D.C. dreaming of Durant homecoming?


VIDEO: Kevin Durant sits down with NBA.com’s Lang Whitaker

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — LeBron James followed his heart back to Cleveland.

Carmelo Anthony just couldn’t leave his native New York. And Dwyane Wade declared his love for his adopted hometown of Miami.

With all of the talk this summer of stars coming home, staying home and their teams and their cities, can you blame folks in Washington D.C. for daydreaming about a day and time when the NBA’s reigning MVP would consider doing the same?

No one represents for the Washington D.C. area harder or better than Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant. And that might explain why folks in the DMV (the urban area encompassing D.C., Maryland and Virginia) are already buzzing about a Durant homecoming one day.

Even if it is just a pipe dream, one that Oklahoma City Thunder fans want nothing to do with, it’s one that is being talked about two seasons before Durant becomes a free agent. Washington Wizards fans and observers are already daydreaming about what their up-and-coming team can do to lure Durant back home by then.

Former Maryland coach Gary Williams knows the area and it’s basketball DNA well. He’s convinced Durant will call the area home again one day and last week made his feelings clear on the topic to a local radio show (courtesy of Dan Steinberg‘s D.C. Sports Bog):

“One interesting thing on this LeBron going back to Cleveland, Durant’s watching that very close,” Williams said on ESPN 980 last week. “He’s seeing the adulation pouring out for LeBron James for coming home. And Durant loves this area. He does. He’s back every summer. He plays at Montrose [Christian] against their high school kids sometimes; he’s out there taking charges. He just loves to play basketball. He’s been over at Maryland, he plays with the players over there. He just wants to play. And these are where his ties are. I know one thing, when his career’s over, I’d be shocked if he didn’t live in this area.”

“I think you go in steps,” Williams later said. “I don’t think [Paul] Pierce comes here unless the Wizards did what they did in the playoffs this year. So now take that a step further. If they do make another really strong playoff run this coming year; now all of a sudden there’s somebody that good that’s out there, they have to look at the Wizards. Because I think all those guys – Durant included – are looking at if I go here, will they be good enough to win a championship? So if the Wizards can show that maybe they’re just missing a Durant to win a championship, I think they have a good chance, I really do.”

Williams also discussed former Maryland women’s assistant David Adkins, a one-time Montrose staffer whose hiring by the Wizards helped set off this latest round of intense speculation.

“I know Davis,” Williams said. “He’s Mr. Workout Man. In other words, he loves doing individual drills with players. He knew Durant from Montrose….He worked with Greivis Vasquez. And he’s really good at what he does.

As easy as it is to dismiss these thoughts as the musings of wistful Wizards and area hoops fans who want to see a storybook homecoming play out in D.C. the way it did in Cleveland this summer, we’d probably be foolish to ignore this completely. Had someone told you three or four years ago that LeBron would leave town the way he did and then come riding back into town a hero this summer, you’d have called them crazy.

While he remains a cult hero in his native DMV, especially for kids who idolize him, Durant has adapted well to each and every environment he’s been in. He’s just as beloved in Oklahoma City as he is around the country and really around the globe. And he doesn’t appear to be homesick or stuck in the tractor beam that seems to be pulling so many of his peers home.

Durant left home as a teenager and spent a year in college at Texas before being drafted by Seattle and then moving to Oklahoma City when the franchise relocated there. He’s become an integral part of whatever community he’s lived in each and every time.

And who knows what goes on for Durant and the Thunder over the course of the next two seasons. If LeBron’s homecoming doesn’t result in any titles or even a trip to The Finals, the decision will be panned universally outside of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. A would-be trend could be over before it gets started.

That said, the Wizards, or any other team boasting the hometown connection, would be crazy not to at least dream about and explore the possibilities.

They’ll boast young stars in All-Star point guard John Wall and budding star shooting guard Bradley Beal that would be attractive running mates for any superstar on the championship hunt.

