POSTED: Jul 22, 2013 10:21 AM ET
UPDATED: Jul 22, 2013 12:53 PM ET
Rookie C.J. McCollum has adjusted well so far to the change from small college to NBA play.
LAS VEGAS — C.J. McCollum was deep in thought, contemplating how things have turned so fast for him since he was a 5-foot-11 rising senior in high school in Ohio, being recruited by the likes of Bowling Green and Toledo.
"I took a nap today, in between the games, and I was looking out the window," he said here last week. "I've got a nice room. You can sort of see the whole city. And I was thinking, I've come a long way."
McCollum is no longer a novelty, the star from the small school, Lehigh University, that upended mighty Duke in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. McCollum is now playing for money, against men, as a Blazers rookie. And he has the expectations that come with being the No. 10 pick, that began with his being the showcased player by Portland during his five games here.
Yet, as McCollum rose to drain a game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds of regulation Wednesday against the Hawks, he didn't look a whole lot different than he did when he rose up 14 months ago as a junior at Lehigh to beat Patriot League rival Bucknell with a game-winner, a game that gave Lehigh a leg up toward that NCAA appearance.
"It's a lot different," McCollum said. "This is the NBA, but at the same time, it's only Summer League. That shot against Bucknell, that was me trying to get to the NBA. I'm here now, so I'm just trying to maintain and trying to build on that. I probably would say the one at Bucknell was a little bit bigger. I was still kind of under the radar. We were trying to get back to the tournament. Nobody really knew who I was. And when you're at a small school, you're judged solely on how you play against the big boys. So I really needed to get back on that stage."
His performance on that stage -- 30 points, six rebounds and six assists in the Mountain Hawks' 75-70 win -- along with a dominant first month of his senior season, was such that NBA types still were hyped about McCollum after he missed Lehigh's last 18 games as a senior after breaking his left foot against VCU. He was plucked up by the Blazers to play behind, and, occasionally, alongside, 2013 Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard. Whether they're undersized or inexperienced, the Blazers don't care.
McCollum said time and time again before the Draft that he thought Portland was a natural fit for him. Now, look: If he had been taken eighth by Detroit or ninth by Minnesota, he would have probably extolled their virtues as well. But it does seem like a natural that he and Lillard could learn and grow together, much like Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars did in Detroit in the 1980s.
"I'm in a situation where I can kind of learn from guys, but at the same time, the team needs me in a way to kind of play the one and the two, help out Damian, play alongside Damian," he said. "I feel like I can thrive in this type of environment, where I got great pieces around me. There's great pieces in place. It won't be my team by any means, but I'll be a guy that can kind of fill a role, kind of step in and contribute right away."
McCollum's coming-out event here was only one part of Portland's week here. Like Golden State and Sacramento, who also take advantage of their proximity to Vegas to create what marketers call "value-added" events, the Blazers' organization does a lot more here than just watch the games.
NBA Rooks: C.J. McCollum
Of course, the Blazers got tickets for their corporate sponsors and partners to see McCollum and the team play their five games. But they also arranged for them to attend a reception with general manager Neil Olshey and some of the players, including McCollum. They had an "activation award show," and had a business summit with guest speakers.
Several former Blazers players, including Bobby Gross (a member of Portland's 1977 championship team), Jerome Kersey and Brian Grant took part in the activities. The sponsors also were treated to the Michael Jackson Cirque de Soleil show at Mandalay Bay.
While all that was going on, McCollum was being showcased by the Blazers' staff. When guard Will Barton went down with a right knee injury last week, McCollum became the focal point of the offense -- if that wasn't the plan already. Some teams like to spread shots in Summer Leagues; the Blazers didn't mess around. They gave the ball to McCollum just about every time down the floor and let him figure things out.
That worked out when McCollum made the 3-pointer against Atlanta in regulation. But he botched a play in overtime against the Hawks, and Portland wound up with a bad look with the clock winding down. It's all part of the adjustments he has to make to the pro game.
McCollum will have to show he can defend alongside Lillard when they play together. That would be one small backcourt, which is why McCollum will play a lot of one in Portland next season as well alongside veteran swingman Wes Matthews. Improvements will be gradual. There will be setbacks.
Lillard struggled mightily with defensive concepts last season. But he got better.
McCollum Take Over
"The first thing you do is work on their defensive deficiencies," said Blazers assistant coach David Vanterpool, who coached Portland's team in Vegas. The Blazers don't like switching on pick and rolls, so McCollum will have to get up to speed quickly.
"Through the course of last year, me and Dame had to work so hard on him defensively, as far as guarding the post," Vanterpool said.
"And he got so much better halfway through the season. Guys weren't backing him down. I tried to show him a couple of tricks that I knew. He loves that sort of thing as far as newness. We tried a lot of things, and things worked out. People weren't backing him down.
"C.J.'s going to be on that same kind of learning curve. He's going to have to pick it up quickly. He's going to have to understand what we want to be about defensively, and that's going to be the first thing. Hopefully, they can play off of each other and learn and grow, and we can get some offense out of both of them."
Blazers vs. Hawks
That is the side of the ball where McCollum was dynamic for Lehigh, which made the NCAAs twice in his four seasons. He was Patriot League Rookie of the Year as Lehigh engaged Bucknell for conference supremacy, and McCollum battled Bucknell center Mike Muscala for the mantle of Patriot League MVP. (Both of them dominated my beloved American University Eagles in the Patriot for four years. On behalf of all of us at AU, thank God they're both out of the PL. But I digress.)
