Posts Tagged ‘Lang Whitaker’

Blogtable: USA’s backup center

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: Risk/reward and the USA | Indy’s dilemma | Pick a center


> Now you’re Mike Krzyzewski. You have to pick a backup center for Team USA. DeMarcus Cousins, Mason Plumlee or Andre Drummond? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If I’m Coach K, I find myself with a last name that gets misspelled and mispronounced more often than “Aschburner.” Wait, what? Oh, I take Cousins. And it doesn’t even have anything to do with the style of international basketball or World Championship glory. I take Cousins because he could benefit the most from the ultimate-team experience, maturing perhaps into a better NBA citizen and teammate. It’s the least Team USA can do for all that lavish talent at its disposal, a give-back — if “Boogie” were to pay attention and embrace the lesson — that would help the player, his team and the league.

DeMarcus Cousins (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

DeMarcus Cousins (Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: DeMarcus Cousins. Just on all-around skills and innate talent. Cousins is a superstar waiting to break out and this experience could and should be the challenge that keeps him focused and brings out the best in him. If that happens, he’s got the greatest upside for now and for looking ahead to 2016 in Rio.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I’m pretty sure Andre Drummond is going to get the nod from my colleagues, but I’m picking DeMarcus Cousins as sort of the feel-good story with the most upside. We all know Cousins has tremendous talent. If Western Conference coaches didn’t view him as an immature malcontent he might have been an All-Star last season. So maybe Team USA, and with another year of age, is what makes it all click-in for Cousins. It certainly can’t hurt (I don’t think). And if it doesn’t happen, Colangelo and Coach K can reset next summer in preparation for Brazil in 2016.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Probably Plumlee. Team USA would have wanted to maximize its athletic advantage anyway, but the shortage of bigs increases the need to play fast. Plumlee is best suited for the end-to-end game. The other two have obvious appeals, though. Cousins’ range and passing ability is a great fit for a big in the international game, and Drummond as a rim protector and physical center would be a nice option for Mike Krzysewski against teams with size (Spain, Brazil). Plus, the lineup around Drummond would make up for his lack of offense. Meanwhile, the question of Cousins and his attitude must be factored in, except that we don’t really know how he has been behind closed doors.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comAndre Drummond would be my pick. The U.S. is going to need added size and someone capable of not only protecting the rim but also serving as a bruiser around the basket on offense. Cousins is a more polished offensive performer right now but Drummond gets up and down the floor a little better and doesn’t necessarily need the ball in his hands to make an impact. Coach K needs someone he trusts to fill that role, which is why Plumlee is still in the mix. But when I hear Jerry Colangelo talk about picking the best team and not the best players, it lets me know that anything is possible when it comes to cutting the roster down.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: First of all, I’m waiting until after the next three exhibition games — against Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico — so that I can see these guys in some close-to-real FIBA action. And I’d limit Anthony Davis‘ minutes in next Saturday’s game against Brazil, which could tell us a lot about the Cousins-Plumlee debate. If I had to make a decision now though, I’d go with Cousins, who showed enough in last week’s Showcase for me to take talent over fit in this discussion. He still has some work to do to secure that spot and nobody has a bigger spotlight on him in these next couple of weeks, but the talent discrepancy could ultimately be too tough to ignore.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI take none of them. Cousins needs the ball to be effective, Plumlee doesn’t stand out in any one facet, and Drummond is such a terrible free throw shooter that he’s too much of a liability. So I take none of them and instead keep Kyle Korver. Then if Anthony Davis gets into foul trouble, I go super small and put Kevin Durant at the 5 and try to trade 3 for 2s. And considering the USA is in the weaker bracket, you might only need a true backup center in the Finals against Spain and their monster Pau Gasol/Marc Gasol/Serge Ibaka front line. I’m not sure it’s worth using a roster spot on a guy you might not even have to use.

