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Las Vegas Summer League


The official blog of the Rockets 2010 Las Vegas Summer League

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

2:58 PM, July 14 – GAME 5 FINAL: HOUSTON 82 – DENVER 75

Hey, I’d be remiss if I neglected to mention the biggest Rockets-related news of the day: This afternoon GM Daryl Morey sent out a tweet expressing the Rockets’ intention to match the offer sheet Kyle Lowry had received from the Cleveland Cavaliers. NBA rules and restrictions prevent me from saying much more than that at this time, but needless to say this is a big win for Houston basketball, as anyone who has watched Lowry’s growth, development and impact over the past year will readily attest.

Far and away most disappointing moment of my week-long Vegas experience: seeing Denver’s Dontaye Draper without a perfectly put together 3-piece suit, fedora, glass of scotch and a cigarette. He could have been my favorite non-Houston player in the NBA by a mile. Now he’s a nobody in my mind. Borderline crushing (and, yes, I realize this paragraph made absolutely no sense to anyone who’s never seen Mad Men. Oh well).

Ish Smith definitely rose to the challenge of going head-to-head with Ty Lawson today. Through three quarters of play, Smith has delivered his best performance of the summer thus far, going 6-for-7 from the field for 13 points to go along with 4 assists and no turnovers. Because of his small stature, the 6-0 Smith is going to have his work cut out for him if he’s to earn a roster spot at the NBA level, but the dude can really fly and with some more seasoning and work on his shot, he can eventually make it.

The Rockets have lost a little bit of their intensity here in the final quarter of their summer league showcase. The crisp ball movement that stood out in the first half has given way to some of the same stagnation that plagued them the last two games. However, it’s not a very uncommon development here in Vegas for specific reason: because players don’t foul out here, games have a tendency to devolve into one giant free throw parade, which can obviously make it very difficult for club’s to find, and more importantly sustain, any real sense of rhythm.

Rockets hold on for an 82-75 victory, overall playing much better than we’d seen the last two games. Great efforts from Budinger and Smith, and very good to see the solid play from Jordan Hill and Patrick Patterson as well. Plenty more to come after postgame interviews.

1:45 PM, July 14 – GAME 5: HOUSTON VS. DENVER

First half thoughts from the Rockets’ final summer league game:

Good test for Houston’s starting backcourt of Jermaine Taylor and Ish Smith this afternoon, as they’re tasked with the job of attempting to slow down J.R. Smith and Ty Lawson on the defensive end.

Early on, however, they’re not the story. Rather, it’s Chase Budinger releasing perhaps a week’s worth of frustration, absolutely taking over the proceedings right from the opening tip with a trifecta of outside jumpers and a monster dunk off a steal. Through 6 minutes he’s already poured in 12 points, providing a glimpse at the potential he possesses when he’s aggressive and asserts himself.

At times this week Budinger has seemed to have gotten lost while trying to assume more of a facilitator role. And it certainly hasn’t helped matters that his shooting stroke has been amiss throughout the vast majority of this trip (especially when compared to last year’s event which saw him connect from long range more than 70 percent of the time). But it’s telling, and not at all surprising, to see his impact on the floor when he commits himself to attacking and I’ve no doubt Houston’s coaching staff will be using the film from this game’s first 6 minutes to hammer that point home.

Even in summer league, you can see that opposing teams’ scouts and coaches are doing their due diligence. After scoring at will on a seemingly endless amount of forays to the rim during Houston’s first two games, Jermaine Taylor is finding a lot less room out there now and, as a result, his effectiveness has been noticeably diminished. This is a good lesson for JT since he’ll no doubt face much more of the same at the real NBA level and he simply has to get better at diversifying his game and figuring out when the lane is there, and when the better play is to find his open teammates.

Patrick Patterson has been on the receiving end of some very valuable lessons as well. After wowing everyone in his debut performance, the Rockets rookie hasn’t yet produced a worthy encore; he’s been solid to be sure, displaying plenty of smarts and steady play, but nothing spectacular. One of the reasons: he’s spent a bit too much time on the perimeter as opposed to focusing on being a powerful presence in the low-post. I have a hard time believing there are many players at this event who can effectively defend Patterson in the paint – I still find myself recalling that sweet up-and-under move he displayed in game one. I don’t doubt that the Kentucky product will be able to consistently knock down outside jumpers eventually, but right now I’d rather see him assert himself inside.