McCollum almost went pro after beating Duke. But the uncertainly of whether he'd go in the first round, along with his promise that he made to his mother that he'd get his degree and graduate on time, convinced him to return.
He and Muscala, who was taken in the second round of the Draft by Atlanta, were two of the best players ever to play in the Patriot, whose previous NBA claim to fame was ex-Colgate center Adonal Foyle. Ironically, McCollum and Muscala both chose the same agency to represent them before the Draft.
"As a competitor, you dislike the person that beat you," McCollum said. "He disliked me for taking some of his rings. But once we graduated, it's all over with ... he's doing a great job of representing the league. Now we're playing for more than just ourselves and our hometowns. We're playing for our respective universities. We're playing for other kids out there who are going to go to small schools and kind of try to take the same path."
The NBA has become more democratic (small D) in many ways in recent years. The game has gotten smaller, giving guards more leeway. Advanced numbers have made players like Shane Battier appreciated in ways they may not have been before. And players like McCollum, from small mid-major conferences, are being taken in the lottery without anyone blinking an eye.
Neil Olshey Interview
"It helped me, with Steph Curry, Damian, all those guys, George Hill," McCallum said. "People don't remember [Hill] went to IUPUI [Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis]. You're in a situation where you don't want to mess it up for the next guy. I thank those guys. Seth Curry, I tell Seth all the time, 'Tell your brother I said thank you.' If he would have played bad, maybe I don't get the same opportunities, the same praise, the same high expectations.
"Now I'm in a situation where I'm comfortable with it. I want to live up to the billing, open the door a little bit more for the next guy who's on the fence, and maybe the scouts say, let's give him the benefit of the doubt."
Monday night, mercifully, Summer League comes to an end, with the Suns and Warriors playing in the championship game at Thomas and Mack Center (9 ET, NBA TV). Two weeks of this in Orlando and Vegas are more than enough, even for the most hardcore devotee of the orange leather.
But Summer League has so many great stories. And I'm a sucker for great stories. (And, for pie.)
Vegas provided any number of good moments, especially for guys who have either stumbled so far in their NBA days, have been slowed by injuries or who are now just getting their shot as rookies. A few of them are profiled here.
Some of these guys may not have the names of some of the other higher-profile players that were here. And a lot of other people played well -- Charlotte rookie big man Cody Zeller, Dallas guard Josh Akognon, Cleveland forward Cory Higgins and Golden State guard Kent Bazemore, to name a few.
And these players may not have scored the most points. But they flashed. Their job now is to replicate what they showed here when training camps start in October -- and in the seasons to come.
JONAS VALANCIUNAS & DWIGHT BUYCKS, Raptors
Nuggets vs. Raptors
Toronto cleaned house in the front office this summer, but the new regime of GM Masai Ujiri was quite clear that there was no chance the Raptors were giving up on second-year center Jonas Valanciunas. And after a strong performance here, the Raptors are throwing the phrase "future all-Star" around when talking about the 21-year old center.
After coming over from Europe last season, Valanciunas started slowly after missing all of January with a broken finger, but came on strong the last two months of the season. He scored in double figures in 17 of the Raptors' last 19 games, shooting 63 percent in those games.
In Vegas, Valanciunas dominated -- as he should have against lesser competition. But it was nonetheless encouraging. He averaged 20 points and 9.3 rebounds a game in four games before he was shut down after suffering a sprained finger Thursday.
"It's not about me, it's about team," Valanciunas said. "Our team, playing together, learning how to play together. It was Quincy [Acy], it was Terence [Ross], it was Dwight. We had a chance together as a team to prepare for the season. I think it was a great time."
Toronto has a lot of pieces, from Rudy Gay to DeMar DeRozan to Kyle Lowry to newly acquired forwards Tyler Hansbrough and Steve Novak. But the Raptors need Valanciunas to be their hub.
He spent 10 days in Vegas, working out with new assistant coaches Bill Bayno and Nick Nurse. He had already spent several weeks improving his body, looking much stronger in the post.
"He can take us to the next level, without a doubt," DeRozan said Saturday. "The league, when you have a dominant big, like he could potentially be, it will show you what good teams really are. With myself on the team, and we have Rudy, and we have a point guard like Kyle, if we have a center like Jonas stepping up at a young age, that could do a lot for us, man."
Valanciunas could have certainly played over the weekend, but he and the team didn't want to take any chances, with Valanciunas a big part of the Lithuanian national team that will play in the 2013 EuroBasket in Slovenia in September.
Lithuania's basketball history, including the "Grateful Dead" team that won the bronze medal at the 1992 Summer Games, remains a source of inspiration for young players like Valanciunas.
"Lithuania gave me everything," he said. "So I'm not going to miss a chance to play for Lithuania ... it is something special to play for Lithuania. That was something back in 1992, that was more than basketball. We're trying to continue that even now. All those guys -- Sarunas Marciulionis, [Arvydas] Sabonis, [Rimas] Kurtinaitis, they brought us independence. They are heroes to us."
Buycks to Wright
Guards tend to dominate summer leagues as it is, and so it was here, as Buycks (pronounced "bikes") had a terrific two games for the Raptors. He had 18 points, six assists and 10 rebounds in 34 minutes against the Nuggets on Thursday, and followed that up Saturday with 28 points in Toronto's loss to Phoenix. No one doubts he can score. But he will have to show he can run a team in Toronto, continuing his transition to point guard.
