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Q&A: Kyle O’Quinn Excited to Join New York Knicks

Kyle O’Quinn opens up about joining his hometown New York Knicks, expectations for next season and more.

Alex Kennedy

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On Saturday, the New York Knicks and Orlando Magic agreed to a sign-and-trade deal that will send big man Kyle O’Quinn to New York in exchange for cash and a future second-round pick. The three-year NBA veteran has agreed to a four-year, $16 million deal with the Knicks. O’Quinn was born in Jamaica, New York and attended high school in Queens. In the games that O’Quinn started at center for the Magic during the 2014-15 season, he averaged 12.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and a block.

Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy caught up with O’Quinn to talk about playing for his hometown team, his expectations for next season and what Knicks fans can expect from him.

Basketball Insiders: How did this all progress and where were you when you found out that you’d be heading to your hometown Knicks?

Kyle O’Quinn: “When I heard about their interest, I had just landed in Las Vegas because I train out there at Impact Basketball in the offseason. I had just turned on my phone and my agent had texted me, ‘Call me as soon as you land.’ I prayed really quick, hoped he had good news and I called him. He told me about the framework of the Knicks’ deal and said [the sign-and-trade] would likely happen if everything fell into place. Then, I got off the phone and prayed again. I had plans to go to C.J. Watson’s house, because we’re good friends and I thought he would be my new teammate in Orlando since he just signed with the Magic. Then, when I was headed to his house, that’s when I found out it was basically done. The text messages started rolling in and I knew it was being finalized. When I got to his house, C.J.’s family said, ‘We can’t wait to see you in Orlando! We’re so happy you and C.J. will be teammates!’ Then, I had to break the news to his family.”

Basketball Insiders: Your family lives in New York, so how excited are they about this move?

Kyle O’Quinn: “My parents are super excited. They’re going to be able to go to all of my home games and see me more. My dad is the excited the most, because he likes to be around me a lot and he says this is making up for the years that I was away in college and in Orlando. He thought I’d never come back to New York, but it worked out. My mom, she’s in security mode right now. She’s happy for me, but she’s laying out ground rules. She wants it to be clear to people that this isn’t some big family reunion and that I’m not always going to be accessible. She’s telling me, ‘You aren’t coming home for a family reunion. You have a job to do and you need to work.’ I told her, ‘I know, I know!’”

Basketball Insiders: Did you grow up as a fan of the Knicks?

Kyle O’Quinn: “Oh, of course I grew up a Knicks fan; if you’re from New York, you’ve gotta grow up a Knicks fan. They are always on T.V. and they dominated my T.V. growing up. And whatever the Knicks do – whether they’re doing good or bad – it’s always on the front page of the sports section. It was good entertainment for me when I was a young’un. I wasn’t raised in a crazy basketball family, but the Knicks always had a place in our hearts. The crazy thing is, my first NBA game I ever went to was the Knicks vs. the Magic at Madison Square Garden.”

Basketball Insiders: You’ve never been on a playoff team. The Knicks have made a number of moves this summer. How good can this team be and could this be the year that you make your postseason debut?

Kyle O’Quinn: It’s a great possibility. We have a superstar in Carmelo Anthony, who is proven. We have Robin Lopez. We have Arron Afflalo, who I played with in Orlando. We have guys who have been there before and know what it takes to be successful. Those are the guys you can learn from. That would be great to make my playoff debut. I haven’t even thought that far, that’d be special. And to do it in New York, in front of my Mom and Dad? That would be so great. I want this season to go longer than my first three seasons went. I was watching these last playoffs and saying, ‘Man, I gotta get there. I need a taste of that.’ E’Twaun [Moore] got to taste it this year with the Chicago Bulls and he’s my boy and my former Magic teammate, so I was living vicariously through him. He wasn’t even playing that much, but I was calling him every day like, ‘E’Twaun, what’s it like? How does it feel?’ I used to do the same thing in college, during my first few years when I didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. I lived vicariously through my friends who made it. Then, I finally got to experience it myself and it was just so amazing. I think that’s how it’s going to be for me when I finally get to be in the playoffs.”

Basketball Insiders: Do you have any idea what role you’re going to have on the Knicks? Have you talked to Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher about that yet?