You can tell the Rockets are committed to finishing summer league with a flourish today after a pair of subpar games. The effort is better across the board and the team’s passing and ball movement has been significantly better this afternoon as compared to what we witnessed against Portland and Toronto. Jordan Hill has really picked it up – he’s been extraordinarily active in the interior, chasing after every loose ball in addition to some very solid work as a rim protector.

Am I the only one who doesn’t understand J.R. Smith’s presence here? I could see the point if were dedicating himself to being more of a facilitator as opposed to simply a pure scorer (which, granted, he’s pretty darn good at) but he still seems more concerned with jacking up shots off of 1-on-1 play. He does that enough at the pro level; why come to Vegas and do the same thing? Doesn’t he and the Nuggets have better ways to utilize this time? I’m genuinely curious.

Rockets lead 41-30 at the half, thanks to a sweet Ish Smith floater at the buzzer. More to come after the game.

5:17 PM, July 13 – GAME 4 FINAL: TORONTO 100 – HOUSTON 91

For whatever reason, the Rockets have started off in sluggish fashion throughout the past week and today was no exception. Thankfully, they’ve typically responded with a much better effort in the second half (save for Sunday’s game against Portland which I, along with Daryl Morey presumably, am doing everything possible to purge from the memory banks) and, at least in the early going of the third quarter today, they seem to following that formula to a T.

Houston came out of halftime hitting the boards harder, putting in more than a modicum effort on defense and actually running some of their offensive sets. As a result, the Rockets are finally getting stops and generating some transition buckets themselves, the result of which is Toronto’s lead has now been cut to 8.

Another summer league trend from a Rockets’ perspective: this team just hasn’t had a great deal of success shooting the ball, especially from long range. Perhaps the latter point is not terribly surprising since Houston’s roster is not exactly loaded with long-range bombers. Chase Budinger and Maarty Leunen are probably this team’s two best shooter from 3, yet neither one has had his sweet stroke working with any consistency this week. The Rockets have gotten good looks from downtown today, but no one outside of Gary Forbes has been able to capitalize on their opportunities.

Despite all the things it did wrong, Houston managed to trim its deficit down to a mere 4 points around the 2-minute mark. But a turnover from Ish Smith led to yet another fastbreak chance for DeRozan, which the second-year swingman managed to convert into a 3-point play, essentially sealing the Rockets’ fate.

Best player for Houston tonight: Gotta give it to Alexander Johnson, who really played well in the first half, despite dealing with a nagging hamstring strain. AJ hit all 4 of his shots for 10 points, while grabbing 3 boards in just 9 minutes of action. Hmm, I smell a feature coming later this evening…

‘Til then, re-read my rant from earlier today, if for no other reason than to make assuage the beast which rages within me.

4:20 PM, July 13 – GAME 4: HOUSTON VS. TORONTO

In lieu of my first-half thoughts, I feel compelled to address another subject at this time: Utah’s acquisition of forward Al Jefferson. Know that I do so rather reluctantly for reasons I’m about to make clear, but seeing as I’ve received a great deal of email from Rockets fans expressing frustration and anger, this seems as good a place as any to address their concerns.

The general gist of their complaints goes something like this: why didn’t Houston make a bigger push for Jefferson and why are the Rockets seemingly standing pat while their West rivals add pieces? Some are even openly questioning Daryl Morey’s ability as General Manager of this team.

The latter point I find borderline laughable; Daryl doesn’t need me to defend him – his track record speaks for itself. Still, even though it pains me to feed the trolls, I’ll bite just this once.

For starters, I’ll throw out a handful of names: Aaron Brooks, Carl Landry, Chase Budinger, Jermaine Taylor, Patrick Patterson and Sergio Llull (one of the best young players in Europe): that is Morey's draft record -- all done with just one lottery pick (and let’s not forget Donte Greene, a player whom Morey used as a key piece of the Ron Artest deal).

Then there have guys like Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin (and Artest), in addition to assets like the two first rounders acquired from the New York Knicks this February: Those are Morey's trade acquisitions. Tell me again what’s wrong with that resume?

Oh, right – the critics decry the lack of a true superstar on that list. Well guess what: contrary to popular belief, GMs can't just make superstars appear out of thin air (and for those that use Miami as an example to the contrary, please remember what took place last week was the culmination of a process that was at least two years in the making). What Morey has done, however, is put together a roster loaded with assets so that this team can do its best to pounce if/when one becomes available.

