Archives For Summer Pro League

Summer League Is Here

Darius Soriano —  July 13, 2012

At 5pm PST, the Lakers summer league team will tip off in Las Vegas against the Golden State Warriors. You can watch live on NBA TV or, if you have a few dollars to spare, you can purchase a broadband account and watch the games through the wonders of an internet connection. In any event, the game will be on and we’ll get some Lakers hoops to watch and discuss.

The Lakers’ roster is littered with names you’ll recognize and many others you likely won’t. Devin Ebanks, Darius Morris, and Andrew Goudelock all saw real NBA minutes this past season and this league will serve as a nice testing ground to gauge their progress. I’m anxious to see their growth from last year – especially in Morris and Goudelock – and gauge how well they’ve adapted to the NBA game. As for Ebanks, he’ll be entering his 3rd season in October and fresh off signing his qualifying offer, I hope he proves that he no longer belongs in this environment. Efficient scoring and an improved all court game will set him up well to compete for more minutes next year and that can begin tonight. Christian Eyenga will also be playing for the team so it will good to see what he can do in some game action since we saw very little of him after he was acquired from the Cavs in the Ramon Sessions trade.

The other players I’ll be watching closely are the Lakers two draft picks from this past season, Darius Johnson-Odom and Robert Sacre. DJO is said to be a tenacious competitor with a nice jumper and I hope to see both on display. Sacre has good size but questionable quickness so my hope is that he can be a deterrent around the rim on D and show the ability to move around the court well on rotations and P&R coverages.

The last player who I’ll be keeping my eye on is Reeves Nelson, the former UCLA product. Nelson is a talented player who was dismissed from the Bruins this past season for what Coach Ben Howland called being a “negative distraction” (and that’s probably putting it nicely). In any event, Nelson has a solid game and good size but one wonders if he’s mature enough to make it in the NBA. The Lakers are giving him a shot and if he plays well and shows he’s been humbled, he’ll likely get a camp invite from someone (and maybe even the Lakers who are shallow on the wing).

In any event, tonight we get some basketball to watch. And while we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about what we see, it will be nice to see some young guys go hard and show off how they’re progressing.

(h/t Ball Is Life)

On Sunday night, the Drew League hosted the Goodman League in a rematch between the Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. based pro-am leagues. After losing by a point in D.C., the Drew league were able to even the summer series against the Goodman league with a 151-144 win featuring over a dozen NBA guys.

*The Goodman league was led by John Wall (55 points) and Kevin Durant (50 points) who both put on a scoring clinic. Wall’s on-ball speed might have been one of the more impressive things I saw during the game as he was able to make the Suns ’06 “7-seconds or less” offense seem like a lifetime by comparison. Wall got in the paint at will using his ability to change pace and a variety of crossovers, and when he got in the paint, he put on a show finishing off a few dunks that got the attention of the crowd.

*Durant, who spent the whole summer burning down gyms and arenas, scored 50 with a barrage of three-pointers, fade away jumpers, turn-around fade aways and dunks. A few guys took a shot at guarding him, but Durant was able to go to work in almost every isolation situation and find a way to get a bucket.

*It was nice to see Rudy Gay back on the floor. Gay suffered a season-ending shoulder injury last year and Sunday’s game was one of the first times he’s been able to get back on the floor and play. He wasn’t the scorer that we’re used to seeing, but he had a few nice moves off the dribble and threw down a couple of mean dunks.

*On the Drew side, James Harden had the most impressive night in terms of the box score. He poured in 48 points, taking on all defenders. No, seriously. James Harden took on everyone as he was shooting the ball almost every time he touched it, leading to an exchange with a fan who pleaded for him to pass. Nonetheless, Harden was incredibly difficult for any of the Goodman league guys to handle individually. His strength and athleticism definitely set him apart from almost everyone else on the floor.  His beard was a bit tough to handle, too.

*Early in the game, Nick Young was a bit frustrating to watch as he tried to run the show at the point, but he had a few nice dunks and played very well down the stretch. His jumper was falling when the game’s intensity started to pick up. The game was tight with just a few minutes left, and Young helped the Drew League pull away from the Goodman league with a couple of contested jumpers from around the pinch post.

*Finally, the Lakers own Matt Barnes may have been the single biggest reason the Drew League was able to pull away from the Goodman League. Barnes was assigned to guard Durant down the stretch, and only gave up five points to Durant during the last 4-plus minutes. After Durant nailed a three in Barnes grill, Barnes ripped a Durant crossover which led to a fast break bucket. A few possessions later, Barnes picked up a loose ball that would have easily led to a Goodman dunk on the other end and was able to lay it end extending the Drew lead to two possessions. I don’t have a copy of the official box score, but I believe Barnes finished 2nd in scoring for the Drew League with 20.



