Al-Farouq Aminu remembers when he was on a minimum contract.
It was five summers ago in 2014. The Dallas Mavericks had signed him to a two-year, $2.1 million deal with a player option for the second season.
After playing as a rookie with the Los Angeles Clippers and spending the next three years in New Orleans—including the Pelicans’ inaugural campaign—due to a trade, the Mavs brought Aminu in as a free agent for depth purposes at the wing.
At the time, Dallas boasted a roster full of veteran talent: Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler, Richard Jefferson, Devin Harris, Jameer Nelson, Monta Ellis, Raymond Felton, Charlie Villanueva and J.J. Barea—plus Rajon Rondo and Amar’e Stoudemire—each had eight years of experience or more.
“This was the first time I actually had like really old vets,” Aminu recalled to Basketball Insiders. “I always was on the youngest team in the league, and then a lot of the times our vets were hurt or different things like that. They weren’t around us in order to just to be able to soak up stuff.
“So I wanted to really use the opportunity to learn from [them] because I wanted to model my career after some of these guys.”
Richard Jefferson was in his 13th season as a pro on his fourth different team in as many years. He’d been coming off a productive stay with the Utah Jazz where he played a critical role as the guiding voice for an extremely youthful group.
It turns out that, in Dallas, Jefferson would provide the same type of insight to a then-24-year-old Aminu.
Little did the young forward know that a simple conversation with one of the wisest in the game would dictate the direction his career would go.
“We was talking about different players and he was telling me,” Aminu described. “He was like, ‘Ah, from a coach standpoint, this guy – I wouldn’t take him over this guy because I’d rather know what I’m getting every night then to get something sporadic.’
“He was like, ‘Man, I’d rather be a guy who the coach knows exactly every night what they’re gonna get than to be a guy that’s up and down, that might get 20 one night and two the next night.’ I knew I took that to heart when he told me that. And I remember that stuck out to me.”
In 28 minutes of action at the TD Garden against the Boston Celtics, Aminu registered one made field goal for the Portland Trail Blazers.
He attempted just two shots on the night. The first was an eight-foot miss on a baseline turnaround just outside of the paint in the opening moments of the game.
It wasn’t until three quarters later that Damian Lillard found Aminu in the corner, where he nailed a contested three to push his team’s lead back up to eight with less than five minutes to go.
The significant moment in the final period answered Marcus Smart’s and-one from the previous possession and shifted the momentum back in the Blazers’ favor in the process.
This goes without mentioning Aminu’s heads-up re-route pass to Jusuf Nurkic after the catch of an inbound for an easy two. Or the pair of steals earlier in the contest. Or the nine total rebounds.
If you look at the preceding game vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers, Aminu was tasked with guarding a red-hot and rejuvenated Kevin Love—and Portland’s four-man passed the test with flying colors.
En route to a victory, Aminu limited Love to 12 points on 3-for-9 from the field. In the 46 possessions the two were matched up, he blocked the All-Star twice. Plus, as it happened in Boston thereafter, Aminu nailed a crucial fourth-quarter triple to take the wind out of the home team’s sails.
The numbers aren’t gaudy, nor is the style of play. It all goes back to the talk with Jefferson, and—as a veteran himself now—Aminu hopes to pass that same message on to players that are in the shoes he was once wearing.
“It’s just so hard for a team to build anything when you don’t have players that are willing to be consistent in what they do,” Aminu told Basketball Insiders.
“I try to make sure that I do that, in order to show the younger players as well that every night you don’t have to try to go for home runs. Just remember to keep hitting these singles and it’s gonna get you through the 82. That’s what I say.”
Aminu’s parallel between basketball and baseball morphed into using an example of perhaps the greatest point guard in the history of the NBA to illustrate his point.
“Some guys they go for the home run plays. Some games they’re good, it works or whatever the case may be,” Aminu said. “But then, sometimes it shows off as a big deficiency. That’s a choice.
“You could look at Magic Johnson and see a couple plays where he [did] like wild passes or whatever and think like, ‘Oh wow. That was so cool. I wanna do that.’ But he picked and chose his moments in order to make plays like that. You just have to be smart about it.”