It's already been a busy summer for Buycks, who played in France last season for Gravelines in the Pro A League after he finished at Marquette in 2011. Buycks averaged 18 points a game in France, then came to Milwaukee's free-agent camp in June, where he hoped to play in his hometown. The Bucks' uncertainty didn't hold much promise, though, and Buycks played for Oklahoma City's Orlando Summer League entry, having spent the 2011-12 season with the Thunder's NBA Development League team in Tulsa.
Buycks initially committed to playing in Vegas with Miami's team. But when Toronto committed to a multi-year deal, Buycks was a Raptor. He'll battle veteran D.J. Augustin for minutes behind Kyle Lowry.
"It means a lot," Buycks said Saturday afternoon. "It definitely shows that me and my toughness are not just settling, but constantly working, working, and trying to touch on all aspects of my game just to give myself a chance. I think I did a great job of that, kind of isolating myself overseas. There was really nothing to do. I was there, so it was a good thing for me to just stay in the gym, watch a lot of film and just constantly keep working. I think that contributed to me coming home."
Buycks had played well for Oklahoma City in Orlando. Yet the likelihood of his getting minutes ahead of backup point Reggie Jackson in OKC next season was slim. The Raptors will have minutes for Buycks, as long as he stays as aggressive as he was in Vegas.
"He's tough," DeRozan said Saturday. "Me and James [Harden, the Rockets' guard] were talking about it. He's tough, man. I've been seeing him play in the Summer League. He really showed how aggressive he is with the ball in his hands. He can get to the basket, find teammates and everything."
He will continue the infusion of Marquette players in the NBA in recent seasons. Buzz Williams turns out player after player with the same characteristics -- toughness, physicality, blue collar ethic. Chicago's Jimmy Butler, Portland's Matthews and Dallas' Jae Crowder have all stuck in the league. Jerel McNeal is on Utah's training camp roster after the Jazz signed him out of the D-League last March.
Williams stayed on Buycks during his two seasons at Marquette and the guard hasn't forgotten the lessons.
"He's real picky with who he gets," Buycks said. "It's not like he's picking guys that wasn't doing anything prior to Marquette. It's guys that was skillful where they was at. Then you come there and you get another dose of some real, tough, tough work. Seeing if you're a man or not. Seeing if you just like basketball, or if you love basketball."
Buycks can't relax though, despite the security the contract for next season brings.
"I still have a small room for error," he said. "I still have to come in here and try to do better than what I did in Orlando, and what I did the past season, to try to come in and fit in with these guys quick. There's definitely a couple of guys who are on the roster for the Raptors, and it's important for them guys to get my trust here. That's real important coming into training camp, and get ready to be with the real guys that's been in the league for years now."
RAY MCCALLUM, Kings
The understandable interest for many Kings fans is with first-round pick Ben McLemore, who fell to seventh overall for still-inexplicable reasons. McLemore did nothing here in Vegas to lessen the expectations that Sacramento may have gotten a steal, displaying explosiveness -- including 19 third-quarter points against Atlanta Friday -- and good defensive instincts.
But the Kings could have gotten an even bigger steal with McCallum, the University of Detroit (Mercy) product who they took with the 36th overall pick. McCallum famously decided not to play for high majors after being a McDonald's All-America coming out of high school, opting to stay home and play at Detroit for his father, Ray Sr.
The father's game has been passed down to the son.
Ray, Sr., scored more than 2,100 points at Ball State, winning Player of the Year honors in 1983 in the Mid American Conference ."Ray [Sr.] was just like his son; quick. Just a little smaller," said Charlie Parker, the veteran NBA assistant who coached Ray, Sr., on Ball State's staff in the early '80s.
Ray, Jr., has no regrets playing at Detroit.
"My father was a winner himself, and he's really instilled that in my family," McCallum said. "It was a really special time, getting to play for my dad. That's something that you can't replace. It definitely was a tough decision, turning down major offers from teams competing for a national championship. But that father-son relationship, and winning the [Horizon] championship, and changing the program, it's a special thing."
McCallum is a load to handle in the open court, with a burst to get by defenders and a strong handle. He showed in-between speed as well, and made several outstanding finishing passes. In Sacramento's final game Friday, McCallum had a double-double.
"It's been really beneficial for me," McCallum said. "Coming in as a point guard, with a new system and a new coaching staff, really trying to pick up on all the terminology and all the emphasis the coaches are trying to stress to us. To me, it's definitely a different game than college. I feel like I got better this week."
McCallum left Detroit after three seasons. He led the Horizon League at 18.7 points a game last season. But he had to score at UD. That will not be his role with the Kings, who have newcomer Greivis Vasquez (acquired from New Orleans in the Tyreke Evans sign-and-trade) penciled in as the starter at the point, with McCollum, Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette likely to battle for the backup role -- though Thomas could certainly get minutes at the two as well.
"He's shown me this week that OK, here's a guy who was a coach's son, three years in college, and has a great feel for the game," Kings coach Mike Malone said of McCallum Friday. "He's a great leader. Ben is looking to him, because that's the kind of leader Ray is. I've been very impressed with Ray, his ability to get into the paint, make plays for his teammates. And he's learning. As his jump shot comes into play, and he's more consistent, that's going to bring so many more things into play."
The jumper is probably why McCallum didn't go in the first round. He shot just 32.3 percent from 3-point range last season -- though that was a big jump from the 24 percent he shot on threes as a sophomore. Teams will obviously go under on screen-rolls with him until he shows he can consistently knock down perimeter or deeper shots.
