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NBA PM: The Veterans of Summer League

A number of veterans who participated in summer league discuss their decision to suit up and what they hoped to accomplish.

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Updated 10 months ago on
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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).

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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