Summer League

Randle has upbeat return for Lakers

LAS VEGAS — He got cheered just for walking on the court to start the game, an ovation for standing up from the bench and pulling a grey T-shirt over his head to check in midway through the second quarter, and a while after that, the crowd revved in anticipation when he caught the ball about 12 feet from the basket while being guarded by No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns.

Julius Randle didn’t need to do anything Friday night to have done something. He was playing. Not well, as it turned out, but just being back with the Lakers inside Thomas & Mack Center for summer league missing six of nine shots and grabbing all of one rebound in 21 minutes  was secondary.

A year ago at this time, Randle was the new No. 7 pick, the foundation of the post-Kobe Bryant Lakers as a power forward with an inside game and, many teams believed, the potential to add a nice mid-range game. Eight and a half months ago — Oct. 28, 2014, at Staples Center — he broke his right leg in the fourth quarter of the season opener against the Rockets.

Friday was a test drive and an update for Randle and the medical staff. And it was a success. All those missed shots, all those non-rebounds, all the rust… and all those positive emotions around the Lakers about getting him back on the court.

“It felt great,” he said.

Exactly.

The effects of the layoff were obvious. Additionally, he played with a limit of 20 minutes, though actually went crazy and got all the way to 20 minutes 40 seconds, and will be held out Saturday against the 76ers at Thomas & Mack to avoid the potential physical strain of a back-to-back. The real takeaway for L.A., though, was that Randle reported no problems with the tibia or any part of the leg.

“Yeah, I was definitely rusty” he said after the Timberwolves’ 81-68 win that included 12 points, three rebounds and nine fouls for Towns in 32 minutes. “I kind of didn’t really catch a rhythm until the end. It was kind of late. But I missed so many chippies, so much stuff that I’m used to hitting, to making, and defensively also too. I was a little rusty, but like I said, I’m not worried about it. It’s a long week and the goal is the beginning of the season.”

This was a step in that direction.

 

Karl, Cousins remain work in progress

VIDEO: Kings coach George Karl talks the team’s off-season.

LAS VEGAS — The good news is they remain on the same team. The bad news is they’re not yet on the same page. Welcome to the world of the Sacramento Kings and life with their head coach and franchise player, who are stuck with each other, for better or worse, at least for the moment.

George Karl wouldn’t discuss the state of his relationship with DeMarcus Cousins — “I’m not authorized to speak about that,” he said on the first day of the Samsung NBA Summer League — which means the mending remains a work in progress. The hectic summer in Sacramento turned loopy when Cousins used a snake-in-the-grass emoji on Twitter last month to characterize Karl as disloyal and distrustful. Cousins, according to those close to him, is charging Karl of trying to get him traded and has refused to speak with Karl. That in turn raised the issue of whether Karl and not Cousins would be shipped out of town. It became a big mess and it doesn’t appear the two have a working relationship or that it’ll be settled soon if ever.

Both are notoriously stubborn, which makes you wonder if Karl or Cousins are willing or even able to patch things up. Karl has had disagreements with players before, yet managed to win games (though not a championship). Cousins has rubbed his previous coaches raw, and hasn’t won anything. Karl wanted to change the culture when he arrived in the middle of last season and his methods obviously didn’t sit well with Cousins. And five months later, here they are.

Both have put Vlade Divac, the Kings’ new general manager, in a tight spot, if not in the role of peace maker and referee. Divac was coy when asked about their relationship.

“Every day it’s getting better,” he said.

That’s it?

“That’s it.”

Clearly, Divac is siding with Cousins if only because there aren’t many centers averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds and with Cousins’ skill set. Although troubled in the past by his lack of maturity and fragile temper — Cousins has led all players in technical fouls over the last 3 years — Cousins made strides over the last season to reduce his disruptive tendencies. Making Team USA last summer and then the All-Star team have sedated him, made him more coachable, although some of his sharp edges remain.

Sensing a desperate franchise led by a first-time GM, plenty of teams tried to get Cousins by offering 50 centers on the dollar this summer once the Karl-Cousins relationship took another wicked turn, and wisely, Divac didn’t bite.