As you’ve probably read from a lot of the Lakers blogs and websites out there, Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter have impressed many – including us here at Forum Blue and Gold. While there was much that I saw that both of the Lakers second round draft picks need to improve on, this post will focus mainly on the positive that both ball players have brought to the table with some thoughts from Darius intertwined with mine.

Off top, I really enjoyed watching both of them play through their first three games. The Lakers Summer League team implemented some of the triangle offense principles and it was nice to see both Ebanks and Caracter have some comfort within the offense. What I noticed early and often was that both of them really wanted to make sure that they kept the right spacing within the offense, filled gaps and moved well without the ball. There were moments where they seemed confused about where to go in the offense, but for the most part they did a great job at being in the right place at the right time. As Darius had gone on record to say before, the triangle offense is perfect for developing various skills for each individual player. With that being said, I thought we were able to see multiple talents from each player during the course of the first couple of games. I’ll start with Caracter.

Before Caracter played any summer league games, the back-story on his game was that he was very good around the rim and could finish with both hands. As early as the first quarter of his first summer league game, we saw flashes of what scouts were talking about. I haven’t seen a defined go to move for Caracter yet, but he has shown a propensity to go to the right block and finish with either his right or left hand with jump hooks. He’s been extremely patient when he’s had the ball and is very confident in operating around bigger players. He’s shown the ability to create space with his body and can finish when contact has been made. These first two clips show Caracter operating on the right block, finishing with both his right and left hand. In the second clip, pay attention to how he feels the double team. At first he kicks the ball out to repost, then turns away from the second double team to finish with his right hand. There are a lot of veteran post players in the NBA who cannot make these kind of plays.

These next two clips show that Character has the ability to also stretch defenses. The reason I’m showing a lot of these clips is because they’re looks they’ll actually get within the scope of the Lakers offense. The first clip features Caracter spotting up at the pinch post and knocking down the shot. We’ve seen Pau Gasol take this shot hundreds of times during the course of these last two and a half seasons. Seeing Caracter being able to knock down a shot like this has to make the Lakers coaching staff extremely excited about the 58th pick in the draft. I included this second clip not only because he knocks down a 17-footer as the shot clock expires, but because he kept the possession alive twice – once grabbing an offensive rebound and the second time chasing down a deflected pass. As the Lakers continue to age, a youthful ability to come off the bench and produce high energy plays that not only give your team an extra possession, but also leads to points, is exactly how you make NBA teams after being drafted late in the second round. From Darius:

His mid-range jumper is even better than I anticipated and he seems comfortable facing up out to 17 feet and canning the jumper.  Multiple times I’ve seen him execute the high post flash from the weak side, make the catch, and then turn and bury the jumper against a late close out.  This action is a staple of the Triangle for the PF/C and the fact that he’s already showing comfort with this is a very good sign.

For Devin Ebanks, his story thus far is that he is of the mold of Trevor Ariza, and those comparisons are very fair. Ebanks has been one of those guys who does all of the little things, but has also been able to score, too. He’s grabbed rebounds, has had some steals, moves very well without the basketball and is very athletic. He’s been a bit awkward with some of his finishes around the basket, but the most important part is the fact that he’s finished. The first two clips feature Ebanks show that athleticism and why he’s been compared to Trevor Ariza. The first one shows him picking up a loose ball, taking it to the rim, absorbing the contact and finishing. The second shows him turning Denver over at the top of the key and going coast-to-coast and finishing with his left hand.

These next two clips are what I enjoyed the most from Ebanks. The first clip shows Ebanks feeding the pinch post and cutting ball side to receive a pass and drive to the hoop. Again, we’ve seen Kobe run this play with Pau Gasol hundreds of times. This is the triangle offense in its most basic form, but it’s still the triangle and is something that he could feasibly see in real game time action with the Lakers. The second clip features Ebanks spotting up for a three-pointer and knocking it down. Again, if Ebanks finds the floor with any kind of significant minutes, he’s going to see a lot of wide-open three pointers because of the rest of the talent of this Lakers team. From Darius:

He’s been a much smoother offensive player than I thought he’d be and has shown a comfort level shooting the ball that I did not expect.  And while the results have not always been there, I think his willingness to shoot the ball and his confidence to be an offensive threat is something that some players that are labeled as “offensively challenged” never quite show.  So, his mindset is something I’ve been impressed with.

