The Veterans of Summer League
The NBA’s summer leagues in Orlando and Las Vegas provide the basketball world their first glimpse at the incoming rookie class and it’s always interesting to watch these potential stars make their professional debut. Some first-year players dominate right away, such as Damian Lillard, John Wall and Blake Griffin, all of whom took home the event’s Most Valuable Player award during their respective rookie seasons. This year, all eyes were on Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Dante Exum, Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart, Julius Randle and other members of this hyped up draft class.
However, there’s another group of players at summer league that are just as intriguing and noteworthy. Every year, a number of veterans show up in Orlando or Las Vegas in an attempt to display their skills and make an NBA comeback. These are players who are hoping that a strong performance in summer league will allow them to land on an NBA roster again so that they can salvage their career.
Some of these veterans have been injured and are trying to show that they’re once again healthy. Some have spent time overseas or in the NBA Development League and want to prove that they can still play with the big boys. Some are just looking for a permanent NBA home after bouncing around the league in recent years as journeymen. Some are under contract for next season, but have a non-guaranteed deal so they’re doing whatever they can to showcase their abilities and make their respective team.
Every offseason, there are a number of notable names sprinkled throughout the summer league rosters and this year was no exception.
Delonte West, Josh Howard, Shannon Brown, Kyrylo Fesenko, Brian Cook, Ivan Johnson, MarShon Brooks, Rodrigue Beaubois, Jerome Jordan, Daniel Orton, Nolan Smith, Donte Greene, Craig Brackins, DaJuan Summers, Darington Hobson and Trey Thompkins were among the veteran players with NBA experience who participated in summer league in either Orlando or Las Vegas.
The biggest summer league success story in recent years is Rasual Butler, who was invited to play with the Indiana Pacers in the Orlando Summer League last season. The 34-year-old did well, signed a non-guaranteed contract with the team and stayed on the roster for the duration of the season. By the end of the year, Butler emerged as a rotation player for the Pacers, playing in 11 of the team’s playoff games. Every veteran who donned a summer league jersey this month is hoping to follow in Butler’s footsteps.
West is the most notable player who suited up in this year’s summer league, playing with the Los Angeles Clippers. He averaged six points, 3.3 rebounds 2.3 assists and 1.7 steals over three games. He did have a nice outing against the Miami HEAT, in which he contributed 12 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three steals. After spending time in the D-League and in China, he’s trying to show teams that he’ll do whatever it takes to return to the league.
“I’m an NBA player, that’s where I belong,” West said. “If the process [of returning to the NBA] is going to the D-League, going to China and going to a summer league team then that’s where I’m at. It’s just playing basketball – D-League, summer league. Reporters come out and say, ‘Well, he had to humble himself to go play in the D-League.’ I mean, I didn’t look at it like that. That’s the jersey I have on, I’m playing for the Texas Legends. Fans may look at me and say, ‘Hey that’s Delonte West. I remember him from the Cavs or [Celtics]! You shouldn’t be playing with the Legends or playing summer league!’ But why not? This jersey says Los Angeles Clippers across my chest. I’m excited and I’m enjoying the process.”
While these veterans are hoping to stick with the team that invited them to summer league, they also recognize that the tournament is an opportunity to showcase their skills in front of the NBA’s 29 other teams as well.
“When you come out here to summer league and you haven’t signed yet, you’re auditioning for every team,” said Nolan Smith, who played with the Oklahoma City Thunder. “It’s definitely a huge opportunity.”
“For me, it’s all about showing all 30 teams – including the Timberwolves – that I’m ready and healthy and willing to do whatever to get back in the league,” said Kyrylo Fesenko, who played with Minnesota. “It’s important for me to get back there. For me, it’s pretty much my second time trying to get to the NBA [after being drafted in 2007]. That’s the main goal in my life. I’ve done everything I could to prepare for summer league. Either I’ll make it or I won’t.”