And, please, let's keep in mind that it's only just July 13. We're still two and a half months away from the start of the regular season. In other words, plenty of time remains for wheeling, dealing and other such roster maneuvers.

Addressing Jefferson specifically, I love the move for Utah because they needed a PF/C after Carlos Boozer left and Mehmet Okur got hurt. But for those wishing the Rockets had made a big push for Jefferson’s services, keep in mind that he is just 18 months removed from a serious knee injury, has big money and 3 years left on his contract and is a decided defensive liability (pairing him with Yao on that end would not be pretty). And though the Rockets might not have a PF of Jefferson's quality on the roster at present, between Scola, Patterson, Chcuk Hayes and Jordan Hill, they’ll be getting much of that production at a cheaper price, which is the name of the game.

I understand the desire for the big splash. What I don’t condone is action simply for the sake of action – that is the mistake so many teams have made over the years. The true key is patience mixed with opportunistic aggressiveness, such as the type Morey showed when turning Tracy McGrady and Landry into Martin and those first rounders at last February's trade deadline.

No, the Rockets are not currently on the Lakers' level. They're still one more All-Star caliber player away. Morey himself has admitted as much. However, as currently constituted they are a 50+ win team and with the assets they've accumulated and more of the aforementioned aggressive opportinism Morey and his staff have displayed in the past, I continue to believe this team has a great chance to reach the level to which all Rockets fans aspire sooner rather than later.

End of rant.

I’ll come correct with thoughts on the game itself – which, up to this point, has not been much to write home about; DeMar DeRozan and Sonny Weems are killing Houston in transition and with penetration, and the Rockets are getting pounded on the boards again, which goes a long way in explaining Toronto's 57-43 lead at the break – in the second half.

5:00 PM, July 11 – GAME 3 FINAL: PORTLAND 84 – HOUSTON 67

Just not pretty from the Rockets right now. They started the third quarter much as they began the first: with too many turnovers, too much standing around, too many bad shots and not nearly enough ball movement and cutting. Again, dead legs and fatigue surely have something to do with this, but I’ll go out on a limb and say the Houston coaching staff is not going to accept that as a valid excuse.

Portland, by contrast, looks like a well-oiled machine, routinely carving up the Rockets’ defense with backdoor cuts and buckets in transition. Patty Mills has been especially deadly, flying up and down the floor while making a serious bid at a triple double (he’s got 12 points, 9 assists and 7 boards after three quarters of play). Mills missed all of his rookie season with an injury but this early glimpse certainly indicates the Blazers might have yet another special young talent on their hands. Man, that Kevin Pritchard is good at his job. Oh wait.

Speaking of great GMs, I just got a text from a friend back home who’s watching the game on NBA-TV and enjoying Daryl Morey’s stint as a guest analyst for part of this contest. Apparently Morey just delivered this doozy as the Rockets’ deficit starting sneaking past the 20-point mark: “"We pride ourselves on being tougher and harder working but this group is embarrassing right now." Ummm, I guess he’s not buying the fatigue excuse either.

Well, with Portland leading by 27 halfway through the fourth, Daryl just took off his headset and I suppose I might as well bring this edition of the blog to a close as well. Silver linings: Chase looked better en route to scoring a game-high 21 points, Spain won the only game that mattered today and the Rockets get a much-needed day off tomorrow before resuming their summer league schedule on Tuesday.

4:10 PM, July 11 – GAME 3: HOUSTON VS. PORTLAND

First half thoughts from today’s game:

Guess I better start with a warning: I’ve changed locales for this one, opting to sit in the stands (never let it be said I’m not a man of the people) to watch instead of along the baseline. Nothing noteworthy there. But I’m also riding the high of watching Spain win the World Cup (no, I’m not a bandwagoner, I swear – there’s a very good reason for my Spanish fandom. Ask me about it sometime, if you wish). S if my thoughts are even more rambling and incoherent than usual, apologies in advance.

Sloppy start for Houston, which has honestly been their M.O. here so far. Summer league is never going to be a showcase for NBA basketball at its aesthetic best, but the Rockets have looked more raggedy than you’d expect at the start of games; especially given all the relative experience and maturity they have on the floor with their starting 5.

Of course, the point guard bears much of the burden for getting his team into its sets and making the offense flow, and that’s the one position the Rockets aren’t blessed with much in the way of experience or familiarity. Still, it would be wholly unfair to put all the blame on the point guards’ shoulders. It’s also worth pointing out that this is Houston’s third game in 3 days and there surely must be some heavy legs out there.