“He’s a great kid with great potential and I”m happy to work with him,” Divac said. “There’s nothing out there that would make me pull the trigger.”

And what about the status of Karl, who has three years left on his contract? Curiously Divac shrugged his way through his response.

“Well, we’ll see. He has to win the games. He’s a coach who brings a lot of experience. He knows how to fix things, so we’ll see.”

Divac would prefer that Karl be the adult in this situation because, well, that’s his job. Also, Divac didn’t hire Karl, who was chosen by Pete D’Alessandro, who then lost his job to Divac. In the ideal Kings world, Karl and Cousins would break bread — and not over each other’s head — and call a truce sometime this summer. There’s too much at stake for the Kings in their development for something to go wrong next season and force the franchise to take a step backward, Already, bringing Rajon Rondo to this situation is being met with snickers from around the league; Rondo clashed with Doc Rivers and Rick Carlisle, a pair of coaches with NBA titles, how will he cope with Karl?

“He will help us,” Divac said. “I have confidence in him.”

But the real issue is Karl and Cousins. More and more, this appears to be a carbon copy of Chris Webber vs. Don Nelson two decades ago. The star player and veteran coach refused to seek a common ground and their feud changed the direction of a franchise. The Warriors traded Webber and soon began a sad, cursed stretch that lasted almost 15 years.

 

Ten players who made impression at Orlando Summer League


VIDEO: Stanley Johnson discusses his Summer League play

ORLANDO — Seven days, 25 games and so many different stories at the Orlando Pro Summer League. Here are 10 players that made an impression:

Aaron Gordon, F, Magic — The No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 Draft brought a reputation as an athletic, high-energy player into his rookie season in Orlando, but one who struggled with his shot and that was born out. But Gordon has spent time working with Magic shooting coach Dave Love to change the mechanics of his shot and it seems to have paid off. He looked comfortable in the three games he played, leading the league in scoring at 21.7 points per game and even hit 50 percent (6-for-12) on 3s.

Stanley Johnson, F, Pistons — From the enthusiasm that he brought to the court every day, you might have thought Johnson was on a trip to Disney World. It’s not cocky when you can do it and the Pistons’ No. 8 draft pick has all the skills and talent in his bag of tricks to excel in the NBA as soon as coach Stan Van Gundy turns him loose in the rotation. Johnson says he’s not trying to prove anything to the folks who thought the Pistons made a mistake by not taking Justise Winslow. But it sure looks that way and that’s good for Detroit.

Myles Turner, C, Pacers — The knock on the tall, skinny kid out of the University of Texas is just that. He’s skinny. But that didn’t stop him from taking advantage of his size to block more than four shots a game and protect the rim. It’s a new day and a new style in Indy with the plodding Roy Hibbert gone to the Lakers and veteran David West to the Spurs. The No. 11 pick in the draft will be thrown right into the lineup and could get a chance to shine immediately. He shot 60.5 percent from the field and the big guy can knock down the jumper.

Mario Hezonja, G-F, Magic — After completing a full European season in Barcelona, the No. 5 pick in the draft jetted to the U.S. and played in just two games at the summer league. He struggled with his shot, through he did knock down a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in his debut. He’s also got off-the-charts athleticism, which he showed off with a ferocious one-handed drive and dunk. Though he’s only 20, Hezonja has been a professional for years and will force his way onto the floor for the Magic soon.

Willie Reed, F-C, Nets — Undrafted out of Saint Louis in 2001, he’s spent four seasons trying to prove himself with four different D-League teams before spending last season playing in the Dominican Republic. He came to Orlando with the Heat and immediately drew comparisons to Hassan Whiteside for his ability to play defense and gather rebounds. Reed impressed enough at the summer league for Brooklyn to sign him to a contract.