The tug of home could be powerful in 2016.

That daydream could become a reality … one that gives us flashbacks to the summer of 2014.

But in the meantime, Durant and Russell Westbrook have unfinished business in Oklahoma City …

LaVine delivers more than dunks in Vegas

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Rookie Zach LaVine from UCLA tore up the Samsung Summer League in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS – Zach LaVine jumps really high and talks really fast. He exudes a brash confidence like Russell Westbrook and plays with a chip on his shoulder the size of Bill Walton.

This latest UCLA product is headed either for a stunning rookie season with the Minnesota Timberwolves or cold, hard NBA reality.

“I’m a very confident person, I always hold myself to high standards,” LaVine said Friday after scoring 22 points with four assists in the Wolves’ sixth and final Summer League game. “You know, there’s a lot of doubters on me. I feel  always like changing peoples’ minds, you know, ‘He’s not NBA-ready, why’d he come out?’ and different things like that. So I just come out here and always try to prove my point. I think I fared well for myself.”

There was little not to like about the 6-foot-5, 19-year-old’s debut in the Las Vegas Summer League. Everybody was aware of his athleticism coming in, but many were skeptical about his decision-making and the durability of his 180-pound frame..

“I definitely have to get in the weight room and let my body mature. But if they can’t touch you, you know, strength really isn’t a factor,” LaVine said. “I feel I’m a pretty physical person, just not the strongest yet, so I definitely have to get into the weight room. But I use my speed to my advantage.”

He averaged 15.7 points a game and more than five free-throw attempts per game in the Summer league. Twice he got to the line 10 times.

Fans mostly will remember a dazzling array of dunks. He’s already nominated himself for the dunk contest when February’s All-Star weekend props up its big tent in New York City.

“I’m definitely going to be in the dunk contest, know that,” LaVine said  “I haven’t lost a dunk contest for a long time, maybe since I first started dunking. So I have some dunks in my package.”

The Wolves are more intrigued by the 13th overall pick’s size at the shooting-guard position, his ball-handling and his higher-than-expected court IQ at point guard. He bounced between the two positions during Summer League.

He scored in double figures in all six games. In the final three games he averaged 19.3 points, 3.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds. He had two games with five turnovers, but averaged just 3.6 turnovers in 32.2 minutes a game, a good rate considering he was playing with little practice time and with unfamiliar teammates, most of whom won’t sniff the NBA.

“We knew he had talent, we knew he was good, but he exceeded all our expectations thus far,” Wolves assistant coach Sam Mitchell said. “He’s smart, he’s athletic, he can handle the ball, he can shoot the ball, he’s a sponge, he learns. We threw a lot at him. We’ve run a lot of NBA sets, we’re doing a lot of things defensively and he just picks it all up.”

The Wolves could have playing time available. Behind point guard Ricky Rubio is the diminutive J.J. Barea, who is in the final year of his contract and has seen his shooting percentages drop the last two seasons. Behind shooting guard Kevin Martin is young Russian Alexey Shved, who took a step back last season after a promising rookie campaign.

“I feel like I’m player,” LaVine said. “Wherever he [team president and coach Flip Saunders] needs to play me at; if that’s the 1, I feel like I can handle the ball and run the team, to a point where I’m still learning the position, but I feel like I can handle it. I like scoring the ball as well, so whatever he needs me to do, facilitate, shoot, defend, anything he needs me to do.”

There’s a chance LaVine could be one of two 19-year-old talents in Minnesota. If the Wolves deal Kevin Love to Cleveland for Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota could be set up with two tremendously gifted athletic wings for years to come.

For now, LaVine is headed back home to Seattle to train. The league will have to wait to see if he builds on his Summer League success. But Timberwolves fans should know that they will hear from their newest addition.

Back to court in the Sterling affair

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Any hope that a Monday meeting between Donald Sterling and Steve Ballmer would provide some sort of resolution to the Los Angeles Clippers’ ownership saga, currently tied up in probate court, should be tempered with a cold dose of Sterling reality.

