Blogtable: Giving it all up for Love

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: The price of Love | New most intriguing team | Sleeper rookie



VIDEO: What’s the going price for Kevin Love these days? The GameTime guys have ideas.

> You’re David Griffin, GM of the Cavs. What’s the absolute most that you’re willing to give up to get Kevin Love? Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins? Why? Now, or wait?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: To get Kevin Love to Cleveland, I would give up Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Dion Waiters and a future pick or two. Too much? Not for one or more championships, which I think would be the Cavs’ harvest from the deal. Two reasons to include Bennett: First, Love would play his position essentially, rendering him less important. And second, the Cavs didn’t “have” him last year anyway, given his disappointing rookie season, so it’s not a tangible loss. One huge reason to give up Wiggins: The trade doesn’t happen without him and Love heads to the Bay Area or Chicago soon or to Los Angeles later. Waiters is a high-maintenance guy neither team really covets and LeBron James-Kyrie Irving-Love should render lousy most future Cavs draft picks. As for timing, sooner is better. You’d hate to wait and then realize in May or June, rats, if only this group had had more time together …

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I’ll answer the last part first. Wait. There’s no reason to trade for Kevin Love today when you haven’t seen what Andrew Wiggins can do or be alongside LeBron James. I understand the tug to go get Love now, but unless the Cavs feel the Warriors are about to pull the trigger, Love isn’t going anywhere and will be available throughout the season right up to the deadline. What if Wiggins just blows everybody away? What if he proves to be a very good defender from the jump? If you wait, the Wolves might get desperate, not wanting to lose love for nothing. So eventually it might, or might not, take Wiggins to pry Love. Three months into the season, the Cavs should have a good read on Wiggins, and if LeBron still wants Love, then, yes, I trade the No. 1 picks in 2013 and 2014.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comIf I’m David Griffin, I’m willing to give up Wiggins, Bennett and anyone else not named Kyrie if it makes LeBron James happy. I do it now (before Chicago undercuts me) and I do it without hesitation or regret, since my time on this job could be limited if championships aren’t chased immediately. This is a win now league and, on paper, that’s the logical stance to take if I’m Griffin. He’s not handing off sure thing No. 1 picks in this deal (courtesy of his predecessor, Chris Grant). There is no guarantee that Wiggins becomes the All-Star caliber player Love is right now by his sixth season in the league. And there’s no guarantee that Bennett becomes a bona fide starter six seasons in. But the fact is, whatever I do, I’m gambling on guys who have the same amount of playoff experience in the league. Love, as stellar a player as he’s been in a dreadful situation year after year in Minnesota, has just as much hype to live up to if he joins the Cavaliers as Wiggins ever would. And I’m not completely convinced that Love is the missing piece in Cleveland.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m not crazy about the idea of trading so much for Love. LeBron James and Love complement each other offensively, and Love is one of the league’s best players on that end of the floor. But Wiggins has the potential to be one of the league’s best two-way players, and defense is more important than offense. James is only 29 years old, so the Cavs’ window will be open for at least five more years. Love doesn’t guarantee them anything in the next year or two, and their ceiling could be higher three years from now with Wiggins & Co. than with Love. I doubt this happens, but I’d wait it out, see what Wiggins can do for three months, see how much Bennett benefits from playing with the best player in the world, and put pressure on Minnesota to make a decision closer to the trade deadline or risk losing Love to free agency next summer. If they send him somewhere else, there will be another All-Star you can trade the young guys for within the next year or two.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: What does Minnesota want for Kevin Love? Whatever it is, outside of Kyrie Irving and/or LeBron James, I’m ready to move them for Kevin Love. Hey, I understand that Wiggins could turn into a primo NBA player who could be a perfect third pillar in the James/Irving alliance. But how long are you willing to wait for that to happen? LeBron did a nice job lowering expectations in his Sports Illustrated piece, even noting that they shouldn’t be expected to win right away. Which is great, but it ignores the fact that after 11 seasons in the NBA, the clock is ticking on LeBron’s prime. And if you can go get a guy who is a two-time All-Star and all-world rebounder RIGHT NOW, I don’t think you pass on that opportunity.

