Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles Lakers’

Blogtable: Favorite Kobe moment?

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: Favorite Kobe moment? | Should Kobe do Rio? | Greatest Kobe feat? | Greatest Laker ever?

VIDEOKobe Bryant’s career top 10 plays

Kobe Bryant turns 37 Sunday and is heading into what could be his final NBA season.  What is your all-time favorite Kobe moment?

Steve Aschburner,“Favorite” unshackles this from any requirement that it be an “important” moment, so Bryant’s 81-point performance against Toronto on Jan. 22, 2006 would seem an easy choice. But I’d be lying because I didn’t see that game – I was covering the big clash that day between mediocre Philadelphia and middling Minnesota that Andre Iguodala won at the buzzer in Minneapolis. I only could watch highlights of Kobe’s explosion the next morning, and watching a succession of scoring plays in replay captures none of the excitement they pack live. So I’m split between Bill Russell handing Bryant his first Finals MVP trophy in 2009 and the precocious 1998 Bryant waving off Karl Malone from an attempted pick-and-roll in the All-Star Game so he could square up against Michael Jordan.

VIDEO: Kobe Bryant accepts the 2009 Finals MVP trophy

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comWhile it’s tempting and certainly valid to say Kobe scoring 81 on the Raptors, I’m going with Aug. 24, 2008. That’s the night at the Beijing Olympics when Kobe and Dwyane Wade led the USA Redeem Team to the gold medal. Bryant was a hungry, fierce, driven leader all through the campaign to put the U.S. back on top of the basketball world and he hit big buckets down the stretch to seal the gold medal. I was in the building and the feeling of accomplishment was palpable and probably as satisfying to Kobe as any of his five NBA titles.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comPicking 10 favorites would be hard enough, let alone a single all-timer, and this is No. 1 for the moment because there will be more candidates to come. But if I have to choose one, let’s go with April 12, 1997, at Utah. (So many historic Laker moments intersected with Salt Lake City and the Jazz.) A rookie Kobe Bryant air-balled four shots late in the fourth quarter and into overtime of Game 5 of the West semifinals of the playoffs. Those misses, one brick after another, clinched the Lakers’ 98-93 OT loss as Utah won the series 4-1. And he was unfazed. Bryant did not flinch, not when he got the ball as the bad misses piled up and not in the visitor’s locker room afterward as he faced the media scrutiny. It may not have been the indication of what was to come on the court, but that was the clear preview of the future of the Black Mamba personality. He would back down from nothing and nobody.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comThis isn’t the 81 points or a playoff moment or a Finals moment. But on the final regular-season game in 2003-04 (against the Portland Trail Blazers), Kobe made a pair of hellacious buzzer-beating 3-pointers that defy logic (they’re plays No. 2 and No. 1 here). The first happened at the end of regulation at the top of the key with Ruben Patterson (the Kobe Stopper) painted all over him. The second was at the end of the second overtime, when Kobe took an inbounds pass with one second left and turned almost completely around and splashed. He ran off the court and was hugged by Shaq, the last time that happened.

VIDEO: Relive Kobe Bryant’s best plays from the 2003-04 season

John Schuhmann, Bryant didn’t play great for most of the 2008 Olympics. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade did the heavy lifting for the U.S. through the first 7 1/2 games in Beijing, with Bryant often showing some frustration with his shooting struggles. But when things were tight down the stretch of the gold medal game against Spain, he hit the two biggest shots for the Americans, including the four-point play that essentially put them on the top of the medal stand. Considering the stakes, that was maybe the best game I’ve seen in person, and Bryant backed up his rep as the best closer in the game.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThere are so many it’s hard to choose just one. But the 2003 All-Star Game at Philips Arena comes to mind because it illustrated to me what sort of a cut-throat competitor Kobe really was. It was supposed to be a celebratory send off for Michael Jordan, his final All-Star Game appearance and a chance to all of the current stars to bow down one last time to the G.O.A.T. Vince Carter gave up his spot in the Eastern Conference starting lineup and East coach Isiah Thomas had instructed his guys to show MJ the respect he deserved. Kobe, of course, ignored the memo. He wasn’t having it. He went at MJ like it was Game 7 of The Finals and didn’t let up, including knocking down two free throws to tie the game and send it into double-overtime (after Jordan had hit what could have been the game-winner for the East with 4.8 seconds to play). The Western Conference won by 10 in double overtime with Kevin Garnett winning MVP honors. Kobe could have missed one of those free throws on purpose or even decided against pulling up for the potential game-winning 3-pointer (he was fouled by Jermaine O’Neal with a second to play) and let me MJ have the storybook ending. But it’s just not who he was or is … it’s not in his blood.

VIDEO: Kobe vs. MJ in the 2003 All-Star Game

Ian Thomsen, In his second season, in 1998, Sports Illustrated sent me to Los Angeles to report what would be Kobe’s first cover story. He picked me up in a new SUV and we went to an outdoor patio restaurant for an interview that went on for hours. A woman sitting next to us asked if he played for the Lakers: He introduced himself, and she said she would be following his career. Much has changed since then, but not his confidence: That night at age 19 he was predicting basically everything he would go onto accomplish in basketball.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogI was there at Madison Square Garden in 2009 when the Lakers came to town. It was an early February game, with the All-Star break a few weeks away, and despite it being two marquee franchises — the Lakers! Against the Knicks! — in the world’s most famous arena, there was no great sense of anything special hanging in the balance that night. And then Kobe went for 61 points, scoring from all over the place and setting a Madison Square Garden record. Even as provincial as Knicks fans can be, I’ll never forget the chants of “MVP! MVP!” for Kobe.

VIDEO: Kobe Bryant scores 61 on Knicks

Hibbert focuses on his inner game

VIDEO: Roy Hibbert on what he plans to bring to the Lakers

No one really knows what to expect this season from Roy Hibbert as the former All-Star center moves from the Indiana Pacers to the Los Angeles Lakers in search of a clean slate. But when the answers – rather than just theories – come, they likely will have much to do with the enigmatic big man’s mood and mental outlook.

Those were factors that acted at least as contributing factors, along with Hibbert’s inconsistent play and the Pacers’ ambitions to play faster and smaller in 2015-16, when the 7-foot-2 center moved to L.A. at a bargain price. The Lakers were willing to take on Hibbert and his $15.5 million salary this season because they had salary-cap room and, frankly, they only had to give up a future second-round pick.