Frank Kaminsky, F-C, Hornets — The college basketball player of the year had trouble finding a rhythm on his shot in the early games, but the Hornets know that’s an area they don’t have to be concerned about it. He showed an ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the basket and did a solid job rebounding. He needs work at the defensive end, but appeared comfortable and confident enough moving ahead toward training camp.

Troy Daniels, G, Hornets — What’s the old saying? You can never have enough shooting. Daniels keeps trying to prove that to different teams as he moves about the league trying to find a permanent home. He lit up from the outside this week, hitting at a 55 percent clip from behind the 3-point line and a team like Charlotte that needs shooters could finally be the place where he sticks.

Joe Young, G, Pacers — The second-round draft pick of the Pacers was recovering from a stomach illness all week and still managed to stand out as one of the top rookies. The 2015 Pac-12 Player of the Year can fill up the basket has the kind of demeanor you want in a point guard — authoritative and vocal. He’s arriving in Indy at the perfect time as the Pacers will look to play an up-tempo game and he has a nose for pushing the ball up court. He’s a keeper.

Justise Winslow, F, Heat — Getting the ball to go into the basket was a problem for Winslow right from the start, but it didn’t keep him from attacking every game with confidence and doing enough other things to help his team. He knows that he belongs at the NBA level and goes at the basket relentlessly, drawing fouls and getting more free throws than anybody else in the league. Given the Heat no reason to think they didn’t get very lucky having him fall into their laps at the No. 10 spot.

Branden Dawson, F, Clippers — For all the back-patting for getting DeAndre Jordan to change his mind, the Clippers still have a serious lack of depth. The 6-foot-6 forward showed a nose for rebounding and putting the ball in the bucket all week and has just the right kind of overachiever attitude that comes from being picked No. 56 in the draft and could eventually find its way onto the NBA roster. He put up three double-doubles four games played. One drawback is he could make Jordan look good at the line, making just 3-for-9 on free throws.

Pacers’ Young is hungry at the point


VIDEO: Joe Young breaks down his Thursday performance

ORLANDO — Just say Joe Young showed up hungry for the start of Summer League. He’ll pretty much leave that way, too.

But in between, the 6-foot-2 point guard has given the Pacers a steady diet of the things they want him to do. Speed, smarts and a desire to learn.

A stomach ailment prevented Young from working out with his teammates back in Indianapolis last week, but he hit the ground running and hasn’t missed a game at the Orlando Pro Summer League.

With their big man Myles Turner getting a rest on Thursday, it was Young who led the Pacers to their first win by putting up 28 points, shooting 5-for-9 on 3-pointers, and adding three assists and three rebounds.

“To watch him go from that first game where I thought he was still sick and just too frantic and a little too wild, which is natural, to playing a game like this, was very satisfying to see,” said Pacers summer league coach Dan Burke.

“In that first game you could tell the adrenaline was running and he was so stoked. Today’s game I thought he looked more controlled. His eyes were up. He was seeing shooters in pick-and-roll. He was seeing the roll man. I thought that was a quick progression. So I was excited. It’s the kind of play we expected when we drafted him.”

Young was a second-round draft pick, 43rd overall, after playing four years of college ball, two at Houston before transferring to Oregon. He was the Pac-12 Player of the Year in 2015 and comes with the basketball DNA of his father, Michael Young, who was a member of the famous Phi Slama Jama teams at Houston.

What also lit up Burke’s face was the commitment that Young showed when he was ill and couldn’t be on the practice floor with his teammates.

“He’s a sponge. He’s an eager learner,” Burke said. “And he took it upon himself to catch up as quick as he could. He was in there drawing up the plays that we wanted him to learn for himself. He was studying constantly. Then when we got down here to Florida, he met with (fellow rookie) Myles Turner in the lobby of the hotel and was going over plays. That’s the kind of kid you love to have on your team.”

Young’s week was an uphill climb as he took the floor for the first game on Sunday barely able to keep any food in his stomach.

“I’m still not necessarily 100 percent, but I’m tough,” Young said. “I don’t want no red flags saying, ‘Oh, he gets sick and can’t play.’ I’m just trying to be a warrior. I thought each game I got better and the team took a step. It wasn’t me by myself. I couldn’t have done stuff I did without my team.”

