Posts Tagged ‘Thunder’

Summer Dreaming: Most Valuable Player

We’ve been to the beach to soak up the rays and the scenery and did some snorkeling to take a peek at life beneath the water’s surface. We’ve risen at dawn and hiked up through the cool morning air on narrow trails to get a glimpse of what’s over there on the next mountain. We’ve gone bungee jumping just to see if we had it in us. We’ve floated down long, lazy rivers to navel gaze and find out how long we could keep that umbrella drink balanced on our bellies.

What else is left to see on these sultry summer days except to lie back in a hammock and dream of MVPs who’ll make things hot on all those winter nights?

While we’re still several pages on the calendar away from the 2014-15 season openers, we’re taking off from the free-throw line in our naps and soaring all the way to April for the top five contenders on my ballot.

Send us your picks.


VIDEO: LeBron James returns home to Cleveland

LeBron James, Cavaliers — He’s back at home in Ohio, all is forgiven and it’s safe to like him again. Add in the fact that he lost out on the MVP trophy to Kevin Durant last season — even though it was silly to even think that he wasn’t the best player in the league — and there’s reason to expect bigger things than a pregame mushroom cloud of resin dust in Cleveland. Chalk last year up to “LeBron Fatigue” from a voting roll that simply got tired of writing his name in on the top line of the ballot, even if it was the right thing to do. So now “The Homecoming” will have him in the same situation he faced after Derrick Rose copped the MVP from him in 2011. All James did was respond by winning the award two straight times. A fifth MVP this season will move him into a tie with Bill Russell and Michael Jordan and, at just 29, LeBron in his prime will be stalking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time record of six.


VIDEO: Brent Barry goes one-on-one with Chris Paul

Chris Paul, Clippers — Does anybody really think head cheerleader and screamer Steve Ballmer would have plunked down $2 billion to buy the Clippers if Paul hadn’t already done the seemingly impossible and removed their name as the punch line from every NBA joke? Yes, Blake Griffin is a bonafide All-Star. Yes, Doc Rivers is an elite level coach who was tapped into the psyche of DeAndre Jordan to push him into the conversation as one of the best centers in the league. But it’s Paul who is the face, heart, teeth and claws of the franchise. With career averages of 18.6 points, 9.9 assists, simply the best handle in the game and a nose for ballhawking defense, CP3 has a pot that’s been bubbling for nine NBA seasons and is ready to boil over and take the Clippers to the next level. This could be the year. Paul has driven the team to win a franchise record 56 and 57 games in each of the past two seasons and if he can do it again to set up a deep playoff run, the shiny hardware could be his reward.


VIDEO: Kevin Durant talks about his 2013-14 MVP season

Kevin Durant, Thunder — He capped off another splendid and relentless season by winning his first MVP award last season and then upped his game by delivering one of the great acceptance speeches of all time. Go ahead, admit that you wiped a tear from the corner of your eye. What’s going to change on the court this time around? While teammate Russell Westbrook rides the roller coaster of fandom up and down with his off-the-charts play mixed with the “what-was-he-thinking?” shot selection, Durant will continue to be the spindly-legged racehorse that pulls the Thunder wagon. He’s won the scoring title four of the past five seasons, had a string of a dozen straight games of scoring at least 30 a year ago, which brought out the Jordan comparisons. But with all of the hullaballoo surrounding LeBron’s return to Cleveland, last season could one day be remembered as K.D.’s only MVP win if he can’t get the Thunder over the hump to win a championship.


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony elects to stay in New York

Carmelo Anthony, Knicks — Last season was the first time in his career that Anthony’s team did not make the playoffs, yet he still finished third in the MVP voting. That speaks not only to the depth of his own talent, but a lack of depth on the Knicks roster that forces him to be the do-it-all force every night. Other than the arrival of Phil Jackson in the executive suite and Derek Fisher on the bench, little has changed at Madison Square Garden. Melo went window shopping in the free agent market, glimpsing at the goods in Chicago and Houston, then opted to take the largest bundle of cash — five years, $124 million — to remain in New York and continue to keep his name in lights on Broadway. He’s lost weight. He’s gained confidence. He says he can get the Knicks back into the playoffs. In a rebuilt Eastern Conference that now has real challengers up and down the standings, that will be a tall task. But if Anthony can take the Knicks there, he’ll deserved to be in the conversation.