Getting Hibbert back on track – the Georgetown alum is only 28 and still represents a gold standard for rim protection, on most nights – won’t just be a job left to training camp or the regular season, or reliant only on Byron Scott‘s coaching or Kobe Bryant‘s, er, pep talks. Hibbert already has undertaken methods to boost his confidence and abilities by focusing on the mental part of the game and of himself, as addressed by’s Baxter Holmes. Here’s an excerpt, with Hibbert clearly cautious in discussing what in professional sports remains a touchy subject:

Mental health is a subject Hibbert doesn’t seem to enjoy discussing. His words come slowly, each carefully chosen. At times, it seems like there’s more he wants to say, but he doesn’t. He has his reasons, which he declines to share. But Hibbert is interested in the field. He says he first visited a psychologist when he boarded at Georgetown Prep, where he was one of the top high-school prospects in the nation.

“I was a black kid in an all-white school, so I had to deal with some of that stress and pressure,” Hibbert told in November 2014. “If I didn’t do that back in high school, I probably wouldn’t be open to it later on.”

He was also an only child, sheltered by two parents who each worked multiple jobs, and admittedly socially awkward, spending much of his time playing video games.

The visits helped Hibbert shed any fear of being labeled as “having a couple of screws loose,” a stubborn perception that persists in the world of sports, in which “mental strength” — however abstract the definition — is fetishized.

“Stigma is an issue [in the NBA],” Hibbert said then. “But sometimes you have to look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘You know, I need help. I may need to look at [therapy and mental exercises] in a different light.’ That’s how I go about it.”

Hibbert saw mental health counselors and a team performance psychologist throughout his career with the Pacers, in large part to discuss the stress that accompanies life in the NBA as a high-profile young player — the acquisition of wealth, the strain of a career on personal relationship, the pressures to perform.

He says he doesn’t have a mental health condition or diagnosis and characterized himself as merely someone who believes in the value of sharing with a professional and engaging in mental exercises whose goals are not unlike physical training. He praised the Pacers’ approach, which he says excelled at not making players feel defensive.

During the second half of last season, Hibbert says he experienced “a lot of mental stuff.” He started using an app called “Headspace,” which guided him through meditative exercises. “You count your breaths,” Hibbert says. “You focus on certain things. Even if the mind wanders, that’s OK. You just bring it back to that space where you feel positive.”

He also picked up a trick from the BBC series “Sherlock,” in which the protagonist accesses his “mind palace” — a mnemonic technique in which the subject transports his thoughts to a place where he stores memories and impressions. These days, he uses the singing of the national anthem prior to tipoff as an opportunity to count his breaths and enter his mind palace.

After learning that some “elite” NBA players have hired their own full-time sports psychologists, Hibbert “decided to put my money where my mouth is” and hire one on a part-time basis.

Hearing that others were seeking assistance gave him confidence that the discussion about mental health in the NBA is moving in the right direction, but he’s still unsure if the taboo has been lifted.

“I mean, I don’t know if we’ll ever get to that point because people just think you’re mentally weak,” Hibbert says. “And when I’m secure about using it and talking about it, I feel like I’ll be OK, but I’m not sure we’ll get to that point. … I’m not sure when we’ll get there.”

Blogtable: Second- or third-year player ready to rise the ranks?

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: Rising second- or third-year player? | Playoff teams set to stumble? | Your all-lefty team

VIDEOOtto Porter talks about his expanded role in the 2015 playoffs

> Last week we asked for your early Rookie of the Year candidate. This week we want you to name a second- or third-year player who’s primed for a breakout season.

Steve Aschburner, Magic forward Aaron Gordon generated some buzz with his improved play, particularly his shooting range, in the Orlando summer league. But I’m going with Washington’s Otto Porter. Heading into his third season, Porter is a strong candidate to more than double his averages so far – 4.7 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 15.8 mpg – because he did it in the Wizards’ small, 10-playoff-game sample size in spring. In a significant turnaround, the slender forward averaged 10.8 points and 8.0 rebounds in the postseason. And Washington was 10.7 points per 100 possessions better than the opposition with Porter on the floor vs. 8.7 worse when he was off. His opportunities will only increase with Paul Pierce‘s departure and frankly, it’s time.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comOtto Porter. He came up strong when coach Randy Wittman finally let him off the leash in the playoffs. With more minutes next season, he’s ready to shine.

Shaun Powell, There are some rather obvious candidates such as Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum, the “Greek Freak”, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, as well as Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson. But I’m going with Aaron Gordon of the Magic. He was never really healthy for much of his rookie season and then dealt with inconsistency when he healed. But there’s no doubt he’s an amazing athlete in the mold of Blake Griffin and he has skills, which he showed during a terrific effort in summer league, flashing an improved mid-range jumper. I hope new coach Scott Skiles is the right coach for him.

John Schuhmann, Otto Porter was out of the Wizards’ rotation in late March, but played a big role in the Wizards’ offensive reinvention in the playoffs, while also slowing down DeMar DeRozan on the other end of the floor. Porter should be Washington’s starting small forward and part of a more dynamic offense this season. If he can shoot 3-pointers, John Wall can turn him into the next Trevor Ariza.

Sekou Smith, Based on all of the chatter coming from Summer League, coupled with the new regime in place in Chicago, Doug McDermott should have the stage to break out with the Bulls. I don’t know exactly what his role will be, but the opportunity for a floor-spacer with his skill set on a what should be one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference, is there. Like Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic before him, “McBuckets” has a flag to carry in this department. There is a similar opportunity awaiting Mitch McGary in Oklahoma City and Aaron Gordon in Orlando.

Ian Thomsen, CJ McCollum broke out in the final month of last season with four games of 26 points or more, including three concluding playoff performances against Memphis in which he produced 26, 18 and 33 points. The Blazers will give him every opportunity to become one of the NBA’s top sixth men, based on their need for scoring in the absence of LaMarcus Aldridge.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog It seems like people maybe sort of forgot about him, after he suffered a season-ending knee injury, but I think Jabari Parker is going to have a big year once he gets completely healthy. With a big man (Greg Monroe) behind him, Parker’s defensive deficiencies will matter less, and his ability to score isn’t going anywhere. And coach Jason Kidd has shown time and again an ability to put players in positions to be most successful.

Morning Shootaround — August 2

VIDEO: Team World rallies past Team Africa


Olajuwon, Mutombo return for Team Africa | Knicks to sign Vujacic | Teague making impact off-court

No. 1: Olajuwon, Mutombo return for Team Africa Yesterday’s NBA Africa 2015 exhibition game was a success by any measure, but the game’s signature moment may have come midway through the second quarter when Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo checked into the game. As our Shaun Powell writes, it was a moment that almost didn’t happen

Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo, the greatest players Africa ever produced, were asked by league organizers to come out of retirement and make a cameo in the exhibition. Olajuwon is a Hall of Famer and Mutombo will be enshrined next month. They would suit up for Team Africa, a squad of players with African blood, against Team World. Their jerseys, along with one belonging to the late Manute Bol, hung ceremoniously in the rafters above the court inside the arena.

Therefore: A simple and brilliant request, right?

Brilliant, yes. Not so simple.

