NBA Summer League is perhaps the birthplace of “The Season of Hope.” Every team loves all their players, especially any new additions. Every team feels like they have a chance to win.
If you spend enough time at Summer League and bounce between the two gyms and spend enough time in “The Pit” behind the baseline in Thomas & Mack, you can pick up all sorts of nuggets. This year, for the first time, all 30 teams were present at Las Vegas Summer League. That meant lots of opportunity to chat with players, coaches, front office personnel and agents. If you do more listening than talking, you’ll learn a lot.
A couple of items before we get to the team-by-team notes:
- The Kawhi Leonard trade had not happened at the time these notes were compiled, but his situation hung over everyone.
- The Carmelo Anthony/Dennis Schroder trade also had not happened yet, but word was he would be traded or bought out.
- If a note is “quoted”, it came direct from a party involved with the player or team.
- If a note isn’t in quotes, it is the author’s thought on the subject.
- On John Collins: “He’s a tremendous worker. Was from day one. We set a goal for him to extend his range and you’re seeing that here. (Collins shot 37.5 percent on three-pointers during Summer League). He’s going to be our 4 for a long time.”
- On Trae Young and expectations as a rookie: “We just want him to play and steadily improve. It’s tough for a rookie point guard to succeed right away. But he’s got the makeup to be a good one.”
- Young struggled at times to shoot the ball, but not to get his shot off. That is a good sign. He got into the paint and drew fouls with ease, which is a good sign for those nights when his shot isn’t falling. And he’s an elite level passer already.
- On Atlanta’s goals for 18-19: “We have a lot of kids. We need to find out which of those kids can play and be a part of moving things forward for us. This was set up as a multi-year rebuild, but we’re moving it forward with good, young players.”
- On what this season could be: “We should be very good. We were pretty good last year and we didn’t have a few guys. Getting those guys back is huge. Everyone knows Kyrie (Irving) and Gordon (Hayward) will help, but Daniel Theis is going to be huge for us. We didn’t need another big after re-signing Aron (Baynes) because Theis is back. He was just clicking as far as the NBA game when he got hurt. This year he’s going to be a menace. And the kids have experience and expectations of their own. I don’t want to get crazy, because who really knows what will happen? But we could be special this season. It’s gonna be a lot of fun.”
- On Robert Williams’ rough start (missing a conference call and a flight): “Yeah it isn’t great. But he knows it. We all know it. He’ll learn. If he doesn’t, it won’t go well for him. On the court though, he’s working hard. He’s doing what we need. Once he grows up a little, it will all click for him. It was tough because our other recent rookies have been off the charts with maturity. You almost forget these guys are 18, 19, 20 years old. They are kids and kids do stupid stuff. Ours just haven’t recently.”
- On plans for managing the roster: Speaking of time off, one staff member told me “we’re going to rest guys a lot more this year. Al (Horford), Kyrie (Irving), Gordon (Hayward), (Marcus) Morris, and (Aron) Baynes are guys we need fresh at the end. We’ve got the depth to sit guys here and there and not miss a beat.”
- On Jarret Allen: “He’s going to have a big year. We cleared out the rotation, so he can start. Ed (Davis) will be big behind him as far as helping him prepare each day. We’re very high on his potential.”
- Allen made just a cameo experience at Summer League, but looked borderline dominant inside. He’s a terrific rebounder and shot blocker. His offensive game is developing quickly. Nice inside game and he’s added a little range on his jumper too.
- On the roster construction: “You need a quality big anchoring things and we think we have that. Outside of that, you need shooters and versatile defenders who can switch everything. That is the squad we’ve tried to build and think we’re on our way.”
- On expectations for D’Angelo Russell: “The first is just to play. He’s got to be on the court and playing. After that, we’ve got to find out what he is. Is he a point guard? An off-ball guy? A starter? That’s on us as much as it’s on him. He’s been bounced around for three years. A little stability will go a long way.”
- On the trade for and buyout of Dwight Howard: “All about cleaning up our cap sheet. We accomplished that and our other goals this summer.”
- On the Miles Bridges draft night trade: “We’ve had a lot of trouble keeping wings healthy the last few years. We needed another guy there and we got the guy we thought fell way too far at the draft.”
- Bridges had some struggles offensively at Summer League, especially shooting the ball. He was a standout rebounder and defender though. He’ll have time to adjust to the NBA if the Hornets wings stay healthy.
