Posts Tagged ‘Scott Howard Cooper’

Randle has upbeat return for Lakers

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

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

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

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

“It felt great,” he said.

Exactly.

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

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

This was a step in that direction.

 

Celtics have stake in Jordan outcome

VIDEO: Marcus Smart leads Celtics to victory over Spurs.

SALT LAKE CITY — And then there’s the interested observer.

The Celtics are potentially the second-biggest beneficiary from DeAndre Jordan leaving the Mavericks at the alter Wednesday to stay with the Clippers, but president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said a night later that he only watched the frenzy from afar for the theater of it all, not for the draft pick.

It’s the draft pick, though, that draws outsider Boston into the Jordan-Clippers-Mavericks madness. The Celtics get Dallas’ first-round pick in 2016 if it is not in the top seven, which would have been a decent chip if it landed in the 20s after a successful regular season but now suddenly looks like a very valuable commodity with the unexpected development that the Mavs could be in the lottery. If it doesn’t pay out in the next draft, the selection sent as part of the return for Rajon Rondo (speaking of situations gone painfully wrong for Big D), carries over to 2017, also top-seven protected.

But, Ainge said Thursday at EnerySolutions Arena as the Celtics concluded their part in the Utah Jazz Summer League with an 85-71 victory over the Spurs, there was no added interest as the drama unfolded from Texas to California. If the Celtics were watching the developments, sometimes playing out on social media as players from the Clippers and Mavericks both announced travel plans via Twitter emojis, it was just along with everyone else, not with a stake in the outcome.

“You know what, we have our issues to deal with,” Ainge said. “I really don’t have much time to worry about what other teams are dealing with. It was an interesting and entertaining night on Twitter.”

But, the chance to make the playoffs in the East and still get a lottery pick via Dallas.

“I’m not looking forward to next year’s draft yet,” Ainge countered. “That’s way too far in advance. We’re just trying to get our team ready.”

That has included a busy offseason of drafting Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter in the first round, Jordan Mickey and Marcus Thornton in the second, added Amir Johnson as a free agent while re-signing Jonas Jerebko and Jae Crowder, and trading for David Lee in a deal that has yet to become official. The Celtics made moves. They just didn’t land the hoped-for major free agent, so when Ainge was asked about the supposed positive outcome of Boston making some moves while also retaining cap space for the future, he understandably did not consider that a great thing.

“We would have loved to have upgraded our talent even more and not had flexibility, if that’s what you’re asking me,” Ainge said. “Yeah, it’s a good option. Not the best option, but it’s a good option.”

 

Blogtable, DeAndre Edition: What you’ll remember most is …?

In this special edition of the Blogtable, we’re asking our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the DeAndre Jordan free-agency saga — and give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Impact on Clippers? | Impact on Mavs? | What you’ll remember most?