Mutombo was receptive. Olajuwon said no. Olajuwon is 52, Mutumbo 49. They are fit and trim, but as basketball players, they were finished. It was not going to happen. Organizers pleaded. The answer, up to the day before tipoff, was no from Olajuwon. Truth be told? Both were afraid of being embarrassed on TV, in front of fans who knew them as legends. Neither wanted to play like chumps.

And then: Olajuwon weakened. He brought along his two pre-teenaged boys, who never saw him play, and so he agreed.

When they checked in midway through the second quarter wearing their throwbacks — Rockets for Olajuwon, multi-colored Nuggets for Mutombo — the NBA Africa game had its signature moment, its energy, its second-loudest applause of the day.

The biggest bedlam? That burst arrived when Olajuwon reeled back to 1993, executed the Dream Shake that froze Nik Vucevic, faded and shot a 15-footer that kissed the rim and fell in. Cray-zy. The crowd pounced. Players on both benches jumped.

“I made the move, I made the shot, it went in,” said Olajuwon. “I missed my first shot and was happy to make the next one. And I was really happy to participate.”

After a minute of action, Olajuwon playfully grabbed his chest, Fred Sanford-style. Gregg Popovich, who knows about coaching old players with the Spurs, did the humanitarian thing and allowed Olajuwon to wobble back to the bench and into re-retirement.

As for Mutombo? Didn’t one trademark basketball moment deserve another? As in, a blocked shot and finger wag? Popovich drew up a defensive play that you’ll never see in a Spurs game. He ordered his players to allow guard Trey Burke to reach the rim, where Mutombo awaited. The trap was set but the mouse didn’t cooperate. Burke passed the ball.

“So many of these young players don’t want to see themselves on YouTube,” said Mutombo, “so they run away.”


No. 2: Knicks to sign Vujacic The Knicks have made no secret that they’re trying to find players who fit into their “Triangle” offensive system. So who better to add to their roster than former two-time champ Sasha Vujacic, who played for Phil Jackson‘s Lakers? As Ian Begley writes, signing Vujacic should help the Knicks stretch opposing defenses

Vujacic played for the Los Angeles Lakers from 2004 to 2011. He spent five of those seasons playing under Knicks president and then-Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, and four playing alongside Knicks coach Derek Fisher, who played point guard for the Lakers.

Vujacic, 31, has played overseas for much of the past four seasons. His lone NBA stint during that stretch was in 2013-14, when he played 10 minutes over two games for the Los Angeles Clippers.

Assuming he makes the regular-season roster, Vujacic could give the Knicks a needed threat from the perimeter.

He is a career 37.1 percent 3-point shooter in the NBA. Vujacic is also familiar with the Knicks’ triangle offense thanks to his time in Los Angeles. So he could help the Knicks’ younger players adapt to the system.

The 6-foot-7 Vujacic is the latest player coached by Jackson to sign a deal with the Knicks. New York has also signed former Lakers Lamar Odom, Shannon Brown and DJ Mbenga — but none of those players had long stints with the team.

With Vujacic on board, the Knicks have 12 players signed to guaranteed contracts. Counting Langston Galloway, who has a partially guaranteed deal but is expected to make the regular-season roster, they have two open spots.


No. 3: Teague making impact off-court Atlanta Hawks All-Star point guard Jeff Teague took a visit last summer to Atlanta’s Hughes Spalding Children’s Hopsital, and ended up raising thousands of dollars for the hospital throughout the season. Teague has continued the partnership, and as Chris Vivlamore writes, Teague says the association has grown into something “beautiful”…

The Hawks guard felt compelled to donate $20 for each assist he had the previous season, a sum of $11,260. He felt he could do more. Teague and the hospital set up a program where he would match the figure again this year and challenge others to do the same. Those who matched his $20 per assist total would be All-Star sponsors. Others could give $2 per assist ($1,126) as Teammate sponsors. The money benefits the Hughes Spalding Hospital, according to a hospital representative.

“I went on a visit to Children’s to try to give the kids a little inspiration,” Teague said recently. “They go through a lot. I wanted to go there, see the kids, interact with them and have them interact with me. When I got there, I was touched. I wanted to do whatever I could to help out. That’s when we came up with the program.”

The giving will culminate with Teague’s inaugural Hoops for Hughes dinner Aug. 15 at Maggiano’s Buckhead. The event will feature a dinner, question-and-answer session, photographs with Teague and more for those who gave this year.

“When I met Jeff Teague of the Atlanta Hawks during a recent visit to Hughes Spalding, his thoughtfulness, kindness and compassion impressed me even more than him being a young basketball superstar,” said Julia Jones, vice president for operations at Hughes Spalding. “His sensitivity towards the children we care for and his concern for their needs was very genuine. He seemed truly interested in gaining a greater understanding of the important work that is being done at Hughes Spalding and committed to supporting that work in every way he can.”

Teague said the Hawks also donated to the cause.

There are plans to continue the program next year — and for years to come. Teague finished last season with 620 assists in the regular season and playoffs combined. He finished 10th in the NBA in regular-season assists with 513 and added 107 more in the postseason. His donation will be $12,400. He will ask others to match or give $1,260 at $2 per assist.

“I just wanted to give back,” Teague said. “I didn’t think it would grow into something like this. It’s a beautiful thing. At first it was just something I wanted to do from my heart. I just wanted to give back. Now, it’s grown into something beautiful and large.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Derrick Rose is reportedly undecided on playing for Team USA … Glen Davis may be willing to sign a contract overseas if he doesn’t sign an NBA deal … Pacers center Jordan Hill was charged with driving violations outside Atlanta.

Morning shootaround — July 25

VIDEO: Harrison Barnes hangs out with FC Barcelona

Barnes wants long-term stay with Warriors | Hibbert looking to shape up in LA | Len thinks Chandler will help, not hurt, his career | Okafor excited to get started with Sixers

No. 1: Harrison Barnes wants long-term stay with Warriors The Warriors had a rather uneventful offseason from the standpoint of change. They didn’t add a big free agent or draft in the lottery, and their status quo was secured once Draymond Green inked an extension, which was expected. There’s a reason the Warriors didn’t look to change much: They did win the title and their core is mainly young with upside. If Harrison Barnes has his choice, he’d like to remain part of that nucleus when his deal comes up next summer. Barnes has played a useful role with the Warriors and while he’s not a star, at least not yet, he’d be in demand if he ever reached free agency. Here’s Barnes speaking to Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group

“I mean, we just won a championship,” Barnes said. “Of course I’d love to keep this group together for many years to come, you know what I’m saying? So that’s obvious.”

Barnes, 23, and the Warriors face an Oct. 31 deadline for getting an extension signed. If the sides cannot reach agreement by then, he is expected to become a restricted free agent at the end of next season.

Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob has most recently re-signed homegrown talent, giving Klay Thompson a four-year, $70 million extension and Draymond Green a five-year, $82 million contract. Barnes acknowledged that seeing his teammates get deals done gives him confidence.

“It’s a good fit,” Barnes said of the Warriors, who value the 6-foot-8 player’s versatility. “Obviously, you want to continue to get better. One thing Coach (Steve) Kerr and I talked about at the end of the season was just how can I get better in the spots I was used last year — post game, ballhandling more, bringing the ball up in transition and pushing, getting it to shooters, that type of thing. There’s a lot of obvious areas for growth and improvement, and this is a conducive system for that.”

Barnes said he would probably work with Warriors executive board member Jerry West again in Los Angeles after doing so last year on the heels of struggling in his second season in the league.

“The biggest thing for me is just to work on my game,” Barnes said. “Obviously you won a championship, and the goal is to do it again.

“This is obviously a big year for everyone. We have a young team. I think we still have a lot of room to grow, and we have to capitalize on that.”


No. 2: Roy Hibbert looking to shape up with the Lakers Last season wasn’t the best for Roy Hibbert. Matter of fact, it was rather costly from the standpoint of keeping him in Indiana. Pacers president Larry Bird made it clear that the team wanted to move on, and Hibbert soon made his way to the rebuilding Lakers. Crazy: Just a few summers ago, Hibbert had a tremendous playoff run and was a top-10 center in the NBA. Now? He must repair his reputation and maybe his career, and it starts in L.A., where he’s anxious to get started. As Bill Orem writes in the Orange County Register, Hibbert is looking for a fresh start and a better situation …

Roy Hibbert was a lost cause. A lumbering center with little offensive game and a disinterested temperament, they were happy pawning him off for nothing more than a future second-round draft pick.

The Lakers, however, view Hibbert as a player who can not only regain his standing as an All-Star big man, but anchor their anemic defense, which last year ranked second-worst in the NBA.

“I expect to play at an All-Star defensive level, and everything else will come,” Hibbert said.

“In this business,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said, “if you can have somebody who’s that size, who’s 28 years old, that clearly wants to rebirth his career, I think that’s a good risk.”

Hibbert averaged 10.6 points and 7.1 rebounds for the Pacers last season. He is just a year removed from his second All-Star campaign, and helping Indiana to the Eastern Conference finals.

He remains a reputable defender. The Pacers last season allowed 101.1 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. The Lakers, by contrast, allowed 108.

Hibbert has averaged 1.9 blocked shots per game in his seven NBA seasons, but Kupchak said that won’t solve the Lakers’ defensive problems alone.

“It all can’t fall to his plate,” Kupchak said. “If you’re on the perimeter, you can’t just let your guy get past you and say, ‘Oh, Roy is back there.’ It doesn’t work that way. Everybody is going to have to buy in defensively and make a commitment defensively.

Hibbert hopes to join a storied tradition of big men to find success with the Lakers. He said he grew up studying Shaquille O’Neal and has worked out extensively with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“He gives me the little tidbits,” Hibbert said. “I worked with him a lot last year in the summer and he keeps up with me. He always gives me some advice, some things to work on. I always ask him questions.”


No. 3: Alex Len happy to have Tyson Chandler around It was a pretty weird situation, watching the Suns give four years to the well-seasoned Tyson Chandler while they were trying to develop Alex Len, their lottery pick two years ago. And to hear Len, it was surprising to him, too. But after he gave it more thought, Len figures Chandler will actually be beneficial to a young center trying to learn the nuances of the game and become a useful rotation player. At least that’s what he told Michael Lee of the Washington Post

Instead of an immediate opportunity lost, Len focused on the possible long-term benefits.

“He’s one of the best defensive bigs in the league. The way he blocks shots, the way he communicates. I think I can learn just from watching, just from being around him, add it to my game. I think it’s going to be great,” Len said. “He’s a great leader. We needed a veteran last year. Somebody in the locker room, on the court, somebody we can look up to. So, I think it’s great for the team.”

Though he was selected fifth overall out of Maryland in 2013, Len wasn’t expected to quickly come in and resurrect the franchise – especially since he ditched his crutches from left ankle surgery just to walk across the stage to meet then-commissioner David Stern on the night of the draft. Len’s rookie season was lost because of nagging ankle troubles — “I just throw that out,” he said of his forgettable first season — but he started to look the part of a serviceable big man in his second season, showing a soft touch for a 7-footer and the necessary aggressiveness required to make countless screens on a pick-and-roll heavy team.

The Suns have been happy with Len’s progress but want to improve at a much faster pace than the time required for him to become a well-rounded player. In an effort to land the all-star talent needed to truly compete in the stacked Western Conference, Phoenix targeted the best free agent in the open market — LaMarcus Aldridge — and knew that he wanted to play power forward and to be paired with an experienced NBA center. Chandler agreed to a four-year, $52 million agreement in time to sit at the table to recruit Aldridge, who strongly considered leaving Portland for Phoenix before deciding to join the San Antonio Spurs.


No. 4: Jahlil Okafor too excited to get started in Philly  — While there are plenty of reasons for pessimism in Philly concerning the Sixers this upcoming season, given the injury status of Joel Embiid and a roster that still isn’t teeming with top-shelf talent, their No. 1 pick wants to make it clear: He’s happy. Jahlil Okafor wasn’t taken by the Lakers, which was the pre-Draft scuttlebutt, and instead landed with the Sixers. He’s not going to Philly kicking and screaming; rather, he’s looking forward to the experience and has big plans. He told Michael Lee of the Washington Post all about it …

The 76ers are certainly hopeful that Okafor will develop into a cornerstone for a rebuilding effort that is slow to take shape. Using a be-bad-and-pray-for-some-luck strategy, Philadelphia General Manager Sam Hinkie has inspired plenty of doubt around the league and nearly imposed lottery reform.

Over the past two years, the 76ers have traded serviceable NBA players for draft picks and used lottery picks on injured players while stashing another in Europe. As a result, they have won 39 games the past two seasons. Okafor won 35 games in his lone season at Duke but isn’t intimidated by the challenge ahead in the NBA, with an organization still seeking an identity.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker, a Chicago native, Duke alumnus and one of Okafor’s best friends, has been advising the talented big man with the throwback low-post moves on what to expect in the NBA. Like Okafor, Parker has dealt with the immense scrutiny of being a prodigy, played for Coach Mike Krzyzewski, and was taken with a top-three pick to join an organization that won fewer than 20 games the previous year.

“It will help the adjustment period,” Parker said of Okafor’s experience of being in the spotlight, “but it’s on a different scale. He has a lot to learn, because he’s been given a pedestal and a lot of responsibility but it’s nothing he can’t handle. He’s going to be in the NBA a long time. So he has to. He doesn’t have a choice.”

