Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Caplan’

Blogtable: Rookie on the rise

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: All-Access at Summer League with Zach LaVine

> And, now that Summer League has finished, do you have a new favorite rookie you expect to be a sleeper this season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Philadelphia’s Nerlens Noel doesn’t count, right? He’ll be sneaking up on no one after his redshirt season. Phoenix’s T.J. Warren is no sleeper either, in my opinion, after all the buzz he generated this month. So I’ll keep an eye on Minnesota’s Zach LaVine, partly based on the versatility he demonstrated in Las Vegas and even more so on the opportunities he’ll get to shine as coach Flip Saunders proves how astutely POBO Flip Saunders drafted.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I came away really impressed with Doug McDermott, but I’m going with a guy I wrote about Tuesday, Minnesota’s brash, super-confident combo guard Zach LaVine out of UCLA. He’s 19 and has a chip on his shoulder the size of Bill Walton. He quickly gained attention in Vegas for an array of acrobatic dunks, by he left Vegas revealing a high IQ, promising point guard skills and a fierce competitiveness.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comZach LaVine. Maybe it has something to do with seeing LaVine’s final game in Las Vegas from courtside, where all of his athleticism and raw skill was on display. I talked to several NBA decision-makers who are worried that LaVine is all hype and just a superior physical marvel and not polished enough to be an impact player. I disagree. I think he’ll shock some people with his versatility and readiness to step in and play quality minutes for the Timberwolves, who’ll need someone and something to get excited about if Kevin Love ends up leaving town before the trade deadline. LaVine struck me as much more than just a highlight waiting to happen on a fast break. There’s much more meat to his game than I realized. He’s not only my pick as a potential sleeper in this rookie class, he could wind up being the steal of this Draft.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: There aren’t too many guys who were picked outside of the top 11 and will have a clear opportunity to play regular rotation minutes as rookies (well, except the Sixers’ second rounders, because the Sixers have only a few real players on their roster). Noah Vonleh could be a really good fit in Charlotte, sharing the power forward position with Marvin Williams on a playoff team. He shot just 28 percent in Summer League, but did so in Al Jefferson‘s role (posting up as the focal point of their offense). He’ll have an easier time playing off Jefferson, Kemba Walker and Lance Stephenson.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThe best rookie I saw in person at Summer League was Minnesota’s Zach LaVine. His skills as a decision-maker weren’t anything special, but they won’t have to be if he’s playing alongside Ricky Rubio. His athleticism, however, was phenomenal, and I’d expect that to quickly set him apart from other players on the floor and give him an early advantage. If Love stays for a few months, perhaps LaVine will give the T-Wolves the jolt of energy/excitement they need to convince Love that they’re headed in the right direction and get him to opt-in for the long haul.

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.

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.

Countdown is on for optimistic Noel


VIDEO: Noel discusses his play during Summer League

LAS VEGAS – Nerlens Noel gets an “A” for perseverance and patience and for somehow maintaining optimism throughout the most physically and psychologically challenging 17-month stretch of his young life. NBA schedules have yet to be released, but there’s roughly 100 days until the Philadelphia 76ers open the 2014-15 season and Noel is counting down every last one them.

The 76ers’ 6-foot-11 center (more like 7-foot-3, seriously, with his trademark flat top now elevating ever higher) sat out all of last season to rehabilitate the left knee he damaged late in his one-and-done campaign at Kentucky. The injury dropped him from the consensus No. 1 pick into Philadelphia’s lap at No. 6. He finally made it back on the floor earlier this month, playing three games at the Orlando Summer League, and he wrapped up an encouraging July tour playing two of five games at the Las Vegas Summer League where paint penetrators were quickly put on notice.

Though still months away, visions of how Opening Night will go down dance in his mind on almost a daily basis.

“It’s going to be something special,” Noel, 20, told NBA.com Friday after watching the Sixers’ final game in Vegas. “I know how passionate those fans are so I really can’t wait to step on the floor.”