VIDEOAn emoji battle wages on during the DeAndre Jordan decision

> Emoji wars, Twitter all abuzz, Mavs and Clippers assembling a la The Avengers to sway DeAndre — which of these things (or maybe something else) will you most remember from the DeAndre decision?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comWhat we witnessed wasn’t unprecedented, but it ought to be. Breaking a verbal agreement isn’t honorable, nor is swooping in at the 11th hour to encourage it. Had Jordan told all involved he would mull over his decision until the moratorium ended, fine, he’d have remained in play. But that’s not how this went. This sort of episode encourages cut-throat behavior all around. And unfortunately, there were some marking execs and media types loving it simply because it “had people talking about the NBA” for one more summer day. Yeah, well, carnival geeks get people talking, too. What I’ll likely remember from this is that, instead of teams only lining up at 12:01 a.m. on July 1 to be the first ones in the room with a new free agent, this is what started them mobilizing at 11:59 p.m. at the moratorium’s back end to be the last ones in the room. Just to make sure a deal is a deal is a deal.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Just the thought of Doc Rivers and Blake Grifin barricading the doors of DeAndre’s house with furniture against a possible invasion of desperate Cubanites waving stacks of cash and the image of Chris Paul riding to the rescue on a banana boat. And hoo boy, am I looking forward to the announcement of the 2015-16 schedule with the Clippers at Dallas on Christmas. C’mon, Adam Silver. Show us you get it.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Don’t mention the E word again. I’m doing everything possible to un-see that part of the silliness, although I’m afraid we’ve just seen the start of a trend. The rest of it will be impossible to forget, especially the biggest takeaway of all: How the fate of two franchises changed in one crazy day as the world followed along. The basketball part is the bottom line because that will have implications for years. We may not know the real outcome of Wednesday for years, until seeing how things turned out for the Clippers and Mavericks. DeAndre Jordan showed a lack of maturity and professionalism by not doing the very least he could do and treat Dallas with respect, but that’s for him to sort through. The rest of us will watch the basketball aspect unfold.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comWhat I’ll remember is sitting in my chair for 8 hours reading Twitter, the longest I’ve been locked on that site continuously in like forever. Blake Griffin dropped the Twitter mic with the chair-against-the-door pic. I think he has a future in entertainment.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comBlake Griffin’s tweet of the chair against the front door was my favorite moment. It made me laugh out loud and then have to explain the entire ridiculous situation to my wife.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The emoji war was epic, with Kobe Bryant and eventually the fine folks from @Jumpman23 dropping the mic on a crazy day that proved to be Twitter gold for all involved. If the Clippers find their way to the conference finals and perhaps beyond during the next five years, then maybe I’ll change my mind. But until then, the mobilization of the Clippers’ entire basketball operation to get to Houston and secure DeAndre’s services will continue to stick out as the most memorable part of this experience for me.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It will be worth remembering only if Jordan proves to be worthy of the trouble: Can he help lead his team to the NBA Finals? If so, then we’re all going to be looking back on the Clippers’ principals pulling tighter together around Jordan at his house last night, with the focus being on Chris Paul’s emotional plea to his teammate. But if they’re unable to rally, then this little plot twist will have no staying power (apart from possibly leading the NBA to change the timing of the moratorium).

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogSomeone on Twitter noted that this whole saga was tailor-made for the All Ball blog, and I have to agree. Emojis, Blake Griffin making jokes, Mark Cuban allegedly driving aimlessly around Houston while texting furiously, Paul Pierce tweeting out clip art — it was quite an evening. It was one of the most memorable NBA evenings I can recall that didn’t actually have anything to do with basketball. I love this game.

Blogtable, DeAndre Edition: Impact of his decision on the Clippers?

In this special edition of the Blogtable, we’re asking our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the DeAndre Jordan free-agency saga — and give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Impact on Clippers? | Impact on Mavs? | What you’ll remember most?



VIDEODavid Aldridge breaks down the DeAndre Jordan decision

> What does his return do for the Clippers given their other reported offseason moves? Where do they now rank in the West hierarchy?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The Clippers avoid a drop in the Western Conference standings with this move – they were looking at retreads or minimum-salary types to man the center spot if Jordan had left. But they’re still not cracking the top three out West – Golden State, San Antonio, Memphis – and to me, it’s the latest example of that franchise’s frantic, emotional, not-quite-professional way of doing things. It doesn’t instill new confidence the Clippers can get through tough postseason times.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: What the Clippers avoided was falling like a piano off a roof. They are in the same place they ranked last season, fighting to be in the upper half of the West bracket, a step below Golden State, San Antonio and OKC, duking it out with Houston and Memphis for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Obviously it is a dramatic change. It’s a double blow, keeping the Clippers in a prominent place after all while undercutting the Mavericks’ hopes of being in the upper echelon. We have to see how the rest of the summer turns out rather than give daily updates on where teams rank because the situation is so fluid. A lot of teams are still filling out depth charts. But this minute, the Clippers are behind the lead group of Golden State and San Antonio, part of the pack with OKC, Houston and Memphis in some order.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Obviously this is a game-changer for the Clippers. They went from JaVale McGee to DeAndre. So it’s fair to say they didn’t lose their place in line in the West. That said, the other offseason pieces must deliver in order for the Clippers to go deep into spring. Paul Pierce can’t fall off the cliff just yet. Lance Stephenson must straighten his head and his game in a hurry. And there’s still questions about the depth of the bench especially at point guard.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Clippers avoided wasting, in regard to contending for a championship, a season of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin at their best. They’re still gambling on Lance Stephenson and they still need to hope that their big three stays healthy, because they don’t have anyone to back up any of them right now. But they’ll go into the season as a top-six team in the Western Conference, certainly behind Golden State and San Antonio, and in the mix with Houston, Memphis and Oklahoma City. They can truly contend for a title if coach Doc Rivers can somehow get another reliable contributor with what little flexibility he has left (minimum-contract offers and Jamal Crawford‘s tradeable deal) and if they can improve defensively.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: DeAndre’s return keeps the Clippers firmly entrenched in the upper echelon of the Western Conference standings. They are still a top-four or-five team in the West and one of the best teams in the league. I’m more interested in the impact both Paul Pierce and Lance Stephenson will have on this group, on and off the floor, more than I am DeAndre’s return. The Clippers know what they have in their big man. Those other guys remain a mystery.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comThe last couple of years have shown how much injuries and other surprises can influence the outcome – the key is to enter next season with a competitive roster and coaching staff, and the Clippers will be right there. They can excel at both ends, their depth has improved and they should be loaded with hungry players, from their Big Three (who collapsed on the verge of the conference finals) to Lance Stephenson (who should be receptive to Doc Rivers’ coaching after a horrible season with Charlotte). I can also envision them adding another player in midseason to add to their run. This was a big summer for the Clippers, and year three with Rivers should be their culmination.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: With Jordan, I’d still have the Clippers third, behind Golden State and San Antonio. Not sure which version of Lance Stephenson they’ll get, but if they get Indiana Pacers Lance instead of Charlotte Hornets Lance, they might be able to leapfrog those teams. Interestingly, I also think the key there is Jordan, and whether he’s able to continue to develop and be more than a 10 ppg scorer and develop into more of an offensive threat. They still need a bench, of course, but that core of CP3, Blake and DeAndre is going to be what makes the Clips a contender.