In a league loaded with superstar talent and flash on the floor, Aminu aims to bring the same energy, production and focus every single night. He doesn’t have to do anything else other than being a star in his role.
Since joining the Blazers after one year in Dallas, Aminu—nicknamed “Chief,” which is derived from his first name’s meaning in Nigerian—has absolutely succeeded in doing so.
“He’s been a constant for us,” Portland head coach Terry Stotts said. “We’ve relied on his defense for all three-and-a-half years. He usually has a tough assignment guarding bigger players. He takes the challenge of that every night.”
Aminu’s outlook may differ from those with the desire to knock the ball out of the park on a daily basis, but don’t mistake it for complacency. Stotts sees him come in on off days, so the man is constantly putting in the time to find ways to better his game—sharpening his jumper, improving his handle and finishing around the rim.
“He’s just been a guy that we’ve just grown to count on every night,” Stotts said. “I think you’ve gotta give Chief all the credit.”
Blazers guard C.J. McCollum, a four-year teammate of his with the Blazers, commends Aminu’s daily commitment.
“I think he’s been consistent with his work ethic,” McCollum told Basketball Insiders. “I think he’s been consistent with his approach every day. Improving his jump shot from when he first got into the league to now being a guy who can shoot 36, 37 percent from three.
“And his defensive versatility and understanding who he is—being able to guard multiple positions, being able to rebound – I think all those things are reasons why he’s had success and why he’s a key part of our team.”
Stotts and McCollum aren’t wrong about his turnaround on the perimeter. Over his first five seasons in the league, Aminu attempted just one three per game and only made 28.6 percent of those rare attempts.
In Portland, the story has changed dramatically. In three of the last four years, Aminu has hit at least 36 percent of his three-point attempts. And during that span, he’s averaged over four attempts beyond the arc.
Adapt or perish is the old adage. However, Aminu lives by those words in the present day as the game of basketball constantly evolves.
“When I first came in, I didn’t ever think I was gonna play a four because the guys were like 250 [pounds],” Aminu told Basketball Insiders. “Now, I’m playing four.
“And then, threes weren’t as big back then either. You wanted to get to the rim. So then now, you’ve got guys having to learn how to shoot threes and where to shoot threes and different things like that.”
He recalls when Portland took on the Washington Wizards at the beginning of the season. Markieff Morris, somebody who Aminu had scouted predominantly as a mid-range threat, buried the Blazers with a career-high six three-pointers en route to a win.
“I mean, it takes a lot of work to learn the skill once you get to this level,” Aminu told Basketball Insiders. “You already made it to the highest level, and then in order to be able to switch up your game, I really got a lot of respect for guys that’s able to do that because the league is forever changing. They’re learning.”
In researching different avenues to refine his game, Aminu admittedly likes to keep a close eye on the playoffs.
“It’ll teach you – because it’s a copycat league – what you’re gonna need to do next,” Aminu told Basketball Insiders. “And guys that are able to make that adjustment, sometimes it just shows you how much work they put in.
“I know that it might not always look like it because it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s what you’re supposed to do.’ But in order to stay in this league for as long as some guys are able to and stay consistent, you have to be smart and you have to put in the work.”
The Blazers are off to a torrid start post-All-Star break. They’ve guaranteed a winning record on their season-long, seven-game east coast road trip already, and in convincing fashion. Riding a five-game streak, they also happen to have won 12 out of their last 16 games.
“Schedule has kinda given up a little bit, which has been helpful,” Aminu told Basketball Insiders. “And then also, we just clicking and playing together. We’re just trying to continue to do what we’ve been doing. It’s been a good season thus far. Sometimes you get a good little stretch and we just gotta learn how to prolong it.”
Recently, the front office brought in Rodney Hood and Skal Labissiere via trade and veteran big man Enes Kanter through the buyout market. Portland was doing just fine before those moves, but these acquisitions have bolstered their roster’s depth to a point it hasn’t been to in quite some time.