Nothing with this comes quickly or definitively.

The process of separating Sterling from the Clippers has had more starts, stops and resets than anyone could have imagined when Shelly Sterling signed an agreement on May 29 to sell the team for $2 billion to Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO.

Monday’s meeting, after court adjourned, between the Clippers’ current owner and the team’s possibly future one sent a buzz around the basketball world. But, by now, we all should realize that Donald Sterling’s mood and mind changes on a dime. There is no need to read too much into “friendly” talks between the two men. Not when there is so much that could change throughout the course of this probate hearing, which continues Tuesday and Wednesday with closing arguments scheduled for Monday.

The most optimistic of observers held out hope that a settlement might have been reached after the meeting. That is, undoubtedly, the preferred outcome of many.

But just last week NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he was not certain that new ownership would be in position at the start of the 2014-15 season. The sale agreement between Shelly Sterling and Ballmer mandated that the sale close by July 15, with a possible one month extension built into the deal. If the matter isn’t resolved by Sept. 15 the NBA has the option of resuming the termination proceedings and the sale of the team.

Our David Aldridge asked and answered the bigger and perhaps even better question before Monday’s meeting: What happens if Donald or Shelly Sterling is still in charge of the Clippers when training camp starts?

There is another provision that allows the parties another year to consummate the sale, subject to Ballmer’s and the league’s approval. That would, of course, mean that Shelly or Donald Sterling, depending on what the probate judge decides, could still own the team when training camps begin in October.

The NBA has said that that won’t happen, and that if the probate judge rules in Donald Sterling’s favor, it will quickly reinstate the termination hearing originally scheduled for last May, when the league sought to take the team from Donald Sterling after it determined he had made racist remarks in a conversation with a girlfriend. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Donald Sterling from the league for life and fined him $2.5 million.

The termination hearing was postponed after the league helped Shelly Sterling find a buyer for the team. Ballmer outbid several well-heeled prospective buyers for the Clippers, who set a record for highest price paid for an NBA franchise. Only the sale of Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012 for $2.1 billion is higher.

But when I asked Silver at his news conference last week if he could say with certainty that neither Donald nor Shelly Sterling would still be in charge of the team at the start of next season, he could not.

“No, I cannot say with certainty, and I can’t say with certainty because it’s in the hands of the probate court right now, and Donald is in the process of suing us for lots of money, and we’re defending ourselves against those lawsuits,” Silver said, referring to the $1 billion lawsuit Donald Sterling filed both against the league and Silver in June.

“The only thing I’ll say, and I appreciate that [Sacramento Mayor] Kevin Johnson, who’s been representing in essence the players in this matter and direct discussions with the players and the Players Association understand it’s very difficult to say anything with certainty in a situation like this,” Silver continued. “I can say with certainty we are doing everything in our power to move Donald out as an owner in the NBA, and as I said, if the probate ruling doesn’t go in our favor, we’ll recommence our procedures under termination.”

So while the Monday get-together made for promising headlines, it should be noted that there are reportedly no more talks planned, per The Los Angeles Times.

Plus, there is so much more ground to cover in the probate hearing. The chief financial officer of Donald’s properties said in court Monday that Sterling needs the sale to go through to pay off some $500 million in loans — or he’d have to sell off a large part of his real estate empire.

That bit of news may provide some additional hope for those looking for a quick resolution to this mess. But there are almost certainly more twists and turns coming. That’s the reality.


VIDEO: Doc Rivers talks about the Clippers’ spring and summer roller coaster, courtesy of the Sterling affair

Summer league ends, but the topics don’t

LAS VEGAS – We came, we saw … we just kept seeing.