"Right now, his shot is not flawed," Malone said. "His release point needs to get higher. When he misses a shot, and a lot of his free throws, it's because they're on the front rim. He's got a flat shot at times. I spent some time talking with his father about that. He's got to get the shot up higher, give it more of a chance to go in. And he also has to develop the mid-range game. He's realized this week that unlike college, where he could get to the rim a lot, now there's a lot bigger guys. He has to develop a floater, and he has to develop a mid-range pullup, which is a dying art, obviously."
McCallum will work with assistants Dee Brown and Chris Jent the next couple of months of finding more consistency.
"I have to work on cleaning up my mid-range game, my outside shooting," McCallum said. "Just work on different finishes around the rim. That's something I'll definitely be taking very seriously the next couple of months."
Of course, the son, like all sons, claims it's been years since his dad beat him one-on-one.
"We played a game of out the other day," McCallum said Friday. "I outshot him the other day. So he finally gave me my props for having a better game. Took me 22 years, though. Took me a long time."
JAN VESELY, Wizards
The wait for Jan Vesely in Washington has been interminable. The sixth pick in the 2011 Draft has struggled mightily, to put it gently, to find a role, even as Washington struggled for wins. He had some brief spasms of success, averaging 8 points and 8 rebounds the last month of his rookie season. But for the most part, he looked lost, and -- shooting a horrific 31 percent from the foul line -- increasingly unwilling to drive and to use the athletic ability that made the 6-foot-10 Czech native so intriguing in the first place.
Yet Vesely is still just 22 and in Vegas, he showed how good he remains finishing in transition, what an adept interior passer and how active a defensive presence he can be. It was just Summer League. But any contribution going forward from Vesely will be welcome news for the Wizards.
Postgame: Jan Vesely
Washington has its other four spots pretty well spoken for, with John Wall and Bradley Beal in the backcourt, Martell Webster or rookie Otto Porter Jr. at the three and Nene at center. Vesely still has a chance -- likely, his final chance -- to earn some minutes next season.
"It's going to be my third season. It's time to break [through]," Vesely said after the Wizards' final summer league game Friday. "I was working hard last month, and I have a long summer in front of me. I'm really looking forward to playing for the national team and getting ready before training camp starts. I'm really looking forward to this summer and next season to play."
Wizards coach Randy Wittman hasn't minced words about Vesley or his unwillingness to play him in his current mental state. Wittman benched Vesely for almost a month last season, and said after the season that Veseley "needs to work on his head" if he's going to ever play in the league.
"He's got to play with confidence," Wittman said during one Wizards game on NBA TV last week. "He's got great length, great size, speed. Defensively, he gets in the passing lanes. [But] he's got to believe in himself. Coming from overseas, he had never played this caliber of basketball before. I think he's gone through a couple of situations early on where he doesn't believe in himself. Let me tell you what: You can be the best basketball player, but if you don't have confidence, you aren't going to be worth a crap."
Vesely has been working out in Los Angeles the past month, and he finally had some spring in his step in Vegas. He had a double-double against the Knicks, made 9 of 11 shots against Denver and went 6 of 9 against Memphis. At about 245 pounds, he looked quicker
In September, he will play for the Czech national team at EuroBasket, where he'll play with guards Jiri Welsch, who played for Boston, Golden State, Cleveland and Milwaukee, and Tomas Satoransky, the Wizards' second-round pick in 2012 who played last season in Spain's ACB League.
"It's a chance to try all those things on the court, and all that I was working on last month," Vesely said. "I think I enjoyed it. We had fun with those guys that were playing ... this summer was good between, like, my workouts and the national team to see those things in a real game. I'm glad I was here. I just have to keep working."
International players, of course, have different pressures than their U.S. counterparts. Vesely not only has heard it from disgruntled Wizards fans in the States for not living up to his Draft status, but he's had to endure getting an earful -- and a Twitterful -- back home. This good week in Vegas, followed by a good performance in Slovenia, could finally give him the bump he needs to become a solid contributor in D.C.
"Seeing it in practice is one thing, but seeing it in a game, putting it in a game, is another," Vesely said. "I felt good this week. Like I said, it helped me a lot with the confidence. But still, I have a lot of work to do."
How does a man who scored many of his 15,659 career points on mid-range jumpers feel about that shot being devalued in today's analytics-dominated NBA culture?
Jeff Hornacek, ever polite, chuckles at the unspoken premise of the question -- that he, an old school player for the Suns, Sixers and Jazz, should reject the theories of the advanced stats crowd.
He does not.
"Well, we look at that," he said over the weekend. "I look at it, too. If you look at it, I think I looked at it and 14 of the 16 playoff teams last year shot 51 percent effective field goal percentage. So, now break that down. Back in the day, if you were shooting 50 percent as a team, yeah, you could shoot all those mid-range shots. But if guys aren't making a good percentage, if they get a good look from mid-range, they should be shooting 60 percent on those. So there's still a use for that, to get guys good shots. But if guys aren't going to shoot the ball from the 18 to 20-foot range, yeah, you might as well stick them out to 22-foot range and shoot those."
It is Hornacek's way of acknowledging he's good with the direction the Suns are going in under new general manager Ryan McDonough, a champion of analytics. Hornacek is a believer as well. So he's a natural fit with McDonough, who earned accolades while the assistant GM in Boston under Danny Ainge as an extremely capable outside-the-box thinker.