If you couldn’t tell from last night’s blog and subsequent feature on Jermaine Taylor, I’m a big fan of JT. But as great as he’s looked in Vegas, he still faces some big hurdles in terms of translating his success here into success at the highest level. Sure, he can blow by summer league defenders and attack the rim with impunity pretty much any time he wants. But how will he respond with fewer opportunities, less usage and sophisticated defenses designed to keep him out of the paint? Those are the questions he’ll have to consistently find answers to before we see him really start soaring in the NBA.

University of Houston product Kelvin Lewis with the highlight of the half so far: having lost his right shoe seconds earlier, the 6-4 guard coolly ignored the impediment, stepped back beyond the arc and touched nothing but nylon with his shot. Very nice.

Just as sweet: Patrick Patterson’s mind and feel for the game. He really understands spacing and has a wonderful knack for darting toward the rim at the right moment in order to give his point guard the best chance to find him cutting through the lane for easy layups.

Chase Budinger seems to be building off his strong showing in the fourth quarter of last night’s game. His shot is still not falling as often as he’d like, but he has hit two if his three attempts from 3-point land and he’s played with very high energy, attacking the basket and showing more of that smooth, always in control, high IQ hoops game that Rockets fans fell in love with last season.

Houston is going to need a much better second half, especially from its big men if the team is to stay undefeated. The Rockets are getting killed inside and on the board, which is why they trail Portland 45-33 at the half. More to come after the game.

9:15, July 10 – GAME 2 FINAL: HOUSTON 87- DALLAS 78

There’s little doubt that the breakout star for Houston thought its first two games has been Jermaine Taylor. He’s simply been tenacious attacking the rim, which is nothing new. The key for JT thus far has been control. We haven’t seen nearly as much of the head-down, bull in a china shop drives that we saw a year ago. Now he’s attacking with purpose, with a plan, and no one here has been able to come close to slowing him down. What a weapon. How good has Taylor been so far? Through nearly 7 quarters of summer league play, he’s averaging close to a point per minute.

Rough start to summer league thus far for the Arizona kids Hill and Chase Budinger. I went into Hill’s issues in the first half but, truth is, Budinger hasn’t been heaps better. No one expected him to shoot better than 70 percent from 3 like he did in Las Vegas last year, but it’s not just his shot which has been off through the first two games. Chase isn’t impacting the game in other areas either right now, which is disappointing given his experience and tremendous rookie year production.

That having been said, there’s little reason to be concerned, especially as it pertains to Budinger. Both players are being asked to man roles that are far more significant than what’s typically expected of them at the highest level (Budinger is assuming more of a playmaking role here, while Hill, of course, is the Rockets’ starting center in Vegas). Truth is, both guys are far more effective playing off others – amazing the difference it makes playing alongside Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry, doesn’t it? – and I fully expect to see both players respond accordingly when training camp begins in September.

Also, it should be noted that both Budinger and Hill have played MUCH better in the fourth quarter which, not coincidentally, has seen the Rockets begin to pull away from Dallas on the scoreboard. Chase is really attacking the boards now and making some nice passes, while Hill has thrown down a couple of dunks after strangely settling for layups earlier in the contest.

Renowned Rockets killer Jason Terry is in the stands tonight which might be appropriate given the fact we could be witnessing the birth of a new assassin this evening. Roddy Beaubois is simply torching Houston every which way right now. Get ready to see a lot of him next season – whether you want to or not.

Rockets pull away in the fourth for an 87-78 win to move their Vegas record to 2-0. Jermaine Taylor led the way once again with 21 points on an incredible efficient 7-of-11 shooting. Roddy Buckets finished with 28 for the Mavs. You can view the box score here.

Back with a feature on JT a little later.

8:12 PM, July 10 – Game 2: HOUSTON VS. DALLAS

First half thoughts from Houston’s second summer league game in Las Vegas:

It didn’t take long for rookie Patrick Patterson to work his way into the starting lineup. He’s on the floor to begin the game tonight, taking over for Maarty Leunen at the 4-spot.