“My role is to dominate,” Okafor said. “I’m one of the centerpieces of the team, so my role is the same.”

Embiid’s injury, combined with the Los Angeles Lakers selecting point guard D’Angelo Russell ahead of Okafor, forced Hinkie to take the best player on the board, regardless of position. After initially wondering if he was drafted to be traded, Okafor was assured the 76ers want to build around him.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Utah Jazz are thinking about changing their primary logo ASAP … Although he missed the latter half of last season with knee issues, Carmelo Anthony will attend (but probably not play in) the Team USA workouts … The Pelicans still have some roster decisions to make, starting with Norris Cole.

Morning Shootaround — July 23

VIDEO: Lakers introduce new trio


Josh Smith is happy to be a Clipper | New Lakers look to help franchise turn around | Bennett taking advantage of opportunity | Young Suns may be competing for playing time

No. 1: Josh Smith is happy to be a Clipper The Los Angeles Clippers ended up having one of the NBA’s busiest offseasons, between their pursuit of DeAndre Jordan, signing Paul Pierce and trading for Lance Stephenson. But sort of lost among all those moves was the Clippers signing Josh Smith away from the Houston Rockets, where Smith played a big role in the Rockets eliminating the Clippers in the playoffs. As Bill Oram writes in the Orange Country Register, the Clippers had been on Smith’s radar since earlier in the season

Somewhat obscured by those splashy moves was the arrival of Josh Smith seven months after the Clippers first tried to land the mercurial forward.

“It was an option,” Smith said when asked how close he was to signing with the Clippers after being waived by Detroit in December. “It was a definite thought process and conversation I had with my family.”

Smith, 29, was among the eight players – including the returning Jordan and Austin Rivers – the Clippers introduced Tuesday at Staples Center.

He has seen his value plummet in the last two years, since he signed a four-year, $53 million deal with Detroit. Smith was never a good fit with the Pistons, who tried to use him at small forward, a position he had not played in nine seasons with the Atlanta Hawks.

In December, the Pistons waived Smith, clearing the path for him to sign with the team of his choice. That ended up being the Rockets, who Smith helped knock the Clippers from the postseason.

Asked what he learned from the roller-coaster season, Smith said, “That you can get waived. I learned what waived meant. That’s pretty much it.”

He signed with the Clippers for the veteran minimum. Unlike two years ago, he wasn’t simply going to go to the highest bidder.

“Free agency is very exciting the first time around,” Smith said.

This summer he took a more careful approach to selecting a new team.

“My whole thing was I was looking at scenarios more so than being wowed by the red carpet layout and stuff,” he said.

The Pistons owe him $5.4 million annually through 2020, minus whatever he makes from another team.

Smith is best known for his offensive versatility, despite being selected to the NBA All-Defensive second team in 2010.

He averaged 13.5 points in 23.5 minutes per game in the playoffs. He made four 3-pointers and scored 19 points in the Rockets’ pivotal come-from-behind win in Game 6 of the conference semifinals.

In free agency, however, he opted to switch sides rather than stick with the team that bested the Clippers in seven games.

He called the Clippers’ free agency pitch “more of a visual, concrete type of situation” where as his future in Houston was “foggy.”


No. 2: New Lakers look to help franchise turn around Last season the Lakers limped to a 21-61 finish in an injury-marred season. So this offseason, the Lakers made some major moves, adding veterans Lou Williams, Roy Hibbert and Brandon Bass, who met the Los Angeles media yesterday. As Broderick Turner writes in the Los Angeles Times, they’re looking at the opportunity as a fresh start

Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams and Brandon Bass talked about becoming Lakers, and the team’s general manager, Mitch Kupchak, later indicated that he has considered acquiring another guard or a center.

The Lakers have five guards under contract, but Kobe Bryant may move to the starting small forward position. That would leave the Lakers with four guards, including rookie D’Angelo Russell and second-year combo guard Jordan Clarkson.

“Depending upon how you look at it, we may look to bring in another guard on board,” Kupchak said. “We may not.”

The 7-foot-2 Hibbert, whom the Lakers acquired from the Indiana Pacers in a trade for a second-round pick, is Los Angeles’ only quality center with experience. Tarik Black, generously listed at 6-11, is undersized and has played only one season. Robert Sacre, at 7 feet, has the size but lacks the skills to be a regular rotation player.

“We’re not a big team,” said Kupchak, who has a 14-man roster. “So really, if you look at our team you can make an argument we need another big player.”

The news conference at team headquarters at El Segundo with the recent additions had one awkward moment when the trio was asked whether Bryant had reached out to any of them since they joined the team.

Williams, who sat in the middle of his new teammates, looked to his right at Hibbert, who stared straight ahead and said nothing. Bass, already leaning back in his chair, smiled and also said nothing. Neither did Williams.

Instead, they all preferred to talk about how they can help the Lakers improve after a disastrous 21-61 season.

“You always feel like you have an opportunity to win here,” said Williams, who signed a three-year, $21-million deal to join the Lakers. “And when you have Kobe Bryant, that always gives you an opportunity to go far. So for me, they have a winning tradition, they always are one move away from their team going from zero to 100 and you’ve got Kobe Bryant.”


No. 3: Bennett taking advantage of opportunity Two years into his NBA career, former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett still has plenty to prove. But after being traded once and getting in better shape, Bennett is using a stint playing this summer with Team Canada in the Pan Am Games as a chance to show what he can do with his NBA team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, writes Doug Smith in the Toronto Star

It now remains to be seen if the former No. 1 NBA draft pick can turn a summer stint that affords him such luxuries into a month that kick starts a somewhat stalled professional career.

So far, so good.

Bennett, the Brampton product who’s scuffled through a couple of NBA seasons trying to find his game and a niche, had 17 points and six rebounds as Canada pulled away in the final two minute to beat Argentina 88-83 in Pan Am Games preliminary round action at the Ryerson Athletic Centre.

The Minnesota Timberwolves forward may not have found an NBA comfort zone but he’s had times he’s dominated in international play and Canadian officials hope another summer with the national team will work long-term magic.

“He’s come in with a great attitude, he’s really hungry to represent his country and improve and this is a really important summer for him,” national team general manager Steve Nash said. “He’s a had a tough go his first two years but he’s really good kid so you just want to be here as a resource and help him realize his potential and play a lot and figure some things out with his game and where he can maximize his advantages on the floor. But most important he’s worked hard, he’s got a great attitude and he’s put himself in position to improve.”

Bennett did look more comfortable and as if he was having more fun while leading Canada to its second straight win. High-stepping back down the court after making a shot, the smiles, the interaction with teammates, it all just looks so natural.