“I just want to show that I can be consistent and stay healthy; that’s a huge thing,” said Daniel Orton, who played with the Washington Wizards. “I love the game of basketball, I love what I do and I love getting better. I’ve always been focused on trying to perfect myself and just really work on everything. I’ve been getting better and I’m just trying to show that I belong in the NBA.”
“I’ve been working out really hard and now this is an opportunity to play in front of all of the right people,” said Darington Hobson, who played with the Toronto Raptors. “I was blessed that Toronto invited me to practice with them and then they added me to the team, so I’m just trying to show people that I can still play and, most importantly, that I’m healthy.”
Shannon Brown is under contract with the New York Knicks for the 2014-15 season, but it’s a non-guaranteed deal so he suited up for their summer league team in an attempt to showcase his game and increase his odds of making the team’s final roster. Knicks head coach Derek Fisher played with Brown on the Los Angeles Lakers for several seasons and the 28-year-old is familiar with the triangle offense, which should help him as well. Still, he felt like playing on the summer league squad could only help him as he fights to make the actual team. [Note: Brown was waived on Wednesday, one day after this story was published.]
“It was my decision,” Brown said when asked about playing in summer league. “I was thinking about it since I hadn’t played much all throughout last year and I had put on a little bit of weight, so I just wanted to go out there and show people that I can still play the game of basketball. It was tough to go from starting to not playing to playing a little bit – I’ve been in every situation. But I know I can still play the game. It was my decision and I just wanted to show people that it wasn’t over for me. I want to show that I can still play. … I love the challenge. I know if I go out there, do my job and just do what I’m supposed to do, everything will work out. It ain’t all about me; we’re a team right now. I feel like I can score or make a move anytime I want, but I’m trying to help the young guys too and put them in position to be successful as well as myself. I’m just trying to find that balance and then go out there and attack.”
Brian Cook hasn’t been on an NBA team since the 2011-12 season, since he took two years away from the game while his wife was battling cancer. Now, he’s hoping to get back in the league. He played for the Detroit Pistons’ summer league squad because of his close relationship with his former head coach Stan Van Gundy and he did well, averaging 9.3 points and five rebounds in four games.
“My wife had cancer, so I’ve had to be at home a little bit the last couple of years,” Cook said. “I’m ready to get some competition back in me, so it’s been good for me to get out here and be with these younger guys, these hungry guys, because I’m hungry too. I’m trying to squeeze out a few more years. … I’m hoping to get something this year; I love playing the game of basketball. I just want to compete. [Hitting open shots] is something I’ve always been able to do, but I’ve also been able to work on my body while I’ve been out. I’ve still got something left, a couple more seasons in me.”
Donte Greene was on the verge of signing with the Brooklyn Nets two summers ago, when he broke his ankle while working out. Ever since, he’s had trouble getting back in the NBA and spent last season in China. Now, he’s hoping to make a comeback and played with the Brooklyn Nets’ summer league team.
“It’s a blessing,” Greene said of returning to the court with Brooklyn’s summer league squad. “I had an injury that kind of derailed my career with the Nets. It’s good to be back out here and getting the chance to play with them. It’s good to be back here playing in the NBA and hopefully I can make the roster. I just have to go out and play my game – play hard, not try to do too much. I’m just trying to be that role player, that glue guy, who plays hard, defends, rebounds and creates for others.”
Greene isn’t the only veteran free agent trying to stick with the Nets. DaJuan Summers also played with their summer league team in Orlando and is hoping to receive a training camp invite from the team.
“I’m just trying to get onto the [Nets’] roster,” Summers said. “Obviously with Brooklyn, there are a couple spots that are open and they pursued me while I was in Ukraine last season, so I think this is a great opportunity and I’m just trying to fill it out now. I obviously want to play at the highest level and there’s no question that’s the NBA. Whatever I need to do to get back, that’s what my focus is.”