- On Kemba Walker being in the final year of his contract: “An extension might not make sense for him, because of the money. But we plan to keep him in Charlotte for a long time. He’s our All-Star and part of us getting back to winning.”
- On adding James Borrego and Tony Parker from the Spurs: “We want to win again. We got two guys who have done nothing but win. Even if by osmosis, they’ll help us win.”
- On the Dwight Howard and Bismack Biyombo trades: “Dwight was good for the Hornets, but we felt we needed to clear up that big rotation a little. Cody (Zeller) needs to play. And bringing back Biz (Bismack Biyombo) was a no-brainer when it came together. He’s an ideal defensive-minded guy for us. And he knows that role. We need guys who know their role and welcome it.”
- On Wendell Carter: “You mean the steal of the draft? [Laughter] He’s really good isn’t he? The (Al) Horford comps were there for a reason. He’s got it all. He and Lauri (Markkanen) are going to make a nice tandem up front.”
- Carter was arguably the most impressive rookie in Las Vegas. He showed a versatile game on both ends of the floor.
- On matching the offer sheet for Zach LaVine: “Scoring points is still important. Zach can do that better than a lot of guys. And he’s a good secondary ballhandler and playmaker too. We think we got him on a good number and we’re thrilled to have him back.”
- On Antonio Blakeney: “He’s had a great summer. Such a hard working kid. He does everything we ask. We’re hopeful we can get him up in Chicago more.” (The Bulls did convert Blakeney to a standard NBA deal.)
- On Chandler Hutchison and draft promises: “Not getting into promises, but he played ok here. Figured it out as the week went along. He’ll take some time, but he’ll be a rotation wing by the end of the year.”
- Post-Summer League note on Jabari Parker: “Thrilled to have him. People forget just how good he was before the second ACL. He’s going to be a big time scorer for us and he hits the boards too.”
- On Collin Sexton: “We needed someone who wants to be the guy. He wants that. You can see it. He’s a bulldog and takes on all comers. We’re very happy to have him.”
- Sexton can’t really shoot, but his shot doesn’t look broken. With work, he should become a passable shooter. He’s relentless getting to the basket, which will help him as a young player. And he’s solid on defense and gets after guys, even if he doesn’t know what he’s doing all the time right now.
- On Billy Preston, who signed a two-way contract: “The guy needs time, but man what a profile! He’s got the size we all want and the skillset we all crave. When he went undrafted, we made getting him a priority. And he showed here in Vegas that we made the right decision.”
- On post-LBJ era #2: “We got a title, so we can’t complain. We knew it was a possibility and prepared as best we could. But those people who think we’ll be awful are wrong. Last time we didn’t have much left after LeBron went to Miami. We’ve still got a really good roster.”
- On Kevin Love and a prominent role: “That is the expectation. He carried the load for the Minnesota teams and was at an All-NBA level. He can be that again. We’re counting on him to have a huge year for us.”
- On Ante Zizic’s development: “Really good summer for him. Ante wasn’t ready for the speed of the NBA last year. But he got better as the year went along. Having time with Perk (Kendrick Perkins) was really good for him. And he was pretty dominant here in Vegas. He can play.”
- On expectations for 2018-19: “If we’re healthy, we’re a playoff team. We’ve got far too much talent for anything else. And the roster is pretty well-balanced now too.”
- On Bruce Brown Jr.: “He was supposed to be a first rounder last year. He’s a kid who going back to school hurt him. He got injured and then struggled. But he showed here that he’s pretty good. We’ve got a lot of guards, so we can take our time. But he’ll be an NBA rotation guy.”
- On the offseason additions: “We needed another vet up front and Zaza (Pachulia) will give us that. He’s tough and plays defense. Pretty ideal backup for Dre (Andre Drummond). Glenn (Robinson III) will give us a versatile wing who can come off the bench or start. Lost year last year with the injury, but he can do a lot of things. And Jose (Calderon) will give us that perfect third point guard. If anything happens to Reggie (Jackson) or Ish (Smith), we know we’re not going to fall apart.”
- On the offseason additions: “We had to add more shooting, especially off the bench. Doug (McDermott) gives us that. His numbers in Dallas were off the charts and we run some similar stuff. We’re thrilled to have him. Tyreke (Evans) will give us that scoring punch we missed when Victor (Oladipo) sat last year. And Kyle (O’Quinn) fits in perfectly with our other bigs. We think we upgraded our bench tenfold over last season.”