Ole Frerks, NBA Deutschland: This is a difficult choice. Cousins is the best jump-shooter of the trio, which is important for international basketball, but he also lacks lateral quickness in defending the pick and roll, which is equally essential. Drummond is a more frightening presence at the rim and a beast on the boards, but his poor free throw shooting could hurt the team in late-game situations. Plumlee has the same problem and also lacks experience. Personally, I’d go with Boogie and hope he hustles enough on defense. He has the best skillset for international basketball and should profit from the other guys like Durant or Rose, who should be able to teach him a thing or two about how to carry himself as the highest level.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I understand Mason Plumlee probably fits better with Team USA’s fast-paced style, but I would go for DeMarcus Cousins. There is no substitute for talent and Cousins has shown that with the right environment, he can make a huge impact. Cousins finished fourth in Player Impact Estimate (PIE) rankings for 2013-14, just behind the likes of Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Kevin Love. Also, Cousins still hasn’t hit his ceiling in the league. There is a huge upswing that can be leveraged for the future by giving Cousins the experience of playing with Team USA now.

Blogtable: The price of patriotism

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: Risk/reward and the USA | Indy’s dilemma | Pick a center


> Paul George’s injury and playing for the USA: Is whatever risk involved worth whatever payoff for the NBA and its fans?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: In a better world for NBA owners, their players would compete for Team USA only when they’re free agents. In a better world for the players, they would participate only when they’re protected with a full-length, maximum salary contract (like George). So that dilemma remains. Meanwhile, forget about any “perfect” world — even going with a 22-and-under format would seem exploitative, exposing players to risk while they’re on their rookie deals, possibly jeopardizing future earning power. I don’t think the risk for either side is worth it — growing the game globally is good for business but filling the stands in Indianapolis 41 times plus playoffs is, too. As for fans, it’s a no-brainer: Give up a few weeks of diversion in alternating summers for greater peace of mind about the guys you enjoy for seven to nine months every year. Bring on the bubble wrap!

ABOVE: Paul George in his Vegas hospital room with boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: You’re not playing for the NBA, but for the United States. I’m not going to set a level of patriotism that anyone else must meet. It is up to the individual. But I don’t see any difference in the Pacers losing Paul George now from the Bulls losing Derrick Rose in the first weeks of the season or Blake Griffin being injured during a preseason game. Injuries happen. They are accidents.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I’ve had mixed emotions about this for a long time. Yes, I want NBA players to be able to participate. The players have really exhibited genuine exuberance about playing for USA Basketball since Jerry Colangelo’s and Coach K’s sea-change, and the experience can only broaden their horizons as Americans. The players’ involvement is worth it for the NBA, but not so much for its teams when a star player is injured — and at this level it’s always a star player. Even if rules were put in place to where, say, NBA teams were paid for the use of their “borrowed” players, it wouldn’t solve the problem of that team missing a star player during the season.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comDefinitely not for the fans. Most would rather see their team win the first game of the first round of the playoffs instead of the gold medal in the World Cup, and the same probably goes with the Olympics. And it’s obviously not worth it for the teams on the court; Mark Cuban nails it. But it is worth it to the NBA in other ways. Who knows how many future players came/will come to the game because they watched NBA players against their country or maybe even in their country. At the bottom line, the game is better because Team USA is sending stars.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: In the name of Magic, Michael, Charles and Larry and the rest of the Dream Team, I have to say it’s worth the risk. As long as your favorite player comes home healthy, it’s absolutely the right thing to do, representing your country in international competition. The risk of serious injury has certainly been there forever, since the Dream Team. The reality of it didn’t hit home until last Friday night in Las Vegas, when in a flash we finally put a face on that risk. I do understand where Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is coming from, as far as the amount NBA teams invest in their superstars and having to incur all of the risk only to see the IOC and FIBA reap a ton of the benefits during competition summers. But you just cannot ask someone to turn their back on the flag, not in this instance and not ever.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: That’s one serious injury in 23 years of NBA players suiting up for the U.S. National Team. (Pau Gasol missed 22 games after breaking his foot with Spain in 2006.) If basketball players don’t play basketball in the summer, they’re not going to be very good basketball players. The Olympics and World Cup are the highest level of hoops we’ll see in the offseason, and those experiences have often been springboards for big years in the league. So, yeah, before you even get into marketing and the growth of the game, the risk is worth the rewards, though I do agree with Mark Cuban that the league should have a more tangible piece of the pie if it’s supplying the best players in these tournaments.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I get the outcry over George’s injury — he’s one of the best players in the NBA and somebody who is impossible to replace. But I don’t understand all the questions about the basket stanchion at UNLV being a few inches shorter form the baseline than usual. Nobody had a serious injury playing on the same basket at summer league, right? The hard truth that nobody wants to accept is that injuries are going to happen. Sometimes during the NBA season, sometimes off the court. When Kevin Love broke his hand doing push-ups, I don’t recall anyone suggesting a ban on push-ups. If you can’t risk the injury, don’t play. But I think the majority of guys will still want to play high-level competition while representing their country and be willing to take that risk.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 170) featuring John Schuhmann