MarShon Brooks has played for four NBA teams in three seasons (as well as a number of stints in the D-League) and he’s currently an unrestricted free agent. The 25-year-old played summer league with the Sacramento Kings’ summer league in an effort to get a contract and find a permanent home rather than continuing to be a journeyman. He didn’t play much last season, so he felt that summer league was a way for him to get back on the court and display his skill set.
“It’s been good,” Brooks said playing summer league. “I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do and that was turn some heads while I’m out here. It’s been awhile since I’ve played, so I just wanted to show GMs that I still can play. Just because I was on the bench, it doesn’t mean I can’t play. Stay tuned.”
Ivan Johnson, who played two seasons with the Atlanta Hawks before spending last year in China, suited up with the Dallas Mavericks’ summer league team in hopes of landing another NBA contract. He believes he can bring toughness and energy to a team, and be a solid role player who does the dirty work. The 30-year-old didn’t want to be out of sight, out of mind and decided to play summer league to remind executives what he can do on the court.
“The biggest thing is showing people around the league that I’m in shape,” Johnson said. “I don’t really care what people say, I just get out on the court and work. I defend, rebound, run up and down the court and do a little bit of everything. On any team I’m on, that’s what I’m going to bring. … Excuse my language, but I’ve got to kind of f*** anybody in front of me. You know what I’m saying? That’s the type of mentality you have to have when you’re trying to make it back into the NBA.”
Johnson may be the only veteran who’s blunt enough to say it (and put it so eloquently), but that’s certainly how each of these veterans feel as they try to make their return to the league.
Julius Randle Holds Court
Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle discusses his summer league experience, the team’s offseason, his role as a rookie and much more in this video interview.
USA Men’s Select Team Announced
Today, USA Basketball announced that they have selected 13 players for the 2014 USA Men’s Select Team that will train July 28-31 with the 2014 USA Basketball Men’s National Team during its training camp in Las Vegas. The squad features eight players owning USA Basketball experience, including four members of the 2013-14 NBA All-Rookie first team.
The squad features Harrison Barnes (Golden State Warriors), Trey Burke (Utah Jazz), Jimmy Butler (Chicago Bulls), Tobias Harris (Orlando Magic), Victor Oladipo (Orlando Magic), Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors), Tim Hardaway Jr. (New York Knicks), Doug McDermott (Chicago Bulls), Mason Plumlee (Brooklyn Nets), Miles Plumlee (Phoenix Suns), Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics), Dion Waiters (Cleveland Cavaliers) and Cody Zeller (Charlotte Hornets).
“USA Basketball’s Select Teams are critical for getting some of the game’s brightest and most promising young players experience at the USA National Team level, and getting them into our pipeline,” said Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball National Team’s managing director. “Again this summer, as was done in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2012, the members of the USA Select Team will play an important role in helping prepare the USA National Team for the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
“Being chosen for the Select Team is an honor and an important step in becoming involved in USA Basketball’s National Team program in the future. In the past, current national team players like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, as well as many other outstanding players got their USA National Team start through the Select Team.”
The 2014 Select Team features five players who completed their rookie NBA season in 2013-14, three who wrapped up their second NBA season, two three-year NBA players and two players who will make their NBA debut in 2014-14.
Since the development of the USA Basketball Men’s National Team program in 2006, USA Basketball has selected and utilized four USA Select teams to help the USA National teams prepare for its major international competitions.The first USA Select Team was fielded in 2007 and featured up and coming players like Andre Iguodala, Al Jefferson, David Lee and J.J. Redick. USA Basketball assembled another Select squad in 2008 and this time it featured future NBA All-Stars like LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook among others.
USA National Team members who are confirmed to participate in the 2014 Las Vegas training camp include Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards), DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings), Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors), Anthony Davis (New Orleans Pelicans), DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors), Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons), Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder), Kenneth Faried (Denver Nuggets); Paul George (Indiana Pacers), Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers), James Harden (Houston Rockets), Gordon Hayward (Utah Jazz), Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers), Kyle Korver (Atlanta Hawks), Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers), Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves), Chandler Parsons (Dallas Mavericks), Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls) and Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors).