For both Darius and me, Caracter has impressed more than Ebanks has, but that isn’t saying that Ebanks hasn’t impressed at all. I think both of them are a year or two away from seeing significant minutes on a regular basis with the Lakers, but that goes without being said considering the talent already on this Lakers team. I think spending some time in the D-League will be extremely beneficial for both guys. I’ll let Darius close things out with a few thoughts on each player.

On Caracter: Besides the skills he’s flashed, I think I’ve just as impressed with his competitive drive.  He’s been changing ends well when transitioning from offense to defense.  He’s active on the glass and goes after balls that are out of his area – a trait exhibited by the very good rebounders.  He’s willing to bang in the post for both offensive and defensive position and will fight a player for loose balls when it’s a toss up play.  And while it’s difficult to put too much stock in the success of a player in Summer League, I can say that watching a player compete is one aspect of the game that translates to actual games.  If a player is willing to fight for court space and ball here, he’s likely to do it when the games actually matter.  And the fact that Caracter is showing that now bodes well for the Lakers down the line.

On Ebanks: While his overall skill level still needs work (the release on his jumper can be awkward at times and his footwork needs some polish), I think from an athletic standpoint he’s ready to play in the NBA.  He shows good quickness to the ball and excellent body control when attacking and finishing at the rim.  His length is just tremendous and in his match up with Donte Green and Omri Casspi, I was quite impressed with his ability to simultaneously contain penetration while still recovering to contest (and even block) the shot attempt.  I’d like to see constistently stronger perfromances on defense from Ebanks, but in a scrimmage environment, I can live with some mistakes and some uneven results.  It’s not like he’s loafing out there – he’s just not always doing the technically correct thing.

Yesterday the Lakers played their first game of the Vegas Summer League against the Detroit Pistons, losing 89-85 to the summer squad from the motor city.  And while we all know it’s never safe to take too much from the games that happen in July, a few of the prospects on this years’ team looked good.  Below are some of my thoughts on what I saw:

Devin Ebanks: The WVU product has a reputation as a long athlete that excels at defense while also having a feel for finding open spaces on offense.  In game one, I saw some of these traits on display but was left looking for more in others.  On the positive side, Ebanks is definitely a plus athlete with long limbs that enable him to change ends quickly and get to loose balls.  He does seem to have a feel for finding creases in the defense as a slasher and showed good ability to finish in the lane on both the break and in the half court.  I was especially impressed with his body control around the bucket as on more than one occasion he was able to make difficult finishes look routine by turning his body to avoid defenders or take the hit and still get up a good look.  He also showed good instincts by collecting 2 steals and I was pleased with the way that he went to the glass, his rebound total (2) notwithstanding.

On the negative side, his on ball defense wasn’t too impressive.  He seemed overly reliant on his reach/length to disrupt plays and was often caught out of position and tried to reach to make up for being beat.  His ability to change of direction seemed only average and he showed a want to over help at times.  Some of these things should (and likely will) be corrected with more coaching and I also got the impression that some of his actions were based off instincts born from playing with an undersized group in college.  Remember, Ebanks was one of the better rebounders on his team and his height was surely something his coaches asked him to take advantage of by being a helper in the paint.  If he’s to be a productive defensive player in the league – and especially on the Lakers – he’ll need to understand that he has big men behind him to protect the basket and he’ll need to pressure ball handlers more on the wing while not sagging as much when off the ball.

Overall, I was pleased that he shot the ball efficiently (9-16) and that he rarely seemed to force the action when he had the ball in his hands.  He made one of his three attempts from 3 point range and he looked comfortable with the ball in his hands.  Obviously one game doesn’t make me think he’s suddenly going to be a contributor, but I do think his size and skill set match what the Lakers need and that he didn’t hurt himself at all with his performance.  If anything, he showed that he can have a role on the Lakers as a slasher that finds the gaps in the defense that are sure to be there when Kobe/Pau/Bynum/Odom/Artest are in the game.  And as a defender, while needing some work, I still think he’s got the body and athletic ability to be a very good perimeter stopper-type.  We’ll see if he can duplicate his offensive performance and pick up his defensive performance against Denver this afternoon.

Derrick Caracter: Coming into these games the word on Caracter was that he had first round talent but his attitude may cost him a spot in this league.  In his roundup from day 1 of the summer league, Kevin Arnovitz of TrueHoop quoted David Thorpe when discussing Caracter:

“His nine fouls show how aggressively he moved around the floor. He looked like he was in good shape — very nimble and agile. He was composed around the basket with both his left and right hand, but he doesn’t have a plan in the post yet. Still, he played with great attentiveness and a willingness to share the ball. Bottom line: He looked like a first-rounder.”