Game 1 will be a milestone for sure, but the unanswerable question is how Noel will fare through 82 of them. His conditioning will take time and he acknowledged it “wasn’t great” early in Orlando, but built up as the games came and went. Before the start of Summer League, Noel had not played in an actual game since the night of the injury in February 2013.

“It’s been a process the whole time,” Noel said. “I’ve had to really have patience, not being able to play this past year, and finally being able to play and show what I’ve been working on. I didn’t get to show everything, but I’m going to continue working on my body and be able to come back in the regular season and be better.”

The Boston native will split the rest of the offseason between his hometown and Philly, where he’s stayed since the regular season ended in mid-April to continue working with the team’s coaches and training staff. Noel remains a thin, 228-pound pogo stick, still not strong enough to command the low block offensively, though in four of five games he scored in double figures and overall shot 49 percent (24-for-49).

That side of his game remains raw, even as it pokes through with parts of a multi-dimensional attack — including lefty hooks in the lane, a perimeter jumper that he spent countless pregame workouts with coach Brett Brown reconstructing his release, plus a quick first-step dribble-drive from the elbow. Still his offensive capabilities remain miles behind the type of force he delivers on the defensive end.

In his five summer games, Noel swatted 13 shots and altered dozens more. His quickness to elevate in the paint and meet shots at the rim can be astonishing. He’s so long and nimble that he glides almost effortlessly as a help-side defender. The 76ers, who surrendered more baskets from within five feet last season than only the Los Angeles Lakers, should see a major boost in that category next season.

He also showed he’s going to be difficult to deal with on the boards. In four games, he grabbed at least a half-dozen rebounds. Through it all, Noel said his rebuilt and cautiously monitored knee has passed every test with flying colors.

“I have no problems with it all,” said Noel, who has claimed he can actually jump higher now than before the surgery to repair the torn ACL.

It still likely won’t help the Sixers contend for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. It will be months into the season before Noel will team with No. 3 overall pick Joel Embiid, who has his own rehabilitation to endure following foot surgery. It’s a frontline pairing in which optimists crow about the possibilities and pessimists fret about durability.

“I talked to him a few times briefly over texts, he’s a great kid, great personality,” Noel said. “I’m really looking forward to getting on the court with him and really starting that relationship we’re going to need if we are going to be one of the best tandems in the future.”

Rookie of the Year point guard Michael Carter-Williams, a former AAU teammate of Noel’s, returns with veteran and consummate pro Thaddeus Young. From there, the roster remains perilously thin in Year 2 of general manager Sam Hinkie‘s ground-up reconstruction. It’s a plan that again came under scrutiny on Draft night when Hinkie selected the injured Embiid and then Dario Saric at No. 12. While Embiid hopes to play at some point next season, the 6-foot-10 Croatian will play in Turkey.

Philadelphia won just 19 game last season and Noel watched helplessly through a 26-game losing skid. But again, the optimism of youth sees past these facts that could be depressing and believes the program is in good hands and pointed in a positive direction.

“We have a great vision,” Noel said. “Me and Mike [Carter-Williams] are very close, we’ve known each other for years now, from high school playing with each other on the AAU circuit. “I think with me, Joel and Mike, that would be a great three-person core, and then it’s adding pieces that we need. I think Sam is going to make it all happen for us. We have a lot of faith in him and I think we’ll be fine.”

At least now the countdown is really on.

Wiggins handles rumors, pleased with effort

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Andrew Wiggins discusses his Summer League performance and the constant trade rumors

LAS VEGAS – No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins says he’s as much in the dark as just about everybody else when it comes to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ plans for him.

He says if he’s Minnesota-bound in a trade that would deliver discontented Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love to LeBron James, the team hasn’t informed him of his involvement in the talks.

“Nothing to me,” Wiggins said as he flashed a playful personality with a wide smile after taking the Cavs’ Friday night Summer League finale off following four promising performances in his debut as a professional. “I just know what you know. I just see what you see on TV. That’s about it.”