VIDEO: Stephen Curry’s top plays of 2013-14

Stephen Curry, Warriors — Curry is the best pure shooter in the league today. It’s not just the number of times he puts the ball into the basket, but his ability to get the shots off so quickly, at all angles, from virtually anyplace on the court. Give him an open dribble as soon as he crosses the mid court line and you might have given up a bucket. But it’s more than just scoring 24.5 points a game. It’s Curry’s ability to dish the ball from either hand with a magician’s flair for 8.5 assists that makes him truly special. He was already knocking on the door of the top five a year ago, finishing sixth in the MVP balloting. If new coach Steve Kerr can get the Warriors to take the next step and boost them into the upper half of the Western Conference bracket, Curry could be a dark horse in the race.

Summer Dreaming: D Player of the Year

Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka led the NBA in total blocks in 2013-14. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka led the NBA in total blocks in 2013-14. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

There are so many different ways to fully embrace the dog days of summer. One is to fire up the grill and start cooking. Another is to keep that blender full of ice.

Here, we’re talking basketball. The season openers are still more than two months away, but it’s never too early to look ahead. So here are my Summer Dreaming choices for 2014-15 Defensive Player of the Year.

Send me your picks.

Serge Ibaka, Thunder — If you don’t think he’s a game-changer, then you weren’t paying attention last spring when the Serge Protector missed the first two games of the Western Conference finals and the Spurs were able to run a virtual lay-up line through the heart of the OKC defense. When Ibaka returned from a calf injury, all of a sudden it wasn’t so easy for Tony Parker and his friends to get to the basket and the series was quickly tied up 2-2. Ibaka protects the rim, contests jumpers and puts the bite into the Thunder. He’s continuing to blossom as an offensive force, but it’s his defense that is the glue of the Thunder. He led the league in total blocks for the fourth straight time last season and has been voted to the All-Defensive first team three years in a row. It’s finally his turn to get the big hardware.

Anthony Davis, Pelicans — Was it really fair to bring him into the league carrying comparisons to the legendary Bill Russell? Well, maybe if you watch the highlight video from last season. With coach Monty Williams taking the shackles off his playing time, A.D. showed many of the skills that made him the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft. For all that he was able to do with the ball around the basket, it was the defensive plays that dropped your jaw to the floor. He guarded the paint. He cut off baseline drives. Davis seemed to swoop in from out of nowhere to reject even 3-point attempts from the corner. No place on the court was safe from the ballhawking shot-blocker. Now with rim-protecting center Omer Asik at his back, Davis might really cut loose challenging shots. That’s just scary.

Dwight Howard, Rockets – He practically owned this award, winning it three straight times from 2009-2011 in Orlando, but that was before everything went south with the Magic and he had to overcome back problems and questions about commitment to the game. Howard arrived for his first season in Houston fit and ready to re-establish himself. By the end of 2013-14 there were no more questions about his health and desire to get back to the old form. Howard’s 2.83 blocks per game led the league as he returned to being a stopper anyplace around the basket. He’s got 10 years of NBA experience but is still just 28. There’s no reason that the Rockets can’t count on him to be the defensive anchor in their push to be true contenders in the Western Conference.

Joakim Noah, Bulls — Defense can’t always be measured by numbers and quantified with stats. As the 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year, Noah blocked just 1.4 shots per game. But he had a nose to go after every shot at the rim, was firm in guarding the pick-and-roll and with his sheer energy and physical force was as disruptive as a twister to any opposing offense. He’s hungry, he’s relentless, he’s challenging the ball anywhere on the court, he’s the epitome of the attitude that coach Tom Thibodeau wants and is at the heart of the Bulls defense that ranked No. 2 in the league last season. You can’t ever ignore Noah. He simply won’t let you.