And really, I agree with Thorpe as Caracter did look like a first rounder out there.  He played with poise and with an above average skill level.  He knew how to get position in the post and looked very natural playing with his back to the basket.  He showed a nice jump hook with both hands to the middle of the floor and rebounded the ball well.  I thought he also showed very good outlet passing (an underrated trait) and initiated several running opportunities by picking out guards racing up the floor with on target heaves.  Overall, I think his offense is NBA ready.

However, his defense is not.  In an email exchange I had with Phillip, he told me that Caracter “looked disinterested at times” and I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment.  He sometimes jogged into recovery position after showing on the P&R and he didn’t always rotate well when trying to seal off the penetration of the opposing guards.  However, these are mistakes that a lot of players make every day in the big boys league, so it’s not time to sound the alarm.  Plus, there wasn’t a chronic lack of hustle from Caracter, there were just a few times that you could tell he wasn’t going hard.  Maybe his high minutes total had something to do with it as he played nearly 36 of the possible 40 minutes.  Like Ebanks, I’d like to see if Caracter can carry over the positives from his game performance (efficient shooting, above average rebounding) into game 2 while picking up his defensive effort and effectiveness.

Everyone else: The other players that impressed me were DJ Strawberry and Ibrahim Jaaber.  Both of these guys played to their strengths and played hard.  And while both players showed limited upside as shooters, they both excelled in different areas on offense.  Strawberry, like Ebanks, worked well off the ball and was a very good attack player with the rock in his hands.  He drove aggressively to the hoop and earned himself a team high 7 attempts from the foul line.  Jaaber, meanwhile, ran the offense well and showed his chops as a PG that can organize a team, handle defensive ball pressure, and play with poise in both the open court in when initiating half court sets.

As for the NBA names that we know, Rob Kurz played well scoring 11 points and grabbing 7 boards in his 24 minutes.  He showed a better feel around the basket than I anticipated and showed good instincts when going to the offensive glass.  I still see him as a bit of a tweener PF, but I thought he showed that he’s still an NBA level player – albeit an end of the bench guy.  As for Gerald Green…meh.  I just didn’t see any growth in his game from the last time we saw him.  Yes the athleticism is still there but so is the lack of awareness and poor feel for the game.  I really do think he’s one of those preps to pros players that really could have benefited from college coaching where he could have learned to utilize his ability in a productive way or found a niche where he could be successful in a way that translates to the pros.  Right now he still doesn’t seem to get it and I’m not sure he ever will.

As mentioned above the Lakers resume their summer league play this afternoon against Denver at 3pm here on the west coast.  We’ll get you more thoughts on that game after the results and hope to have some video up in the next couple of days with some examples of what we’re talking about in the reviews.

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  July 9, 2010

LeBron James (L) of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots as Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat watches during practice for the National Basketball Association All-Star game in New Orleans, Louisiana in this February 16, 2008 file photo. James said Thursday he is leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to join forces with fellow All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh at the Miami Heat next season in the hope of winning an elusive NBA championship.   REUTERS/Jeff Haynes (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

There’s a bit too much on my mind to offer any sigular idea today.  So, you get some fast break thoughts on Summer League, Lebron, and the future prospects of the Heat…

*The Lakers have their first Summer League game today in Las Vegas so we finally get a chance to see the Lakers two 2nd round picks playing actual basketball against other pro-quality players.  If you haven’t bought the NBA’s Summer League Broadband service you can actually watch the Lakers vs. the Pistons at 5pm (PT) online via ESPN at this link.  I won’t say the game itself will be entertaining, but it will be interesting to see if Ebanks and Caracter can perform well and if any of the other pick ups show enough promise tonight (and in future games) to maybe earn and invite to training camp.  If you’d like to know more about the Lakers’ roster, check out Land O’ Lakers’ breakdown of the team or Silver Screen and Roll’s take on what the summer sqaud has to offer us Lakers’ fans.  Personally, I don’t think any of the Lakers’ pickups (outside of the draft picks) are going to make the team, but I’ll still be watching intently because the Lakers still do have some holes to fill and one of these guys may be the inexpensive player that shows enough promise to get picked up.

