth a diamond in the rough to fill out the roster, the Dubs are stacked with talent -- and they know it. So in an environment geared toward evaluating individuals, the goal for Golden State is to cultivate its promising young core into a group that can find its way to the top of the standings once the games start to count.
"That was our goal coming into it when me, Harrison [Barnes] and Festus [Ezeli] first got drafted," said Draymond Green, the third of three picks from this year's draft that figures to play a significant role in the organization's future. "We said we were going to have a great summer league team. We're building towards the season, and when our vets get with us, we know they want to win, as well."
As summer league coach Pete Myers said to his team: "Why not, we're here, let's just run the table."
Now, only Saturday's game against the New Orleans Hornets stands in their way.
Even with second-year "veterans" Klay Thompson and Jeremy Tyler sitting out, they were able to fend off a feisty Chicago Bulls team, 66-57, thanks to a game-high 20 points from Barnes, eight points and 11 boards from Green and a nice game from Charles Jenkins, a promising young point guard from last year's draft.
In total, the team has signed six players from the past two drafts, and it hopes that each of them can contribute to what is becoming a very interesting youth movement by the Bay. The team isn't going anywhere if its two cornerstones, Steph Curry (only 24 years old himself) and Andrew Bogut, can't stay healthy, but the Warriors are finding out this week that, despite some struggles from their young draft picks, they may have drafted a playoff-caliber supporting cast.
Just like they planned for.
3. Zeller Could Be One 'Heel' Of A Pick
Who was the last really good big man to come out of the University of North Carolina?
Look down the list and you'll see Ed Davis, Tyler Hansbrough, Brandan Wright, Sean May, and Brendan Haywood before you get to Antawn Jamison. And while Jamison was a good scorer, he was never a traditional big man; he always more of a stretch-4. Rasheed Wallace, who entered the NBA in 1996, was really the last one.
While the Tar Heels have a fantastic history of producing players, big men aren't exactly coming off the assembly line. Tyler Zeller may be the one to finally buck that trend.
Aside from his 7-foot, 247-pound frame, there isn't anything overly impressive about Zeller at first sight. He seems mild-mannered and unassuming. Put him on a basketball court, however, and you'll see an extremely talented big man attack the other team. Zeller has a good repertoire of post moves and solid touch around the rim, and that's really how he beats you.
Zeller is opportunistic. He waits for the defense to collapse on dribble penetration from a guard or a post-up to Tristan Thompson. Then he patiently waits for a pass so he can knock down an 18-footer. If his opposing big man doesn't immediately hustle up the floor and retreat on defense, Zeller will run like a gazelle up the floor and get a transition dunk.
During his five-game summer league campaign, Zeller used his knack for capitalizing on opponent's mistakes to average 11.4 points and 7.2 rebounds in just 22.4 minutes per game. Half of his rebounds were from the offensive boards during this time. There was nothing overtly enticing to his game. He just made the right plays when they were presented to him.
"I played pretty well [this week]," Zeller said after the Cavs' 98-64 win over the Knicks, their final game in Las Vegas. "It's something where obviously you're getting used to a different game, offense and all that. But it's still basketball."
With Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters getting the majority of attention on the perimeter and Anderson Varejao pairing with Thompson on the interior, Zeller is often going to be able to rotate into the lineup and make the defense pay for neglect.
That alone could put him near the top of the list of big men coming out of UNC.
Zach Harper is the host of ESPN.com's Daily Dime Live. Follow him on Twitter.
4. Coach's Corner
ESPN.com's head coach, David Thorpe, gives his first impressions on Bucks big man John Henson.
LAS VEGAS -- For the past two drafts, I suggested that Henson should be in the running for a Top 5 pick. His astounding length and experience playing the wing in high school suggested he could at the very least be an impressive and versatile defensive player. Big men who used to play the wing tend to be far better at guarding space, with quicker feet and more experience sliding more than a step or two. I also liked Henson's feel for the game, as well as his ability to rebound and protect the paint for one of the best teams in college despite being so painfully thin.
After seeing him play twice in Vegas, I still feel like he's got a great chance to be a top-five player from this draft class. He did lots of impressive things, though none caught my eye more than the discipline he showed on defense. Most young bigs fly all over the place, trying to block or alter shots, but not Henson. The North Carolina center refused to risk fouling a player who was unlikely to make shots over his huge standing reach anyway. He does need to keep his arms up more, which I suspect he'll do as he gets in better shape.
His perimeter shooting and improved free throw form are also encouraging. He should become a good shooter in time, which will only add to a package that already includes excellent ball handling skills, which he can use to break down a defender from the middle of the floor and either finish or kick out to a waiting corner shooter.
Henson's hands are underrated, and not just as a rebounder. In fact, the single most impressive play I saw from him was a seal and catch from the midddle of the paint on a bounce pass that barely made it back up to his ankles. But Henson sat down low, grabbed the ball strongly, then made a good turn into a left-hand hook that missed badly. It's easier to teach making that shot than it is the catch.
There are a lot of things Henson has the potential to do -- which could be problematic if he tries to do too much too soon. Crawling, then walking, before ultimately sprinting is the best progression, so seeing him focus on defense, rebounding and making paint shots is a great first step.
David Thorpe is an analyst for Scouts Inc. Follow him on Twitter.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Best Of The Night
Josh Selby, Grizzlies: The Selby Show goes on. A day after Damian Lillard took the lead in summer league scoring, Selby took it right back with a 32-point performance (on 9-for-14 shooting) that helped give the Bobcats their lone loss in five games played.
7. Worst Of The Night
Winless Knicks: What happens when you start four undrafted players and a second-round center in summer league? You don't win a game, apparently. The Summer Knicks' 98-64 loss to the Cavs dropped New York to 0-5, making it one of only two teams without a win thus far. Don't worry, NYC. Raymond Felton is coming.
8. Honorable Mention
9. Quote Of The Night
"I realize 10 minutes of feeling good is not really worth putting my life and my career and my legacy in jeopardy, so I'm confident to say that that part of my career, that part of my life, is over and won't be coming back. "
-- Michael Beasley, on his past troubles involving marijuana.
10. Tweet Of The Night
- NBA Home
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- Chicago Bulls
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