DeAndre Jordan, Clippers – The Clippers’ big man got special attention from the boss in coach Doc Rivers’ first season in L.A. and it paid off tremendously. Rivers expected more from Jordan, demanded more … and usually got it. Jordan’s sixth NBA season produced dramatic improvement as he accepted responsibility to be a core performer. He finished second in the NBA in blocked shots per game (2.54) and third in rebounding (12.5). One of the main reasons that point guard Chris Paul can spend so much time jumping passing lanes looking for steals and the Clippers can be so aggressive on the perimeter is because they know they’ve got Jordan watching their backs with those long, lethal arms.

Top shooting performances of 2013-14

Some nights that basket just seems as big as the ocean and it looks as easy as dropping the ball in from the beach. Other times, it’s just about sheer power from the big guys who have their way on the inside.

Last season produced some of each to make up this look at the top individual shooting performances of 2013-14. To be eligible for this list, players needed to shoot at least 90 percent from the field on at least 11 field goal attempts:

8. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
Dec. 28, 2013 vs. New Orleans Pelicans — 24 points, 10-for-11 FG (90.9 percent), 18 rebounds

For the first couple of months last season, Howard was trying to prove that he was over his back problems while re-establishing himself as the premier center in the game. This was another statement with an overpowering low-post game that produced six dunks, three little jump hooks and a layup in a 107-98 victory. He seemed intent on showing his physicality and committed a handful of offensive fouls to pile up eight turnovers.


VIDEO: Dwight Howard pounds on the Pelicans for 24 points and 18 rebounds

7. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
February 21, 2014 vs. Atlanta Hawks — 22 points, 10-for-11 FG (90.9 percent), 11 rebounds, three steals

If the frontline combination of Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith had played so well from the start, it’s likely coach Mo Cheeks wouldn’t have been fired and Joe Dumars might still be Detroit’s GM. It was the third time in the season that the trio of big men all had double-doubles in the same game. It was a demonstration of sheer power, not a shooting clinic by Drummond. Six of his 10 buckets were dunks and he went 0-for-8 from the free throw line. (more…)

Half-century club: Top scorers of 2013-14

If you wanted to see points piled up as high as the Himalayas in 2013-14, the team to watch was in Charlotte. Not because the Bobcats were much of a threat to fill up the basket themselves. They ranked just 24th in offense.

But the Bobcats did give up the two highest-scoring individual games of the season, letting Carmelo Anthony explode for 62 points on Jan. 24 and then, six weeks later, becoming the victims when LeBron James went off for 61.

In all, there were a half dozen games last season when the half-century mark was topped. Not surprisingly, two of the others were by Kevin Durant, who won his fourth scoring title.

One thing to keep in mind. It helps to hit the long ball. In those six games, the big guns hit 38-for-65 (58.5 percent) on 3-pointers.

Here are the six games that cracked the 50-point barrier:

6. Terrence Ross, Toronto Raptors
Jan. 25, 2014 vs. L.A. Clippers — 51 points (16-for-29 FG, 10-for-17 3PT FGA)


VIDEO: Ross’  big night

The crowd at the Air Canada Centre might have been less surprised that night had a UFO landed at mid-court. After all, Ross, a second-year guard who was the eighth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, came into the game with a career best of 26 points. He blew through that by connecting on 10-for-17 3-pointers. It still wasn’t enough as the Raptors fell 126-118 to the Clippers. It was the only plus-50 game last season that came in a loss.

5. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
March 21, 2014 at Toronto Raptors — 51 points (15-for-32 FG, 8-for-20 3PT FGA)


VIDEO: Durant’s big night

This was familiar ground for Durant, becoming his fourth-career 50-point game and the second time he eclipsed the half-century mark in the season. Durant had to pull the load after Russell Westbrook was lost to injury in the third quarter, carrying the Thunder by scoring 38 points after the intermission in a 119-118 double-overtime victory.

4. Corey Brewer, Minnesota Timberwolves
April 11, 2014 vs. Houston Rockets — 51 points (19-for-30 FG, 2-for-6 3PT FG)


VIDEO: Brewer’s big night

How does a nine-year veteran with a career-scoring average of 10 points per game light up the scoreboard for five times that much? Well, it helps to be going up against the whipped-cream soft defense of the Rockets’ James Harden. Brewer just kept attacking the basket, making 19 of 30 shots and 11 of 15 at the free-throw line. Of all the players in the list, he made the least use of the 3-point line, hitting only 2-for-6 behind the arc. The Wolves beat the Rockets, 112-110.

3. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Jan. 17, 2014 vs. Golden State Warriors — 54 points (19-for-28 FG, 5-for-9 3 PT FG)


VIDEO: Durant’s big night

It wasn’t long after Westbrook suffered a setback with his knee and went back onto the shelf when Durant lit up the early part of the new year with his own special brand of fireworks. OKC certainly need all that K.D. could deliver on a night when the Splash Brothers of Golden State were lighting it up themselves — Steph Curry with 37 and Klay Thompson 26. On his way to a fourth NBA scoring title, Durant had more than enough in his tank to come through for a 127-121 victory.

2. LeBron James, Miami Heat
March 3, 2014 vs. Charlotte Bobcats — 61 points (22-for-33 FG, 8-for-10 3PT FGA)


VIDEO: James’ big night

Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins might have been the only one on the planet who was not impressed when the game’s current best player had the biggest night of his career. Wilkins criticized the Bobcats’ defense and their effort. But that doesn’t make it any less impressive that LeBron had the highest field-goal percentage (66.7) in a 60-point game since Shaquille O’Neal hit 60 on 68.6 percent shooting back in 2000. James tied his career high with eight 3-pointers and set Heat records with 25 points in a quarter and 22 FGs in a game in the 124-107 win. It’s what they’ll moon over in Miami when he’s missing this season.

1. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
Jan. 24, 2014 vs. Charlotte Bobcats — 62 points (23-for-35 FG, 6-for-11 3PT FGA)


VIDEO: Anthony’s big night

There have been a lot of games played in the history of the NBA, but few demonstrations of shooting proficiency that topped Melo on the night he set scoring records for the Knicks and for Madison Square Garden. He was a sizzling 23-for-35 (65.7 percent) overall, 6-for-11 behind the 3-point line and a perfect 10-for-10 on free throws. Oh, and he didn’t commit a single turnover. The fact is that if the Knicks weren’t cruising to a 125-96 win over the Bobcats, Anthony likely could have gone much higher. He had 56 of his points in the first three quarters and didn’t play the final 7:18 of the game.

NBA unveils 2014-15 schedule Wednesday


VIDEO: LeBron James and the Cavaliers are talking championship this season in Cleveland

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — LeBron James has everyone in Cleveland, and many around the league, thinking about a title chase for the Cavaliers.

We shall see. But whatever the Cavs do this season, chances are pretty good we’ll be able to see much of it live on TV.

LeBron and the new-look Cavs figure to be a prime-time fixture on NBA broadcast outlets during the 2014-15 regular season. NBA TV will unveil the entire regular-season national television schedule Wednesday on the NBA 2014-15 Schedule Release Special at 6 p.m. ET.

The show will highlight the season’s biggest games, most highly anticipated matchups, the opening week schedule, the Christmas Day games and the Martin Luther King Jr. Day games. The entire schedule will be posted on NBA.com in conjunction with the NBA TV special, which will be hosted by Rick Kamla and feature NBA TV’s Brent Barry. Contributors from around the league will offer insight and analysis.

The Cavaliers, who haven’t made the playoffs since James left four years ago, are a team that will be headlined by All-Stars James, Kyrie Irving and, very possibly, Kevin Love (pending the finalization of  a reported trade between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cavaliers, a trade that also includes Andrew Wiggins, the Cavs’ No. 1 pick in last month’s Draft). Many already are predicting huge things for James and the Cavs.

It’s safe to say there will be no shortage of other intriguing storylines for the upcoming season, too, what with seismic changes in the Central Division alone, not to mention the retooling of all of the contenders chasing the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs.

Whether the road to the NBA championship runs through Cleveland, San Antonio, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles (Clippers)  or somewhere else, we’ll find out all the regular-season steps on Wednesday night.