*I really can’t say anything about Lebron’s decision that hasn’t already been said, but I’ll give my two cents anyway.  First of all, I thought Phillip had an excellent take on the subject this morning and if you haven’t read it, you should stop and go that now.  As for what I think, I look at the desicion two ways – from a basketball standpoint, I think he did the right thing.  Lebron went to the place where he thinks he can get the players and can play for an organization with great owners, a very successful GM in place, and two of the best players in the league to flank him. Some may want to disparage him for that, but I won’t do it. He’s giving himself what he (presumably thinks) is the best chance to win. And while his singular ability would likely give him that chance anywhere, if given the option to choose your teammates and you know who is really great and who is merely really good, I think I too may choose the guys that are really great and see where that takes me. Why should we expect a guy to put himself in a situation where he’s potentially less likely to be successful based his own judgements? So he can prove his own greatness? Based off what many have already said about him and his outsized ego, he already thinks he’s the cow’s milk so do we really believe he thinks he has to prove anything to anyone? Based off what he’s said, winning matters most and based off how fans respond, he’s right. And on a side note, we consistently have said that Kobe’s great and that those who tried to discount his performances and contributions during the Shaq era were fools. And we’d be right to call those people fools. I don’t care what trumped up stories the media throws out there, Kobe was a champion before 2009 and he was integral to those teams. If he retired with only three titles because he never had another team good enough to win, I wouldn’t have thought any less of him. So, at this point, I’m not going to say that Lebron is less a player because he’s on “Wade’s team” and they happen to win a title. I’m pretty damned sure if the Heat end up winning with this group, Lebron will have a big hand in why it happened. The man is a great, great player and trying to tear him down or make him seem less of a talent comes off as petty to me. As fans of one of the most divisive players of the last 25 years (that guy that wears #24), I would think we’d understand this phenomenon best.

But from the standpoint of how the decision was made – the one hour special, the Jim Gray interview, etc – I thought it was a poor decision and it made me feel awful for the Cavs and their fans.  The people that root for that organization and the employees of that franchise got kicked in the stomach on national television and it didn’t need to be that way at all.  Lebron chose to advertise himself and turn his leaving the Cavs into a spectacle.  It was done behind the good will of charity and seemingly with no malice intended, but in the end I can’t agree with the way this played out nor with how it was presented to the viewing public.  A simple press conference with his new team with a heads up to the Cavs that he was leaving would have been a more mature way to handle this situation, but that’s just my two cents.  In the end, I think Lebron could have saved a lot of people some grief and torment and the reactions that he’s receiving right now would not be nearly as harsh.  So, yeah, I wouldn’t have done it this way.

*As for the Heat as a team moving forward, even though Lebron, Wade, and Bosh gave us their answers, I’m still left with more questions.  I’m interested in which players fill out the roster.  Can they get the shooting necessary to flank their big three?  The signing of Mike Miller would be a good start, but he’s only one player and they’ll need more than just him.  Can they find the types of defensive minded big men who can protect the paint, rebound, and play selfless basketball in the name of the greater success of the team?  Those guys don’t grow on trees and every team in the league is looking for more of those guys.  The market for those players has exploded to the point that Brendan Haywood got over $50 million and Shaq is receiving interest from multiple teams for the full mid-level.  Even guys like Jermaine O’Neal and Brad Miller will likely command more than minimum salaries.  So, I have my doubts Miami will find the big men they need to effectively ensure that Bosh is not on an island defending the likes of Dwight Howard, Yao Ming, Pau, Bynum, etc – at least next season.

I also have questions about the X’s and O’s that will be employed by Coach Spoelstra.  By all accounts he’s a very good coach that will take advantage of these players’ fantastic gifts.  However, there is some duplication in Lebron and Wade’s respective games and it will be interesting how this all comes together and what plays/schemes will be used to ensure that both of these players excel.  The first comparison that comes up when discussing Wade/Lebron is Jordan/Pippen.  However, it must be noted that those two had their greatest success running a read and react system where they were used in a variety of areas on the court and developed their games to the point that they were effective attacking from nearly every position on the floor.  Whether it was shooting from the perimeter, posting up, driving to the basket, or slashing off the ball Jordan/Pippen developed games to match the needs of the system.  And despite the greatness of Lebron and Wade, they’re not that well rounded yet.  Both have been mostly isolation players or ball handlers in the P&R for most of their careers and have been the primary offensive creators for their teams.  Both have good mid-range games (Wade’s is superior to Lebron’s) and both are okay three point shooters (and that may be generous).  So, since both players excel at driving the ball, it will be interesting to see how their games diversify or how the schemes employed ask them to grow their games in order to better mesh.  I don’t have concerns about chemistry because both players are unselfish and have typically made the right basketball play when on the court.  But finding the right sets to get the most out of them will be an issue that needs to be resolved.  And I haven’t even mentioned Bosh yet and how his particular skill set as a turn and face post player vs. being a traditional banger probably means fewer double teams on the post and a heavier reliance on either P&R’s or isolations to get him going.  Which brings me back to what scheme is going to work best for everyone.  There’s a lot of talent in these three but cultivating it to the point that it flourishes is on the head coach and we’ll just have to see how it goes.