Everybody is a virtual stranger in summer league, which is what makes play often ragged and doesn’t lend itself to teamwork. It’s trickier even for a point guard to be making something out of the chaos.

“But that’s part of a being a point guard,” Young said. “You take control. You’ve got to be vocal. You’ve got to put the teammates where they’re supposed to go.”

Young showed that he could feed the 6-foot-11 Turner in the post when they played together, get the ball to his shooters and also create his own shot.

“For one, he’s a smart guy and that helps,” Burke said. “He’s also vocal and we haven’t had too many vocal point guards the last couple of years. He’s not afraid to take charge and once he gets comfortable with our system and around our guys, where he knows exactly where he’s telling a guy to go, he’ll probably even be more vocal.”

Young also looks like a good fit for the more up-tempo style that team president Larry Bird and head coach Frank Vogel want the Pacers to play next season.


VIDEO: Larry Bird on what he sees for Pacers in 2015-16

“We don’t want to go helter-skelter,” Burke said. “But get it up quick and get into our stuff quick. Look to score in the first eight seconds. If you don’t, then you’ve got to score in the last eight seconds and execute. Joe’s that kind of guy.

“I think we’ve had good defensive teams. So we need more stops and continue to get those stops and shots and runs. Joe’s about the best I’ve seen that we’ve had in the last couple of years in getting it up the court. C.J. Watson wasn’t really a push guy like that. Donald Sloan wasn’t that fast. And George Hill can be fast, but he’s more comfortable just getting up at a decent tempo. He’s going to be an interesting player to watch. Joe’s fast, aggressive, confident.”

And still hungry.

Johnson keeps firing on all Pistons


VIDEO: Stanley Johnson turns in solid double-double

ORLANDO — Before Stanley Johnson even took his very first sip of NBA competition, he declared that he wasn’t “going to let anybody punk me” on the court.

So when his most recent game at the Orlando Pro Summer League tipped off and the Pacers chose to run a post-up play for the man he was guarding, Solomon Hill, Johnson reacted as if someone had touched him with a cattle prod.

“For some guy to attack me the first play of the game, I think that says volumes about what the coach thinks about me and therefore I take it disrespectfully,” Johnson said. “From that point on, if he scores the basket, doesn’t score the basket, that’s just like a another chip on my shoulder already to start the game.”

Through four games in the practice gym at the Amway Center, Johnson has been constantly hustling, always forceful and giving Detroit fans a reason to look forward to his rookie year against the big boys. Though Pistons head coach and team president Stan Van Gundy says just because he was the No. 8 pick in the NBA Draft and has shown the joys of summer, it doesn’t mean Johnson will be handed a spot in the starting lineup or even the rotation.

“I think it’s important that (rookies) play when they deserve to play,” said Van Gundy. “And not just, ‘We’re going to play our guy.’ I know some people believe in that. I don’t.

“I think it inhibits a guy’s development when he’s simply handed minutes and doesn’t have to do anything to earn them and thus there is no reason to work hard or change the way you play.

“You always like to see him play against good players, but I’ve been at this long enough that I don’t get real pumped up if a guy plays well in summer league, and I don’t get too depressed if he doesn’t. There is just not a lot of carryover.”

Nevertheless, Johnson has been confident, effective and consistent, averaging 17.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.3 steals.

As a defender, Johnson has shown an ability to blow up the pick-and-roll. He’s repeatedly gone to the floor chasing down loose balls and can make the show-stopping play. Just when Indy’s Romero Osby thought he had a breakaway dunk, there was Johnson swooping in from behind at the last second with for a resounding rejection that showed he doesn’t simply write off a possession.

“Those are effort plays. Those are winning plays,” said Pistons summer league coach Bob Beyer. “When he blocked that shot at the rim he never gave up on the play. He just kept coming and again I think that says a lot about him as a competitor.”