Blogtable, DeAndre Edition: Impact of his decision on the Mavericks?

In this special edition of the Blogtable, we’re asking our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the DeAndre Jordan free-agency saga — and give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Impact on Clippers? | Impact on Mavs? | What you’ll remember most?



VIDEODirk Nowitzki talks after the Mavs’ postseason ouster

> How does his change of heart affect the Mavericks, their offseason moves and the upcoming season? Where do they now rank in the West hierarchy?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: This is potentially devastating to Dallas, which won 50 games last season and now will be doing well not to lose 50. The options left among available big men are limited – Amar’e Stoudemire‘s name has come up, but he’s strictly a limited-minutes guy at this point, and neither Kevin Seraphin nor Josh Smith is a center, for those suggesting them. Owner Mark Cuban‘s “David Robinson year” remark might actually play out, and that’s tough to imagine for Dirk Nowitzki, coach Rick Carlisle and a few others. I am looking forward, though, to seeing Dallas sign Rick Mahorn and Charles Oakley to 1-day contracts for the first Clippers-Mavericks meeting this season. Just to dish out reminders to Jordan and a couple of his teammate-rescuers that this episode won’t soon be forgotten.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com The Mavericks are burnt toast for the 2015-16 season, another waste of one of Dirk Nowitzki’s last years and that’s the worst part of the flip-flop. Dallas is in the lottery, up to its 10-gallon hat. But I’m going on the record here as saying Mark Cuban will be thankful this happened in a couple of years. While Jordan is worth the price to the Clippers to keep him as the third wheel with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, he would have been badly exposed as Cuban’s so-called “franchise player” down the line. It was a bad joke to even mention him in the same breath as Shaquille O’Neal. I think Jordan might even have realized that himself and ran from that burden.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It’s a brutal outcome for the Mavs. It’s not like DeAndre Jordan turned them down and they implemented the fallback plan. By the time he had finished mishandling the situation at historical levels, they were scrambling for the fallback plan to the fallback plan. The Dallas front office began the offseason with a clear plan, executed it with precision… and then got it fell apart through no fault of anyone there. If Wesley Matthews comes back strong, the Mavericks will be around .500, respectable but not in the playoffs. And they will have a lot of people rooting for them.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I think there’s a silver lining to losing DeAndre. I always thought the Mavericks with him were nothing special … maybe a No. 6 or 7 team in the West. This way, they can get a jump on rebuilding and stash their millions for next summer and plan to transition from the Dirk Nowitzki era.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Dallas is where the Clippers were 24 hours ago. They have a strong starting lineup, with a huge hole at center. Unlike the Clippers, they have a lot of cap space. But while there are a lot of centers still available, they’re all back-up quality. So I could see them trading for Chris Andersen or Zaza Pachulia. As they stand, they’re in the 8-10 range in the Western Conference, with the health and recovery of Wes Matthews still being a big question.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: This is the strange part for me — I didn’t think adding DeAndre was a gamechanger for the Mavericks. Sure, he would help shore up the middle. But without an elite point guard feeding him, I don’t know that he would have been a consistent force for the Mavericks on both ends of the floor. The Mavericks certainly don’t have any options comparable to DJ now, and that’s a potentially devastating blow for a franchise that is contemplating the dreaded rebuild. I don’t like the idea of Dirk Nowitzki on a lottery team in his twilight years, but in the absence of some miraculous move between now and training camp, that’s the predicament these guys could be in this season.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Mavericks are going to miss the playoffs, and they may lose their draft pick to the Celtics (unless it lands among the top seven) by way of the Rondo trade. The silver lining will emerge one year from now if they can turn Jordan’s absence into a superior free agent in 2016. But this interim season is going to be a long one for a team that figures to have no identity at either end of the floor.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog Without DeAndre, I’m not sure that they do rank among the West hierarchy. The Western Conference is so stacked, and if you’re looking for playoff teams that might drop out of the picture to make room for teams like Oklahoma City, Phoenix or Utah, I’d look directly at Portland (after losing LaMarcus Aldridge) and Dallas. Losing Monta Ellis will hurt, and while Wesley Matthews should be a nice addition, he’s still recovering from a torn Achilles. Jordan could have given them a nice frontline alongside Dirk and Chandler Parsons. Now they need Dirk to play like MVP Dirk. And I’m not sure that player still exists.