“That’s two great games for him, he had 15 and 10 the other night (against Dominican Republic) and we said coming into this, this is going to be big thing for him with his ability to score in so many ways, the effort and energy he’s putting in right now,” said coach Jay Triano.

“The guy hangs a picture of his jersey in his locker, he’s proud to be Canadian, he’s proud to wear this uniform. That says a lot about the way he’s acting and the way he’s playing out here.”


No. 4: Young Suns may be competing for playing time While plenty was made of the Becky Hammon-coached San Antonio Spurs winning the NBA Las Vegas Summer League championship, it’s also worth noting that the Phoenix Suns, coached by Suns assistant Nate Bjorkgren, also advanced to the championship game, on the strength of several of their younger players. And once the season starts, as’s John Schuhmann writes, some of those young players will be competing for playing time once the regular season rolls around

The Phoenix Suns had three young vets and the only 2015 Lottery pick in the final eight of the Summer League. Three of those guys – Devin Booker (the No. 13 pick this year), Archie Goodwin (the No. 29 pick in 2013) and T.J. Warren (the No. 14 pick in 2014) – could be competing for minutes off the bench at the wing positions come October.

Both Goodwin (15.9 points per game on 47 percent shooting) and Warren (18.7, 54 percent) were more consistent offensively than Booker (15.3, 40 percent). But if you listen to Suns coach Jeff Hornacek, you conclude that the rookie will have the edge over the two vets when training camp opens.

Hornacek watched Summer League hoping to see Goodwin and Warren show that they can be trusted defensively. Neither has had a big role yet with the Suns, and it sounds like their coach didn’t see enough to guarantee one this season.

“As coaches,” Hornacek told at halftime of the Summer League final, “we always say you’re more likely to stay on the court if you’re just playing good defense and not scoring more than if you’re scoring a couple of times and giving up a lot of points. We want to see both sides of that. We got some guys who can put the ball in the hole, but we got to see them play some defense.

“They’re making some improvements. We want to see it on a more consistent basis. With T.J. and Archie, what I’m looking at is their team defense. Are they on the nail? Are they helping out? Are they getting back? Are they closing out hard? I’ve seen spurts of it, but we want to get that up to 95 percent of the time, not just 20 percent of the time.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The NBA is now selling individual games as part of League Pass … Fourteen-year veteran Stephen Jackson announced his official retirement via Instagram … Could LeBron James star in Space Jam 2? … The Spurs are signing Jimmer Fredette … The Clippers and Bucks are interested in signing Glen Davis

Morning shootaround — July 11

VIDEO: Anthony-Towns, Russell square off in Vegas

D-Will departure leaves Nets rebuilding | Clash of the titans in Summer League | Jordan apologizes publicly | Evolution of the Kings


No. 1: D-Will departure leaves Nets rebuilding — The Brooklyn Nets planned to make a splash when they hopped a few rivers to get from Jersey to the city, and part of that impact was supposed to come from building around point guard Deron Williams. As our own John Schuhmann details, the Nets gave up a lot to get Williams, both in terms of finances and personnel, but things never quite worked out the way they’d hoped. With Williams’ departure (via buyout) for his hometown of Dallas, it’s time for the Nets to look for a different path to success…

Williams was dealing with ankle issues for most of his Nets tenure, missing 32 games over the last two seasons. He shot a career-low 39 percent in 2014-15.

Of course, he was still the Nets’ best point guard by a wide margin. The offense fell apart when he was replaced with (or played alongside) Jarrett Jack. Though Brooklyn was outscored by 236 points over the course of the season, Williams was just a minus-14 in more than 2,000 minutes. Jack was a minus-315.

So the move to part ways with Williams takes the Nets’ offense down a notch. But it also saves Prokhorov a ton of money. With Williams’ full salary on the books, the Nets were set to pay another $44 million in luxury tax this coming season, subject to the repeater tax levels.

With a buyout that reduces the $43 million they owe him to $27.5 million, and with the stretch provision that stretches the remaining money over five years instead of two, Brooklyn’s 2015-16 payroll can get below the luxury tax line completely. That’s a big thing for this year and going forward.

The damage isn’t completely done. They’ll still be paying Williams $5-6 million each year through the 2019-20 season, and they still owe Boston those picks in 2016 and 2018, with the potential pick swap the year in between.

The Nets still haven’t competed for a championship since Kidd was the point guard. They went 153-159 in Williams’ four full seasons with the franchise, winning just 10 playoff games. Health was an issue. Williams and Brook Lopez played just 159 (47 percent) of a possible 337 regular season games together.

The past is the past, though. Now, the Nets can finally move on. They still have some veteran talent – Johnson, Lopez and Thaddeus Young – on the roster. They’re building around the two re-signed bigs and are making a clear effort to get younger and more athletic.


No. 2: Clash of the titans in Summer League — It didn’t take long for the Las Vegas Summer League to produce drama: Just minutes into the tourney, number 1 overall Draft pick Karl-Anthony Towns and his Minnesota Timberwolves faced off against number 2 pick D’Angelo Russell and the Los Angeles Lakers. And by all accounts, as Marc Spears writes for Yahoo, both players produced, and showed they have room to grow…

With a record-setting crowd of 12,422 fans in attendance at the Las Vegas summer league, all eyes were on Minnesota rookie Karl-Anthony Towns as he took his first shot as an NBA player.

Air ball.

“I didn’t even want to shoot the basketball,” Towns said on his first shot — a 3-pointer — as a pro. “It’s just rookie jitters. Even though I’m the No. 1 pick, I’m not going to be perfect.”

It was a forgettable first attempt but the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA draft will likely laugh about it one day.

Towns finished Friday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers with 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field, missed both 3-point attempts and made all but one of five free throws. The 6-foot-11, 250-pounder averaged 21.1 minutes per game as a true freshman on a University of Kentucky team deep in talent.

In his Minnesota summer league debut, however, the 19-year-old played a challenging 31 minutes.

While Towns didn’t have the monster debut he hoped for, the Timberwolves finished with an 81-68 victory over the Lakers in a battle against No. 2 pick D’Angelo Russell.

“I started out like any other rookie,” Towns said. “I ain’t going to lie. I had a lot of butterflies. I was very nervous. My legs felt heavy. It’s your first game out.”


No. 3: Jordan apologizes publicly — DeAndre Jordan‘s 11th hour change of heart may have saved the immediate future for the Los Angeles Clippers, but it did something like the opposite for the Dallas Mavericks, making them scramble to change course and make the best out of what was left on the free agent market. Last night, Jordan took to Twitter to apologize to Dallas owner Mark Cuban and Mavs fans, as well as tell Clippers fans he was excited to be returning…


No. 4: Evolution of the Kings — No one said it would be easy. Despite their best efforts, the Sacramento Kings have been stuck on the outside of the Western Conference playoff race the last few years. In their latest iteration, the leadership of Vlade Divac and George Karl hasn’t seemed to connect with star center DeMarcus Cousins. As Shaun Powell writes, that relationship may just remain a work in progress…

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

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

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

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

That’s it?