Eleven days, 67 games and one Kings championship later, Summer league finished with the NBA in a much different place than when it, or the Orlando portion of the July schedule that preceded desert ball, began. LeBron James moved, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh did not, Nerlens Noel played and played well, and Andrew Wiggins found that being picked No. 1 by Cleveland did not come close to answering the question of where he will play.

It was also a different summer league compared to 2013, with much better prospects in the rookie class leading to greater fan interest and, in turn, an improved atmosphere at games. Having many more electric players helped, as did the curiosity factor of the chance to see Dante Exum, surprise first-rounder Bruno Caboclo and, after a season off, Noel. Even the coaches were interesting — Steve Kerr worked a game on the Warriors bench, David Blatt went the whole way on the Cavaliers sideline and Derek Fisher likewise took over the Knicks right away.

In short, there was a lot to discuss.

* A big question on the way out of Orlando: Who is going to hit shots for the Magic? Management has loaded up on defenders/projected defenders (Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton) and rebounders, and that’s a good way to build a foundation. But that backcourt. The lack of a jumper is one of the concerns with Payton, so either Oladipo returns to his form from the final year of college, as opposed to last season as a rookie, or the Magic will be easy to defend if they play non-shooters Gordon, Payton and Oladipo together.

It was obviously one of the reasons they signed Channing Frye. But Frye can be good as a stretch four, in comparison to other bigs and not in comparison to the best 3-point marksmen in the league overall. Gordon, another power forward, said he has worked hard to improve his shooting, made 35 percent of his attempts. Oh, and 47.8 percent of his free throws. He is going to get sent to the line a lot this season. Basically, any shot within five feet is an automatic foul if the defender can get to him.


VIDEO: Elfrid Payton of the Magic talks after a Summer League victory

* A big question on the way out of Las Vegas: How far will be the Bucks go with this Giannis Antetokounmpo-as-point guard thing. They are adding Kendall Marshall at that position and reportedly are adding Jerryd Bayless as a combo guard. Those are significant moves after coach Jason Kidd made it clear he wanted a long look at Greek Freak with the ball in his hands, maybe even as the starter in the regular season. The new backcourt depth might ordinarily signal an end to that experiment, except the chance to maximize a blossoming talent like that should always take precedence over a Marshall or Bayless.  

Morning shootaround — July 22


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played July 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Carter says LeBron made own decision | Jefferson excited about Hornets’ roster | Report: Turner, Celtics reach deal | Report: Van Gundy reassures Smith of Detroit future

No. 1: Carter: LeBron wasn’t pushed to pick Cavs – When LeBron James‘ letter was posted on SI.com detailing why he was returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers as a free agent, some skeptics emerged about why he made that choice. Was it made to make his various handlers and such happy? Was it done to make Clevelander’s happy and restore his legacy and standing in his home state? James’ longtime business partner, Maverick Carter, spoke on an ESPN.com podcast and explained that James’ decision was exactly that — his decision:

Maverick Carter, LeBron James’ business partner, says he didn’t push James to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, nor did anyone else in the NBA superstar’s inner circle.

“This was a decision that LeBron made in his heart,” Carter told ESPN.com’s Jason Whitlock on the Real Talk podcast. “We didn’t push him to do it. We don’t push him to do anything. If he asks our opinion or what did we think about the pros and the cons, we help him think through it. We don’t push him.”

James decided to return to the Cavaliers on July 11 after spending four years with the Miami Heat. He opted out of his contract with Miami and signed a two-year deal to return to Cleveland, where he spent his first seven seasons in the NBA.

“Listen,” Carter said, “LeBron’s a 29-year-old man with lots of money, got a wife, two kids, one on the way. He makes his own decisions. He doesn’t need anyone pushing him any way, and a guy like that, you’re not going to push him either way. We’ll help him think through things and help him see through things, but he makes his own decision in his heart. Because, ultimately, he has to live with it. I’m not the one who has to show up and play games for any team.”

He also said that James and Dwyane Wade will be “friends for life” and that James told Wade before the Sports Illustrated article was released of his decision. Carter did not know exactly when James told Wade.