Morning Shootaround — July 27


VIDEO: LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers visits China

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers got the right man for the job in Byron Scott | USAB roster vulnerable without Love? | Turner and Celtics find perfect fit in each other | Finding Gregg Popovich in the summer

No. 1: Lakers got the right man for the job in Byron Scott: — It absolutely took forever for the Los Angeles Lakers to find what they feel is the best fit for their new coach. And there’s good reason for it. Had things played out differently in free agency, LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony might have had a say (along with Kobe Bryant, of course) in who replaced Mike D’Antoni. That’s not saying it would not have been Byron Scott. But there is no guarantee. Ultimately, as Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com points out, the Lakers got the right man for the job:

It was no secret that if they ended up pulling off a coup and landing LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony or both, they wanted to entice the superstars to come by letting them have a say in who would coach them.

All the while, however, they kept Scott in the loop, bringing him back for a second interview June 10 prior to free agency and then again for a third talk July 16 after the Anthony/James dream had died and L.A. instead filled up its roster with the likes of Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer and Ed Davis.

Which brings us to the second question that needs to be asked: Why Byron?

It wasn’t just about his ties to the Showtime era, but that surely helped. It wasn’t just that he was around the team all last season as an analyst for the Lakers’ television station, Time Warner Cable SportsNet, and had an intimate knowledge of what went down, but that helped too.

The Lakers franchise also wanted to establish a clear defensive identity after being atrocious on that end of the court last season, and Scott’s credentials include a strong defensive-minded reputation.

But really, the Scott hire comes down to one man: Kobe Bryant. L.A. invested close to $50 million in Bryant over the next two seasons when he’ll be 36 and a 19-year veteran and 37 and a 20-year veteran.

Despite all that’s gone wrong in Laker Land since Phil Jackson retired in 2011, Bryant still remains as a box office draw and a future first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Whichever coach the Lakers decided on would have to mesh well personalitywise with Bryant first and foremost and, beyond that, play a system that would help Bryant continue to be productive even as Father Time is taking his toll.

It was no accident that Bryant publicly endorsed Scott for the job during his youth basketball camp in Santa Barbara, California, earlier this month.

“He was my rookie mentor when I first came into the league,” Bryant said. “So I had to do things like get his doughnuts and run errands for him and things like that. We’ve had a tremendously close relationship throughout the years. So, obviously I know him extremely well. He knows me extremely well. I’ve always been a fan of his.”

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OKC’s Adams trying to find comfort level


VIDEO: Steven Adams talks about his performance so far in Orlando

ORLANDO — It was a rookie season in which Steven Adams’ crunching elbows and physical play around the basket became well known.

Turns out he’s got a sharp tongue for trash talk as well.

When Willie Reed of the Pacers used two hands on his back to try to keep him from burrowing down into the lane, the Thunder big man turned with the best zinger so far in the Orlando Pro Summer League.

“Hey, you won’t be able to do that in the D-League,” Adams said.

The 7-foot wise-cracking New Zealander scored 10 points, grabbed eight rebounds and turned the ball over five times in game three of the project to turn him into more of an offensive weapon in Oklahoma City.

Nobody is going to confuse him for Shaquille O’Neal or even a lumbering, aging Jermaine O’Neal at this point. But it’s been acknowledged all along that Adams is a project.

“We want to see Steven being able get the ball in the low post more and creating from there,” said Thunder assistant Darko Rajakovic, who is running the summer league bench. “He showed a couple of really good passes from the low post and a couple of pretty good moves and we have to be happy with that. It’s something that is adding to his game and is going to be an emphasis for the rest of the summer.”

Adams averaged 3.3 points and 4.1 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game as a rookie and the idea is to finally get some offensive production out of the middle of the Thunder lineup where Kendrick Perkins has barely registered a blip for years.

But while there’s every reason to believe that Adams can be that inside game to balance the perimeter play of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, right now it all comes down to getting him to embrace the role.

“I’m still a newb(ie), bro,” Adams said. “It’s getting better from when I started. But there’s still a long way to go in terms of reading my man and what I can do. They had that big 19 (6-foot-9, 275-pound Arinze Onuaku), who’s huge. I tried to back him down and got it stripped out. So I said, OK, I should use my speed against him. Just different reads like that.

“I’ve got to get comfortable with it and try to get more confident in getting the ball. Right now, I’m quite far away. I ain’t quite as demanding. It could be an option next year, but I’m not sure.