Stotts went as far to agree with Basketball Insiders that this is the deepest the Blazers have been in the past three or four seasons. Aminu believes it’s “hard to say,” though he is optimistic about the team’s future with the fresh talent and the guys who are already there getting acclimated to the shift in rotations.
“New additions have been great – high IQ, able to come in and learn the plays and get into rhythm and understand how to play with us really fast,” Aminu told Basketball Insiders. “So I really tip my hat off to them about doing that.
“I commend not only the new guys, but the vets that have been here that minutes have changed a little bit—just the professionalism that it takes in order to do that, to be able to do your job no matter what. And we’re just gonna need to continue to do that because, obviously, that’s the task at hand.”
The fact that Portland has scoring threats like McCollum and Lillard helps *just* a little bit, too.
“They obviously make your job easier and that’s what your job is to do, too, to make theirs,” Aminu told Basketball Insiders.
While Aminu’s traditional statistics may not be the loudest, there are metrics that surely support his impact.
According to Cleaning The Glass, the Blazers are a net 10.6 points per 100 possessions better with Aminu on the floor, placing him in the 92nd percentile relative to every NBA player.
ESPN’s Real-Plus Minus has Aminu ranked eighth (2.40) among power forwards seeing over 20 minutes per game. Perhaps more impressively, he is sixth in RPM wins (6.01) at his position, only behind the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, Pascal Siakam, Blake Griffin and Thaddeus Young.
Pretty solid company if you ask this writer.
So far in the second half of the season, Aminu’s average plus-minus is a plus-19.8 in four games.
In asking Aminu how he maintains such a steady output, his response is straightforward.
“It just takes work,” Aminu told Basketball Insiders. “You just learn how to do it just from watching a lot of film, too.
“Be consistent in the same thing that you do and your work and everything like that, you know what I mean? Off the court and on the court. It’s just a mindset I feel like.”
As the Blazers gear up for the remaining stretch to avenge last year’s postseason shortcomings, they’re going to need Aminu to continue to be himself—and there’s no indication that he won’t hold up his end up of the bargain.
The Chief arrived a while ago.
He’s not leaving anytime soon.
NBA Daily: Grading The Offseason – Chicago Bulls
David Yapkowitz continues Basketball Insiders’ “Grading The Offseason” series by taking a look at the Chicago Bulls.
With summer league over and the big name free agents all signed, we’re now approaching the doldrums of the NBA offseason. Most big moves have all been made, and we shouldn’t expect to too much movement between now and the start of training camp.
Most teams probably have an idea already of what the bulk of their roster will look like come training camp, and as such, we’re starting a new series here at Basketball Insiders taking a look at each team’s offseason to this point.
Next up in our series is the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls are a team clearly in rebuilding mode. After this offseason, they’ve done a pretty solid job at filling out the roster with young talent at every position. It’s obvious now that they were clear winners of their trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves two years ago that netted them Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn.
LaVine continued his ascent to stardom this past season. There may have been initial concerns when he was traded to Chicago as to how he would respond after his torn ACL, but since then, he’s showed no lingering limitations. He’s well on his way to becoming one of the elite shooting guards in the league. Few can match his scoring prowess whether he’s slashing to the rim or shooting 37.4 percent from the three-point line.
Markkanen has emerged as one of the top young big men in the NBA. He made some strong steps forward in his second year in the league. He’s moving closer to becoming a double-double threat every night. He’s exceeded projections from when he was drafted that pegged him as little more than a three-point shooting big. He has shown a lot more versatility to his game.
One major addition the Bulls made last season was the trade deadline acquisition of Otto Porter Jr. When he arrived in Chicago, he quickly played some of the best basketball of his career, fitting in seamlessly with the team and solidifying himself as part of their future core.
They’ve also got Wendell Carter Jr. in the fold. Their top draft pick last offseason, Carter quickly established himself a great defensive complement to Markkanen. An injury cut his rookie season shorter than expected, but he still showed flashes of being a capable around the rim scorer.
