NBA Summer League is perhaps the birthplace of “The Season of Hope.” Every team loves all of 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 had not happened at the time, but word was Anthony 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.
- You can find the Eastern Conference here.
- There was considerable excitement about the draft night trade to select Luka Doncic. Everyone from the club was thrilled to have who they termed “the best player in the draft.”
- On the Doncic trade: “We had talks early in the week and earlier in the day, but it really came together while Sacramento was on the clock.”
- On Doncic not playing in Summer League: “No concern at all. He’s coming off a very long year. He played all summer in EuroBasket and then into a long club season. He needs to get off his feet for a bit. But he wanted to play. We had to hold him back.”
- On signing DeAndre Jordan: “As Mark said, ‘We don’t hold grudges.’ We felt like DeAndre will be a big upgrade for our defense. Having him on the backline helps protect some of the kids.”
- On expectations for Dennis Smith Jr.: “He was really figuring it out by the end of the year. Being a point guard under Rick (Carlisle) is tough, but he got through it. He’s primed for a leap in his second year.”
- On drafting Michael Porter Jr.: “Sure, we’ve got a ton of forwards. But they’re all in different contract situations. And having those guys gives us a chance to bring him (Porter Jr.) on slowly. At some point, talent wins out over almost everything else.”
- On declining their team option to re-sign Nikola Jokic: “We had to go that route. Otherwise a year from now he’s unrestricted and we could have lost him. Plus, this gets him paid a year earlier. We’re all happy with how this went down.”
- On signing Isaiah Thomas: “We needed a stable guard off the bench. That was a struggle last year. (Thomas) needs to bounce back and we think he will. This is going to be beneficial for both sides.”
- On expectations for the season: “The playoffs. We would have been there last year if it weren’t for injuries. This year we should get there. Injuries is the only thing that could keep us out.”
Golden State Warriors
- On re-signing Kevin Durant: “No brainer right? (laughter) He’s one of the best players in the world and he wants to be here. Of course we got it done.”
- On adding DeMarcus Cousins and Jonas Jerebko: “Big time upgrades for us. DeMarcus should be a great fit. He’s a really underrated passer and ball mover. People will see just how smart a player he is. Jonas brings us some scoring and shooting off the bench, but he’ll help with toughness too. We’ve had some of our tougher vets move on. He’ll replace that.”
- On luxury tax concerns moving forward: “We’re watching it. We have to. You can’t be completely irresponsible. But, so far, we’ve controlled it. It won’t be what breaks up our team.”
- On just missing the NBA Finals: “It was close, but can’t live in the past. If you do that, you forget about what’s in front of you. Our guys are ready to move on to this season now.”
- On losing Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute: “It’s a blow, but we like the guys we brought in. They’ll give us some stuff we didn’t have as far as shooting and consistency on offense. And the defense won’t suffer as much as some think.”
- On adding Michael Carter-Williams: “It seems like an odd fit, but we needed another guard. James (Harden), CP (Chris Paul) and Eric (Gordon) aren’t getting any younger. They’ve all gotten nicked up too. Michael will help us a lot to keep things going if any of those guys are out.”
- On what James Ennis will bring: “He’s a pro. Good defender with terrific size. And he can really shoot it. He’s toiled under the radar, but he’s ready to blow up.”
- On the potential of adding Carmelo Anthony: “He’s not a free agent, so we can’t really say much. But Carmelo has a lot of basketball left in him. Terrific player.”
Los Angeles Clippers
- Both rookie guard, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson, flashed at various points during Summer League. Gilgeous-Alexander has the good all-around game he was touted for, but can’t shoot at all. Robinson has a nice offensive profile, but needs work defensively. Undrafted big man Angel Delgado showed he’ll be a plus rebounder as a pro and a rugged interior defender. He struggled on the perimeter though.
- On trading Austin Rivers for Marcin Gortat: “We had a feeling we might lose DJ (DeAndre Jordan) and need to make sure we had a starting center. We’ve got a million guards. This was a basketball trade. Washington needed a guard off the bench and Austin will be great for them. We needed a big who can play and got one.”