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Time to make some cuts … or roster selections as they say in the world of USA Basketball, where NBA All-Stars go to get humbled.

Not everyone is going to make the traveling roster for the World Cup in Spain later this month. Guys like Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, James Harden, Paul George and Anthony Davis are virtual locks to make it to Spain.

But there are still some questions to be answered for other guys who are a part of the master group but might not fit on the competitive roster for this particular position. All-Star talents like Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Damian Lillard, DeMarcus Cousins and others are fighting until the very end for their respective places on the team.

It’s a good thing USA Basketball honchos Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski have the responsibility of making the hard choices. But if they need any assistance, they can listen to Episode 170 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring John Schuhmann. NBA.com’s stat master and international basketball maven has been on the ground in Las Vegas since the start of training camp. He’s crunched the numbers and watched the workouts. He’s got his own ideas, backed up by his meticulously gathered data, about who should make the final cut.

So do we, of course (in addition to our views on the latest surrounding LeBron James, Kevin Love, Andrew Wiggins, Pat Riley and more).

Tune into Episode 170 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring John Schuhmann to find out all about it:

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 169) Vegas Redux


VIDEO: The Hang Time Podcast crew live from Las Vegas

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We made it!

The Samsung NBA Summer League (where the Hang Time Podcast crew was on the NBA TV and NBA.com broadcast microphones for three games) survived Las Vegas and all that comes with it, including After Dark with Rick Fox.

The non-stop hoops was insane, as always.

So were the hours, work related mostly, were crazy.

The things we learned from conversations with players, coaches, executives and the other various movers and shakers in the basketball world that were in Vegas certainly do not have to stay in Vegas.

And that’s where Episode 169 of The Hang Time Podcast … Vegas Redux, fits into the picture.

Yes, we’re still waiting on the Kevin Love situation to work itself out (will or won’t he suit up alongside LeBron James in a Cleveland Cavaliers uniform? Or will that job belong to Andrew Wiggins?) … and yes, Kobe Bryant is still waiting on the Los Angeles Lakers to hire a coach. But almost everything else we needed to have completed by the end of Summer League is done.

Like I said, we made it!