They do have some other decent rotation guys in Antonio Blakeney, Chandler Hutchinson and Ryan Arcidiacono. Blakeney is an instant offense scoring guard for the second unit, and Hutchinson was showing flashes of his talent before he too went down with an injury during his rookie season. Arcidiacono was re-signed by the Bulls after being one of their most consistent outside shooters last season.
The Bulls came into draft night with the seventh overall pick. It might have seemed like a disappointment seeing as how the Bulls probably had a shot at a top three pick considering their record. But ultimately, Chicago might have gotten what it wanted in the end. Point guard has been an area of need for the Bulls for quite some time, and they used their pick on North Carolina’s Coby White.
White is a little more in the mold of a scoring guard, but if you could take away one thing from his performance in summer league, it’s that he can thrive as a playmaker as well. It’s unlikely that White will get to start right away, but he’s got the makings of developing into the Bulls eventual starter at the point.
Chicago also picked up Daniel Gafford in the second round. The Bulls needed frontcourt depth after losing Robin Lopez in free agency, and they may very well have found their answer with Gafford. Summer League isn’t always a great indicator of how a player will translate to the NBA, but Gafford was solid as a finisher around the rim and a shot blocker in the paint. He may end up becoming one of the steals of the draft.
In free agency, the Bulls made some rather solid moves. On a team full of young players, it’s necessary to have a couple of key veterans for the young guys to lean on and to provide leadership and stability in the locker room. Thaddeus Young certainly fits that bill. Entering his 13th year in the league, Young played in 81 games last season and was a key guy on a Pacers team that made the playoffs. He’ll provide the Bulls with consistency on and off the court.
They also made a big step to addressing their point guard woes. They acquired Tomas Satoransky in a sign and trade with the Washington Wizards. He’ll provide a perfect stop-gap as the starting point guard while White develops. He proved himself as a facilitator with the Wizards, and he’s one of the better three-point shooters in the league, He’s a versatile guy who can play and defend multiple positions.
The Bulls also picked up Luke Kornet who spent last season with the New York Knicks. Kornet is relatively young and gives the Bulls a solid stretch big man on a decent contract. He’s also a solid shot blocker and should compete with Gafford for minutes off the bench.
Chicago also picked up an intriguing prospect in Adam Mokoka. The French combo guard initially declared for the draft a year ago but ultimately withdrew. He re-entered the draft this summer but went undrafted. In summer league, he showed flashes of playing both wing positions and being a capable defender who can shoot from three. He’ll be on a two-way contract so he’ll see significant time with the Windy City Bulls, Chicago’s G League affiliate.
PLAYERS IN: Adam Mokoka (two-way), Coby White, Daniel Gafford, Luke Kornet, Thaddeus Young, Tomas Satoransky
PLAYERS OUT: Brandon Sampson, Rawle Alkins, Robin Lopez, Shaquille Harrison, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Walt Lemon Jr., Wayne Selden
The Bulls roster currently stands at 15 guaranteed contracts and one two-way contract. They’re likely done with any roster additions unless they find someone to take that second two-way contract slot. They’d most likely move Cristiano Felicio if they could find a taker for his contract, but it’s probably unlikely.
With the additions of Satoransky and White, that likely spells the end of the Kris Dunn experiment in Chicago. If Dunn remains on the roster through the season, and the Bulls aren’t able to move him, it’s highly unlikely Chicago tenders him a qualifying offer. In all likelihood, this is his final season in the Windy City.
The Bulls have done a decent job at filling the roster out with good, young talent. Making the playoffs, even in the Eastern Conference, is still likely a few seasons away. But there is reason for optimism for the Bulls future.
OFFSEASON GRADE: B
NBA Daily: Grading The Offseason – Cleveland Cavaliers
Spencer Davies opens Basketball Insiders team-by-team “Grading The Offseason” series with an overview of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
On Monday night in Las Vegas, the 2019 NBA Summer League champions will be crowned. The Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies are set to square off at the Thomas & Mack Center as the last teams standing over the course of the 10-day period.