- On Tobias Harris: “We’d love to get him inked long-term. He’s a big time scoring forward. Fits either spot, so it makes it easy to get guys to play with him.”
- On re-signing Avery Bradley: “If you’re going to compete with the best teams in the West, you better have guards who can defend. With AB and Pat (Patrick Beverley), we have two of the best. Not many teams can put that sort of defensive backcourt on the floor.”
- On expectations for the season: “We expect to be a playoff team. If healthy, we’ve got one of the deepest rosters in the league. We’ve also got great flexibility going forward. We can have more cap space next summer to sign and re-sign guys than just about anyone.”
Los Angeles Lakers
- Josh Hart is going to be a problem for other teams. He consistently plays harder than almost anyone else on the floor. His shot is still developing, but he’s a rotation guy for years to come.
- On adding LeBron James: “We got the best player in the world. And we didn’t have to gut the roster to get him either. This puts us in shape to get back to where the Lakers are supposed to be.”
- On the other offseason additions: “You think it’s a mess right? (laughter) We like the guys we got. Rajon (Rondo) will really help us stabilize the lead guard spot. Lonzo (Ball) is going to learn a ton from him. Lance (Stephenson) brings toughness and defense from the bench. JaVale (McGee) does the occasional silly thing, but he does so many good things people skip over.”
- On the kids: “Brandon Ingram is going to blow up this year. Everyone focuses on how guys can support LeBron James, but they skip how LeBron makes guys better. Brandon will score 6-8 points per game just by being in the right spot when LeBron or Rajon (Rondo) passes him the ball. Kyle (Kuzma) too. He and Mo (Moritz Wagner) can make a living hitting open threes. And Lonzo (Ball) will be good with someone to push him. And Josh (Hart) is going to be a guy everyone loves. He just knows how to play and that will be huge for him with the vets we added.”
- On if making the playoffs is the goal: “It’s always the goal, but that is fair. We’ve seen those who said we got LeBron (James) and now we’re good for the year. That isn’t true. We want to play meaningful basketball again in the springtime and we will.”
- Jaren Jackson Jr. already defends like a 10-year veteran. He knows all the tricks. When he does get caught out of position, he’s so athletic that you barely notice. He could be an All-Defensive Team guy for a decade or more.
- On drafting Jackson: “He was the guy we targeted as soon as we knew our draft slot. He’s already great on defense and all the skills are there on offense. This year, we’re going to make it simple for him on offense. Run the floor, roll hard to the hoop, take open jumpers. Nothing else. Defensively? He’s already ready to carry a huge load.”
- On signing Kyle Anderson: “Look, in restricted free agency, you have to overpay guys a little. That’s the only way to get the other team to pass on matching. That said, we think Kyle got a terrific deal for him and us. In a few years, the average salary is going to be up near $10 million a year. He’ll be under that. For a starting forward, that is great value.”
- On the growth of Dillon Brooks: “He played more than any other rookie. Some of that was injuries, but he forced us to play him. He’s going to be good for a long time. He just does everything well. Nothing flashy. Nothing fancy. Just solid basketball.”
- On the other young players on the roster: “They all got chances the last couple of years because of all of our injuries. (Ivan) Rabb is coming along nicely. He understands the game better now. (Wayne) Selden is a starting guard in the league if he’s healthy. (Kobi) Simmons and (Jevon) Carter can both be rotation guards. They just get after guys. It’s nice to have depth behind the vets.”
- Josh Okogie can really defend, which could earn him minutes as a rookie. He’s extremely active on that end. Keita Bates-Diop has a similar profile. Just plays really hard. Both players fit the mold Tom Thibodeau wants.
- On Andrew Wiggins’ new contract: “We’re happy with Andrew. He’s a 20 point per game scorer. Those guys don’t just fall out of the trees. And he’s not a chucker either. He takes a lot of grief for what he’s not, but doesn’t get credit for what he is.”
- On re-signing Jimmy Butler as a free agent next summer: “We’d love to get it done before then, but understand the position of the player. Jimmy is a guy we want in Minnesota for the rest of his career. We think we can make that happen.”