“Their friendship goes beyond basketball,” Carter said. “It’s bigger than basketball.”

He also said that he, as well as James, has nothing but good things to say about the Heat or their management.

“The Heat run a first-class organization,” Carter said. “They have one of the best organizations in all of sports. Just being around that organization, I think LeBron learned a ton about what it takes to be a championship organization and how it works.”

Rockets’ Johnson aims to go from second round to the top


VIDEO: Nick Johnson closes out Summer League with big performance

LAS VEGAS — Summer League is a place in transition, where you see players with shoes that don’t match their uniform, where coaching staff members can outnumber active rosters, where players have to flip their uniform waistbands over to keep their oversize shorts from falling down during play. After one game, I saw a player exit the locker room shirtless with only a backpack, because the trainer had accidentally packed away the shirts before he was finished dressing.

That player was Rockets rookie Nick Johnson. While the Rockets quickly issued Johnson a long-sleeve T-shirt to solve that problem, his path to getting an NBA jersey of his own has been a bit less direct.

“The last few months have been pretty long, pretty wild,” Johnson says. “But it’s been good.”

Last season, as a junior at Arizona, the 6-foot-3 Johnson averaged 16.3 points, earning him consensus first-team All-American honors as well as a Pac-12 Player of the Year nod. Feeling he’d proven his worth, Johnson entered the 2014 NBA Draft. Leading up the Draft, Johnson had fifteen different workouts for NBA teams. “It was a grind. I was going from city to city, going for two weeks at a time.”

Then, on the evening of the Draft, Johnson sat to wait for his name to be called. The first round — with the accompanying guaranteed contract — came and went. Eventually, the Rockets drafted Johnson in the second round, 42nd overall, and the eighth player from the Pac-12 selected.

“It was a long night,” Johnson admits. “I’ll tell you, there’s not 41 players better than me in this year’s draft. And I don’t know anywhere the player of the year has seven players in his same conference get picked before him.

“But overall, it was a good process for me,” he continues, “because I went to a good organization, right now they’re going to the playoffs every year, and I think we have a lot of potential to go pretty far. I’ve always been a winner, always been about winning. So I’m happy I went to an organization that wins.”

Johnson — who is, coincidentally, the nephew of Hall of Famer Dennis Johnson — may be considered undersized at the two, but in Houston’s system he projects at either the one or the two. During Summer League, his athleticism has been a prominent asset in Johnson’s game, and he flashed it Monday during a loss in the Summer League final with a reverse alley-oop dunk en route to a team-leading 17 points. At least initially, that athletic ability should go a long way toward helping him find a place in the NBA.

“I think my game fits really well,” Johnson says. “In the NBA, I have the ability to use my athleticism a lot more than I did in college. I believe that the floor, the spacing is a lot wider with so many shooters around. I saw that a little bit in both of these summer leagues. And with my ability to make plays and get after it on the defensive end, I feel it will translate pretty well.”

“His athleticism is at an elite level, so it’s always going to allow him to compete and he’s a competitor,” says Houston’s summer league coach Chris Finch. “I think he’s right, I think he’ll find more space on the floor provided he gets out and runs, learns to play real quick off the catch where he can beat his man. His athleticism will help near the rim as long as he gets there quickly.”

Besides athleticism, Johnson excels at many of the things that don’t show up on draft previews, such as toughness and leadership. And it’s exactly that kind of hard-minded approach that will help him go from 42 into the upper echelon.

“It’s not where you start it’s where you finish,” Johnson says. “I’m going to make sure to work my hardest, to do my best, to finish at the top.”

Reports: Sterlings, Ballmer meet for ‘friendly talk’ about Clippers

Sketchy information on a dodgy situation. That’s all anyone is working with at the moment, so it’s hard to know what the real significance might be. But a reported meeting Monday between cantankerous Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, his estranged wife (and opposing litigant) Shelly and aspiring NBA franchise owner Steve Ballmer suggests movement in some direction in the delayed sale of the team.