The 6-foot-8 swingman said he’s letting his “agent and support system” handle the off-court twists and turns while he focuses on preparing for his rookie season, wherever it may be.

“I just play basketball, man, wherever I go,” Wiggins said.

James’ intent seem clear. On Thursday, Yahoo! Sports reported that James has reached out to Love about forming a superstar pairing few ever in thought about before a week ago. The Timberwolves have stood pat that there’s no deal unless Wiggins is the centerpiece. Whether or not the Cavs are now prepared to make their top pick available seems to change with the wind.

There’s just no clear indication yet of the Cavs’ position. It was only a week ago that James announced his return to the Cavaliers. Later that night Wiggins made his first appearance in Cavs colors at Summer League. Since then, Wiggins has been the at the main attraction in Vegas and at the center of constant trade rumors.

As he sat on the bench early in Friday’s game, a section of the crowd at the Thomas & Mack Center stood and chanted: “We want Wig-gins!”

“It’s been crazy, but it’s all positive stuff,” Wiggins said. “With LeBron coming back, there’s nothing negative about that; the best player in the world coming to your team. The organization is on the rise right now.”

That could go with or without Wiggins, who said he would relish the chance play by James’ side.

“It would be great for me, just really learn and pick his brain and see what it takes to get to his level,” Wiggins said. “That would be good.”

In four summer games, Wiggins averaged 15.5 ppg and 3.5 rpg. He didn’t shoot well, just 17-for-42 from the floor, but his long, lanky frame was nearly impossible to keep out of the lane. He got to the free throw line 37 times, including shooting 20 in his 21-point effort Thursday night.

“I was looking at Wig’s performances, the guy was in double figures every game, he rebounded, he defended, he went to the foul line, he played with intensity at both ends of the court,” first-year Cavs coach David Blatt said. “I thought for a rookie, for a guy with a lot on his shoulders as the first pick in the draft, for a 19-year-old, I thought he played extremely well. We’re real happy with what he did.”

Wiggins, unsure of whether he’s coming or going, should be pleased with his performances both on the floor and off during an unusual, to say the least, welcome to the league.

“I played my heart out since I’ve been here,” Wiggins said. “I showed people how quickly my skill set has developed and transitioned to the NBA. How the NBA operates, just like more one-on-one stuff, creating space, I think that’s what I really feel I can do.”

Now he waits to find out where he’ll be doing it.

Stay tuned.

Mavs double-down: Sign a forward and fall for 5-foot-7 Japanese PG Togashi

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The diminutive Yuki Tagashi has become a fan favorite with the Mavs in Summer League

LAS VEGAS —  The Dallas Mavericks may have double-downed in Summer League, potentially finding a depth forward for the big club and possibly an international sensation to play point guard for their nearby D-League team.

It’s rare for any team out here to offer an off-the-street free agent a contract, but the Mavs signed athletic, 6-foot-8 forward Eric Griffin on Friday just hours before the Dallas squad played its final game. Griffin closed out his strong summer with 20 points, three rebounds and three blocks in the 88-62 win over the Suns.

“It’s been a long time coming, but it’s a blessing at the same time,” Griffin said of signing the contract. “I’m just real happy to be part of a team that wants me.”

Griffin, cut from the Miami Heat last year after they signed Michael Beasley, played two seasons at San Jose State and finished his collegiate career with two years at Campbell in North Carolina. He played in Italy and then Venezuela last season. The contract doesn’t mean Griffin’s made it to the big leagues just yet, but it does reserve him a spot at training camp where he can fight for a spot on the 15-man roster.

Mavs assistant coach Kaleb Canales, who coached the summer team to a 3-3 record, texted Griffin the news Friday morning.

“It brought a big smile to my face,” Griffin said. “But more than anything, my mom was happy. She knows where I came from and how I started. It’s a big day for me.”