Any new direction would be preferable than the one Phoenix took last season. The Suns are on rebuild 2.0, having fired former GM Lance Blanks and bringing in Hornacek to replace interim coach Lindsey Hunter. Phoenix's short-term fixes last season by adding young veterans Michael Beasley and Wes Johnson came up short as the Suns fell to a Western Conference-worst 25-57.
The Suns knew it would take time to rebuild from the ashes of the Steve Nash era, but last season provided neither hope nor excitement. Phoenix was next to last in the league in offensive rating (a paltry 101.2 points per 100 possessions), and in the bottom 10 in defensive rating.
"As I went through the interview process, I told Robert [Sarver], our owner, and Lon [Babby], the president, there are ways to get the team a little better, quicker," McDonough said. "But I didn't want to take any shortcuts. I wanted to build a team that would be sustainably successful for a long time. I think we're off to a good start ... But it is a process. We have to keep building."
McDonough didn't waste time shaking things up, agreeing to a three-team deal July 2 to get Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler from the Clippers, with Jared Dudley and Milwaukee guard J.J. Redick (via sign-and-trade) going to Los Angeles, with the Bucks getting Draft picks to help out.
They'll join first-round picks Alex Len, still recovering from offseason ankle surgery, and guard Archie Goodwin as part of the Suns' for-the-moment core.
Hornacek is already at work establishing a new emphasis on ball movement and passing, coaching the Suns' Summer League team into Monday night's championship game against Golden State. It is a style that Hornacek believes he'll be able to play in the regular season with Bledsoe and Goran Dragic in the backcourt.
The Suns have pushed the ball at every opportunity here, with second-year guard Kendall Marshall -- who is auditioning for other teams, to be sure, after the Suns' acquisition of Bledsoe -- and the Morris Twins, Markieff and Marcus, filling the lanes or floating out for threes.
Veteran forward P.J. Tucker was supposed to be in Vegas for only a couple of days, but figured he'd stick around and play through the weekend and pick up some of Hornacek's sets.
"Why wouldn't I?," he asked after Sunday's 91-89 win over Miami.
At the time of the Bledsoe deal, some -- OK, me -- wondered whether either Bledsoe or Dragic could play or defend off the ball. Bledsoe didn't shoot better than 44 percent in any of his three seasons in L.A., and Dragic is not exactly a lock-down stopper. But Hornacek wants the Suns to be able to initiate offense from either side of the floor.
"I always thought the best way to run the fast break was, get it to whoever," he said. "Just go. Everybody run. And that should be to our advantage, and a weapon we should have. We're not going to have to look for one guy. If you get a rebound and you have to find that one guy for the outlet pass, and he's on the other side of the court or whatever, you're not going to run that break. So now, we've got two guys who can run the floor. That should be fun."
As for potential size deficiencies, Hornacek notes that he and Kevin Johnson, who were Suns teammates and starters from 1988-89 to Hornacek's trade after the 1991-92 season, were able to do OK.
"Kevin and I were not the biggest backcourt," he said. "Kevin was as fast as could be, and I tried to keep up with him. I was only 6-3, 6-4. Goran's about the same size as I was. There will be times where they're mismatched against guys, and defensively we may have to do some different things. But then offensively, you look at the opposite side. How's a 6-6 guy going to be able to guard Goran?"
The Suns, who were a middle-of-the-pack attendance team during the Steve Nash era, fell all the way to 23rd last season, something that surely got Sarver's attention. Hiring Hornacek, a star and fan favorite locally before being dealt to Phillly in the Charles Barkley deal in 1992, was a no-brainer.
Being ready for his first head coaching job, Hornacek would have gone anywhere. But it doesn't hurt that it was Phoenix, where Hornacek kept his home as his career took him from Philly to Utah. With the Jazz, he started 436 of 477 games, was a key cog on the Jazz's back-to-back Finals teams of 1997 and '98 and was an assistant for six years under former coach Jerry Sloan and current coach Ty Corbin.
"It was perfect for me," Hornacek said. "I loved my time when I played in Phoenix before I got traded in the Barkley deal. We were an up-tempo team. We were scoring 119 points a game, I think. I think Phoenix, the city, seemed to want that style back. That was my style, when Ryan talked to me, when we discussed it, and I think that's his style and his vision."
But it's going to take a while for the Suns to rebuild their brand and their won-loss record, even after the Bledsoe deal.
McDonough had tried to get Bledsoe while in Boston last year. But the chance to get him in Phoenix didn't materialize until Chris Paul's public commitment to stay with the Clippers July 1. Soon after, McDonough got a text from Doc Rivers -- who, of course, was in Boston with McDonough -- and said the Clippers would be willing to discuss Bledsoe. L.A. knew full well it would never be able to give Bledsoe either the playing time or the payday he'd be seeking as a free agent in a couple of years.
Bledsoe will get an opportunity at both in Phoenix, though the wins are likely to be less plentiful than in Los Angeles.
When and if Len plays this season, Phoenix will have a low-post option to try to play through. But running will be preferred to walking it up. A lot of scouts and personnel types thought Goodwin was crazy to leave Kentucky after just one season, but McDonough maneuvered to get him at the end of the first round. And in Vegas, he showed he has deep and consistent NBA 3-point range.
But he's so young! Goodwin was the second-youngest player and youngest American in the Draft. He's 18, but looks 15. McDonough is convinced he can be a contributor.