- On an extension for Karl-Anthony Towns: “The new cap hold rules for rookies makes it so waiting doesn’t make sense for most players. KAT is one of those guys. We’re ready to make him a huge offer and keep him here long term.”
- On the reports the main players don’t get along: “That’s noise. Our guys all find it kind of funny. I guess when you win, you get more criticism. We just made the playoffs for the first time in forever. We aren’t breaking this up as quick as some might hope.”
New Orleans Pelicans
- On losing DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo: “Both guys were big parts of getting us back to the playoffs. We thought we had a real chance at something special before Boogie went down. We’ll miss both guys, but love the guys we brought in to replace them.”
- On adding Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton: “It was important to get a little more versatile up front. Julius brings that for us. We can play him with AD (Anthony Davis) or anyone else. EP gives us what we lost in Rondo. He’s pretty similar, plus he’s a little bigger. We think we did a great job bouncing back from losing two starters.”
- On Anthony Davis and constant trade rumors: “We always laugh. Every good player should be desired as much as AD is! But he’s not going anywhere. He’s never indicated he wants to go anywhere. We’re all committed to making this work in New Orleans and we’re not that far off.”
- On the bench depth: “We like the guys we have. We’ve got three starting big men, even if only two will start. We have good guards. Our wings are good, as long as they are healthy. We’ll keep looking, but we feel like we’re in good shape.”
Oklahoma City Thunder
- On re-signing Paul George: “Never a doubt! (laughter) We’re thrilled to have Paul back with us. He fit in perfect with our guys. If the rest stay healthy, we’ve got a chance at making a run at this thing.”
- On getting back Andre Roberson from injury: “When (Roberson) went down, it changed our whole season. That was the one guy we didn’t really have a replacement for. He can defend anyone. Makes us very switchable on defense. It’s hard to explain how much he means to us, unless you watch night in and night out.”
- On moving on from Carmelo Anthony (note: trade with Atlanta had not happened yet): “Nothing is decided. Melo (Anthony) is tough. He gave us good production in a tough spot.”
- On Terrance Ferguson: “He’s got all the potential in the world. Amazing size for his position. His athletic ability is off the charts. A scout said he reminds him of Terrence Ross and that isn’t a bad comp. We think he’s got a great future.”
- On mounting luxury tax concerns: “If anything people should take it as a good sign. Our entire group, owners on down, are committed to winning. If they weren’t, we’d be trading guys to get out of the tax. It’s hard to win without paying a price for it. We’re doing that.”
- Dragan Bender really struggled at Summer League. He hit the glass ok, but had a hard time defending on the perimeter. More than half his shots were three-pointers and he just couldn’t get them to go down. This is a make or break year for him.
- Josh Jackson had similar struggles on offense. He took some really bad midrange shots and couldn’t get all the way to the hoop. The defense is still solid enough, but the offense has miles and miles to go to be even passable.
- DeAndre Ayton on the hand was dominant. He looks like he’ll score 10-15 points per game right off the bat. Defensively he’s a little lost, but he’ll figure it out.
- On drafting DeAndre Ayton: “When we came up at number one, we knew we had our choice of guys and we made the right one. He’s going to be very good for years. Rarely can you dump it into the post to a 20-year-old and know he’s going to score. We have that in DeAndre. And his jumper has the form to add range.”
- On trading for Mikal Bridges: “He’s like a 10-year vet already. He’s just got that way about him. We think he’s going to be very good for us. The deal happened pretty quickly and we’re fortunate it did.”
- On Davon Reed: “Bit of a lost season for him last year after he got hurt. But he’s got all the tools you want on offense. Good size, nice jumper, good enough handle.”
- On signing Trevor Ariza: “We had to get another vet in here to work with the wings. Tyson (Chandler) has the bigs. Brandon (Knight) has the guards. Trevor can be that guy for the wings. And he’s still a really good player. He can help us win some of the games we’ve lost the last few years.”
- On signing Devin Booker to an extension: “No brainer. He’s the best young scorer in the league. He’s developing very quickly as a playmaker. When the talent around him matures, he’ll look even better. We’re thrilled to have him signed for the foreseeable future.”