Morning shootaround — July 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Cavs working to land Love; Bulls join fray? | Report: Mavs to meet with Nelson | Austin says he was offered job with NBA

No. 1: Reports: Bulls making push for Love as Cavs try to seal deal — Yesterday the Cleveland Cavaliers and Utah Jazz pulled off what on the surface seemed to be a minor deal: Cavs guard Carrick Felix heads to Utah in exchange for John Lucas III, Erik Murphy and Malcolm Thomas. But unless you’ve been living on another planet the last few weeks, that deal was done to give Cleveland more salary-cap flexibility so it can work out a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves for All-Star big man Kevin Love. According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst, the Cavs are confident they can pick up Love, but the Chicago Bulls are also trying to make a late push to get in on the Love sweepstakes:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are increasingly confident that they will eventually complete the acquisition of Kevin Love, but the Chicago Bulls are making a late push to try to get into the trade mix for the All-Star power forward, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Cavs firmly believe they are progressing toward a trade framework that the Minnesota Timberwolves will accept in exchange for Love and enable Cleveland to pair the versatile big man with Team USA teammate LeBron James.

Cleveland’s offer, sources said, would be headlined by No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, 2013′s No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett and a future first-round pick, with one source close to the process insisting Tuesday that the Cavs are destined to acquire Love. At least one more player might have to added to the package to satisfy NBA trade rules.

Sources say that the Bulls, though, have re-entered the race and would appear to be the biggest threat to the Cavs thanks largely to the Golden State Warriors’ resolute unwillingness to add longtime Wolves target Klay Thompson in any deal.

Although the full extent of the Bulls’ offer wasn’t immediately known, it is believed Minnesota would seek a package from Chicago featuring forward Taj Gibson and defensive ace Jimmy Butler in addition to other assets. The Bulls shelved their Love interest while trying to sign Carmelo Anthony away from the New York Knicks but, according to sources, have re-emerged as contenders.

The Cavs, though, rocketed to the upper echelon of Love’s wish list of potential trade destinations from the moment James agreed to return to Cleveland. ESPN.com reported this month that even James’ short-term contract with the Cavs — which spans only two seasons and includes a player option to return to free agency next summer — would not dissuade Love from committing to Cleveland.

Wolves owner Glen Taylor insisted again last week that he wanted to keep Love and that Minnesota is prepared to open the season with Love on the roster. But sources say numerous rival teams think  that Minnesota will ultimately part with Love before the start of the new season, given the extremely public nature of Love’s unwillingness to commit to the Wolves beyond this season.

Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Cavs are solely focused on getting Love and are working hard to make that trade happen:

Cleveland has been determined to acquire Love since it signed LeBron James to a free-agent deal.

Those three players can be included in packages as preludes to a Love deal, or in a Love deal itself to give Minnesota salary-cap relief. The Cavaliers hold an interest in keeping Thomas, who could be an inexpensive role player to strengthen their frontcourt depth, sources said.

Cleveland has to be creative in solidifying a deal for Love, who the Timberwolves want to package with Kevin Martin and J.J. Barea, several front-office officials told Yahoo Sports.

Cleveland’s discussions with Minnesota have escalated with the Cavaliers’ willingness to include No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins in the deal, sources said. Without Wiggins, there’s no other combination of Cleveland players and picks that would interest Minnesota. Once Wiggins signs his rookie contract, a trade involving him can’t be formally completed for 30 days.

The Denver Nuggets have remained a strong contender for Love, offering a package that sources said has been the most appealing to Minnesota outside of the Cavaliers and a possible Golden State deal including Klay Thompson. So far, the Warriors have kept Thompson out of their offer to Minnesota.

Minnesota wants a package for Love to include Barea, who has $4.5 million left on his expiring deal – and possibly Martin, who has three years and $21 million left. As part of a larger deal, the Cavaliers want to include 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett and a future No. 1 pick for Love.

The Cavaliers have been offering future first-round picks for an experienced center, league sources said.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses the latest trade rumors involving Kevin Love

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 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 come the summer of 2017.

Former Maryland coach and Hall of Famer 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