"I actually view his age as an advantage," McDonough said. "Where we are as a franchise, we can afford to be patient and develop him. But I'm not sure how patient we'll need to be. You've seen what he's done out here already, as an 18-year-old kid ... one of the things that generally holds up [in the pros] is the ability to get to the free-throw line, and he just has a knack for getting to the line and getting to the basket."
It was important for Phoenix to do well in Summer League, to try to establish some kind of winning and good habits. The Suns are going to struggle mightily to win many games when things start for real in the fall. And McDonough, who'll have a lot of cap space next summer, won't hesitate to gamble to improve the roster.
"I think the biggest thing I learned from Danny was to be aggressive -- and to not be afraid," McDonough said. "He shuffled the deck a lot when he first started in Boston. Some of the moves, I guess, on their own, didn't make a lot of sense to the public -- unless you knew his plan, and kind of his vision. And he's done it a couple of times now. He did it when we got KG [Kevin Garnett] and Ray Allen in 2007, and in this last deal with the Nets. He's not afraid to do things that are a little bit controversial, and might be painful in the short term. But they really helped the club long-term."
Could they also get into the DeLorean, go back to 1955, and get a teenaged Bill Russell? From Shance Eaton:
Jim Buss Interview
...(E)veryone seems to be looking at the 13-14 Lakers from a pessimistic view. I myself understand that in the NBA the easiest way to get really good is to be really bad. And as everyone knows by now there hasn't been a better time to be bad since ...10 years ago. Now I don't think the Lakers will be bad enough to get a top 5 pick. I don't think they need to be that bad to be really good next year since they are the Lakers. With that amazing draft class coming in and amazing free agency class coming up, it's a great time for the Lakers to stink. I know the only contract on the books would be Steve Nash and I'm not saying I'm a capologist (but I do understand the NBA's CBA more than your average fan) but can you let me know if this scenario is possible.
Can the Lakers sign Carmelo (who I believe is the most likely superstar to jump ship due to Amar'e's $20 million anchor) to a max deal for about $20 million a year, sign Rudy Gay for $14 million a year then pick up solid role players and use their Bird Rights to go over the cap and re-up on Pau Gasol and Bryant deals? That would be a pretty bad defensive line-up but the ultimate Mike D'Antoni offensive juggernaut squad in a small-ball NBA. I'm not sure if the Lakers would be able to pull off those signings, but it makes sense to me.
Some of what you say is possible, Shance, but not how far you take it. (Who knows what 'Melo will think of the Knicks, and whether he wants to stay, a year from now?) Remember, the cap holds on Kobe (making $30 million this coming season) and Gasol ($19 million) next summer will be almost prohibitively expensive, by my math, and those cap holds will remain on the books until the Lakers either re-sign those two, they renounce their rights to either or both or the players sign with someone else. So while L.A. should have a lot of cap room -- enough to sign at least one max player -- whether they can afford a second depends on how quickly they decide what to do with Kobe and Pau. And while they're deciding, free agents on other teams are deciding, too.
We can only hope, Ben. From Zach Ben-Amots:
I am a big fan of your writing and I really enjoy reading your articles. I never had the urge to write to you until now. I've read many articles regarding the Zimmerman verdict and your brief statement in this week's article was by far the most well-articulated and meaningful bit that I've seen. I can only hope that ALL people channel their feelings regarding the verdict productively towards creating real change. Maybe that will clear the way to alter the gun laws in this country that result in so many tragic deaths.
That being said, I'm a lifelong Spurs fan and am still recovering in the wake of the championship series. How long do you think it will be before San Antonio has a truly great team again? And do you think Tiago Splitter can ever be an exceptional big man?
To the first, Ben, thank you. To the second, weren't the Spurs five seconds from winning the NBA championship last month? I think they're pretty doggone good right now. As long as Tony Parker and Tim Duncan stay healthy, San Antonio's window is going to remain open for at least a couple more years. As for Splitter, depends on how you define "exceptional." I think he is certainly capable of being a strong rotation player as he showed last season, if not a star in the NBA.
But Scotland is part of Great Britain, which includes England and ... never mind. From John Hunter:
Andy Murray is Scottish -- causes a bit of an uproar here when we are associated with our southern neighbours!!
Several folks pointed out my latest geographic faux pas, John, and thanks to you and all of them for correcting me. I need an updated map.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and congratulations for Lefty to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your e-mail is sufficiently intelligent, thought-provoking, funny or snarky, we just might publish it!
$73,777,986 -- Luxury tax payments, as calculated by the great Larry Coon, that the Nets will have to pay next season (this was before they waived D.J. White last week). I trust Larry's spreadsheets way better than my calculator, so we'll go with this number for the foreseeable future.
$174,184 -- Price at auction for a replica of Kobe Bryant's 2000 NBA championship ring on Saturday. The ring was part of memorabilia that became the subject of controversy after Bryant's parents planned to sell the items against his wishes. Bryant threatened to sue his parents to stop them from selling the items before the matter was settled last month and they were allowed to sell a limited amount of the memorabilia.
11 -- Years since the Charlotte Hornets moved to New Orleans, where they kept the name Hornets until changing it to the Pelicans for next season. That allowed the Charlotte Bobcats to apply to change their name back to the Hornets, a move unanimously approved by the NBA's Board of Governors last week. The re-brand will be effective for the 2014-15 season.
1) Quite classy, Truth. Quite.
