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New York Knicks Remain Stuck in Neutral

The Knicks’ hope for a better future fell off the rails in the matter of a few days, writes Tommy Beer.

Tommy Beer

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It was all good just a week ago…

As recently as the middle of last week, the New York Knickerbockers were drawing praise from basketball pundits across the land. It appeared the Knicks were on the right track and there were legitimate reasons for New Yorkers to be optimistic.

After having parted ways with Phil Jackson, New York appeared to be closing in on hiring an accomplished general manager in David Griffin. One of the primary reasons why an experienced executive such as Griffin would be interested in the job was because the Knicks had plenty of cap space to work with this summer, and potentially even more in the near future.

Other than the crippling Joakim Noah contract, Courtney Lee was the only other player on the entire roster with a guaranteed contract that extended past the 2018-19 season.

The logical decision for New York going forward was to focus on the future and dedicate themselves to a complete and thorough rebuild. The most important piece was already in place: Kristaps Porzingis, the franchise cornerstone, around which the rest of the roster will be constructed. The Knicks also have Willy Hernangomez locked into an incredibly team-friendly contract and recently drafted Frank Ntilikina, whom the organization hopes will form a terrific partnership with KP.

One crucial step in a disciplined, successful rebuild is maintaining cap space. Even if they did have the room to add a max player this summer, the reality is the Knicks are so far away from being a threat to the top teams in their division, let alone a contender for the championship, that one player wasn’t going to make a significant difference. As a result, the smart play during this free agency period was to stay on the sidelines and patiently wait until value presented itself.

Last summer, NBA GM’s sprinted out of the gates at the start of free agency, offering massive contracts to flawed players. The salary cap was spiking, and impatient teams were looking to make an immediate splash. The Lakers agreed to pay Timofey Mozgov $64 million over four years within hours of the start of free agency. L.A. later inked Luol Deng to a contract worth $72 million. The Grizzlies gave Chandler Parsons $95 million. The Knicks handed $72 million to Joakim Noah.

After that initial splurging, the teams that waited were able to secure some solid values. Miami inked Dion Waiters to a two-year, $6 million pact. The Mavericks stole Seth Curry, signing him for two years at less than $6 million. The Spurs got Dewayne Dedmon to sign for similar terms.

This year, front office folks seemed to have learned their lesson (seeing the Lakers being forced to trade away D’Angelo Russell just to dump the contract of the aforementioned Mozgov on the eve of this year’s free agency frenzy, may have scared them straight). There were very few shocking contracts agreed to in the first few days of free agency. Even All-Stars such as Kyle Lowry and Paul Millsap got far less than the max. In addition, far fewer teams were willing to lock up players long term, instead offering a plethora of one and two-year deals.

It seemed the Knicks were prudently protecting their cap space as well. Not only was it in the best interest of their rebuilding efforts to keep their hands in their pockets, but they also did not yet have a general manager in place. Steve Mills was calling the shots in the interim, but the Knicks appeared to be content to stand pat, unwilling to make any franchise-altering decisions until they hired their new GM.

And then, it happened. Late Thursday night, word broke that the Knicks had signed restricted free-agent Tim Hardaway Jr. to a four-year, $71 million offer sheet.

The Hawks had until midnight on Saturday to match it, but it was fairly obvious early on they would never even seriously consider agreeing to pony up that type of money for Hardaway Jr. Multiple NBA insiders reported that the Hawks were willing to pay up to approximately $45 million. The Knicks ended up paying $25 million more than the Hawks were comfortable with.

On top of that, Mills inexplicably felt the need to include a player option for the fourth year and a 15-percent trade kicker. The trade kicker makes the contract incredibly difficult to move. Given the drama surrounding the Carmelo Anthony situation, the Knicks, of all franchises, should be painfully familiar with the complications that can result from such seemingly innocuous details in a deal.

The Hawks formally announced they would not match on Saturday.

Then, on Sunday, word leaked that David Griffin had withdrawn his name from consideration for the GM job in New York.

And, here we are.

It is important to note that Tim Hardaway Jr. is a quality player. He’s only 25 and is coming off the best few months of his NBA career. Hardaway averaged 17.5 points per game over the second half of the 2016-17 campaign. He’s a capable outside shooter, which is something the Knicks certainly need. He was a subpar defender early in his career, but showed significant improvement over his two years in Atlanta. Under the right circumstances, such as the Knicks inking him at closer to $8 or $9 million per season over three years, it would have been an understandable signing.

However, the contract the Knicks offered has a disastrous downside.

First, it is a significant risk to assume Hardaway Jr. will match, let alone exceed, the production he posted late in the 2016-17 season. Prior to this past January, Hardaway Jr. had never averaged more than 13 points per game in any month of his entire four-year career. There is a rather large sample size that suggests that his flaws will prevent him from becoming an above-average shooting guard. And, for the amount of cap space the Knicks invested into him, that’s exactly what they’ll need to see.

For players that absorb nearly 20 percent of a team’s cap space, it’s imperative that they become solid starters, if not stars.

Still, if the Knicks were just one piece away from becoming a true contender, and Hardaway Jr. was the final ingredient that they thought would put them over the top, then maybe it would understandable to wildly overpay for his services. That is clearly not the case.