“That’s it.”

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

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

“He’s a great kid with great potential and I”m happy to work with him,” Divac said. “There’s nothing out there that would make me pull the trigger.”
And what about the status of Karl, who has three years left on his contract? Curiously Divac shrugged his way through his response.
“Well, we’ll see. He has to win the games. He’s a coach who brings a lot of experience. He knows how to fix things, so we’ll see.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Today Becky Hammon will make history as the first female head coach of an NBA team in a Summer League game … Perhaps overshadowed by the debut of Towns and Russell was the return of Julius RandleLeBron James hosted a premiere for his new movie Trainwreck in his hometown of Akron … Kevin Garnett is officially back in Minnesota

Blogtable: Do the Lakers or Knicks have a tougher road to respectability?

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: Knicks or Lakers worse off? | Toughest (and easiest) division? | Talkin’ Summer League

VIDEOCharles Barkley isn’t convinced Roy Hibbert will help the Lakers

> Do the Lakers or Knicks have the tougher road back to respectability and why?

Steve Aschburner, My hunch is, the Knicks are going to have a harder time getting back to a level at which they’re considered legitimate contenders for an NBA title. As shaky as the master plan might seem in L.A., it’s shakier in New York, what with James Dolan‘s can’t-help-himself meddling and Phil Jackson‘s half-in, half-out, triangle-devoted, smartest-guy-in-the-room theoretical approach. Carmelo Anthony‘s contract will be an albatross with legs compared to Kobe Bryant‘s one-more-season-of-fiscal-pain deal. The ex-Lakers as coaches, Byron Scott vs. Derek Fisher, that’s kind of a push, in my view. The respective rosters? Meh. What it finally comes down to, I suppose, is that I’ll take my chances with Mitch Kupchak over anyone at the Garden.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comOh, how the mighty have fallen. Now we’ve lowered the bar for the top two cities in the country from behind championship contenders to merely “respectability?” In that case, have to go with the Lakers, who are starting out with two young talents in Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell to just a single Kristaps Porzingas in New York. Also when Kobe Bryant leaves — it will happen eventually, won’t it? — the draw of the L.A. market, the Hollywood image and all that entails will allow the Lakers to attract talent.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThe Lakers have the tougher road, because they play in the tougher conference. As much as what was once a wide gulf has closed, the East is still more forgiving. If you want to use making the playoffs as a cutline for respectability, the Knicks can get there quicker. One other factor in the question: It is possible both teams could be in the lottery but not have their 2016 first-round pick.

Shaun Powell, It’s the Knicks with the tougher climb. Kristaps Porzingis will probably need more time to grow than D’Angelo Russell and Kobe Bryant comes off the Lakers cap next summer while Melo will weigh it down for the Knicks at least 3 more years. The Lakers can start anew next summer with Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo plus tons of cap space to chase Durant. Who knows, in 2 years they could possibly sway Blake Griffin to switch L.A. teams and/or get ex-UCLA star Russell Westbrook to “come home.” Bottom line is, with their management situation, the Lakers don’t have an “easy” road to recovery, just easier than the Knicks.

John Schuhmann, It’s the Knicks. As these two teams stand and given decent health, the Knicks will be the better team next season. But at best, that’s good enough to finish 8-11 in the East, which isn’t saying much. In regard to a five-year plan and eventually winning another playoff series, the Lakers have better pieces in place (Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell), as well as more financial flexibility in the next couple of summers, when they won’t be handcuffed by Kobe Bryant‘s contract.

Sekou Smith, The Knicks, without question. This wasn’t the summer I expected the Lakers to remake themselves in free agency. Next summer is when they’ll have the flexibility to get that done and youngsters D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle will have a full NBA season under their belts. We’ve already seen enough of the Knicks, and that’s without Arron Afflalo, Kristaps Porzingis and Robin Lopez in the mix. The Lakers have the luxury of their biggest salaries coming off the books for next summer while the Knicks will not have nearly as much financial flexibility.

Ian Thomsen, The Lakers have won championships recently, and Jeanie Buss is asserting leadership and demanding accountability. These are big advantages. Knowing how to win — and especially how to make winning the priority — is a huge deal in the NBA. Can Phil Jackson introduce that point of view to the Knicks? We won’t know until he’s actually done it.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: I suppose the answer here depends upon what we define as “respectability.” To me, being a playoff team would be respectable, and in that sense, the Lakers have really tough road ahead of them. The Western Conference is so stacked, it’s going to be a multi-year process for any franchise hoping to become a perennial playoff power. Just initially, take last year’s eight playoff teams, and then add Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Utah, Minnesota, who are all right there on the cusp. That’s a significant mountain for any team to climb.

Blogtable: Some Summer League musings

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: Knicks or Lakers worse off? | Toughest (and easiest) division? | Talkin’ Summer League

VIDEOKarl-Anthony Towns reflects on achieving his NBA dream

> Las Vegas Summer League is just days away. Which rookie are you most excited to see perform on the big stage? Which veteran will most benefit from Summer League play? And, which player in Summer League in Orlando and/or Utah has most impressed you?

Steve Aschburner, Among the rookies in Las Vegas, I’m going straight chalk. I want an up-close look at Karl-Anthony Towns simply because he is that rarest of species this side of the Tasmanian tiger: A Timberwolves No. 1 overall Draft pick. We’ve never had one before, but most insiders believe the Wolves got it right, so I want to see more than a glimmer of potential in Vegas. … Among returning players, it’s important for Chicago’s Doug McDermott to play as well as or better than he did last summer (and he was very good). McDermott’s rookie season was washed out by injury and bench splinters, but he has a new coach (Fred Hoiberg) friendly to his style of play and he has vowed the sort of dramatic, freshman-to-sophomore improvement that wowed ’em at Creighton. … As for Orlando/Salt Lake City, Indiana’s Myles Turner has opened some eyes, averaging 16.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.5 blocks while hitting 14-of-22 shots in his first two games. With Roy Hibbert gone, and only Ian Mahinmi and Lavoy Allen ahead of him on the depth chart, Turner – while needing to tighten up defensively – might grab some “stretch-5” opportunities in coach Frank Vogel‘s promised quicker attack.

Fran Blinebury, This could be the start of a decade or more of comparing Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor. At a time when people are saying it’s a “small ball” league, I want to see the big dogs hunt. Before he went down with an ankle injury, I was looking forward to seeing Dante Exum’s progress from year 1 to 2. Last year’s first round Thunder pick Mitch McGary is coming back from a fractured foot, a virtually lost rookie season and has now lost nearly 30 pounds and looking like the player OKC drafted. Have to like what Okafor showed, especially in the second half, of his first game in Utah. Along with the totally changed body of McGary, the Magic’s Aaron Gordon has come back for Year 2 with a shot, an energy level that could be contagious and an intensity that’s fun to watch.