Tune into Episode 169 of the Hang Time Podcast … Vegas Redux to finish it all off right:

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Blogtable: Summer’s most intriguing team

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: Glen Rice Jr. impressed for the Wizards at Summer League

> You’ve seen the Draft. You’ve seen some Summer League. Outside of the Cavs, what team most intrigues you now? Why’s that?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’m intrigued by Charlotte, with its addition of Lance Stephenson, along with pick-up Marvin Williams. There’s talent there, especially if Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh can rev up their frontline contributions, and it’s possible the Hornets push for a top-4 spot in the East playoffs. Steve Clifford should be able to prevent them from becoming The Lance Show (in the event Stephenson decides to start playing for his next contract right away). And let’s face it, if an NBA team can’t find a way to move on from the loss of Josh McRoberts, well, then Charlotte becomes watchable in an odd, case-study sort of way.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: In the East, and thank the basketball gods for this, there’s actually several teams of intrigue. Toronto kept its momentum going by re-signing so many of its own starting with Kyle Lowry. Washington is on the come and adding a big-brother figure in Paul Pierce should be great for John Wall and Bradley Beal. And, of course, Chicago with Pau Gasol in the mix and Derrick Rose coming back should be great fun to watch (yes, and post-LeBron Miami). In the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder are my choice. They missed out on Gasol, who would have been an absolute game-changer for that squad, and instead only came away with Sebastian Telfair, an end-of-bench addition, and Anthony Morrow, a 3-point specialist who could fit in quite well. I’m really curious to see how Russell Westbrook‘s game continues to evolve after his powerful postseason, how Kevin Durant comes off his first MVP season (but a bit of an individually disappointing postseason) and if Scott Brooks can add some new wrinkles to one of the most efficient (yet also most criticized) offenses over the last several years. If healthy the last two postseasons, this conversation could be totally different.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThe Washington Wizards, mostly because they have put together a quality offseason and have a clear path up the Eastern Conference food chain now that the entire field has been thinned out by LeBron’s departure for Cleveland. The Wizards will have an ideal blend of youthful energy and athleticism to go along with a seasoned supporting cast capable of pushing this team over the top a year after making that surprise run to the Eastern Conference semifinals. For whatever was lost in free agency (Trevor Ariza and Trevor Booker), the Wizards more than made up for it by keeping Marcin Gortat and adding Paul Pierce, Kris Humphries and DeJaun Blair. Toss in a ready-to-go Otto Porter Jr. and the Samsung Summer League MVP Glen Rice Jr., and the Wizards have every reason to believe that John Wall and Bradley Beal have a legitimate shot to lead this crew to the top of the Southeast Division and perhaps beyond.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Wizards have a chance to be one of the top two or three teams in the East. John Wall and Bradley Beal are getting better every season and could be the clear No. 1 backcourt in the conference by the start of 2015. Marcin Gortat has great pick-and-roll chemistry with Wall, Paul Pierce brings another element to the offense, and they have a ton of depth on their frontline. The only question is if they can maintain a top-10 defense with Pierce (who’s a better defender at the four than the three) replacing Trevor Ariza.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Washington. They kept Gortat, they did not overpay for Ariza, and then they managed to add Paul Pierce to that mix. Plus, after watching them in Summer League, it seemed clear that Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr (who was terrific in Vegas) are ready to add perimeter depth off the bench and give them the athleticism that Pierce lacks. Is Randy Wittman the right guy to take them to the next level? To me that’s the bigger question. But after a second-round run last season, all the pieces are in place for the Wiz to continue to grow what they’ve already started.

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.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You look pretty tough to me, I said.

“OK! It means it’s working out.”

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

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

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

Payne works to adjust to the NBA game


VIDEO: Adreian Payne gets high for the flush on the break

LAS VEGAS — When Adreian Payne was 15 years old, he realized he needed a summer job. He was, after all, a teenager, and Payne heard the same siren song of commerce that appeals to adolescents everywhere.

“I wanted to be able to buy myself something,” Payne recalls. “I wanted to go to the mall with my friends and stuff like that.”

And so Payne, who grew up in Dayton, Ohio, went out and got a job. As a janitor at his own middle school.

To Payne, it was a great gig.

“I swept, took gum off of the desks, mopped. It wasn’t bad, because I knew everybody there at my school, and it was the summer so there wasn’t anybody there. But I knew the janitor, I knew the lunch lady, all the staff. It was kind of fun. Being young I played around sometimes, but it was fun.”