“If I was more confident with my moves, I’d be more demanding because I’d know I’d be able to score straightaway. That’s what I’m trying to get to from there.”

Through three games, Adams is averaging 9.3 points and shooting 9-for-15 from the field. More troublesome are his antics at the foul line, where he’s made just 11 of 23 (47.8 percent).

“Free throws, bro,” he said. “Free throws. Free throws. I’m working on that.

“I haven’t put up anything over the summer. We had a two-week break and I got advice to do nothing. At the end of the (NBA) season it was like, ‘He sucks at free throws.’ Now it’s ‘Oh my God. It’s rubbish.’ So I’ve got to get back to just sucking at free throws and we’ll go from there.”

Orlando Pro Summer League tips off


VIDEO: The Summer League season begins Saturday in Orlando

It’s an annual coming-out party for NBA rookies, other young pros looking to hone their skills and move up the pecking order and a handful of older veterans seeking another crack at the big time. In this case, it’s also the long-awaited pro debut of Nerlens Noel.

The Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League tips off Saturday (9 a.m., NBA TV) with familiar names from the draft and plenty of other hopefuls hustling for an invitation to training camps in October.

Eight first-round picks from the 2014 draft — led by No. 4 Aaron Gordon of the Magic, No. 6 Marcus Smart of the Celtics and No. 10 Elfrid Payton of the Magic — will take part in the seven days of competition that will take place on the practice court at Orlando’s Amway Center.

Another major headliner will be Noel, the No. 6 pick in the 2013 draft, who sat out all of last season while recovering from knee surgery. He’ll finally get to scratch that itch to play. Sixers fans might get their first glimpse into bright future.

The games are not open to the public and will only be attended by media and league personnel. All games will be shown on NBA TV.

The 10 teams will each play five games, concluding with a championship day that will be based on standings. A point system will establish the standings leading up to the final day, with eight points awarded each game based on: four points for winning the game and one point for winning a quarter (in the event of a tied quarter, each team will receive 0.5 points). In the event of ties in seeding heading into championship day, three tiebreakers will be in place: 1) total point differential; 2) total points allowed; 3) coin flip.

Here’s a quick look at roster highlights for each of the 10 teams that will participate:

Boston Celtics — It’s the second year of the rebuilding program under coach Brad Stevens. The Celtics are hoping to get a big boost from their pair of first-round draft choices Marcus Smart and James Young. It’s not certain if Young will play after he suffered a strained neck in a car accident several weeks before the Draft. He’s been held out of early workouts at the Celtics’ training facility. Last year’s first-round pick Kelly Olynyk — the MVP of the Summer League last season — will return to Orlando, joined by fellow Celtics veterans Chris Babb, Chris Johnson and Phil Pressey.

Brooklyn Nets — Last year’s summer appearance by the Nets was most notable for the coaching debut of Jason Kidd, who proceeded to answer a cell phone call on the sidelines of his very first game. Kidd has been replaced by Lionel Hollins, who did a masterful job giving the Grizzlies credibility as a playoff contender. The Nets were without first-round draft picks as a result of the Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce trades last year. But on draft night they dealt cash for second-round picks Markel Brown, Xavier Thames and Cory Jefferson. Also playing for the Nets will be Mason Plumlee, who made a big impression a year ago and went on to become the All-Rookie first team center last season.

Detroit Pistons – It’s the beginning of a new era in Detroit with Stan Van Gundy’s arrival as both head coach and club president. Second-year Pistons players Kentavious-Caldwell Pope, Peyton Siva and Tony Mitchell will each be looking to tighten up their games to impress the new boss. Andre Drummond and Kyle Singler will practice with the team, but will not participate in games. The NBA D-League 2014 Defensive Player of the Year DeAndre Liggins will be on the roster, along with undrafted free agents Tristan Spurlock, Mustafa Shakur, Jordan Heath and Markel Starks.