NBA Daily: Jonathan Isaac Proving to be Key Part of Orlando’s Future
Basketball Insiders spoke with Jonathan Isaac about his rookie season, injuries, areas to improve on, his faith and more.
On January 13, the Orlando Magic were eliminated from playoff contention. This date served as a formality as the team has known for quite some time that any postseason hopes had long since sailed. The Magic started the year off on a winning note and held an 8-4 record in early November. However, the team lost their next nine games and never really recovered.
Many factors play a role in a young but talented team like the Magic having another season end like this. Injuries to franchise cornerstone Aaron Gordon as well as forward Evan Fournier and forward Jonathan Isaac magnified the team’s issues.
Isaac, a rookie selected sixth overall in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, started the season off reasonably well. On November 10, in 21 minutes of action, he registered an 11-point, six-rebound, one-assist, one-steal, two-block all-around effort against the Phoenix Suns to help the Magic get to that 8-4 record. Isaac then suffered an ankle injury midway through his next game and wouldn’t play again until December 17, by which time the team was already 11-20 with athe season quickly going sideways. From November until March, Isaac would only play in three games until finally returning to consistent action in the month of March with the season all but decided.
Basketball Insiders spoke to Isaac recently to discuss how he has pushed through this season, staying healthy, his impressive skill set and more.
“I’ve had a lot of time off from being injured so, I think my body is holding up fine along with how much I’ve played. I haven’t played a full season,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders “I feel good. I feel good.”
Isaac talked about what part of his game he feels strongly about and has improved on.
“I think defensively,” Isaac said. “I didn’t expect myself to make strides defensively like I have. I’ve been able to just be able to just do different things and help this team defensively and I didn’t expect that coming in so, that would be the one thing.”
Magic Head Coach Frank Vogel was effusive in his praise of Isaac’s defense and also focused on the rookie’s great defensive potential.
“His defense is out of this world. I mean it’s really something else,” Vogel said. “Just watch him play and everybody’s getting a taste of it right now. They haven’t seen him a whole lot but he’s an elite defender right now at 20-years old and the sky’s the limit for what he can be on that end of the floor.
While Isaac hasn’t logged a huge number of minutes on the floor this season, he has impressed in his limited action. As Coach Vogel stated, anyone who has taken the time to watch Isaac play this season has noticed his ability to guard other big men and his overall defensive impact.
“I think I’ve been able to do a good job on most of the people that I’ve had to guard,” Isaac said.
Missing Isaac’s defense impact and overall contributions partially explains why the Magic cooled off after their hot start. However, with the playoffs no longer an option, younger players like Isaac now have the opportunity to play with less attention and pressure. While it can be argued that the Magic aren’t really playing for anything, the truth is these late-season games can be an opportunity to develop these younger players and determine what to work on during the offseason.
There is more to Isaac than just basketball, however. Isaac discussed other parts of his life that are important to him, including religion and his faith.
“[M]y faith in Jesus is something that I put a lot of emphasis on,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a part of me.”
Isaac did not hesitate to credit his faith when asked if it helped him push through his injuries.
“I would say definitely,” Isaac said. “Especially with getting injured so early in the season and being out for 40 games. That’s a lot on somebody’s mental capacity and then just staying positive, staying joyful in times where joy doesn’t seem like it’s the right emotion to have. And I definitely [attribute] that to my faith.”
Looking forward, both Vogel and Isaac discussed the future and what the young big man can improve on.
“Offensively, he’s grown in confidence, he’s gained so he’s going to give us a big lift and our future’s bright with him,” Vogel stated.
Isaac gave a hint of his offseason training plans when asked what he looks forward to working on.
“I would say consistency with my jump shot. Really working on my three-ball and I would say ball-handling,” Isaac stated.