- On expectations for the season: “Our kids need to grow up. Our vets will help them get there. We think we can move this thing forward quickly.”
Portland Trail Blazers
- Zach Collins had some struggles on offense, but he’s so active that he makes things happen no matter what. He’s got to get stronger inside, but he’s willing to bang despite the lack of strength.
- On the rookie guards Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr.: “There is a ton of talent there. Gary is probably a little more ready, but Anfernee isn’t far behind. We think we’ve got a couple of rotation players in those two guys.”
- On re-signing Jusuf Nurkic: “We had to bring him back. He’s been so good for us since we got him. Fits in perfectly with Dame (Damian Lillard) and C.J. (McCollum). Nurk does whatever we need and that includes a lot of the dirty work inside.
- On signing Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas: “Everyone needs more shooting. Seth is on the list of the best shooters, when he’s healthy. He should fit in great with other guards. There’s still a shooter in there for Nik. Guys don’t just lose that ability. We think we can bring it out of him.”
- On not having a NBA G-League team: “We trust our coaches and our player development guys. Ideally, we’d have one close by. Guys could practice with us and play there. That will come eventually, but we aren’t there yet.”
- On drafting Marvin Bagley III over Luka Doncic: “Doncic is going to be great, but Marvin is going to be even better. Does that tell you how high we are on him? People say he’s like Chris Bosh and that is a lofty comparison, but not an unfair one. He’s going to score and rebound from day one. Defense will take a little time, but it does for almost every big.”
- On Harry Giles’ comeback: “We probably could have pushed him at the end of last year, but it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do. He’s got to get the conditioning up, but the skills are all there. We think we have as deep a group of young bigs as anyone. And all of them can really play. That gives us tons of options going forward.
- On last year’s veteran free agents: “We had hoped they might help us get to the playoffs, but that didn’t work out. But our kids still benefitted from having guys like Zach (Randolph) and George (Hill) around for a full year.”
- On expectations for the season: “Continue to get better. Let the kids keep growing. Figure out which guys we are going to build around. All the potential is there, and so is the flexibility.”
San Antonio Spurs
- The Kawhi Leonard cloud hung over everything. It made it hard to get in questions that weren’t related to that situation at time. When you did, it almost seemed like a relief to the member of the Spurs to get to talk about something else.
- On Lonnie Walker IV: “He’s really good with the ball. He’s got to get rid of some of the bad shots, but that will happen. Defense needs work, but all these kids are awful on defense.”
- On re-signing Rudy Gay: “He meant the world to us last year. He’s just a true professional. Coming back from his injury the way he did, at his age, was enormous.
- On bringing back Marco Belinelli: “His best years were here in San Antonio. And the name of the game is shooting. He was one of the best options we could add.”
- On Dejounte Murray’s development: “Still a long way to go, but he’s getting there quickly. Terrific feel for the game. Great on the glass and works very hard. When he can just play and not have to think, he’s even better.”
- Almost impossible to have a conversation about the Jazz without it coming back to how much they love Donovan Mitchell.
- On Donovan Mitchell: “It was ugly for everyone when Gordon (Hayward) left. We thought Donovan would be good, but we’d be lying it we thought it would be this good. We got better despite losing our best player. How often does that happen? And the best part? Donovan is a better person than basketball player. But he’d never want anyone to know that. He’s the best.”
- On basically running back the same roster: “We’re very comfortable with the guys we have. We’ve got great versatility up and down the roster. This year has to be about staying healthy as much as we can. If we can do that, we’ll be playing deep into the spring.”
- On Rudy Gobert: “He’s the best defensive center in basketball and isn’t even close. He should be Defensive Player of the Year every year. No one else changes games like he does. And he’s no slouch on offense either. He fits great with Donovan (Mitchell) and Ricky (Rubio).
- On Grayson Allen: “Our guard depth is going to be tested in free agency and you need guards to win. We think Grayson can be a plus shooter and a good playmaker. We like our guards to be versatile off the bench and he checks that box.”
- On re-signing Dante Exum: “It was high on our priority list. We still haven’t gotten to see Dante fully show what he can do. We think his size and playmaking, combined with his defense makes him a fit with anyone else on our roster.”