2) Maybe this should have been a "Nobody Asked Me, But..." But it occurs to me that a team like Oklahoma City, which needs a perimeter player in the worst way after losing Kevin Martin (who was supposed to replace James Harden, after all), should really be looking at a vet like Steven Jackson. Isn't a guy like Jack, who's been in a million playoff games, and made a bunch of big playoff shots, exactly what a team like OKC could use when things get tough in the playoffs and defenses load up on Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook? And Jackson certainly knows this is not the year for him to break the bank financially. Better to sign a minimum tender with a contender like the Thunder and come back next summer in a much stronger negotiating position. Isn't that the definition of a "win-win" for both the player and the team?
Postgame: Draymond Green
3) Draymond Green has shed 12 pounds since the Warriors' second-round playoff exit and looked svelte ("I want to be able to defend people more efficiently," he said Sunday). And Bazemore finished at the rim and looked explosive all week long. If Harrison Barnes is indeed okay coming off the bench, Golden State might be able to absorb the losses of Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry in free agency.
4) I like Nate Silver -- we've exchanged a few e-mails over the past few months -- and I know he'll do great at ESPN. Look forward to seeing his stuff and seeing him on Keith Olbermann's new show. (Which reminds me: While I'm sure many people have had their issues with Olbermann in the workplace over the years, all I can tell you is that when I was at ESPN, he could not have been nicer or more supportive of me and my work. And I wish him luck as he returns to the Four-Letter.)
5) Saw Patty Mills in Vegas and heard good news: he's already back playing full-court after suffering a foot abscess in June, and he'll be able to play for the Australian national team later this summer.
6) This is an amazing labor of love ... and of labor. Wow, that's a lot of work.
1) No one has asked me to run their team here. But it's hard to understand how any team looking to engage its fans back home, to try and give them a sense of hope and possibility, would shut down its young guys before their teams were eliminated. If a guy is injured, like Toronto's Jonas Valanciunas, that's one thing. But teams that were in the lottery otherwise have little reason to rest first-round picks or other players that a) need all the playing time they can absorb, b) are what you're trying to sell to folks watching at home on NBA TV and on the (very cool) app on their computers. How does it help a team trying to sell season tickets to not have some of their top young assets on display as often as possible?
2) I know the Chuckster has ripped the 76ers for not yet hiring a coach. But GM Sam Hinkie is not going to make a hire based on any outside timetable. I hear he had extensive interviews last week with Atlanta assistant Quin Snyder and Rockets assistant Kelvin Sampson, and is still planning to interview Toronto assistant Nick Nurse (wildly successful in Iowa and Rio Grande Valley in the NBA D-League) and Miami's David Fitzdale, as he methodically decides on a candidate. It's unorthodox, but I can't hate.
Nate Robinson Interview
3) Why isn't Nate Robinson signed by now?
4) Feel for Dave Bing, the Hall of Fame player and current mayor of Detroit. So many good people live and have lived in that city, and its economic woes, despite the partial recovery of the auto industry in the last couple of years, don't seem to be abating. I hope the city can again find its footing, somehow.
5) Tough break for Taj Gibson, who will again have to sit out USA Basketball workouts this week with an injury.
6) Twerking? Explain it to me like I'm a 6-year old.
He was in a gym in Las Vegas over the weekend instead of drinking a mai tai on some beach. It's the business Erik Spoelstra has chosen, and the fact that his Miami Heat have won back-to-back championships does not stop the team's -- or his -- preparations for next season. The Draft followed the championship, and the NBA's Summer League follows the Draft. Besides, the Heat's coach in Las Vegas was Dan Craig, the team's longtime video coordinator (who was promoted to assistant coach and video coordinator this season), and Spoelstra wanted to give his support. That has been The Miami Way under Pat Riley -- hire young, hungry, fiercely loyal guys who remain with the organization for a decade or more. That was the way the 42-year-old Spoelstra worked his way up from the video room to the bench.
Since he replaced Riley as head coach in 2009, Spoelstra has guided the Heat to three Finals appearances the last three seasons, and two titles. His second title ties him with legendary head coaches like Red Holzman, Alex Hannum and Chuck Daly (and one William Felton Russell, who won two titles in Boston as a player-coach).
Erik Spoelstra Interview
After the Heat's seven-game victory over the Spurs last month, Spoelstra got five days to celebrate "Spoelstra Style," as he puts it, on the Oregon coast with his family (his father, Jon, was a VP and general manager with the Blazers for 11 years, and still maintains a home in Oregon). But soon after, it was back to the grind that, seemingly, never stops.
Me: You gotten any time off?
Erik Spoelstra: We got a little bit of time off right after the Draft, before the Fourth. We'll get some more time later on this summer. But we knew the Summer League would be coming. We've also had it the other way, where we've had five, six-month summers. We'll take this any time. Typically, you don't survive those six-month summers. I feel very fortunate to be in this position.
Me: But do you decompress at all?
ES: We will. I mean, I think it helps for all of us that we had the Draft right away, and then get into Summer League. And then we'll kind of ease into the summer as we get further into July, and then we'll start plugging in time to prepare.
Me: I'm sure you've talked with Pat about this already, but have you started researching teams that had threepeat chances going into a season, and what the obstacles were for those teams going into that third season?
Erik Spoelstra Interview
ES: I've talked to a few people. Every situation is different, though, with teams and players from different eras. We see the landscape and we see how teams are going to be better, and that it's never going to be an easy journey. We want our guys to decompress this summer, and at some point, maybe in August, we'll start to focus and re-connect, and try to get our bodies and minds ready for training camp.
Me: Many of those teams that had a threepeat chance added a rotation player or two that third season. You weren't able to. What challenge does that create for you and your core group?