- On Victor Oladipo becoming a star: “Wish we could say we knew all along! [Laughter] But we had an idea. He was showing signs of it in Orlando. Then in OKC, he did a lot of growing up, but he just didn’t have the ball as much. We wouldn’t have even considered the trade without getting him, because we saw him as the next great Pacer.”
- Do we judge trades too quickly and too harshly? “Fans? The media? Players? Other teams? Yes. Yes. Yes. And Yes. [Laughter] Look, we know it has to be done. But the front offices hate it. No one but the teams involved have all the details, and even then, they only have the details on their side. Just be more careful before you say anything you can’t take back.”
- On Aaron Holiday: “We were happy to get him in the draft, especially that late. He’s a good, heady player. Learned well from his brothers. We’ve probably got some change coming at the point down the line. Having him helps stabilize that some.”
- On Bam Adebayo: “He’s got a long way to go offensively, but that’s okay. He defends and rebounds at a really high level already, and we want that from a young center more than scoring. He’ll be a starter in the league sooner rather than later.”
- On expectations for 2018-19: “We didn’t add a whole lot this summer, but that was by design. We had a huge summer last year. This year we’ve just got to get guys healthy. If we do that, we’re clearly a playoff team. Everyone wants guys who can switch and defend and we’ve got that. And we have the big guys anchoring the backline. If we aren’t a top-5 defense, something went horribly wrong.”
- On the future: “Really trying not to look past this year. It’s hard because everyone wants to know about this guy and his contract or this guy and would we trade him. It’s a constant push/pull of balancing the here and now against down the line. But we’ve got some stuff to address beyond this year. We know that. But that will come when it comes.”
- On adding Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez: “We had to get better up front. We ask a lot of Giannis (Antetokounmpo) already. To ask him to be everything at the 4 and 5 is just too much. We think the two guys we added, along with John Henson, gives us what we need.”
- On Jabari Parker (note: this was before he left for Chicago): “We’re hopeful of bringing back Jabari, but it’s a cap thing. We can only do so much, and that might not be enough for him. But he’s a great kid and has worked so hard to get back twice. If he’s not with us, whoever gets him will get a great kid.”
- On Khris Middleton and the future: “[Laughter] I know you love him! Two or three years now as the most tradable guy? [Laughter] He’s great. He fits perfect with Giannis. He can defend anyone 1-4 and hold his own. Boston told us they were terrified every time he touched it in the playoffs. We’re hopeful to have him in Milwaukee for the rest of his career.”
- On Giannis Antetokounmpo and how good he can be: “He’s already great, right? But there is still so much more he can improve on. The best part? He’s so driven. We have to force him out of the gym. There isn’t a single player in the league we’d rather have. When we compete for the Finals, it’s going to because he got us there.”
New York Knicks
- On Kevin Knox: “No one is booing now! [Laughter] I think we could draft the entire Dream Team in their primes and the fans would boo. That’s kind of their thing. Look, the league is in a spot where if you don’t have a bunch of guys who can create their own shot and switch on anyone, you won’t win. Kevin is huge. He’s 6’9’’ and has great strength. But he’s also very quick too. For what we are building, he’s ideal.”
- Knox took some really awful shots at Summer League, but took them with confidence and got them off with ease. Over time, those shots will fade from his game for more efficient ones. He’s so quick and strong that getting to the basket should be something he can do from day one. And he’s more than capable of holding his own on defense, once he understands how NBA schemes work.
- On adding Mario Hezonja: “What do you guys call it? Second draft? That’s an interesting term. Mario has a ton of ability, but has only put it all together for really short bursts. He needed a fresh start. We think he’ll thrive here. He’s got that attitude of someone who wants to be great. You need that in New York.”
- On hiring David Fizdale: “We got the best available coach. It’s our fortune he was even available. He’s already changing things with our guys. They know he’s a winner, but that he has their back. The whole ‘Take that for data!’ stuff was funny, but it shows players the coach has your back. That goes a long way.”
- On Kristaps Porzingis’ future: “All signs are that recovery is going great. He’s up for an extension this year and we all want that done. The deal Philly did with (Joel) Embiid is an interesting template for what you could do for a guy coming off a major injury. I don’t know if we will or won’t, but we want him in New York forever.”