Houston Rockets — It’s been a long time since the Rockets made Maarty Leunen a second-round pick out of Oregon in the 2008 draft, but the long-range bomber will be in Orlando to take his shot. Leunen has the shooting skill the Rockets seek, hitting 42 percent on 3-pointers the past three seasons in the Italian League. He’ll join up with last year’s rookies, Isaiah Canaan and Robert Covington, who both got their feet wet last season with the Rockets. The 6-foot-9 power forward Covington was named the 2014 NBA D-League rookie of the year . The Rockets’ top draft pick Clint Cappela will not play, but second-round choice, Arizona guard Nick Johnson, will be on the court in Orlando.

Indiana Pacers – There’s not the usual summertime electricity in the air when you walk away from the draft without a single player. The Pacers’ roster will be anchored by last year’s holdovers Donald Sloan and Solomon Hill, who’ll be seeking to earn another season on the roster. Jake Odum was a four-year starter at Larry Bird’s alma mater Indiana State and will try to push Sloan for the third point guard spot. A back injury has scratched 10-year NBA veteran Roger Mason Jr. from his scheduled appearance with the Pacers.

Memphis Grizzlies — Second-year shooting guard Jamaal Franklin will head up the Grizzlies’ entry. Franklin saw time in 21 games for the Grizzlies last season. He’ll be joined by 2014 draft pick Jordan Adams (No. 22 overall) and Jarnell Stokes (No. 35). Adams was rated a terrific scorer and good offensive rebounder ahead of the draft, but some scouts labeled him unathletic. This is his first chance to prove them wrong. The roster, led by assistant coach Shawn Respert for the first three games and assistant Jason March for the last two, will feature three native Memphians, including Stokes, former University of Memphis guard Joe Jackson and former Ole Miss guard Terrico White.

Miami Heat – Gee, no pressure at all when LeBron James tweets that you were the best point guard in the draft. Assuming The King returns to Miami, everyone will be looking to see if Shabazz Napier can bring enough talent to South Beach to help make a difference for the point-guard poor Heat. Miami brass made its play for the guy who led UConn to another NCAA championship on draft night, swinging a deal with the Bobcats to get their man at No. 24. Seven-footer Justin Hamilton played seven games with the Heat last season. Point guard Larry Drew set the UCLA single season record for assists in 2013, but went undrafted and played last season for the Sioux City Skyforce in the NBA D-League.

Oklahoma City Thunder – The Thunder surprised many with their first round picks Mitch McGary (21) and Josh Huestis (29), mostly because they seemed to duplicate picks from a year earlier in Steven Adams and Andre Roberson. Plenty scouts were high on the big man McGary, and Huestis put his stamp on last season when he locked up and shut down No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins. Adams and Roberson are back for another summer league run and will be joined by Jeremy Lamb and Grant Jerrett.

Orlando Magic — The hometown team will bring in a pair of top 10 talents from this year’s draft. The power forward Gordon has size and strength and a defensive nose. This is where he’ll start trying to add a jumper to his game that could vault him to the elite level in a couple of years. The Magic wanted Payton enough to give up a future first round pick for him at No. 10, and together with Victor Oladipo could give them an outstanding backcourt for years. Last year’s top pick Oladipo will be back on the summer league roster along with Stephen Curry’s brother Seth, who is still trying to carve out a place in the NBA. Matt Bouldin won the D-League championship with the Ft. Wayne Mad Ants last season.

Philadelphia 76ers – He’s been champing at the bit to get out on the court wearing a Sixers jersey in game conditions for more than a year, so don’t be surprised if Nerlens Noel jumps through the ceiling when he finally gets on the floor. The No. 6 pick in the 2013 Draft was rehabbed very conservatively, so now he’ll get to show off the all-around skills that had him listed as the No. 1 pick until his knee injury. Joel Embiid, the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, will of course sit out following foot surgery. Last season’s NBA Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams will be sidelined after surgery to repair a torn labrum. The Sixers roster will include the 32nd pick K.J. McDaniels, Jeremi Grant (No. 39), Vasilije Micic (No. 52) and Jordan McRae (No. 58). Also suiting up will be Pierre Jackson, who set the single-game D-League scoring record with 58 points last season.

Hawks snag Sefolosha on 3-year deal


VIDEO: Thabo Sefolosha is a defensive wiz and the ultimate system guy for the Hawks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Some of Danny Ferry‘s best work as general manager of the Hawks has come during these summer months, when many of his colleagues are spending lavishly for players Ferry is busy bargain hunting for players who perfectly fit the Atlanta Hawks’ system.