Depending how friendly the reported “friendly tak” was, it could represent a possible break in the legal wrangling and grinding court battle between Donald and Shelly Sterling, which has been holding up the $2 billion sale longer than the NBA would like. Or it could be a ploy by Donald, a casual chat of no great importance or a waste of time all around.

We’re past the point of clear, straight, discernible plot lines in this Hollywood tale.

So for now, it’s just worth noting that there presumably was some outside-the-courtroom conversation, based on Beverly Hills updates from TMZ.com and ESPNLosAngeles.com. Ramona Shelburne’s work for the latter offered more insight:

The meeting was arranged Sunday night following a three-hour meeting earlier in the day between Donald and Shelly Sterling, sources said.

Donald Sterling had been preparing to file a new suit in state court on Monday morning before he and his wife spoke at length Sunday evening and he agreed to meet with Ballmer, sources said.

While Sterling famously called his wife “a pig” after she testified in the civil case against him two weeks ago, he was emotional when speaking about his love for her during his own testimony.

Shelly Sterling is due to testify again in the civil suit between the Sterlings on Tuesday. At issue in that case is whether Shelly Sterling was authorized to sell the franchise to Ballmer.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver, speaking at the NBA’s Board of Governors meeting July 15 in Las Vegas, acknowledged that Donald Sterling still might own the Clippers by the start of the 2014-15 NBA season, based on his desire to fight the process and the pace of the proceedings. The initial deal with Shelly Sterling set a July 15 deadline for the sale to close, with the possibility that it might be extended to Aug. 15.

Silver said the NBA could resume its termination process according to the league’s constitution and by-laws if the Sterling’s probate battle drags on.

The Hang Time Podcast: Vegas Impressions

LAS VEGAS – The Samsung NBA Summer League might be winding down, but the offseason storylines never end.

Will Kevin Love join LeBron James and the revolution in Cleveland or will Andrew Wiggins get his chance to play his part in the coming home movement? And speaking of Summer League action, who stood out in Vegas? Who needs to get busy and crank up their workouts between now and the start of training camp? When are the Lakers going to get a coach? And what team has the most work to do coming out of the busiest portion of the summer?

The Hang Time Podcast crew offers up some Vegas impressions, plenty of them as always, after our stint working the broadcast booth (fine, the table) during the Samsung Summer League:


VIDEO: The Hang Time Podcast crew in Vegas

Morning shootaround — July 21


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played July 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Cavs to ink Wiggins to deal soon | Report: Knicks looking to move a guard | Bird still puzzled by Stephenson’s departure

No. 1: Report: Cavs to sign rookie Wiggins soon — Normally, a first-round pick closing in on signing his first contract is not news in this space as the deals for all first-round picks are predetermined and basically just need pen to be put to paper. But in the case of the No. 1 overall pick — Andrew Wiggins of the Cleveland Cavaliers — and his ties to trade talks dealing with Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love, we’ll make an exception. As Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com points out, the Cavs’ expected signing of Wiggins would, if nothing else, significantly delay any kind of Love-to-Cleveland deal:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are planning to sign No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins to a contract in the coming week, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Cavaliers’ delay in signing the former Kansas star has nothing to do with the prospect of Wiggins being dealt to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of Cleveland’s ongoing trade discussions for Kevin Love.

The Cavaliers, sources say, are merely exploring options for using their estimated $1.4 million in remaining cap space before signing Wiggins to a contract that will pay him in the neighborhood of $5.5 million as a rookie.

The Cavs and Timberwolves have been discussing a Love trade since the return of LeBron James, with sources saying that Minnesota is insistent on getting Wiggins back in any deal that sends Love to Cleveland.

Once Wiggins signs, though, league rules stipulate that the Cavs must wait 30 days before trading him.

