LAS VEGAS – Oscar nominees aren’t asked to audition much for their next plum film roles and the most established NBA players don’t have to mess with the casting calls of their professions, which at the moment is the Las Vegas Summer League.
The trick sometimes is knowing when you’ve earned big-shot status and when you haven’t.
Jan Vesely, the Washington Wizards’ third-year big man and the No. 6 pick in the 2011 Draft, arrived for summer league with much to prove and lacking maybe the right attitude to do so. Reportedly, the 6-foot-11 native of the Czech Republic, the fellow with the fat European resume but meager NBA accomplishments, somehow felt this July hoops rodeo was beneath him.
Whatever that meant – that Vegas games weren’t worthy of his full effort or maybe that his commitment to the Czech national team after this ends deserved a higher priority – it was the wrong way to begin a pivotal offseason. As the Washington Post‘s Michael Lee reported after the Wizards’ season ended, working on his game was important, yet second on Vesely’s to-do list.
“He needs to work on his head first,” [head coach Randy] Wittman said. The Wizards showed their confidence in Vesely before his second season began, when they picked up his option for the 2013-14 season worth $3.34 million. But at no point after did Vesely show that he shared their faith. Vesely regressed in every statistical category and barely finished with more points (126) and rebounds (122) than personal fouls (107).
Chris Singleton, a 6-foot-8 Florida State product selected 12 spots after Vesely in that draft, took a dip in his second season, too. Instead of playing 21.7 minutes nightly for Washington, he slipped to 16.2 and his scoring and rebounding dropped as well. He shot 38.2 percent and after shooting 34.6 percent (44-for-127) from 3-point range as a rookie, Singleton took 36 from the arc and made only seven. Like Vesely, Singleton’s $1.6 million guarantee for 2012-13 might be the end of the line in Washington unless the Wizards lock him in for another season.
From the team’s side, the two forwards represent a commitment of almost $7 million for next year that has to be evaluated by next spring. Starting now.
“As they walked in, they’d done this before, they might say ‘Why me?’ ” said Wizards assistant coach Don Newman, who worked the sideline Wednesday of a 90-83 loss to Memphis at the Thomas & Mack Center. “But your franchise wants you to be better and wants to count on you. They have to look at it as, hey, this is your job. Your job is to get better and this is a venue you ought to be getting better in. That’s how you’ve got to take it.”
Because they came out in 2011, Vesely and Singleton – and all rookies – missed summer league that year due to the NBA lockout. Playing in Las Vegas or Orlando twice isn’t that uncommon, but if a player begins to think of himself as more proven than he is, it can take harsh reality or straight talk to get them to reconsider.
These two got a little of both. Neither played all that well in Washington’s first couple of days here, and several members of the coaching staff put the challenge directly to them.
“Absolutely. We do that daily,” Newman said. ” ‘We’re not putting you guys out here to embarrass you. We’re putting you out here to sharpen up and get better.’ Sometimes you have to put your arm around ’em and sometimes you’ve got to kick ’em in the butt.
“They’ve been to this dance a few times. We’re looking for them to be a lot better. That’s the story for both Ves and Chris. We want them to be able to be counted on.”
Vesely had 15 points and nine rebounds in 27 minutes against Memphis while Singleton finished with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting in 29 minutes. But a real test came late, when Newman sent them back into the game with 4:12 left, the Wizards down 11. The pair had been part of a minor comeback early in the quarter, but it also was the sort of substitution made to gauge the players’ response, on and off the court.
Both played hard, Washington whittled the lead down briefly and the Wizards afterward sounded as if they were on the same page.
“I saw yesterday and a couple days ago, there was a good chance to see how I was working out the last month,” Vesely said. “After this summer I can sit down and see what I have to improve more and work on.”
Said Singleton: “I had some things I needed to work on. I wanted to come here and show ’em. I had a rough couple days but I think it’s starting to pick up.”
All right then. Newman, the rest of the staff and the Washington front office knew what it was doing.
“Absolutely,” the assistant coach said. “Because they should be the ones carrying the torch and that’s why I did that. And they know it. In their demeanor, I think they understand and I think they want to be better.”