Once that winner is determined, the world will be without NBA basketball for quite some time. Though the FIBA World Cup will be fun to watch, it’s not until late September that the association returns for training camp.
In order to hold you over until that date, Basketball Insiders has begun a “Grading The Offseason” series, featuring in-depth analysis on how each franchise has done during this wild summer.
To start things off, we’re going to break down arguably the quietest team of them all regarding roster turnover—the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It’s no secret that, on the floor, the season didn’t go quite as expected. Following the second departure of LeBron James, the organization felt it had enough remnants of the conference championship team to move forward and compete while developing young talent under head coach Tyronn Lue. A detrimental injury to Kevin Love changed that quickly.
Lue was fired six games into the 2018-19 campaign and then the wheels fell off pretty quickly. Top assistant Larry Drew pushed for a raise to take the interim role, due to the mixed bag inside of the locker room, and he was granted one. But as the losses piled up, the internal battle between the veterans and the younger players grew. Most of the criticism shaded toward upstart rookie Collin Sexton, yet he later proved what he was capable of to some of those teammates later down the road.
There were bright spots when Love re-entered the picture around February and played until late March, as he helped steer the inexperienced youngsters like Sexton, Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic in the direction of winning basketball. When all was said and done, the final record was ugly. However, the energy surrounding the group was clearly in a much more positive light than it had been beforehand.
What shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle is the job Cavaliers’ general manager Koby Altman and his staff did to revamp the team’s salary cap situation. Entering the year with inflated contracts, via veterans that didn’t want to sit through a rebuild, moves had to be made to tighten up the locker room and lower the cap a significant amount. Ultimately, they were successful in doing so.
Cleveland was able to move Kyle Korver, George Hill, Sam Dekker, Rodney Hood and Alec Burks (acquired in the Korver trade) and turned that into Brandon Knight, Matthew Dellavedova, John Henson, Nik Stauskas and a boatload of future draft picks. Altman’s been in asset accumulation mode since he took over during LeBron’s last season, and he’s done wonders with the opportunity to chop down those loud figures on the cap sheet, even adding future capital in the process.
Not only has Altman done a great job in obtaining that, but he’s also turned “good” into “great” often—i.e. turning Korver into Burks which he then flipped for a 2019 first-round pick, using the second-rounders to acquire another first-round pick. Even landing Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson at the 2018 trade deadline to kickstart a new direction was impressive.
After parting ways with Drew at season’s end, the Cavaliers set a new course with the hiring of John Beilein in mid-May. Over the span of these past few months, he’s constructed a fresh coaching staff with former Memphis Grizzlies head coach J.B. Bickerstaff as his associate, University of California women’s head coach Lindsay Gottlieb and five-year Utah Jazz assistant Antonio Lang in complementary roles.
Beilein’s graduate assistant at Michigan, Jay Shunnar, is also a part of the staff. Team favorites Mike Gerrity and Dan Geriot are staying on as well to continue developing the players they’ve worked with.
All in all, the people assembled to take on this task of changing a culture are entrenched in teaching and doing hands-on work. It’s the on-court product with an extremely inexperienced group of coaches—three of which are coming from the collegiate level—that could be a challenge. Luckily, the process seems to be about a collective group with an open-mindedness that won’t allow for egos to get in the way.
Despite the lottery results going south (Cleveland had the second-best odds in the top three and dropped to five), draft night was a smashing success for the organization. The wine and gold came out with a trio of highly touted rookies—Darius Garland, Dylan Windler and, after trades were officially cleared, Kevin Porter Jr. Adding talents to the roster was the top priority for the front office — today, that stands as the most noise from what’s been a mostly silent offseason.
With a lack of roster spots and an understanding that there would be little money to spend in a chaotic, competitive free-agent market, the Cavaliers have had to stand pat with what they have. JR Smith’s contract had reportedly fielded some offers between NBA Draft Combine time and around the draft, but the team didn’t like the idea of taking back a bad contract. Instead, they found an easier way to get a third pick in the 2019 first round by using the plethora of second-rounders acquired in the past to flip for Porter.
Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com reported Monday that Cleveland plans on waiving and stretching Smith’s contract for $1.4 million each over the next three years. The move will allow the team to stay under the luxury tax, avoid the repeater tax penalty and also provides a full mid-level exception amount at its disposal. Fedor does mention the front office won’t likely use it heading into the season to remain flexible financially and to keep a roster spot open.
Smith not being traded came as a surprise to many, especially knowing the salary relief his previously-grandfathered CBA deal offered to a team searching to clear space for a big free agency offer. The summer moved fast, though, and other franchises with similar predicaments acted quickly. The Cavaliers could’ve facilitated a few trades to get more future draft assets in return, but they didn’t feel like taking on an albatross contract that would’ve been worth paying the extra tax this upcoming season.
The only other real decision to make was whether or not to retain David Nwaba, who, when healthy, displayed flashes of defensive excellence and aggressiveness on the offensive end, Cleveland did not extend the qualifying offer to Nwaba before the deadline, making him an unrestricted free agent. He recently signed with the Brooklyn Nets on a two-year deal.
This move was not so surprising as Basketball Insiders reported at the beginning of June that Nwaba’s representation would be looking for a multi-year deal. A league source said that last summer’s one-year agreement between the Cavaliers and Nwaba was with the understanding that he’d be strictly looking for a newly re-structured multi-year contract with no qualifying offer in his 2019 plans.
The latest addition the franchise made was inking Dean Wade, an undrafted rookie from Kansas State, to a two-way contract. He played in five NBA Summer League games for the organization between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.
PLAYERS IN: Darius Garland, Dylan Windler, Kevin Porter Jr., Dean Wade (two-way)
PLAYERS OUT: JR Smith, Marquese Chriss, David Nwaba, Channing Frye
Following the waiving of Smith, the Cavaliers roster will be at 13 players. You’d imagine they wouldn’t keep two roster spots open, so seeing a free agent signing or even nabbing a player from a summer league team could be in the cards.
Per Fedor, the franchise will be above the $109 million salary cap by $22 million once the Smith news is made official by the team. It’s a much healthier number than they’ve been at in years past — so, going into next summer, that cap sheet is going to be as clean as it’s been in quite some time.
Cleveland is going to have numerous attractive contracts on its hands as five players on the roster are on deals set to expire following this year. Tristan Thompson ($18.5 million), Brandon Knight ($15.6 million), Jordan Clarkson ($13.4 million), John Henson ($9.7 million) and Matthew Dellavedova ($9.6 million) are all trade chips that Altman can move to stockpile the future even more. Depending on what offers come their way, it could be yet another busy season regarding roster turnover.
There’s plenty of speculation that the team should trade Love to a contender to both satisfy the player and allow the team to get out of his sizable deal. What people are forgetting is that the Cavaliers want to have a championship-caliber player in the locker room as a guiding voice. Remember, this team has one person that is at least the age of 30, and it is the All-Star big man. The next guys up are 28 years old—Henson, Dellavedova and Thompson—and who knows how long they’ll be around.
Cleveland will have to be blown away to take back what it thinks it should receive in return for Love. No deal will be made just to make a deal. The organization values him too much as a person and a player.
On the court, the focus is going to be on player development, mainly in watching how Sexton and Garland play off one another. Different looks and combinations with the frontcourt of Love, Nance Jr., Zizic, Windler and Osman will be available for Beilein to tinker with. A new coaching staff with a freshly enthused group of players should be intriguing to watch.
OFFSEASON GRADE: C-
Stay tuned to the rest of Basketball Insiders “Grading The Offseason” series over the next few weeks.
NBA Daily: Veterans Influencing Spurs Youngsters
Having NBA veterans that can ease young players into the league can be very helpful, which is why Thomas Robinson and Darius Morris have been nice additions to the Spurs’ summer league roster.
The Summer League is a time for many things.
It’s a time for young players to get a taste of what professional basketball is like. It’s a time for teams to evaluate what young talent they have their roster. Most importantly of all, it’s a time for growth.