There were questions about Johnson’s shooting ability coming out of Arizona, where he hit just 44.6 percent of his attempts in his only college season. But he’s making at a 64.3 percent clip here and is 4-for-9 on 3-pointers.

Most important, Johnson has shown an ability to play an overall game and to have the kind of personality that commands attention. He keeps telling everyone who’ll listen that he isn’t into comparisons with his good friend Justise Winslow, whom the Pistons passed over to take Johnson with the eighth pick and just wants to prove that he’s as good or better than anybody in his draft class. For now. He’s got the rest of the league in his long-range sights. He’s skilled, competitive and thoroughly engaging.

Somebody asked Johnson if it was accurate to just check off every box of all-around skills when it came to describing his game.

“I would say so,” Johnson said. “I have a lot of learning to do in making those checks darker, bolder and getting better at a lot of different things, but I can be very versatile on the court. Like I was preaching before the draft started, I can go one through four positions. I can do a lot of the things on the court.”

Then tell you about them.

It’s Turner’s time already in Indy

VIDEO: Myles Turner finishes off a nice feed from Joe Young for the Pacers.

ORLANDO — At one end of the floor Myles Turner was a flash of summer lightning, coming across the court crackling to get a long arm up and block a driving shot along the baseline. A few seconds and a few long strides later at the other end, he took in a pass, made a jab fake and then rose up to hit a step-back turnaround.

With the hulking, plodding Roy Hibbert on his way to the Lakers, it’s a new day and a new style of play for the Pacers and that’s where the rookie center says he’s ready to fit in.

“I’m very excited about it,” said the 19-year-old who was the No. 11 pick in the draft. “I’m ready for anything. I joined this team. They selected me to come in here to play right away, I guess. So if that’s what is required of me, I’m gonna go out there and do it.”

The 6-11 center is young and green and doesn’t exactly have a body type that will inspire fear in opponents when he first hits the floor in the NBA. But nearly a week of work in the Orlando Pro Summer League has shown that Turner is willing and able to do lot of different things.

He put up 23 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shot on in a loss to the Pistons on Wednesday and Turner is looking more comfortable in each day.

“The week of practice with two-a-days definitely helped,” he said. “I’ve been acclimated to the plays and feeling better. We haven’t won anything yet, but I feel better individually.”

It has helped that point guard Joe Young, the Pacers’ second round draft pick, has been able to get back onto the floor and play after missing time with stomach problems.

“Joe is a real scorer for us, a threat and he knows what he’s doing running the point and I think having him back has given me a level of comfort playing,” Turner said.

In his one college season at Texas, Turner was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year and was known as a shot blocker at one end and guy who likes to shoot from the outside at the other end. He averaged 2.6 blocks per game at Texas and had five blocks on nine different occasions. In three summer league games he’s averaging 18.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.3 blocks.

“The blocks are something I’ve always done,” Turner said. “Just protect the rim. It makes me very useful and valuable on the defensive end. It’s one thing I want to even increase as I get into my NBA career.

“I’ve always had a shooting touch. It’s something I enjoy doing. But I’ll work in the post as well. I’m seven-foot tall. So I’ve got to be able to go down there and mix it up.

“You’ve got to definitely be versatile to survive in this league. If you’re weak on one end, they’re gonna expose you. So my versatility is key.”

Pacers coach Frank Vogel has been observing while assistants Dan Burke and Popeye Jones work the bench during the summer league and likes what he’s seen from Turner’s early work.

“He’s got such a unique combination of skills with the ability to shoot with range, but also you’ve seen him dominate the game on the defensive end with his shot-blocking,” Vogel said. “We’re really high on him.”

With Hibbert gone, Paul George fully recovered from his broken leg and the addition of Monta Ellis, the Pacers will have a new look.

“We’re going to be a different team than we’ve been in the past, and that’s something I’m really excited about,” Vogel said. “We’re going to try to get up and down the floor a lot more than we have, be more of a running team, play with more pace. But also playing Paul George at the 4 some, maybe a lot, could give us an entirely different look, with the ability to just space the floor and not always play with two bigs the way we have in the past. And I think it’s going to open up a lot of things for a lot of guys.”