The other half of this dreams-can-come-true Mavs summer is 5-foot-7 Japanese point guard Yuki Togashi. The 20-year-old’s combo of stature, speed, instincts and fearlessness instantly made him a fan favorite over the past week, although not quite to the level of another Mavs Summer League point guard sensation a few years ago, a guy named Jeremy Lin.

Of course Togashi’s size, quick-twitch style and terrific ability to run the pick-and-roll is more similar to yet another great Dallas Summer League find, the diminutive J.J. Barea. Now with Minnesota, the 5-foot-9 Barea developed into a steady, change-of-pace backup point guard for the Mavs and even started in the 2011 NBA Finals.

Togashi’s dream is to play in the NBA and said Friday that he will follow that dream and enter the D-League draft in the fall. His other option is to return to Japan’s pro league and take home a much bigger paycheck.

“I played professionally for a year-and-a-half in Japan. I think I did a good job in Japan,” said Togashi, who took the BJ-league by storm last season and led it in assists. “To improve my skills I think I have to go overseas and play in the D-League.”

The D-League draft has 10 rounds. The early rounds are dominated by players on the edge of being good enough to make an NBA roster. Togashi is projected as a late-round pick so it’s quite possible the Mavs’ D-League team, the Texas Legends, co-owned by Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, will be able to select him.

Togashi idolized Allen Iverson as a kid and says he now watches a lot of Chris Paul. Interestingly, Togashi came to the United States for high school and attended Montrose Christian in Maryland, where a number of NBA players went, including Kevin Durant. When no Division I scholarships came, Togashi took his talents back home and began his professional career.

His agent steered him to Charlie Parker, a longtime assistant coach with the Mavs, who now works for the Legends. Parker has been training Togashi in Dallas for the last six weeks. Parker called his friends with the Mavs and told them they should consider putting the point guard on their summer team.

Obviously a part of his instant popularity here was initially due to his against-all-odds size. When he takes the court, he looks like one of the smaller kids on a youth team at the YMCA swimming in his oversized uniform. Then he gets the ball in his hands and the oohs and ahhs suggest he’s much more than a sideshow attraction.

“It is tough,” Togashi said of his height and 143-pound frame. “But I use my speed to be able to make plays.”

Togashi will return to Japan on Saturday morning and join the national team for practices in preparation for a tournament in Taiwan. If all works out, U.S. basketball fans will get their next look at the little man in the D-League.

Griffin’s pursuit of his NBA dream begins now. The high-flyer averaged 11.4 ppg and 2.8 rpg in Vegas. A Mavs scout described Griffin as raw offensively and depending on his athleticism. But he runs the floor with energy, finishes above the rim and Dallas coaches believe he can develop a perimeter jumper essential to making it as player who can switch between the two forward positions.

“His activity on both ends just makes things happen,” Canales said.

Griffin heads home with a list of improvements to work on — starting with “my dribbling and keep shooting” — before heading to Dallas in a few months as training camp approaches.

“It’s definitely not over,” Griffin said. “I’ve got to prove myself now to the team and organization.”


VIDEO: Eric Griffin executes perhaps the dunk of the summer

Wiggins’ strange summer is no Love-in

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Andrew Wiggins scores 21 points in Cavs’ Summer League loss Thursday

LAS VEGAS – The best advice for Andrew Wiggins at this point is to rent. Don’t buy.

If the recently re-crowned King of Cleveland is calling Kevin Love, as Yahoo! Sports reported Thursday, then it can’t be too long before the Wiggins-for-Love swap goes down. LeBron James gets what LeBron James wants.

And poor Wiggins thought getting used to hoops life in Lawrence, Kan. was a rough transition.

But man, all this so fast has to be a bit crushing for the 19-year-old No. 1 pick. First the best player on the planet completely omits him in his epic “I’m Coming Home” essay in Sports Illustrated and is now dissing the kid with the hope of discarding him by personally reaching out to Minnesota’s discontented double-double machine.