Once he saved up enough money, Payne went to the mall and bought a pair of shoes. These days, as the recent first round pick of the Atlanta Hawks, with the requisite rookie scale contract, Payne’s shopping horizons have broadened a bit: “I’m looking for an apartment right now, actually. That will probably be the next thing I get.”

Payne spent the past week in Las Vegas with the Atlanta Hawks at the Samsung NBA Summer League exhibiting the drive and skill that made the Hawks interested in him to begin with. As a four-year player for coach Tom Izzo at Michigan State, the 6-foot-10 Payne developed into a deft outside shooter, knocking down 3-pointers at a 42 percent rate as a senior. That combination of size and shooting ability should fit perfectly into the spread-and-shoot system the Hawks implemented last season under first-year head coach Mike Budenholzer.

“Being able to shoot the ball can translate to anything, any level,” Adreian said. “But [the NBA game is] a lot different, the speed of the game, and the players are more athletic. So it’s just a matter of you just getting more comfortable out there, trying to find the pace of the game so your shots still come and you’re in rhythm, still. So I’m just trying to get my shot off quicker but not in a rush. But just quicker, more efficient, less movement.”

Payne helped lead the Hawks’ summer squad to a 2-3 record in the round-robin format, and played 28 minutes today in the Hawks’ 78-71 elimination round loss to the Houston Rockets. Payne finished with 11 points but struggled from the field, finishing 4-for-15, including 1-8 on three pointers.

“They were telling me to get my shots, try to slow myself down, run the offense and let them come. They was coming, they just wasn’t falling,” Payne said with a laugh.

Hawks assistant coach Darvin Ham coached the Hawks summer league squad, and saw plenty to like from Payne.

“It’s one of those situations where you always love the fact you have to tell a guy to slow down as opposed to pick it up. He just needs to know how to be quick but not in a hurry,” said Ham. And then, to emphasize the point, he repeated it quickly and in a hurry: “Quick but not in a hurry.

“He gets going and he’s going full speed and that’s normal for guys coming out of college,” Ham said. “They want to do everything a thousand percent, at a hundred miles an hour, and you can’t fault him for that. He’s from a heckuva program and Coach Iz[zo] did a great job with him. We’re just going to try to refine him a little bit and teach him how to play with a change of pace, so to speak.”

Coming into today’s loss, Payne averaged 12.8 ppg on 40 percent shooting from the field in Atlanta’s five previous games. Ham said the Hawks know he can get his shot going.

“His shooting element is there,” said Ham, “the defensive element is there, making athletic plays, we just gotta get him to stop fouling so much.”

Is that easier said than done with rookies?

“Oh, absolutely,” Ham continued. “Because in college, they actually play a lot more physical than we do in the NBA. At the NBA level, the big key is not to impede progress, so referees are a little more ticky-tacky with how they call fouls as opposed to in the college game, where you can get into guys and put your forearm into ‘em when they face up and all of that. So it’ll take some time, but he’s a smart kid, a smart player, he’ll make the proper adjustments.”

One adjustment Payne has made thus far has been trying to add shotblocking to his defensive repertoire, something he says he wasn’t able to display at Michigan State.

“[Coach Izzo] wanted me to stay on the floor — I was getting in foul trouble. So the rules here are a lot different than they are in college — you have verticality here, in college you don’t. So it’s a lot different.”

Accordingly, another part of Payne’s adjustment has been studying tape of the NBA game to increase his familiarity with the league. While at Michigan State, he said, NBA games weren’t often on his TV — “I watched a lot of college games.” Video games were no help either — “I suck at 2K.”

“I’ve been watching a lot more NBA now, and I love watching it,” Payne said. “Now that I’m here in the league I’ve been watching a lot more film, been watching film with Coach Ham, and just trying to get better.”


VIDEO: Adreian Payne gets the stiff rejection against the Rockets