Turner sees the opening.

“I’ve got work to do, plenty of things to get better at doing,” he said. “But I’m here to play and if they’re going to give me the chance to do it right away, I’m gonna be ready.”

HOFer Ewing on Hornets rookie Kaminsky: Just call him a ‘stretch-big’


VIDEO: Hornets’ Frank Kaminsky scores and gets and one.

ORLANDO — The rookie NBA seasons of Patrick Ewing and Frank Kaminsky are 30 years apart, more than enough time for the role of the big man and the game itself to have changed dramatically.

The Warriors and Cavaliers finished the 2015 Finals seemingly trying to see which team could put the smallest lineup on the floor.

So here comes Kaminsky, at 7-foot-1 an outstanding 3-point shooter, taking his summer league cues from Ewing, who carved out much of a Hall Fame career with his fierce work down in the low post.

But the union of the No. 9 pick in the Draft and his Summer League coach has shown glimpses of what is possible for the Hornets next season.

Many of Kaminsky’s strengths will translate well to the current NBA. He is a 7-footer who is 11-for-20 on 3-pointers in his first four games, creating mismatches by stepping outside and challenging opponents come out and defend him.

“I’ve just got to figure out my role within the offense, and on the defensive end, too,” Kaminsky said. “Every game is different. Every team has different personnel, so you have to pay attention and really go with it.”

Kaminsky shot better from the outside in his first two games, but has been successful lately in putting the ball on the floor and getting to the basket.

“I think he’s still learning,” Ewing said. “I think he’s going to be a very good player for us. I still want him to do a much better job on the rebounding, also on defense. Those are the things that he’s going to have to work on from here on out, because people are going to try to go at him on the defensive end.

“But I think he’s going to be a good player. He has a great feel for the game. He knows how to put the ball on the floor. He knows how to create and get shots.”

There was a time back in 1985 when Ewing was breaking into the NBA when any young 7-footer would have been encouraged to played more with his back to the basket in the traditional mode of the big man.

“No question, it’s a different situation when you’re talking about going against guys like Hakeem (Olajuwon) and David (Robinson) and Shaq (O’Neal) and me,” Ewing said. “You had to get down there inside and mix things up in order to survive.

“But no matter what era you play in and no matter where you’re playing, any coach, any good coach is going to utilize the skills that a player possesses.

“(Kaminsky) is a guy who can shoot the basketball. He’d probably be a lot like (Bill) Laimbeer. I mean, Laimbeer back in my day, was a big that shot the 3-point shot. He didn’t really post up that much. Frank has the ability to post up. But Laimbeer was a guy that stayed out there and shot 3s. Also Sam Perkins. So it’s not like there weren’t other guys who possessed those skills. It’s just that in this era, there’s a lot more more of them.”

It’s the era when everybody wants and needs the “stretch-four” to space the floor and open up driving lanes for the guards.

“He’s a stretch-big,” Ewing said of Kaminsky. “He’s what, 7-1? Yeah, he’s a stretch-big.”

Kaminsky has heard all of the questions, the criticism, the second-guessing of Charlotte spending the No. 9 pick to get him. They passed on Justise Winslow. They passed up a reported offer of four No. 1 draft picks from the Celtics.

All he’s done is kept his head down to move ahead when he’s not looking at the basket for his shot and listening to Ewing.

“He’s been great so far,” Kaminsky said. “He knows my strength. He runs plays to what my strengths are. He’ll get on me when I need it and there’s a lot of different things he knows about the game that I can just learn. He’s been around the game for so long and has so many tricks up his sleeve, a lot of knowledge that I can take away from him.”

Kaminsky had a double-double of 19 points, 12 rebounds in his first summer league game put up 13 and seven with a couple of blocked shot in Wednesday’s 81-68 loss to the Orlando White team and came away with more things to work on.

“On the defensive end mostly,” he said. “There’s a lot of things I have to work on. Just staying with it. At points in that game I let my emotions get to me a little bit, with fatigue and frustration. But just got to work through all of that.