This has to be one of the strangest Summer League experiences in the history of top draft choices. Last Friday, as Wiggins is preparing for his hyped pro debut in Las Vegas against Milwaukee and No. 2 pick Jabari Parker in front of an overflow crowd, he finds out with the rest of the world that James is returning to Cleveland. Wow, cool. Then the rest of the world reads along with Wiggins about how excited James is to play with Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and his favorite crazy-haired Brazilian Anderson Varejao. No mention of Wiggins. Whoa, not so cool. (Interestingly, James also didn’t list 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett as a member of his mentorship club either. Bennett would likely be included in a trade).

In the days between then and now, new coach David Blatt has told reporters Wiggins isn’t going anywhere while whispers come and go and come again that he is-he isn’t-he is available, and now LeBron’s talking to Kevin. To his credit, Wiggins, the one-and-done star out of Kansas via Canada, has handled it like a pro.

That the 6-foot-8 wing and projected phenom played against Houston on Thursday revealed that a trade is not imminent, not yet. The Rockets’ defenders had zero clue how to keep Wiggins from using his super-stretchy arms and legs to get from the top of the arc to the basket in only a few long strides with a ball fake or two mixed in.

Wiggins officially only attempted five shots, and made three, but secured 15 of his 21 points on 20 trips to the free throw line. He added five rebounds and another blocked shot, this one of the chase-down variety in the fourth quarter (he’s second in the Summer League in blocks per game and first among non-centers).

“You know what you got to like about a kid like that is it doesn’t make a difference if it’s the fourth game of Summer League and the fourth game in seven days or eight days, or if people are keying on him, or if the crowd has funny things to say to him,” Blatt said. “He just goes out there and really plays and has a nice calm about him and a real good demeanor. Andrew’s going to be a high-level player and it’s good to see it.”

The 6-foot-10 Love is a high-level player, a three-time All-Star, and he, James and Irving would make quite the offensive triple-threat. And that’s the crux of it all: Go for the gold right now with Love or patiently wait — hope — for the kid to get great. We know what LeBron wants.

With the rumors swirling, the Cavaliers aren’t exactly thrilled to have their new coach and top pick inundated by trade questions during what should be breezy Summer League postgame interview sessions.

After Thursday’s game, Cavs officials quickly whisked Wiggins off to an ESPN photo shoot and then immediately to a sit-down autograph session for trading card behemoth Panini in the concourse of the Thomas & Mack Center. Fans stood in a line that snaked around the corner and out of site.

From there, Wiggins was in the custody of his agent and was not made available to wax about his 15 free throws and 21 points or to talk ice fishing.

The second question posed to Blatt asked if the persistent trade rumors are a distraction for Wiggins. After all, a No. 1 pick is typically immune to the business side of sport for at least a couple years, not a couple minutes. If a top pick is traded it almost always occurs on Draft night, a deal having been worked out in advance. A Cleveland official monitoring the outwardly personable Blatt’s interview session quickly stepped in to deflect the question, but Blatt, just as quickly, said he could answer it.

“I can answer that just because rumors are rumors, that’s why they call them rumors,” Blatt said. “And sooner or later in one’s career, you’re going to have to deal with it. So if you have to deal with now, so be it. It’s Summer League, he’s learning everything as he goes along.”

Not exactly a comment to inspire confidence on a down payment. If the Cavaliers decide to move Wiggins in a deal for Love, the Timberwolves will jump for joy and jump on it fast, before Cleveland has time to rethink it. But watching Wiggins in Summer League should have the Cavs proceeding with caution. His size and ability are apparent to the most casual observer. He hasn’t shot the ball particularly well, but he’s showing he can use his length and quickness to be a very good two-way player, and soon.

And wouldn’t James love a young set of legs to chase the other team’s best player on a nightly basis? Wiggins could become James’ pre-knee problems Dwyane Wade, a slashing, offensive force and a defensive partner capable of hyper-trapping the perimeter and busting it the other way.