The Summer League, whether it be in Salt Lake, Sacramento or Las Vegas, serves as a transition for the new blood. Most are either fresh out of college or just arrived into the country, who are also either just beginning or have recently begun their NBA career. Making that transition isn’t always seamless. As talented as some of these kids are, they are prone to make mistakes. That’s where having a veteran who has been around the block can help.
For this year’s summer league. San Antonio brought in two who fit the profile: Thomas Robinson and Darius Morris.
Morris has bounced around between the NBA and the G League since being drafted 41st overall by the Lakers back in 2011. He’s been around the league long enough that playing in the Summer League wasn’t originally in the plans. That all changed when the Spurs called him.
“They actually reached out to me and told me they were interested,” Morris said. “When an organization like the Spurs calls you, you can come in and show that you can blend in and the high character is going to follow you the rest of the way.”
Robinson has also been a journeyman since being selected sixth overall by the Kings back in 2012. Now that he has found himself on the Spurs, he praised the organization for its player development.
“To even get any type of time under anybody on this staff is helpful for any player,” Robinson said. “Whether it’s summer league, mini-camp, or the real roster, it’s always helpful to learn from these guys. They’re like the Mecca of NBA basketball.”
Not many can say that they are the veteran of a summer league team, but Morris not only has that role but also appears to have embraced it since coming on for the Spurs. So much so that even though he takes that responsibility seriously, he and his teammates can have a laugh about it.
“I joke with the guys that I’m transitioning to that vet stage like a little baby vet,” Morris said. “To be able to extend whatever knowledge to the young guys, and kind of getting me in that mode as opposed to being that guy that was drafted, just transitioning to being a mentor and just helping where I can.”
There are various ways in which those are designated as mentors decide to use their role. Some give very little advice while others give nothing but advice. For Morris, he has implemented a “trial by fire” strategy for his younger teammates.
“First, you want them to go out there and play freely,” Morris said. “You don’t want to give them too much advice at first. You just kind of sit back and just watch… You don’t want to put too many things in their ear. Everything is already going 100 miles per hour for you out there and as they go along, just give my advice as we go along.”
As the other veteran/mentor on the squad, Robinson’s approach is simple on the court – just being himself for the Spurs.
“I’m not trying to show that I can do anything different,” Robinson said. “I just want to show that I’m doing everything that they ask me to do the first time.”
Since coming to San Antonio, Robinson has gotten to know some of the Spurs’ young talent. He even took the time to praise some of the Spurs’ young talent – in particular, one of the Spurs’ most recent first-rounders, Keldon Johnson.
“‘Baby Russ’. That’s what I called him” Robinson said. “He doesn’t get tired. He’s super aggressive… He’s big, athletic. I definitely see the makings of a superstar.”
Both Morris and Robinson are leaving impressions with the younger players on their squad. The Spurs other first-rounder this season, Luka Samanic, spoke highly of what they’ve been able to do for him primarily with how he handles his mistakes.
“If I do one quick mistake in the beginning, then it affects my game later,” Samanic said. “So they’re all about ‘Don’t worry about mistakes. You’ll miss shots. It’s all normal here.’ So they helped me a lot with that.”
Blake Ahearn, who coached the Spurs at the Utah Summer League, praised both Robinson and Morris for the calming influence they have on the team.
“It’s huge,” Ahearn said. “Having some of those calming-presence guys on the floor helps those younger guys… That’s a good luxury for coaches to have.”
Spurs assistant Becky Hammon also heaped praise for the two veterans primarily for what they have been able to do for the Spurs’ young players off the court while also reiterating the value guys like that have on these teams.
“They’ve been talking to them in their ear the whole time about what it takes to be a professional and get opportunities,” Hammon said. “Their leadership on the court, off the court has been very helpful. Obviously, having guys like that in a situation like that is very helpful and invaluable.”
Now, undoubtedly, the goal for Robinson and Morris is to be in the NBA again. They’ve been there before and their willingness to play in the summer league shows that they’re not giving up on their dreams.
Regardless of whether they make it, they can take comfort that, in the end, they positively impacted the Spurs of tomorrow.
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