When asked if there was anything more he wanted to add, Isaac simply smiled and said, “Oh no, I think I got to get to church right now,” as the team prepared to play later that evening.
Tyronn Lue’s Health Concerns Latest Bump In The Road For Cavaliers
Spencer Davies outlines Tyronn Lue’s decision to take a leave of absence to deal with health issues and covers the reaction around the NBA.
The win-loss record is not where they want it to be.
The performances have not been up to par with what they expect.
With that said, one thing is for certain: There is no other team that will have been more battle tested going into the playoffs than the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Day after day and week after week, there’s always something going on with the team. Between in-house arguments, on-court miscommunication, roster turnover, and more, it has been one giant roller coaster of a season.
Monday morning, another twist was added to the ride. In a statement released by the Cavaliers organization, Tyronn Lue and general manager Koby Altman announced that the head coach would be taking a leave of absence to address his health:
“After many conversations with our doctors and Koby and much thought given to what is best for the team and my health, I need to step back from coaching for the time being and focus on trying to establish a stronger and healthier foundation from which to coach for the rest of the season.
“I have had chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year. Despite a battery of tests, there have been no conclusions as to what the exact issue is. While I have tried to work through it, the last thing I want is for it to affect the team.
“I am going to use this time to focus on a prescribed routine and medication, which has previously been difficult to start in the midst of a season. My goal is to come out of it a stronger and healthier version of myself so I can continue to lead this team to the Championship we are all working towards. I greatly appreciate Dan Gilbert, Koby Altman, our medical team and the organization’s support throughout.”
There were multiple instances where Lue either missed part of a half or an entire game this season. The symptoms are definitely not to be taken lightly. According to a report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Dave McMenamin, Lue attempted to return to the bench Saturday night in Chicago but the team didn’t allow him to. Evidently, Lue was “coughing up blood” some nights.
Seeing it first hand after postgame press conferences, Lue was visibly exhausted and stress could likely be playing a part. He’s been fighting through the tough times the team has been going through and avoided stepping away twice this season.
Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford had his own battle with health problems earlier this season and temporarily left the team for those reasons. He has attempted to reach out to Lue, a friend and former player of his.
Other head coaches around the league—Joe Prunty, Steve Kerr, and Luke Walton—have all gone to bat for Lue when discussing the rigors of an NBA schedule and the toll it takes.
Altman supports the decision for Lue to get to the bottom of what’s going on.
“We know how difficult these circumstances are for Coach Lue and we support him totally in this focused approach to addressing his health issues,” he said.
LeBron James is glad that Lue is going to take some time to get better.
“Obviously, health is the most important with everything in life,” James said Monday after shootaround. “Not surprised by it at all. I knew he was struggling, but he was never not himself. He was just dealing with it the best way he could, but he was never not himself when he was around.
“It doesn’t matter what’s going on here. We play a great sport, our coaches get to coach a great sport, and you guys get to cover a great sports. But health is most important right now and that’s what our coach is doing right now and we’re all in favor for it.”
The latest piece of news is a blow to the already injury-ridden Cleveland group. Assistant coach Larry Drew will take over duties until Lue returns.
The good news for the Cavaliers is that Kevin Love can potentially return to the mix as soon as Monday night against Milwaukee.
NBA Daily: Calderón’s Late NBA Start
Jose Calderón might be the only player in the league who didn’t grow up dreaming of playing in the NBA.
There are a lot of different ways to get to the NBA, but most of them involve lifelong scouting and an unceasing dream to play in the world’s premier basketball league.
Cleveland Cavaliers guard José Calderón didn’t really have either of those things.
“I never even thought of the NBA when I was a kid,” Calderón told Basketball Insiders. “I grew up in a small town in Spain, and I played basketball because my dad played and I loved it. I was having fun, always playing with the older guys because I was good at that age, but I never really even thought about playing any sort of professional basketball.”