LeBron, fast approaching 30 and now taking his contract year-by-year — apparently to maximize his annual take as the salary cap is estimated to increase each year, and not as an escape — clearly doesn’t feel he’s got time to wait.

The ball’s in Cleveland’s court, and that’s got to be a tough thing for the No. 1 pick who has come to find out he isn’t fit for a King — at least not at this juncture of his reign.

“No, no, I don’t talk to him about any of that stuff because, for me, it doesn’t mean anything,” Blatt said. “At least not right now.”

Casey, Raptors want to ride continuity

 

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Dwane Casey will be looking to build on last season’s 48-win campaign. (NBAE via Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS – Back in December it hardly seemed possible that Dwane Casey would be standing here at Summer League with a smile on his face and his lightweight button-down shirt casually untucked, and most of all still as the coach of the Toronto Raptors.

This misbegotten big-market franchise with the redundant roster was floundering again, off to a 7-12 start, and the well-liked, but lame-duck Casey looked to be running out the clock on his three-year contract.

Then, on Dec. 8, new general manager Masai Ujiri, having built a reputation as a next-generation whiz, made the deal to send Rudy Gay and his massive contract to Sacramento for depth help in point guard Greivis Vasquez and forwards John Salmons, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes. Around the same time, Knicks president James Dolan vetoed a trade that would have landed Raptors starting point guard Kyle Lowry in New York.

Suddenly, a feeling of stability overtook the team. They looked around, looked at themselves and liked what they saw. And everything changed.

“After the trade happened, I thought it brought our team together — camaraderie,” said Casey, who signed a three-year contract extension in May. “They made the decision that we were not going to be a lottery team — I think that’s what everybody expected — and we kept teaching them the principles of what we wanted to be doing and it just came together.

This wasn’t a referendum on Gay, who went to have a surprisingly efficient offensive season with the Kings. Gay and DeRozan are friends off the court, but ill-fitting parts on it, and as the parts fit better and the floor opened up, the Raptors’ offense, also buoyed by Lowry’s uprising, took off.

“It was a fit,” Casey said. “A lot of times you have talent and it doesn’t fit. DeMar and Rudy were similar and Terrence Ross is sitting there, he’s similar, so once you took all the pieces out it opened up things and we went from 29th, I think, in the league in assists to 16th or 17th. That really changed things for us. It helped us tremendously.”

On Dec. 8, the Raptors ranked 30th in assists and 28th in offensive efficiency (101.4 points per 100 possessions). From Dec. 9 to the end of the season, they ranked 13th in assists and ninth in offensive efficiency (107.2). They went 41-22 after the Gay trade and played a rousing seven-game series in front of madhouse crowds, plus gatherings of 10,000 fans in Maple Leaf Square. It was truly one of the great scenes of the postseason.

And it was enough to convince Lowry to stay put, making him the rare Raptor to re-up when he had a chance to leave. He signed a four-year deal worth $48 million. Free agents Patterson and Vasquez also re-signed. Amir Johnson, Landry Fields, Jonas Valanciunas, Ross, Hayes and Tyler Hansbrough are all back, giving the Raptors a real sense of continuity in roster and process.

Toronto also traded Salmons to Atlanta for guard Lou Williams and intriguing developmental center Lucas Nogueria, and signed long, athletic wing James Johnson, who is coming off something of a breakout season with Memphis.

“I don’t know if [Lowry] is the first player to be a free agent to re-sign that had an opportunity to leave, so that says something about what we’re trying to do, where we are, trying to build,” Casey said. “For the first time in his career he was able to say, ‘this is a team that I’m one of the leaders of,’ and for him to come back, it does make a statement of where we are in our growth process and the kind of program we have, and kind of opened some eyes to what kind of city Toronto is.

“The continuity is huge,” Casey said. “You can just see it turning, guys are getting comfortable with the defensive system, the offensive system. We can be top 10 in both offense and defense. Now we just have to continue to do that.”