Worse yet, even if Hardaway Jr. exceeds expectations and things break right for New York, that “best case scenario” likely means the Knicks will win around 35-37 games.

There’s a reason New York has been unable to escape the muck of mediocrity and the Atlantic division basement for the better part of two decades (the Knicks have lost 768 games this century, more than every team in the league except the Timberwolves). It’s because the Knicks refuse to commit to a full-fledged rebuild. Starting way back with the dreadful decision to trade Patrick Ewing at the end of his career, they have never taken the steps necessary to embark on what is an admittedly arduous process.

The Knicks current objective should NOT be winning 37 games next season. The goal should be methodically building a balanced roster that is capable of consistently winning 50-plus games a few years down the road.

In addition, one common theme in the Knicks’ lack of success has been their inability to defend. The Knicks have finished the regular season ranked in the top-half of the league in Defensive Efficiency just once over the last 17 years. Coincidentally, that also happened to be the sole season this century they finished with more than 50 regular season wins and advanced past the first round of the playoffs.

At the end of each disappointing campaign, as free agency approaches, Knicks coaches and front office personnel usually proclaim that their defensive performance the prior year was unacceptable and that they’ll focus on improving that end of the floor going forward. Yet, time and again, the Knicks chase offensive-minded players when they open up their checkbooks. Tim Hardaway Jr. is another such example. Besides the fact that they grossly overpaid for Hardaway Jr.; that that they still don’t have a veteran point guard to mentor Ntlikina and feed the ball to KP and Willy; that they already have a solid starting shooting guard in Courtney Lee locked into an affordable long-term contract; Tim Hardaway Jr. will not improve the team defensively.

And one last point on Hardaway Jr.: If THJ does develop into the stud that Mills obviously believes he will, Hardaway Jr. has a player option for that fourth and final season, which means he can opt out and become an unrestricted free agent in the heart of his prime.

Lots of Knicks fans seem agitated and perplexed as to why so many in the media are ripping the Hardaway Jr. signing. Via Twitter replies, frustrated fans ask incredulously: “Maybe they slightly overpaid, but the Knicks just added a young, athletic player who can score in bunches. How can that possibly be a bad thing?!?”

It seems counterintuitive to fans and casual observers of the NBA, but sometimes when a team signs a good player, it actually results in that team being further away from title contention. Adding a good player on a bad contract can be debilitating.

Landing solid/mediocre players on good/great contracts are how smart teams flesh out their roster.

Due to the constrictions of the salary cap, every single dollar counts. Overpaying by a few million can be crippling. Overpaying by upwards of $20 million can be catastrophic.

For instance, just last week the Celtics were forced to trade away Avery Bradley, one of the game’s most feared perimeter defenders and a rising two-way star, solely because Boston desperately needed to clear $3 million dollars off their books to sign Gordon Hayward.

This past weekend, the Nets traded journeyman Justin Hamilton in exchange for DeMarre Carroll, a 2018 first-round pick and a 2018 second-round pick. This was an illustrative example of how preserving cap space can net a shrewd franchise future assets.

The Knicks’ cap space both now and in the future has been greatly diminished. As a result, New York has far less flexibility. Having financial freedom both this summer and in the years ahead is simply far more valuable than adding an athletic scorer to a terribly imbalanced roster.

Unsurprisingly, we have recently seen other teams secure cap-friendly deals. The Suns just signed promising big man Alan Williams to a three-year, $17 million salary. The Knicks had expressed interest in adding Williams, but didn’t have the cap space to make a competitive offer. (Hardaway’s average annual salary will be greater than the $17 million total Williams will make through 2020). Justin Holiday, who played well on both ends of the floor for the Knicks last season, signed for $9 million over two years. Tyreke Evans will make just $3.2 million next season.

These are the types of low-risk, high-reward contracts the Knicks should have been handing out.

At the very least, New York should have made every effort to hire a permanent GM, allowing him to sign-off on all important decisions. Which brings us back to the loss of David Griffin as a front office candidate. Apparently, Griffin wanted to bring with him a trusted cadre of scouts and executives and to have the final say in basketball-related decisions. The Knicks and owner Jim Dolan inexplicably balked at this reasonable request. Despite the putrid record of the team during the tenure of the front office personnel currently in place at Madison Square Garden, Dolan and the Knicks refused to grant autonomy to a GM with three straight Finals appearances and a championship on his resume.

Knicks fans that have watched this organization operate shouldn’t be surprised. Unfortunately, it’s the continuation of a vicious cycle.

Two common denominators during the decade-plus the Knicks have spent in the doldrums has been too much Jim Dolan and not enough defense.

Less than a week ago, it appeared the Knicks were on their way towards escaping the pitfalls of the past and inching their way towards respectability by committing to patiently building a team the right way.

Yet, just a few days later, here we are…

Tommy Beer is a Senior NBA Analyst and the Fantasy Sports Editor of Basketball Insiders, having covered the NBA for the last nine seasons.

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NBA Daily: Grading The Offseason – Chicago Bulls

David Yapkowitz continues Basketball Insiders’ “Grading The Offseason” series by taking a look at the Chicago Bulls.

David Yapkowitz

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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.

Overview

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.

Offseason

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

What’s Next

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

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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.

Spencer Davies

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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.

Overview

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.

Offseason

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

What’s Next

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.

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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.

Matt John

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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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