“I know I need get better in pick-and-roll situations. On the offensive end, I just need to keep adding things to my game. I like being a matchup nightmare. That’s what I want to be in the NBA.”

Which translates in any era.

New look, new game for McGary

VIDEO: Thunder forward Mitch McGary talks about his Summer League play.

ORLANDO, Fla. — After a rookie NBA season that he’d just as soon forget, what Mitch McGary wanted was a whole new experience this time around.

What he brought to the Orlando Pro Summer League is a whole new Mitch McGary.

There is more more speed and explosiveness, more sheer power and will to his rebounding, more force and dominance in almost everything he does on the court.

Much of that is because there is less physically of McGary, who is down 27 pounds from the end of last season, when he played in only 32 games for the Thunder, averaging just 15 minutes and 6.3 points.

He was the 21st pick in the 2014 Draft and Oklahoma City had high hopes, but McGary broke a bone in his left foot in the first preseason game and then was sidelined later by inflammation in his left leg. He played just eight games in his last (sophomore) year at Michigan due to a lower back injury.

When he finally broke through with back-to-back games against the Clippers and Nuggets in March with a combined 36 points and 20 rebounds, there were signs of the old force that he once was in college at Michigan.

But McGary wanted more

“I’m sick of being injured and not being able to play at full strength 100 percent,” McGary said. “So this summer was really key for me. I stayed in Oklahoma City and just been working my tail off to get into shape.”

He’s done that dramatically, changing his 6-10 body so much that even some people who’ve known him for a while have done double-takes while passing the now chiseled-looking figure in the hallways of Amway Center.

McGary has done it by giving up his beloved candy and sweets and stopped living on the classic college diet of fast food. He took cooking lessons and has learned to enjoy and thrive on a diet of fish and chicken. And the proof is in the puddling that he’s not allowed to eat.

In his first three Summer League games McGary is averaging 11.3 points, seven rebounds and shooting 57.1 percent from the field in 24 minutes.

“The thing I’m really excited about for Mitch is the thing he’s been able to do with his body,” said the Thunder’s new head coach, Billy Donovan. “He’s in really, really good shape. He’s worked really hard. He’s had a really good offseason.

“I thought the [first] night there were some things he wanted to get better, things he wanted to improve on. I really thought he put his mind and focus on those things. … I thought his energy, his intensity, things that he did was really positive.

“But coming off an injury and now being cleared to play, I think him getting back on the court and playing well has been really, really good. But the biggest thing Mitch has done and why he’s moving so much better is what he’s done with his body.”

With Kevin Durant looking to bounce back from his own injury-plagued season, Donovan moving in to run the show and the Thunder having missed the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, the second-year player has company in terms of something to prove.

“This is just the start,” said McGary. “I’ve still got a lot of summer and a lot of work ahead of me to get where I want to be. But I love working hard. Like I said, I’m just sick of being injured and one of my bigger goals for the offseason is just to get healthier. Right now, I’m happy with the way I feel and the way things are going with our team. It’s a different look from last season.”

And nobody looks more different than McGary.

Hezonja has shown the early Magic

VIDEO: Magic rookie Mario Hezonja throws one down.

ORLANDO, Fla. — As a storybook tale, the ending to his first game would have been labeled too trite and predictable if it didn’t actually happen.

Mario Hezonja gathered in a pass from teammate Devyn Marble in the final seconds of overtime and drilled a sweeter-than-honey 3-pointer to win.

The 6-7 swingman was right back on the highlight reel in his second game. Exploding from the starting blocks out on the left wing, Hezonja zipped past a would-be defender, gave a nifty little hesitation move as he cleared the free-throw line and then lifted off like one of those rockets they used to launch regularly from down the road at Cape Canaveral, throwing down a one-armed thunderbolt dunk just as he was smacked in the face by OKC’s Richard Solomon.

For a start to an NBA career, it was, well, Magic, as the No. 5 pick in the draft by Orlando delivered much of what had been advertised, much of it by him.