Good test for Jordan Hill on the defensive end tonight – he’s matched up with one of the darlings of this year’s NCAA tournament, St. Mary’s center Omar Samhan. Samhan didn’t do much yesterday against Denver but he’s giving Hill the business early on, establishing deep post position too often. Hill has a HUGE quickness advantage in the matchup, but the one thing Samhan can do is score when he gets position in the post and Hill simply has to do a better job preventing Samhan from establishing deep position.

8 minutes in, Samhan has 10 points on 5-6 shooting – including a pair of long-range jumpers – and it’s obvious Hill is (understandably) frustrated. Easier said than done, but Hill’s response needs to be even more energy and intensity in times like these. Yes, he’s still raw on both ends but he can still impact the game in a very positive way by racing up and down the floor and ferociously going after every rebound and loose ball. There’s no chance Samhan can keep up with Hill’s pace and by making the Mavs’ big man work to keep up, he’s sure to wear him down so that he doesn’t have the energy to back Jordan down in the interior time and time again.

Patrick Patterson might be falling victim to something which plagues a lot of young players – heck, a lot of players period. After knocking down a pair of 3-pointers yesterday, the rookie from Kentucky has already taken three in the first quarter today. Not surprisingly, he’s 0-for-3 from downtown and 1-of-6 overall. No doubt the second he went to the bench the coaches told him to get his butt down in the post and get to work abusing Dallas down low. A player possessing his skill set and physicality should be able to do whatever he wants in this setting. It’s great that he can knock down the occasional 3, but let’s face it, that’s not a shot the Rockets are going to encourage this season when the games start counting.

On the plus side, however, Patterson has already doubled his rebound output from the last game, grabbing 4 rebounds in the first quarter alone.

We haven’t talked about Alexander Johnson yet in this blog, so it’s long past time to rectify that. The dude is a bad mother on the basketball court. He plays with the quintessential junkyard dog mentality, taking offence to anyone who dares try to score inside or snare a board while he’s on the floor. His high work rate has already earned him 6 free throws in just 4 minutes of play. There’s no flash to his game but it’s still a blast to watch a guy who takes such pride in doing the dirty work. If he were three inches taller (he’s 6-9) he’d be a lock to enjoy a productive – and extremely lucrative – 12-15 year NBA career.

Ish Smith is doing a nice little Aaron brooks impressions. The kid can really fly and he’s also got a real gift for finding the open man with clever, creative and very high degree of difficulty passes. On consecutive trips down the floor, he found Jordan Hill with a pair of sweet feeds off slip screens for great scoring opportunities. On the downside, he’s simply overmatched against the Mavs’ mercurial Roddy Beaubois.

Dallas leads 47-42 at the break. Let’s see if the Rockets have another big second half in them.

4:50 PM, July 9 – GAME 1 FINAL: HOUSTON 100 – PHOENIX 82

Much better from Jordan Hill early in the second half. He’s scored twice in the low-post with a pair of jump hooks and made a solid hustle play on defense as well, sprinting back in time to intercept a pass as Phoenix attempted to score in transition. Hill’s post game is still very much a work in progress but with big men coaches like Jack Sikma and Carroll Dawson tutoring him, he’s sure to show continued progress. And given his incredible length, it’s scary to think of what he can accomplish with just a couple go-to moves on the block.

Jermaine Taylor is simply killing it right now. Inside, outside, the Suns simply don’t have an answer for him. After three quarters of play, he’s 8-of-15 from the field with 17 points. Can’t emphasize enough how much his development could mean to the Rockets next season.

I had multiple conversations with Taylor last year during which he stressed how he wasn’t worried at all about his lack of playing time because history had taught him that he’d learn, grow and begin to blossom in his second and third years in the league. Throughout all the DNPs, the struggles and the stints in the D-League, he never lost confidence or faith in his abilities. He spoke of the path Aaron Brooks took – a slow start his rookie year before really turning it on in years 2 and 3 – and how he saw himself following a similar road. So far, so good.

All that having been said, I suppose now is as good a time as any to throw out this caveat for the first of what I assume to be many times this week: More often than not, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas when it comes to Summer League. That is to say, this place provides us a small glimpse at a player’s potential but it is certainly not the whole picture. So take all effusive praise – and damning criticism – with a grain of salt.

And now that that’s out of the way – goodness gracious, what a debut from Patrick Patterson. All he’s done through 18 minutes of play is put up 18 points on 8-of-9 shooting, via a variety of post-ups, face-ups and beautiful off-the-ball movement. Anyone else want to question why the Rockets had him listed as the 6th best overall prospect on their board in this year’s draft?