Jun. 09, 2010 - Boston, MASSACHUSETTS, UNITED STATES - epa02194092 Los Angeles Lakers' Derek Fisher during practice at TD Gardens in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, 09 June 2010. The Lakers lead the series over the Boston Celtics 2-1 in a best of seven games NBA Finals.

With it being a bit of a slow news day around the Lakers, it’s time to take a look around the league and see what’s going on in the rest of the NBA world…

*The Lakers have posted their roster and schedule for the upcoming Summer League in Las Vegas.  This is a list that has been floating around for a few days, but it’s good to see this right from the horses mouth.  One name that’s notably absent is Javaris Crittenton who was reportedly going to play for the Lakers in Vegas.  That is seemingly not (or no longer) the case.  The last I heard (which was before the holiday weekend) Crittenton’s agent said that his client had yet to commit to playing Summer ball and surely had not yet chosen which team he would play for if he did suit up.  So, with that up in the air, we should get used to the idea of Critt not joining the Lakers this summer or next season.  And, for me, that’s a shame.  I was hopeful the Lakers could get Javaris back into the fold and hopefully restart his career and development process with the Lakers.  And while that’s still a possibility, I’m less hopeful if he doesn’t actually join the team this summer.  Any team that picks him up would want to see him in some game action and since he’s still such a young player, some summer action would give everyone that chance.  We’ll follow this situation and give updates when we get them, but for now, it looks like Critt won’t be wearing a Lakers jersey.

*However, there are some interesting names on that list of invitees.  Gerald Green and Rob Kurz are players with NBA experience and enough talent to play in the league.  And, they actually play positions (Green – SG/SF, Kurz – PF) that the Lakers have needs still to fill on their roster.  Plus, Lakers’ draftees Devin Ebanks and Derek Carracter are going to suit up.  I actually think it will be an interesting “competition” to see if the veteran players outperform the Lakers’ rookies as that could make an impact on roster decisions as we get deeper into the summer.  If Kurz plays a lot better than Carracter will that spell doom for the #58 pick?  If Ebanks can play as well or better than Green, doesn’t that make him a lock to make the team?  What if Green plays extremely well – will he be the extra wing player that the Lakers grab?  I don’t know the answer to these questions or if they’ll even happen but I’ll be watching closely to see.  And no, I won’t be in Vegas (so no first hand takes from the stands this year), but I will be watching online (click the link and you can too). 

*Despite the fact that summer league is getting started and there are actual NBA games on, the focus is still on free agency.  If you want a good place to follow all the agreements and the latest news as to where players are leaning, you can’t do much better than Pro Basketball Talk’s “top 25 free agent tracker” post that Kurt is updating daily (sometimes multiple times, daily).  In it, you’ll see that despite there not being a lot of movement at the top with Lebron, Wade, and Bosh still all undecided, we’ve already seen a fair amount of deals agreed to.  Pierce, Dirk, Amar’e, Rudy Gay, and Joe Johnson all look to have agreed to terms with teams (with Amar’e being the only guy that left his old team to join a new one – the Knicks).  Salmons, has also agreed to terms and a few other players are close to getting a new deal signed.

*One piece of interesting free agent news is Shaq potentially getting a contract offer from the Hawks.  I’m neither for or against this move for either side.  At this point in his career, Shaq is who he is and will help with an offensive post presence and can still defend stationary players and rebound reasonably well.  He’ll hurt his team in other ways, but at least he’s a known commodity and a team could do worse than signing the deisel as a back up Center (or starter that plays limited minutes).  But, I’m more interested in this deal because this would completely cement Shaq as one of the NBA’s best players that also happened to be a vagabond.  The Hawks would be Shaq’s 6th team.  That’s a lot of unis for one of the league’s “best ever” to have worn (and Shaq is one of the game’s best ever).  No one will ever be able to take away what Shaq’s done in this league – the championships, the MVP awards (league and Finals), and the complete dominance his showed during his peak – but to have gotten around as much as he did, I don’t know how that will impact his legacy.  Maybe it won’t at all, but I think it’s a question that will get asked 15 years from now when looking back at Shaq’s career.