Having grown up in Villanueva de la Serena, Spain, Calderón watched his father play for Doncel La Serena, which was his hometown team as a child. He was something of a prodigy, having attended practices and games with his father from a young age, and as burgeoning teenager he left home to play professionally for the lower-level Vitoria-Gasteiz team.
“They wanted to sign me at 13 years old, and we didn’t even know that they could sign people that young,” Calderón remembers. “So I did that, and I tried to get better. I tried to advance into the older clubs, but I never really did think about the NBA at all, honestly.”
That changed as he got older, though, especially after Spain finished 5th in the 2002 FIBA World Championship and Calderón started to get some stateside recognition.
“After that summer, [my agent and I] got a call from Milwaukee asking about my situation, and asked would I think about coming to play over here. It was sort of a let’s-see-what-happens sort of situation, but I couldn’t at that time because I was under contract. That was the first time I was really approached.”
As his teammates from the Spanish National Team made their way to the NBA, Calderón grew increasingly intrigued.
“Pau Gasol obviously opened a lot of doors for us,” he said. “Raul Lopez came, too. I was just playing basketball, though. I didn’t know anything about scouts. Later, when we started to get the calls from Toronto, I started to realize how possible it really was. That’s when I thought, ‘Hey, why not?’”
Despite being eligible for a few drafts in a row, Calderón never did get drafted, which was fine by him. Growing up the way he did, Calderón never had any dreams of his hearing his name called by Commissioner Stern, so playing his way through most of his deal with TAU Vitoria was no big deal for him. He could take or leave the NBA.
“Not getting drafted was the perfect situation for me,” he said. “In my satiation, coming from Europe, I was already playing professionally for a good team and making some good money. That was perfect for me at the time, and I was happy to be a free agent at 23, choosing where I was going to sign instead of going in the second round and having to play for one team.”
He signed with the Raptors in 2005 since they were the most aggressive in recruiting him to the NBA. As a 23-year-old rookie, he wasn’t overwhelmed physically the way a lot of rookies are, but he did find his new league challenging in other ways.
“The hardest part was just having to start over,” he said. “You start over from zero. It doesn’t matter if the other players know you or don’t, you have to prove yourself all over again. You could be the MVP of Europe, but to get respect in the NBA you have to gain it on the court.”
The talent differential was immediately noticeable, as well.
“There are so many guys out there that are better than you. It’s not just like a guy or two; there are six, seven guys on the floor any given time that are better than you.”
That meant making some changes in the way that Calderón played. He was asked to do a lot more offensively for his EuroLeague team. Playing with so many talented scorers completely changed his approach.
“I went from taking 20 shots a game to doing something else, and as a point guard in the NBA I had to approach that point guard role even more, to make those guys respect my game, to make them want to play with me. I had to be able to pass the ball, to do something different from all the other players, so I became a fast-first point guard to make sure we always played as a team. That’s how I get to where I am as a professional.”
Now 36 years old, Calderón is one of the league’s oldest players, making it easy for him to look back at where he came from to transform into the player he is today.
“I’ve grown so much, but I was lucky to be given the opportunity,” he said. “When you arrive from Europe, whether you’re good or bad, it doesn’t always matter if you don’t have the opportunity. Toronto gave me the opportunity to play 20 minutes a night, and that’s a lot. I made a lot of mistakes, but they let me play through those mistakes. All those little things added up for me, and I learned a lot.”
He owns two silver medals and a bronze in the three Olympics he’s participated in over the course of his career, as well as gold medals in FIBA World Cup and EuroBasket, but he’s never won an NBA championship. Joining up with LeBron James improves those odds, but that’s the thing that would really put an exclamation point on an excellent career.
Calderón could have stayed in Spain and been fine. He jokes that while the NBA has been very good to him, he and his family could have stayed in Europe and he could have made good money playing basketball there. He’s been happy with his career, though, however unorthodox his journey here, and he hopes his most prestigious accolades are yet to come.