Alright, one last comment that’s going to come across homerific, even though it’s not: The Rockets have one heck of a summer league team this year. That’s no surprise really, given all the “experience” they have with guys like Taylor, Budinger, Hill and Leunen (among others). But then throw in the maturity of someone like Patterson and it’s just not fair. Nobody is going to throw the Rockets a parade for dominating in Las Vegas, but this team has the potential to be a juggernaut over the course of the next 6 days.

Just check out some of the numbers from the box score. Not a bad way to kick things off, I'd say.

More to come later this evening after postgame interviews.

3:50 PM, July 9 – GAME 1: ROCKETS VS. SUNS

First, a random note entirely unrelated to the Rockets’ 2010 Summer League debut against the Suns: I ran into Chuck Hayes doing serious work at the hotel fitness center this morning. Dude, looked lean, strong and ready for the regular season to start today.

That comes as no real surprise – Chuck really rededicated himself to the game last summer, implementing a tougher workout regimen and a new diet. Of course, last summer he knew his role was about to significantly expand due to Yao’s injury. Guess it’s just good to know that even entering a season in which his role figures to be scaled back at least somewhat, Hayes remains as dedicated to his craft as ever before. Not that we’d expect anything less from the Chuckwagon (also worth noting: this fantastic tweet from ESPN.com’s David Thorpe: “Chuck Hayes has legs that would make Earl Campbell jealous.”)

Alright, on to a few initial thoughts from the first half of game one:

The Rockets’ starting lineup: Jordan Hill, Maarty Leunen, Chase Budinger, Jermaine Taylor and Ish Smith. Some might be surprised that Leunen is starting at power forward over Houston’s recent lottery selection Patrick Patterson, but this shouldn’t be viewed as a slight at all. Leunen can play, as he’s shown each of the last two summer leagues and during his stints overseas in Europe. He’s the kind of guy you can’t help but root for; someone who continues to improve every year, does all the little things that contribute to winning and stands – at least in this setting – as the ultimate jack-of-all-trades type of player.

Fantastic start for Taylor, a player who was at times forgotten last season amid all the love for Chase Budinger. JT hit 4 of his first 5 shots from the field, en route to scoring 9 of Houston’s first 15 points.

Interesting question from the Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen: could Taylor potentially steal some of Budinger’s minutes this year? The 6-4 guard from Central Florida has the tools to be a better scorer and defender than Chase, and if he starts showing off those gifts on a more consistent basis – along with an improved jumper and better decision-making – he could certainly nab some of the playing time that typically went to Budinger last season. Then again, there’s also no reason why they couldn’t share the floor simultaneously on occasion as well. But one thing’s for sure: with Trevor Ariza, Shane Battier, Kevin Martin also adorning the roster, there could be some fierce battles for playing time at the wing position this season.

Really like the way Patrick Patterson runs the floor and moves into open space on the offensive end. You can really see why he was able to make such a smooth transition from being the man at Kentucky to fitting right in with Coach Cal’s spectacularly-gifted freshman class. Patterson has a man’s body and a veteran’s head for the game. And, wow, what a sweet up-and-under move he displayed early on – took that one right out of the Luis Scola playbook. And he’s already stroked a 3. Good gravy. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Houston, you’re gonna love this kid.

Rocky start for Jordan Hill early on, as he collected 4 fouls in rapid succession. Tough to get too concerned at this point, though. For one, we’ve seen what Hill can do at the NBA level, grabbing boards, using his length and running the floor like a gazelle. Too, Houston’s coaches have specifically instructed their bigs to be physical and spend a minimal amount of time about the fouls they collect. They want to see Hill and company bang bodies down low and if that means the occasional foul-fest, so be it.

Rockets lead 43-42 at the half. I’ll have more after the game.

9:47 PM – LAS VEGAS, NEVADA

So much for my holier-than-thou spiel about avoiding LeBronapalooza. Seems one can’t even escape the LBJ insanity some 20,000-plus feet above the ground – not with the wonder that is in-flight TV on most Continental flights these days.

The news wasn’t all bad, however. Not even close. I was lucky enough share a section with Rockets’ advance scout Pat Zipfel and summer leaguers Blake Ahearn and Gary Forbes. So my job was easy: just sit back, listen and learn.