Scott Howard-Cooper, I am most interested to see Kristaps Porzingis and Emmanuel Mudiay in Las Vegas. Karl-Anthony Towns goes somewhere high on the list as well because there’s always the added excitement of seeing the No. 1 pick, but Mudiay has faced very little competition the last year. Porzingis has been challenged, but this will be a big step in a big spotlight. The veteran who will benefit most from summer league? The one that doesn’t get hurt and plays his way into a contract somewhere. As far as Orlando and Utah, Aaron Gordon has jumped out in early play. Not exactly a veteran, but not a rookie either.

Shaun Powell, In Vegas, I’d love to see how D’Angelo Russell handles himself and how he can elevate a roster full of dreamers by making them better. It’ll be the first step in proving the Lakers did right by passing up Jahlil Okafor, or not. As for the “veteran” I suspect the Jazz would love to receive some reassurance from Dante Exum in Vegas. In Utah, Okafor had the kind of debut you’d expect from the No. 2 overall pick, especially with his soft touch around the rim. The Sixers are feeling better already. In Orlando, Aaron Gordon and Stanley Johnson clearly stood out. Gordon is flush with confidence after a so-so rookie season and Johnson is clearly a feisty baller, although a ‘tweener.

John Schuhmann, I’m curious to see D’Angelo Russell, because he’ll be handed the keys in L.A. right away. Noah Vonleh is a top-10 pick from last year who got injured in training camp, never got a chance to play with the Hornets, and could have a real opportunity in Portland. So these couple of weeks could be big for him. So far, I’ve been most impressed by Myles Turner, a skilled big who could make Pacers fans forget about Roy Hibbert pretty quickly.

Sekou Smith, It will be all eyes on D’Angelo Russell in Vegas, and rightfully so. The Lakers put that on him when they passed on Jahlil Okafor. The veteran who will benefit most from summer school is Mitch McGary of Oklahoma City. He reshaped his body and is healthy and showed that his relentless motor is his greatest tool. The Thunder will be loaded with a healthy roster to start the season. I always think Summer League is a better place for second-year guys to show off the improvement in their game than it is an indicator of what’s to come from any rookie, even the ones who dazzle in summer league. Great first impressions from Stanley Johnson, Justise Winslow, Frank Kaminsky and Myles Turner in the early stages of summer have highlighted things for me. They all look like instant impact contributors for their respective teams, based solely on what we’ve seen thus far.

Ian Thomsen, I want to see Kristaps Porzingis run the floor, defend and shoot from distance for the Knicks, who are desperate for young talent. Summer league is easy to dismiss but Porzingis’s blend of skills, length and agility should speak for itself – for better or for worse. I was going to cite Dante Exum as a veteran with the most to gain; but now that he has suffered a sprained ankle, I want to see whether James Young has matured defensively and off the ball for the Celtics. The breakout player so far has been Aaron Gordon, who has developed a jump shot to go with his driving athleticism.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: Let’s see what Karl Anthony Towns can bring at this next level. Is he just a defender, as has been purported, or can he be a two-way player with stretch-5 range? And his teammate, Zach LaVine, was one of the most exciting players I saw a year ago in Vegas, so I’m looking forward to seeing his evolution. LaVine’s incredible explosiveness really lends itself to the pace of Summer League. One guy has stood out to me so far has been Charlotte’s Frank Kaminsky. He can shoot from the outside, but also can pump fake and get to the rim and finish. He already looks ahead of their previous lottery forward, the since departed Noah Vonleh.

Reports: Lakers add Williams, Bass

VIDEO: Video: Charles Barkley discusses the Lakers adding Roy Hibbert

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Los Angeles Lakers finally got a free agent to say he’ll play for them. Multiple reports say the Lakers have reached an agreement with Kia Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams on a three-year deal worth $21 million. Those are the same terms that have been reported for Rodney Stuckey in Indiana.

The Lakers now have some semblance of a rotation. Williams will join rookie D’Angelo Russell and second-year point guard Jordan Clarkson in the backcourt. L.A. has Kobe Bryant and Nick Young on the wings and will add Roy Hibbert (via trade) and Brandon Bass (see below) to a frontcourt that includes Julius Randle, Robert Sacre and Ryan Kelly.

Even with Hibbert, it looks like defense will be a struggle. Depth is still a major issue and it will be fascinating to see if Bryant, Williams and Young (or any pairing of the two) can share the ball.

According to SportVU, the Lakers took 283 more contested jumpers than any other team last season, even with Bryant playing only 35 games. Add more Bryant plus Williams and L.A. could lap the field in that category. Among 166 players who attempted at least 300 jumpers, Bryant ranked first (69 percent), Young ranked second (68 percent) and Williams ranked 20th (46 percent) in regard to what percentage of their jumpers were contested. And Clarkson ranked 30th at 43 percent.

Raptors lose Williams, add Joseph

The Raptors have added DeMarre Carroll to give their perimeter defense (which was a big problem last season) a boost. The departures of both Greivis Vasquez (via trade to Milwaukee) and Williams made them a little thin in the backcourt, but they recouped some of their depth late Sunday…

Earlier Sunday, the Spurs withdrew their qualifying offer for Joseph, turning him from an unrestricted free agent to a restricted free agent. He’s from just outside Toronto and will likely be running point as Canada looks to qualify for the 2016 Olympics at the FIBA Americas tournament later this summer.

The Raptors also have rookies Delon Wright (the 20th pick) and Norman Powell (the 46th pick) (and maybe some minutes from Terrence Ross) behind All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. They were the fourth (and last) team to trade for Luke Ridnour last week, but could waive him before his contract becomes guaranteed on July 11.

Bass is coming, too

Mavs want Lin (with some help)

With the addition of Russell, free agent Jeremy Lin is obviously on his way out. Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski writes that Dallas wants Lin, but may need the Lakers help to get him

The Dallas Mavericks are exploring sign-and-trade possibilities with the Los Angeles Lakers to acquire free-agent point guard Jeremy Lin, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Lin, 26, sees the Mavericks as the best opportunity to reignite his career, especially with a chance to become the starting point guard, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Lin could join a free agent class that already includes center DeAndre Jordan and guard Wes Matthews. The Mavericks have exhausted most of their salary-cap space to sign those players and have only an exception of $2.8 million available if the team doesn’t use that to sign free agent J.J. Barea.

Jeremy Evans to Dallas

With or without Lin, the Mavs will have a pretty strong starting lineup (whenever Wes Matthews can play), but they need to fill out their bench. They started to do that by reaching an agreement with a former dunk champ.