DeAndre Jordan picks Clippers after all


VIDEO: DeAndre Jordan opts to stay in Los Angeles

Ending — maybe — one of the bizarre moments in league history, DeAndre Jordan on Wednesday reneged on a previous commitment to sign with the Mavericks and chose instead to remain with the Clippers.

The decision not to stick with his original decision casts Jordan in a terrible public light, but apparently is the outcome he wanted after reportedly reaching out to the Clippers to let them know he was interested in staying with the only professional team he has known. That prompted the most high-profile of the Clippers — Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Doc Rivers — to converge on Jordan’s home in Houston to close the deal.

If the Clippers could not get Jordan to return, it would have faced being a franchise considered to be an annual title contender to becoming a team in the middle of the pack in the ultra competitive Western Conference, especially with the Spurs landing LaMarcus Aldridge and getting David West. Also the Oklahoma City Thunder expect to contend with the healthy return of former MVP Kevin Durant and we can not forget the Clippers’ main rivals, the defending champion Golden State Warriors.

The Mavericks, likewise trying to get an audience, apparently never got inside. The attempt to convince Jordan to stick with his first instinct and join Dallas never happened, until owner Mark Cuban began to inform his front office the new starting center would not be coming after all, according to several reports.

The Mavericks are in the same position the Clippers were in when shopping in the free agent market. The Mavericks lost Tyson Chandler when he agreed to a deal with the Suns. The Mavericks had a backup plan in place if Jordan had turned down the team last week. But those plans may not be an option as the Pacers have a proposed trade of Roy Hibbert to the Lakers.

Wednesday’s turn of events began when a report from ESPN.com’s Marc Stein stated the team would step up its efforts in retaining the center piece of their defense.

On Tuesday, J.J. Reddick was asked to grade his team’s offseason in a radio interview with Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius XM, he didn’t mince words about how he thought the offseason went in Lob City.

"Believe only half of what you see, and nothing that you hear" -Edgar Allan Poe

A photo posted by Chris Paul (@cp3) on

Salary cap, luxury tax set for 2015-16

The salary cap for the 2015-16 season will rise to $70 million, an 11-percent increase from last season, the NBA announced Wednesday.

The new figures go into effect Thursday at 12:01 a.m. ET, when the moratorium on most roster moves ends and the majority of signings and trades can begin to become official.

Among other parts of the final numbers after a league-wide audit:

  • The luxury tax is $84.74 million, an increase of 10.3 percent.
  • The non-taxpayer mid-level is $5.464 million, the taxpayer mid-level is $3.376 million and the room mid-level is $2.814 million.