Ferry might have found his latest gem in defensive wiz Thabo Sefolosha, who agreed to terms on a 3-year, $12 million deal earlier today, as first reported by RealGM.

Sefolosha, a starter in Oklahoma City the last five seasons, fills the void on the wings for the Hawks, who traded veteran reserve guard Lou Williams to Toronto earlier this week.  Sefolosha averaged 6.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in 61 starts last season and served as Thunder’s defensive ace on opposing team’s best perimeter player.

The Hawks proved last year, their first under coach Mike Budenholzer, that they could plug different players into their system and get fantastic results. Paul Millsap earned his first All-Star nod in his first season with the Hawks while guys like DeMarre Carroll, Mike Scott, Pero Antic and Shelvin Mack had standout seasons. 

Sefolosha was a mainstay in that Thunder lineup during that franchise’s rise from lottery outfit to legitimate contender, working alongside the reigning KIA MVP Kevin Durant and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook.

The Hawks have an offensive specialist on the perimeter in veteran shooter Kyle Korver. Sefolosha gives them kindred spirit on the defensive side and a player versatile enough to fit into whatever small-ball, Spurs-lite scheme Budenholzer has in mind for the future.

Once again, Ferry is loading the cupboard with great fits at reasonable prices, the same as he did last summer when the Hawks were flush with cap space and spent wisely (if at all).

Losing Collison is not the only problem the Clippers are facing

Darren Collison's move to the Kings is just the beginning of the Clips' challenges. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Darren Collison’s move is just the beginning of the Clips’ new challenges. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

At least it is basketball adversity now instead of You Know Who turbulence. But it’s still the Clippers in what could become an increasingly difficult time, wanting to take the next step after reaching the Western Conference semifinals last season but seeing offseason challenges all around them.

Thursday, backup point guard Darren Collison jumped to the Kings for a three-year deal worth a reported $16 million and, he told Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, because “Sacramento is giving me the keys to help this team and try to turn it around.” The Kings gave him a clear path to the starting job, in other words, an important consideration for Collison while understanding he would always be behind Chris Paul in Los Angeles, not to mention a development Isaiah Thomas will obviously keep in mind as a restricted free agent who just saw his job in Northern California given away again.

If it was Collison alone, the Clippers could take a deep breath and move ahead with the conviction that they simply were not going to spend more than $5 million a season for a reserve behind the best point guard in the world. As much as Collison helped a 57-win team, they could grab another free agent for less with master recruiter Doc Rivers. The Clips will wish him well on the payday and the opportunity they could not match.

But if this turns out to be one of several hits, obviously depending on the outcome at backup point guard, the Clippers will have a lot more to prove than whether they can get beyond the second round.

These are also the days of Pau Gasol considering Oklahoma City and San Antonio as free-agent destinations, even though it would mean a bigger pay cut than he was already facing. The defending champs getting Gasol on the cheap or the Thunder landing Gasol at a bargain rate — that’s a problem for the rest of the league in general and in particular anyone trying to come up on them in the crowded West. The Clippers, and the Rockets and the Trail Blazers and the Warriors, need Gasol to chase the money more than the ring.

Plus, the Clippers continue to search for help at small forward. They drafted Reggie Bullock in the first round in 2013, but he wasn’t ready and, based on the phone calls being fired off to free agents, still isn’t. They signed Danny Granger and Hedo Turkoglu for the stretch drive last season, but that was a patch job with little chance to last into 2014-15.

So they’re still looking. Maybe Paul Pierce, Rivers’ guy with the championship Celtics, maybe others through free agency or trade, but small forward is essentially unmanned, to where Collison knew that opening was impacting his own place with the team.

“I was a priority for them to sign, but I wasn’t the top priority,” Collison said told the Register. “And that’s understandable.”

A few days into free agency and the Clippers are confronted with several issues, trying to solve their own issues on the wing and now at backup point guard while taking a seat in the front row of the watch party on Gasol’s decision. They still have time and money, but if the offseason goes bad, they will also have a lot of doubts to answer as camp opens. That’s understandable too.