*And it wouldn’t be a free agent update without exploring what’s going on with the Lakers.  Derek Fisher is still unsigned and it looks like the parties are still a bit apart on getting a deal hammered out.  If you ask Fish (and Ramona Shelburne did- h/t to Land O’ Lakers) he’d say that there aren’t any players on the market that can provide the Lakers with what he does.  And, to a certain extent, I agree with that as Fisher is a leader in a locker room of some out-sized personalities and his experience and stature with the team are irreplaceable.  That said, putting a price tag on that value will be tricky and it’s situations like these why I try not to knock general managers too often.  They’ve got a tough gig and I don’t envy them.  Anyone can play armchair GM and assemble a roster on paper that’s a world beater, but there are players like Fisher that transcend stats and provide so much to team besides on court production.  Deciding what that’s actually worth is something that I’m glad I don’t have to do this summer.

*Lastly, I’m still planning on doing a mailbag for Forum Blue and Gold.  All you have to do is send me some questions and I’ll pick and choose some to get answered in a post for the site.  I’m happy to touch on any Lakers topics or even other questions from around the league if that’s your cup of tea.  All you have to do is email me and in the subject line write “mailbag question”.  I’ll try to do this at least once a month (or more depending on the volume of questions), so drop me a line and we’ll go from there.

Final Notes from Vegas

Kurt —  July 18, 2009

KINGS - Bucks
As the Lamar Odom saga unfolds, here is one reminder — nobody tells a reporter something without a motive. For example, the Jim Hill exclusive that Lamar Odom called Dr. Buss (which I’m sure happened), who would benefit from that being leaked? Odom would: The Lakers said Buss was angry they got no response at all to their offer, the way to counter that with PR is to not only make the call but leak that you made the call. We have no idea what actually was said on that call, by the way. Read Stein’s ESPN piece and he is clearly getting info from the Odom camp (including an inflated savings number on state income tax). Read Turner at the LA Times or Teaford at the Daily News and they are clearly plugged into the Lakers front office.

As I said before, in the end the Lakers and Odom need each other to get any kind of deal done that makes everyone happy (I still just don’t think he settles for a full MLE offer, and the Lakers don’t want him to go for nothing). They will be talking again because, at the end of the day, they have no choice.

• Rumor here in Vegas is the Lakers are going to offer Chinemelu Elonu and Tony Gaffney invites to training camp. Neither really has any chance to make the roster, but a camp invite is a good way to get noticed. I would love for the Lakers to find a way to keep Gaffney in their system; he has a world of potential athletically and has a great work ethic. He was slowed here in Vegas due to injury, but showed some flashes in the Lakers last game and people in the know are high on him. He’s the kind of guy who starts the season as the 14th man and by the end is getting regular minutes. He is going to be a fan favorite somewhere next year.

• Tyreke Evans could develop into a good NBA PG. He is long and quick for the position, and that could make him a good NBA defender. Something he showed flashes of here — he has caused problems for guys with his length changing shots and deflecting passes. He has a good first step on offense. The first few games it was if he forgot how to pass — at one point at the end of a close game he came down the court five straight possessions and never gave the ball up — but by Friday he was doing a better setting up teammates especially on penetration. Still some things to work on, like finishing among the NBA trees, but that should come.

Craftsteak at the MGM is amazing.

• The two bigs the Kings drafted, Casspi and Brockman, could turn out to be decent bench minute guys. Casspi really battles, particularly on the offensive boards. Needs some bulk but the fire is there and he has a nice outside shot.

• Jordan Hill, the Arizona product taken by the Knicks (after Curry was taken, crushing the hopes of Knicks fans) may be a good NBA power forward, or may be a bust, but we won’t know for a while. He doesn’t operate well in a crowd, but showed flashes in space. He needs to develop a jumper and a consistent passion for rebounding. Simply put, it will be two years before we really know if that was a good pick of not. That shouldn’t be a problem though, the fans in New York are renowned for their patience.

Game 5 - Magic vs. Lakers
Here’s what I think is the ultimate truth about the Lakers/Odom negotiations: They still need each other.

Unless Odom wants to walk away for the MLE — and he doesn’t, he already turned up his nose at more money than that from the Lakers — Odom and the Lakers have to agree on whatever deal gets done.

Here are the most-likely outcomes: 1) Odom signs some kind of deal with the Lakers; 2) Odom’s agent sets up a sign-and-trade with Miami (it will not be Dallas, the Lakers will not send Odom to a potential title contender in the West). Either of those options involves the Lakers signing off on the deal. So, to borrow Tom Ziller’s line, this is really more or less that the Lakers and Odom have hit the pause button on negotiations. They are going to have to talk again. Right now it sounds as if Buss and others are almost letting this get personal, a cooling off period could be good.