ES: The biggest challenge this summer was trying to keep who we had. We were able to bring Ray [Allen] back, and we were able to get Bird [Chris Andersen] back, and we thought both of those guys were very important pieces last year. Bird only played the last three months of the regular season for us. So getting him for a full training camp and a full season, I think he'll be even better for us. And then, we lost Mike [Miller, waived via the amnesty provision], which was very tough. So, we really weren't in a position right now to add too many pieces. Our main objective was to try and bring as many people as we could back.
Me: Do you know there's only five coaches in the history of the game -- Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach, Pat, John Kundla and Gregg Popovich -- that have won three or more titles?
ES: No. But that won't really factor into my preparation or motivation this year. It's a fragile league. These are fragile opportunities. We have an opportunity to compete for a title. We're not defending it. The next title, 2014, is up for grabs. And that's the way we're approaching it. And I'll use the rest of the summer to try to talk to people, and also continue the philosophy of a growth mindset, which our organization has really embraced. And for all of us to try and get better next year.
Me: That was a very Belichickian answer, you know.
ES: It was? I did it with a smile on my face. I didn't grunt at you.
Three in a Row for Heat?
Me: Well, when I covered football, I went to the league meetings one year, and the Patriots had won two straight Super Bowls, and I asked Belichick about defending his title, and he said, 'What title?'
ES: Yeah, we don't have it. I said that last year. People asked me all the time, are you going to ask Pat to use 'threepeat?' And I said no.
Me: Well, you'd have to pay him first. (Riley trademarked the phrase "threepeat" in 1988, as the Lakers tried to win their third straight title, though it only gave him the commercial rights to use the phrase on anything sold, not a right to seek money from anyone who uttered the phrase.)
ES: [Laughing] Yes, you'd have to pay him. But the main thing is, no, we never used "back to back" last year, and we won't use "threepeat" this year. This is an opportunity for us to compete for a title. But when you have a team like we have, you want to make the most of it. Because you know how competitive it is. You know how rare it is, to be a part of a team like this. As a franchise, since Pat and Micky [Arison] took over, we've been together 18 years. I would say, conservatively, we've put together at least 10 to 12 contending teams, where we thought we had a legitimate chance to contend for a title. And in those 12 years, we've only been to the Finals four times. And there's been other years where we thought just as convincingly, that we'd go to the Finals, just like we did last year, and the last three years. It's tough. It's very tough. And that's why, when you have a team like this, you want to make the most of every opportunity you have together, knowing it's not that long that you're together.
Me: Do you think at all about minutes limits for LeBron, Wade and Bosh next season?
ES: Not moreso than we have. All of them have been playing, really, after the first year of putting them together, I made a concerted effort to get their numbers, minutes, down until late in the season. They've all played relatively career low levels the last two years. LeBron is always looking to fight me about getting him under 38 minutes. Dwyane has been way below his normal minutes. The same with Chris, way below what he's used to. I think that's one of the keys to us playing stronger toward the end of the year, is that those guys have been relatively fresh, compared with what they're used to.
LeBron on Repeating
Me: You watched Game 6 yet, just for fun?
ES: No, not since Game 7 preparation. But I've seen enough of the highlights, either through the ESPYs or the Draft. We were all watching the Draft -- we didn't have a Draft pick -- and on NBA TV, they were showing Game 6. So all of us, we had the Draft right here. We had prospects we were watching over here, three big screens, and then we had Game 6. We all started watching the Draft, and then we all turned and started watching Game 6.
Me: Do you wake up some nights and wonder, 'How the hell did we win that game?'
ES: Absolutely. When you're in the moment, sure, your mind wanders, and you're just trying to focus on the next possession. But then when you watch it later on, and you look at it, how the heck did we win that game? And you do. You have to have a great deal of luck to win a championship. You need so many things. You need health. You need talent. You need cohesiveness that clicks at the right time. And then you need luck. The bottom line is, neither team deserved to lose that game. You know, one team did. And that's why it turned out to be one of the most memorable games in Finals history.
People lets get this straight my father is not Penny Hardaway. It's Tim Hardaway.
-- Knicks rookie Tim Hardaway, Jr., (@t_hard10), Wednesday, 3:12 p.m. Not sure how anyone could make that mistake, given that he's not named Anfernee Hardaway, Jr. Oh, well.
"I'm not going to play the victim card. I'm a grown man. I didn' t come into the league with the right mindset, and it messed me up a little bit. No fault on Houston or Sacramento. They did what they had to do. Houston made a great power move. If I was a GM, I would have done the same thing. Can't blame them for that."
-- Portland's second-year forward Thomas Robinson, the fifth pick overall in the 2012 Draft, showing a refreshing candor about how he contributed to his own demise as a rookie last season, which led to his being traded by the Kings to the Rockets -- and by the Rockets to the Trail Blazers.
"You know, with respect to the L.A. market, whenever somebody wins, somebody loses. It's a fact here. We've had the Knicks down for a while, the Lakers were down this past year. But that is the beauty of what we do."
-- Commissioner David Stern, after last week's Board of Governors meeting in Las Vegas, when asked about the Lakers' problems this summer and last season, and whether it's still beneficial from the league's perspective that the Lakers be good.
"Tony Bennett, the singer?"
--Unidentified concession worker at the Thomas and Mack Center Saturday afternoon, after being told that "Anthony Bennett" -- the Cavs' first-round pick, of course -- was giving autographs in the hallway after Cleveland's quarterfinal Summer League game against Miami.