The cap had been expected to end up around $67 million. Under the actual figures, the max deal for LaMarcus Aldridge in his move from the Trail Blazers to the Spurs will be $84.1 million over four years while the contract for Kawhi Leonard to remain in San Antonio is five years and $95.3 million, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

 

 

 

 

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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com’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, NBA.com 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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com’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.

Blogtable: Toughest (and easiest) division?

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



VIDEODallas is one of the forces to be reckoned with in the Southwest Division

> Provided all the agreed-to free-agent deals happen, which division (as of today) looks toughest and easiest to traverse to the top in 2015-16? And give me a reason or two why you’re picking each one.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com You don’t want to go wandering into that Southwest Division, the NBA’s equivalent of the wrong side of the tracks. It’s nasty down there, full of rough-looking characters on playoff-tested teams. And they’re not just bad, they’re big, with LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan elbowing in alongside Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol and Tim Duncan. If it’s a stroll through the park you want, you head to the Atlantic, where Toronto was the only team above .500 last season and might have taken a step back in losing Amir Johnson and Lou Williams. Everyone else in that district is flawed as well, not ready for prime time, with Brooklyn headed down, Boston and Philadelphia still learning and New York pursuing mediocrity as an upgrade from last season.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comThe Bermuda Triangle has nothing on the Texas Triangle for being a potential danger to travelers. Toss in Memphis and New Orleans and the Southwest is clearly the roughest, toughest neighborhood in the league. All five teams made the playoffs last season and they’ve only gotten better. I’ll give you five reasons why the Atlantic is the weakest division — Celtics, Knicks, Nets, Raptors and Sixers.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Toughest: Southwest, and it’s probably not even close. New Orleans won 45 games in 2014-15 and still finished last. Now imagine the division with the Spurs and Mavericks coming off their summers. Easiest: Northwest. Even with the Jazz on track to push past .500, with the demise of the Trail Blazers, it’s still OKC and everyone else.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Seeing as how the league is ready to devalue divisions, the rankings really don’t matter much anymore. But, as you will: The Southwest (Spurs, Rockets, Mavs, Grizz, Pelicans) will lap the field in terms of toughness. You could make an argument for every team making the playoffs, even the Pelicans. Just look at the stars: LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan, James Harden, Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Kawhi Leonard, etc. It’s a division just steep with talent. The Atlantic will be the weakest if only because they’ll be dragged down by the Knicks and Sixers. In that division, only the Raptors are built to last into spring, and they lack the necessary franchise player to go deep.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Southwest Division was already the best in the league (0.637 winning percentage last season), added LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan, should have a healthier Rockets team, and has Anthony Davis getting better every year. The Celtics, Knicks and Raptors all made some improvements, but the Atlantic Division will remain the worst in the league, with at least three (and maybe four) teams under 0.500. The second best team (Boston) is still without a real impact player.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Southwest is going to be a torture chamber. And I’ll give you five reasons, starting with the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans. All five should be playoff-caliber teams. All five have spent the summer either improving or at least fortifying themselves through the Draft and free agency. They will batter each other in the division and make life miserable for any team that has to pull a Southwest Division swing. The easiest division? I prefer terms like least treacherous. The Northwest and Atlantic both look like they’ll have several teams trying to recover from the offseason (Draft, free agency, trades, etc.), which will keep those divisions from being as strong top-to-bottom.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com The Atlantic remains the NBA’s weakling, in spite of its immense markets: its four big American franchises are rebuilding, while the Raptors have won no more than a single playoff series in 20 years. The powerhouse is the Southwest, which looks capable of producing five playoff teams for a second straight year — and possibly 50-plus wins across the board, pending the continued development of Anthony Davis. Any one of its teams would dominate the Atlantic.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog Well, the Southwest is now the Southbest. As if it wasn’t already tough enough, now you’ve got LaMarcus Aldridge and David West in San Antonio, James Harden and Dwight Howard in Houston, Dirk Nowitzki, DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews in Dallas, and the Grit-and-Grind Grizzlies in Memphis. Poor New Orleans has to satisfy themselves with “just” having Anthony Davis. Meanwhile, the Atlantic Division is still the Atlantis. While the Knicks, Sixers, Celtics and Nets all search for a path to relevance, the Raptors should be on top for a few years to come.