Don’t delude yourself into thinking the Lakers are better off without Odom — the best proof is that last season he led the Lakers in +/-, the Lakers outscored opponents by 16.4 points per 48 minutes when he was on the floor. Second was Kobe at 12.1. The simple truth is that good things happened for the Lakers when he was on the floor. He came up big in the playoffs. His versatility cannot easily be replaced. There are some intriguing pieces on the Heat roster (Chalmers, for one) but any move the Lakers make here is not going to make a title more likely.

Can the Lakers win a title without Odom? Yes, but the margin of error is now non-existent. Bynum has to be healthy and playing at his peak. Artest has to fit in swimmingly. Bench guys like Sasha and Jordan cannot struggle for long stretches. Everything has to go right. And that’s a lot to ask.

• By the way, people keep talking about the state tax issue in Texas and Florida. That is not as big a deal as you think — the players are taxed per game at the rates in the states they play. Meaning, when the Heat come and play the Lakers, Wade et al get taxed at California rates. When the Lakers go to Dallas, they get taxed at Texas rates. Basically, to play in a state with no income tax impacts only 50% of your checks, and while there are some savings it’s not as dramatic as some lead to believe.

• Watched two Lakers Summer League games now and here’s what I’ve learned about Adam Morrison: His knee is healthy. Everything else that he has shown we already knew.

When he is given space, his shot is still pure. Part of the challenge for Morrison in Summer League is that while his role should be spot-up shooter, he is the guy expected to create offense in Vegas. He is crowded by defenders and is having to create off the dribble, which he cannot do at the NBA (or even Summer League) level. When he is just asked to shoot — Tuesday there was one inbounds play where he comes off two screens and gets a baseline 18-foot catch-and-shoot — he looks good. But when asked here to show off more dimensions to his game he struggles.

The question going forward a simple one: Come training camp can he prove he can play to his strengths 10 minutes a night? When out with the second unit and Odom/Artest/Gasol draws the double and kicks out, does he understand his role well enough to get to the open space then can he drain the open shot. Two years ago Sasha played that role well, and if he gets his shot back it could be hard for Morrison to get the minutes (Sasha is the better defender). But that is all that Morrison is going to be — a 10-minute-a-night gunner. Don’t think the scoring totals from Vegas means anything more.

• James Harden is smooth. Strong first step and made some nice plays coming off the high pick, can finish in traffic, has the great J. On several occasions he was the outlet and led the fast break. Pretty much loved everything he did, and he is going to be a great fit next to Westbrook. I think I underestimated him at Arizona State but as Ty from pointed out, in college he was constantly tripled teamed because, well, who else did you fear on that squad?

• Toney Douglas, the Florida State guard the Lakers drafted in the first round then traded to the Knicks, impressed. He was confident and making smart decisions with the ball, had some nice drive and kicks, just ran the offense like a pro (although much slower than D’Antonio must have wanted, it was basically an “at least 7 seconds” system). He had a rough game shooting (2-11) but nobody thought that was the trend. He’s not super athletic, he’s not going to be the next Chris Paul, but he will be a serviceable, smart backup PG for years in the league.

• Another guy in that same mold is Ty Lawson, who will be backing up Billups in Denver this year. Smart choices, especially in transition. Real floor general.

• Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin make a deadly pick-and-roll combo. Often bigs coming out of college are not very good at setting picks, but Griffin is a wall. Gordon hugs tighter off the pick than most guards than explodes, and is great at keeping his defender on his hip. Blake rolls hard to the basket and has great hands. They are going to score a lot of points with that next season.

• Tweet of the day from David Thorpe (and expressed what I thought exactly): I’m not sure what Hasheem means in his native language, but I’d guess it’s not “plays with fire”.

• Maybe the two best dunks I’ve seen here came from Anthony Randolph in one game (a game where he scored 42 to tie the Vegas Summer League record). First he got the ball on the wing (left alone) and made a big one dribble-move, the help defender rotated over late and Randolph pushed him out of the way with a Dwight Howard like move and threw down the tomahawk. Later in the same game Stephen Curry is leading the break and does the off-the-backboard pass to a trailing Randolph. The guy can finish.

• By the way, the other two guys to score 42 in a Summer League game? Von Wafer and Marcus Banks. That should tell you all you need to know about the level of play in Vegas.