The Cavs’ delay in formalizing Wiggins’ contract has garnered extra attention because of the Love factor, but the reality is that this process is a fairly routine bit of salary-cap management that takes place this time of year with draft picks.


VIDEO:
Andrew Wiggins talks about being in the thick of the Kevin Love trade talks
 

For Rockets’ Motiejunas, what happens in Vegas should not stay in Vegas


VIDEO: Donatas Motiejunas has been a load for defenders in Summer League

LAS VEGAS — There were 50 seconds left and the Houston Rockets trailed the Charlotte Hornets, 80-79, in the semifinals of the Samsung Las Vegas Summer League. Rockets guard Isaiah Canaan cleared out the left side of the court, then lobbed the ball inside to center Donatas Motiejunas. Motiejunas caught, leaned back, wheeled toward the center of the court and dropped in a soft hook shot to give the Rockets the lead and the win.

Motiejunas finished the game with 18 points and 13 rebounds in 31 minutes, another strong performance in the seven-foot Lithuanian’s brief history of terrific Summer League showings. Just two years ago, a 25-point, nine-rebound showing in his Summer League debut caused NBA TV’s Chris Webber to exclaim, “I came to Vegas and fell in love!”

But in two NBA seasons since then, Motiejunas hasn’t been able to consistently find the same kind of minutes or production with the Houston Rockets. So what is it about Vegas that brings out the best in Motiejunas?

“I don’t know, it’s hard to say. Do you like Vegas?” the man they call D-Mo says with a smile. “First time when I play it was just after the draft. I came here to prove to everyone I’m not just a simple European guy, a typical one, that I can fight and play. This year, I came here to get into shape for National Team, because the guys started training camp July 7, and my team said they prefer me to stay here and play a couple of games here. We lost two games in a row, I was pissed, and then we start winning, winning, winning. I could not say no, not to play. I just wanted to win.”

The Rockets’ winning streak has pushed this Vegas trip to the limit — after Monday’s championship game, Motiejunas will take an overnight flight to Houston, unpack and repack, and then hop on an evening flight to Frankfurt to join the Lithuanian National Team.

“It’s intensive, but I’m happy. I’m playing, I’m getting a lot of touches, I’m enjoying these guys. Like I said, they did an incredible job the last couple of weeks, separate players becoming team, not easy to do.”

Along with Canaan, Motiejunas has been Houston’s best player in Vegas, averaging 17.7 points per game to go along with 7.7 rebounds through six games. And with Houston trading away Omer Asik, as well as whiffing on Chris Bosh in free agency, the opportunity for Motiejunas to become a regular Rockets rotation player is there for the taking.

“His homework for Summer League was tougher post defense and rebounding, and I think he’s done both those things,” says Houston Summer League coach Chris Finch. “He’s very skilled offensively — he’s a guy that can score in the post and make plays off the dribble as a big guy. And those are things we can do with him in our offense with the Rockets once we can get him a consistent role. But the defense and the rebounding is what is going to get him that. He did a good job last season of working his way into the rotation, so he’s on the growth path.”

In other words, Motiejunas will have to fight and show toughness to earn minutes. Which is something he says he’s not afraid to do.

“I’m trying to show toughness! Trying to get there!” he laughs, grabbing my arm. “I don’t know, how is going on? Is it getting better?”

You look pretty tough to me, I said.

“OK! It means it’s working out.”

“D-Mo is tough. He is a fighter,” says Finch. “He works hard — you’re never going to find a guy who out-works him. He needs to learn to play with physicality without fouling, physicality without getting out of position, that kind of stuff. That’s why we’ve asked him to be more physical this year defensively and on the glass.”

For his next act, Motiejunas has to translate his Summer League showings into the regular season, finding a way to perform in the regular season as he has in the summer season.

Clearly, for the benefit of both Motiejunas and the Rockets, the trick to going forward is going to be getting what happens in Vegas to not stay in Vegas.