The 20-year-old from Croatian has been called by some the cockiest member of the NBA Draft class of 2015. But you know what they say about it not being bragging when you can back it up.

In two games for the Magic Blue team, Hezonja averaged 13 points and showed the intensely competitive streak that has the franchise so excited. While he didn’t shoot the ball particularly well — 9-for-24 overall and 4-for-14 on 3-pointers — Hezonja was fully engaged in every possession at both ends of the floor.

“He doesn’t back down from physical play,” said Magic assistant coach Monte Mathis. “He’ll dive on the floor. He’ll do all those hard-nosed things.”

It is those fiery, gritty traits that have the Magic so high on what Hezonja can do to help spark a young lineup even as he’s getting an NBA baptism himself. For one, he isn’t your typical rookie, having already played at a high level for Barcelona of the Spanish Liga ACB last season.

“He’s been a pro since he was, like, 11,” said Magic teammate Aaron Gordon. “That’s what I’ve wanted in a teammate, somebody like that. And he’s ready to roll with this.”

His full schedule in Europe will likely curtail Hezonja’s further play in Orlando, but that didn’t stop him making a big impression on the Magic in such a short time.

Consider that he completed his buyout from Barcelona on Monday of last week, flew to Orlando, met his new teammates and was on the court with them for his first practice in the space of 72 hours. Then two days later, he had the gumption to take and the ability to make the last-second shot.

Hezonja is far from happy about the way he’s shot the ball, is clearly upset when he makes a mistake on a defensive assignment or winds up in the wrong spot on offense. He knows he’s learning, but he wants the process to be faster. He didn’t come to ease his way into the NBA and that’s another one of the attributes that attracted the Magic.

“For him to just go out there and compete the way he’s doing, I think he’s doing a hell of a job,” said Magic assistant Adrian Griffin. “I think he’s going to continue to improve. He’s still learning the sets. He’s still learning our defensive schemes. But you have to be blind to not see his talent.”

Summer league returns to Salt Lake City


VIDEO: The Jazz top the Celtics in their Summer League opener

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Jazz Summer League began Monday night with four teams at EnergySolutions Arena as the second such event of the offseason, but actually more as an extension of the grandest of all, the Las Vegas session.

The return of Summer League to Salt Lake City, after several years away, is the result of the Jazz initially approaching Warren LeGarie, the executive director of the Las Vegas gathering, four years ago. The conversations not only led to LeGarie also running the Utah schedule, but also with Salt Lake City purposely linked to Sin City: the four teams here were also required to be there, the games here would be directly before the games there to help logistics and promotion, and the locations are only about a 75-minute flight.

“I think Utah’s always had a desire to continue with Summer League,” LeGarie said. “When our league [in Las Vegas] grew exponentially, it sort of got in the way of this one, which was unfortunate. … At this point, they’re here to stay. As long as its viable, it’ll continue.”

The Celtics, 76ers, Spurs and host Jazz are here for doubleheaders Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, before they head to Las Vegas for the start there Friday with a schedule that includes 23 NBA teams and a D-League Select squad. Meanwhile, the Orlando event — not run by LeGarie — began Saturday and continues through Friday with 10 teams, including two from the host Magic.

“We’ll never knock out Orlando because there’s a certain number of teams that prefer that atmosphere,” LeGarie said. “And as long as certain coaches and management have houses there, Orlando will continue. So we’re not looking to knock out Orlando, we’re trying to serve the basketball community. And clearly there is a strong basketball community [in Salt Lake City.]”

The difference is atmosphere in that the Orlando event is closed to the public and held in the Magic’s practice gym, while the Utah games are played in the home of the Jazz and the Las Vegas schedule in the arena that hosts UNLV and a smaller adjacent facility as well. The “certain coaches and management” is a dig at Doc Rivers, a Central Florida resident who pulled the Clippers out of Las Vegas and joined the Orlando summer league.

Rivers said he prefers Orlando as more of a businesslike setting.