- On adding Mo Bamba: “We couldn’t pass him up. He’s ideal for where the league is going, but more importantly he’s a great person. We want a team full of great people and Mo is part of that. He blew us away in his interviews and workouts. We’re thrilled to have him in Orlando.”
- On Jonathan Isaac’s improvement: “His body is night and day. You call it ‘Muscle Watch’ right? [Laughter] Well, he’s got some muscles now! (laughter) He’s also done work on his body that should keep him healthy too. We need to see Jonathan play more this year and we will. As far as skills, we’re asking him to do a lot of handling the ball here in Vegas and he’s been pretty good with it. To get all of our best guys on the floor, we need him to have those skills. And his shot is getting better all the time too.”
- On Aaron Gordon’s new deal: “Thrilled. Couldn’t be happier to have Aaron staying in Orlando. He’s gotten better every year and he’s someone everyone else wants to be around. Getting the right kind of guys in our program is huge and Aaron is the exact right kind of guy we want.”
- On going big again: “We don’t really see it that way. We want guys who fit what we think make the best basketball players. We’ve added quality people first and guys who fit what we want on the court too. Being big and long is great, but it has to fit. We think all of our guys will fit just fine.”
- On the trade of Bismack Biyombo for Timofey Mozgov and Jerian Grant: “We had to clean up the big rotation. Biz deserves to play and Mo needs to play. And of course Nikola Vucevic is our starter. Having too many guys can be an issue. And we got a point guard we’ve liked for a while too, which helped a spot where we didn’t have a lot of depth.”
- On Markelle Fultz: “He’s in the gym working. Being linked up with Drew Hanlen is excellent. We still believe in Markelle in a big, big way. Last year was really rough, but he’ll show why we believe this year.”
- On Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet: “It’s all about adding versatile wings and shooting. We did that with those two. They’ll both be really good in time. Not expecting a whole lot this year, because we have a lot of wings. So, it’s all about work and getting better for both of them.”
- On trading away Mikal Bridges: “Making a trade is always hard. When you make one with personal stuff involved, it’s even harder. But we have to try and build the best basketball team we can, both right now and in the future. We think that trade accomplished that, even if it cost us a remarkable young man.”
- On “striking out” in free agency: “We went star hunting and it didn’t work out this year. But we’ve got a good team, brought back good players and added some good players. Wilson Chandler is going to be huge for us. And we’ve got the ability to try again next summer.”
- On expectations for this season: “We all got the taste of winning last year. I mean all of us. Players, coaches, fans, media, everyone. It was pretty cool. But what has me most excited is how angry our guys were when the season ended. No one was done yet. We’ve still got work to do and that works already started.”
- On bringing back Fred VanVleet: “Huge. Fred was so good for us last year. Having a good backup ballhandler is enormous and we have two, with Fred and Delon Wright. That gives us a ton of flexibility with lineups.”
- On the lack of activity this offseason (note: this was before the Kawhi Leonard trade): “We didn’t have any money to spend. We wanted to make sure we got Fred (VanVleet) back and we did that. After that, we really like our team. But don’t mistake a lack of activity for a lack of talking and trying. There’s always stuff happening.”
- On OG Anunoby: “He’s an ideal 2-4 guy now. He’s got to keep improving his shot, but he’ll get there. His ability to switch on defense gives us a weapon that other teams have to account for. Against the very best teams, that goes a long way.
- On Troy Brown Jr.: “He’s going to be pretty good. We had a lot of success with Otto (Porter Jr.) and Kelly (Oubre Jr.) and we think Troy can have a similar path. He needs time to develop his game and body, but we’ve got the depth that will give him that time.”
- On the offseason additions: “Dwight (Howard) gives us something different than what we’ve had. Marcin (Gortat) was terrific for us for years, but Dwight’s a different guy. We know we’ll get 10 rebounds and a couple of blocks for sure. But we think he can give us some scoring around the rim, which opens things up for our other guys. Adding Austin (Rivers) and Jeff (Green) gives us two vets who have been there. They can both give us some scoring off the bench and they know what they are doing and where they are supposed to be. That’s big for us.”
- On Thomas Bryant: “We’re completely capped out, so adding talent is tricky. Thomas is a big guy who dominated the G-League. Guys like that are worth a look. If he hits, we have a guy we can develop and keep around. If not, we didn’t lose anything at all.”