The Raptors could get some votes as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference when the preseason predictions start to hit the newsstands. LeBron James’ return to Cleveland has shaken up a conference that might boast a favorite in Chicago, but mostly has a handful of what should be entertaining squads, including Toronto, Cleveland, Washington, Indiana and perhaps Brooklyn and still Miami.

“There’s opportunity for somebody to step up, it’s so balanced right now from top to bottom,” Casey said of the conference. “It gives us an opportunity to move up and take another step.”

Back in December, that hardly seemed possible.

Hawks’ Schroder has eye on big stage


VIDEO: Dennis Schroder leads all scorers as the Hawks take down the Warriors

LAS VEGAS – Dennis Schroder knew he was up against the clock.

“I watched until the 70-minute mark, then I went to the game,” the Atlanta Hawks’ 2013 first-round pick said.

He was in Las Vegas with the Hawks’ Summer League team and they had a game Sunday evening, taking him away from watching his countrymen in the FIFA World Cup final against Argentina.

“We watched it in the locker room a little bit,” said Schroder, who grew up playing soccer before he took up basketball. The Hawks, though, had to take the floor before the match got to the 113th minute, when Mario Goetze scored to give Germany the 1-0 lead and the championship.

“It’s always good when our nation wins a world championship or a European championship,” Schroder said.

The 20-year-old won’t get the chance to compete on the world stage later this summer as a full-fledged member of the German national team. The Germans did not qualify for the FIBA World Cup (which until now has been called simply the world championships) in Spain.

The Germans weren’t helped by the fact Dirk Nowitzki has not played for the national team since 2011 in the European championships when Germany failed to qualify for the 2012 Olympics.

Schroder, the first native German drafted in the first round since Nowitzki went No. 9 in 1998, will play for Germany in the 2015 European championships with hopes of getting his country back to the Olympics for the first time since Nowitzki led them to the 2008 Beijing Games. Schroder has hinted in recent interviews that Nowitzki could decide to play once again in an effort to get the country to Brazil in 2016.

But before all of that, the 6-foot-2 point guard is focused on his NBA career and carving out a consistent spot in second-year coach Mike Budenholzer‘s rotation. Schroder played in 49 games last season and went through long stretches of watching from the bench.

The level of competition, Schroder said, was an intense eye-opener after playing two years professional in his home country where at times he could put in cruise control, yet still be the best player on the floor.

“You have to compete every night and I think that was the biggest adjustment for me is to compete every night against the best point guards in the world,” Schroder said. “That was the toughest thing to do.”

There is opportunity for Schroder behind starting point guard Jeff Teague. The Hawks traded Lou Williams to Toronto, leaving Shelvin Mack, as his prime competition.

Schroder is a quick penetrator and a primarily pass-first point guard whose shooting need works. He can be flashy and breathtaking with a first step that darts him toward the basket. His lightning-quick first step might be the reason he showed up to Vegas with a gold stripe running through the front of his hair.

“It’s me,” Schroder said of the stripe. “Everybody knows it’s me.”

The goal is for everybody to know who he is by his play on the floor. So far in Las Vegas, he has delivered both up and down performances. He put up a highlight-reel effort with 30 points on 9-for-14 shooting, including 3-for-4 from 3-point range and 9-for-10 from the free throw line in Sunday’s double-overtime loss. However, he also had eight turnovers in 32 minutes against a team made up exclusively of D-League players.

Through three games Schroder’s averaging 18.0 ppg and 3.3 apg. He’s shooting 44.7 percent (17-for-38), which is an improvement over his 38.3 percent last season (23.8 percent from 3). The No. 17 overall draft pick last summer is a skilled and confident player, but he also knows there is work to be done before he reports to training camp in October looking to play a much more significant role for the Hawks.

“What I’m working on is leading a team, talking to them, and try to focus on my shot a little, 3s and 2s, but the biggest thing is lead the team,” Schroder said. “I don’t worry about it [his role next season]. I worry about practicing hard and try to do the  things that I can control.”