But naturally the vast majority of our conversation centered on where LeBron was going (I, along with Forbes, insisted he’d stay in Cleveland, Zip said NYC, and Blake, clearly the most prescient among our party, was convinced he’d bolt for South Beach), where he should be going (if the ring is truly the thing, Chicago seemed to make the most sense) and whether or not this whole spectacle was good for the league (big picture, I said no while Zip believed the fact that the NBA is dominating the news – in the offseason no less – means the answer is an emphatic yes).

Subsequently, there was really no getting around the fact that after all this debate, one of us simply had to pony up the 6 bucks so we could watch the drama unfold together. As it turned out, three of us did. What’s that saying about a sucker being born every minute? Perhaps P.T. Barnum overestimated us.

Anyway, this whole conversation had us contemplating a rather unique possibility: we all knew that if we were watching this take place at a sports bar there would inevitably be a huge roar as soon as James’ decision was announced, regardless of what he decided. But what would the reaction be on a typical commercial flight like this one? Would enough people be tuned in to create some sort of audible response that would be heard throughout the cabin? Would it be a collective gasp? Murmur? Shout?

Truth be told, it pained me to even ask these questions. I’ve made no secret of the fact I was looking forward to avoiding tonight’s circus act, even relishing my abstention in a similar fashion to the way I proudly proclaim I’m one of the few souls on earth who has still not seen the movie Titanic. When someone stated two days ago that this was to be the sort of seminal sports moment that ensures you remember precisely where you were when watching, I looked forward to telling people I didn’t watch even a second. Hey, I never pass up an opportunity to bust out my best smug grin. Yet now, 6 dollars later, I’m just another junkie who couldn’t say no.

But as for the great sociological question of our time – would LeBron’s “Decision” elicit a passionate response in the stratosphere? – I can definitively report that the answer was no (at least with my whopping sample size of one). The moment the words “South Beach” came out of his mouth, there was one single, solitary clap to be heard, alone in a wilderness of apathy.

And perhaps that’s the best takeaway from all of this nonsense, whether you’re disgusted on an airplane, heartbroken in Cleveland, elated in Miami or even LeBron James himself. Sometimes we all need a big heaping helping of perspective in our lives. Sometimes we get so invested in our work, business and passions that we lose sight of its relative importance to the rest of the world (especially when said passion results in a 4-hour SportsCenter immediately followed by a prime time selection show eerily bordering on reverential).

Most of the people on that plane didn’t give a flip about where LeBron chose to go. They’ve got more important things to get worked up about and, quite frankly, so do we. He made his decision. The world didn’t end (though Twitter probably reached its breaking point). Life rolls on. So, too, shall we.

Time, then, for me to put away my Titanic whims of superiority and refocus on the task at hand.

Basketball. Summer League. Vegas.

Right now, that’s the only Big 3 that matters.

JULY 8, 3:45 PM - HOUSTON

A mere two hours from now, I’ll be boarding a flight to Las Vegas, Sin City-bound to cover the Rockets’ week-long Summer League extravaganza. I can’t wait.

My 6 PM flight means I’ll miss out on LeBron’s “decision,” which is reason enough to be overjoyed. Instead of a self-aggrandizing hype-fest, I get dozens of games featuring a treasure trove of young talent eager to prove they belong in the NBA. Give me the latter every day of the week, thanks.

From a Rockets perspective, the next 7 days should be fascinating with so many storylines to follow: Will Jordan Hill show enough development to merit meaningful minutes at both the backup 4 and 5 positions? Can Jermaine Taylor’s improved jumper and decision-making transform him into a true force as an instant offense guy off the bench? And of course, what will out first look at rookie Patrick Patterson reveal?

Those are just a few of the questions waiting to be answered in Vegas, with plenty more sure to arise in the week ahead. Heck, I haven’t even mentioned Chase Budinger yet, or guys like Maarty Leunen and Ish Smith, players who are all but guaranteed to command our attention at various points of the annual event.

So that’s just a hint at what’s to come on this blog over the course of the next 7 days. I’ll have stories on all these guys, plus pictures, videos and, of course, reports from the games.
But the best part of Summer League – like the NBA itself – are the people you meet along the way. The stands are filled with league scouts, execs, players and journalists from all over the country (and beyond), so there are bound to be plenty of surprises in store. I’ll do my best to capture it all and pass along the most interesting tidbits to you, the reader, every chance I get.

In the meantime, enjoy tonight’s spectacle and be thankful that, come 9 PM, the focus finally returns to where it should be: on the court and on the players and people who make this game great.

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