Kyle O’Quinn: “I think I’ll have a solid back-up role at first and then I’ll just work from there. I’m approaching it like I’m coming in as a rookie and have to work hard and prove myself. I do think that back-up big man role is pretty open and I want to capitalize on that. I talked to Arron the other day when he heard the deal was going to go down and he told me, ‘This is an opportunity to play and get a more significant role. The team wasn’t that successful last year so it’s not like certain guys have to start.’ I honestly don’t know my exact role, I’ll give you a better answer when I get there, but I’m going in ready to do whatever I can to get on the court and contribute. I’m coming in ready and I’m handling my business so that I can fill any role asked of me.”

Basketball Insiders: For the New York fans who don’t know much about you and haven’t seen you play, how would you describe your game and what will you bring to the team?

Kyle O’Quinn: “On the court, I bring my competitiveness, my motor, my hard work and my will to win. In the NBA, it’s a funny league. It’s not like college where every kid is dying to win. That’s how I was in college; I was dying to win every single game. That’s always been in me, a desire to just win, win, win. That’s the only way I’m satisfied – when we’re winning. When things are going wrong, I’m determined to turn things around and get the team back to winning, rather than just saying, ‘Oh well, now that’s let’s focus on getting a high draft pick.’ That’s not my type of basketball. They’re going to get someone obsessed with winning.

Off the court, I’m just going to try to develop as much as possible – I just want to continue to grow as a player. And, of course, I want to be the best teammate I can be. I know I can learn a lot from the guys in New York. Coach Derek Fisher played so many years in the league, and I know he’s a player’s coach. I learned a lot from [former Magic head coach] Jacque Vaughn and I’m sure Derek Fisher has a lot of knowledge to share with me as well, so it’ll be good to play for another coach who played the game. I can’t wait to learn from him.”

Basketball Insiders: What was it like to have Phil Jackson show interest in you? How much of an honor is that?

Kyle O’Quinn: “Oh man, that felt good. (laughs) At first, I was like, ‘Damn, this is Phil Jackson!’ Then, once it sunk in, I started to think about what’s next. I didn’t want that to be our only conversation, you know? I was hoping it wasn’t a one-time thing. I can’t wait to be around him with the Knicks.”

Basketball Insiders: What aspects of your game are you working on this offseason as you train at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas?

Kyle O’Quinn: “I’m working on the same things I always do. I’m trying to expand my game, learn from my mistakes last year and focus on little things like screen-setting, rolling out of screens faster, picking my spots on the pop shot. Of course, I’m working on my jump-shot, some go-to moves in the post, my conditioning and body, things like that. The biggest thing for me is sharpening up the things that I do well. I do want to get better at shooting corner threes. Last year, I was asked to do that and I want to keep working on that and expanding my range. I’m just sharpening everything so that I’m more comfortable and confident with my shot. At Impact, they help you become an all-around player, so I’ll be ready to play any role that’s asked of me. I’m following the Impact plan.”

Basketball Insiders: I know you’re excited about New York, but you also have a lot of friends on this Magic team and I know that you loved Orlando. Is it tough to leave and go to a new situation?

Kyle O’Quinn: “I texted all of those guys yesterday and I was FaceTiming with a lot of them. I talked to [Nik] Vucevic – he texted me from some wild number that had a plus sign and, like, 47 numbers. I talked to all of them. I love those guys. Those were my first NBA teammates and I can honestly say that I love those guys and I’ll consider them friends for life. It’s going to be tough not having them around and doing everything without them. When we would land in the city, I would immediately knock on Vooch’s door. I would get on the plane and Elfrid [Payton] and Aaron [Gordon] would bring me Chipotle. And it wasn’t even rookie duties, it just a friendship thing and we were all so tight. I’ll miss Moe [Harkless] – getting on his nerves, him getting on my nerves and singing together in the locker room with him. Man, I love those guys and had so much fun with them. They made going to work fun. I’m bottling all of [those emotions] up and accepting the fact that I’m going to another team and being excited about the new opportunity, but it will be very, very, very, very, very hard to leave Orlando and leave those guys. A lot of us are really cool with each other and we made a promise that we’d be friends for life and we’re going to stick to that. Later this summer, I think we’re all going to try to get together to grab dinner and hang out. I can’t wait to see them and we’ll stay close.”

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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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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