Dirk’s pay cut has Mavs back in race


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs agree on a new three-year contract

LAS VEGAS – To put into perspective the magnitude of Dirk Nowitzki‘s pay cut, consider this: He’ll make in the next three seasons what Kobe Bryant is charging the Lakers for just next season.

It’s a big reason why the Dallas Mavericks could be back in the conversation as a top-four contender in the Western Conference while the talent-depleted Los Angeles Lakers are more likely to miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season. That hasn’t happened since 1976.

Bryant signed a two-year, $48.5 million extension last year. Nowitzki signed an exceedingly below-market-value deal of three years and $25 million earlier this week. The total is even less than than the three years and $30 million he was initially believed to be signing.

When the Mavs convene for training camp in October, the league’s all-time 10th-leading scorer and the franchise’s leading scorer in every season since 2000, will be Dallas’ fourth-highest paid player.

“It’s just the kind of human being he is. He’s all about winning; he’s all about championships,” Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said Wednesday as he watched Dallas’ Summer League team take on Charlotte. “He’s one of the most selfless superstars that have ever played in the NBA, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to bring another parade to Dallas.

“He understood that we needed flexibility in order to get the team better. He’s part of the tapestry of the city of Dallas. He’s really a made man in a lot respects if you think about all the superstars that have come through in all the sports, in terms of basketball it doesn’t get any better than Dirk. He just made a decision to end his career there. Hopefully we can tag another contract on to that.”

By agreeing to go from making $22.7 million last season to $7.97 million this season, Nowitzki provided the Mavs front office with the financial ammunition to deliver a three-year, $46-million offer sheet to Rockets restricted free agent small forward Chandler Parsons.

“The one consistent from Day 1 is Dirk,” Nelson said. “We’re not in position this summer to be as active as we are without him taking a fairly major pay cut and being a team player.”

Houston eventually did not match the contract and the Mavs acquired much-needed youth and talent in the 25-year-old Chandler. He joins a front line that includes Nowitzki and also 7-foot-1 center Tyson Chandler, whom the Mavs acquired in a trade before the start of free agency.

Chandler, on the final year of a four-year, $60 million deal he signed with the Knicks following Dallas’ 2011 championship, will be the Mavs’ highest-paid player at $14.8 million. Parsons is right behind him at $14.7 million. Shooting guard Monta Ellis will make $8.36 million.

To bring this back to the Lakers, power forward Jordan Hill will make $1 million more than Nowitzki next season.

In each of the last three summers, Dallas has tried to lure a max free agent to pair with Nowitzki in his final seasons and then to take the mantle once the big German finally calls it a career. That plan hasn’t worked out and since winning the title in 2011, owner Mark Cuban has continually flipped the roster. They were bounced in the first round of their title defense, missed the playoffs in 2012-13 and then won 49 games last season and took the Spurs to seven games in the first round.

The organization talked of continuity, but when the chance arose to reclaim Chandler from the Knicks, they sent starters Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert to New York. Dallas lost Vince Carter to Memphis and appears on the verge of losing veteran small forward Shawn Marion, the last player left along with Nowitzki from the title team. Point guard Raymond Felton came to Dallas in the Chandler trade and will tag team with Devin Harris.

Dallas also signed veteran Richard Jefferson and depth center Greg Smith, and it still has a $2.73 million exception and a minimum salary slot to fill. The Mavs didn’t get the big fish again, but with the help of their longtime superstar taking not only a haircut, but a buzzcut, they’ve remade the roster yet again, and this time might have pulled themselves back into contention.

“It’s always been that way,” Nelson said. “Dirk is part of the Mavs family, and he and Mark have had a special, unique, honest and forthcoming relationship since Mark has owned the team. He’s probably the biggest reasons we’ve had 15 years of great chemistry in the locker room. We haven’t been without our speed bumps, but for the most part we’ve had a really good team atmosphere and it starts from the top with Dirk in the locker room, Mark from a franchise perspective and you have the best coach in the game in Rick Carlisle.”