Does anyone other than me remember the Summer Pro League in Long Beach? Ten or so NBA summer league teams, a bunch more squads of free agents and guys looking to get camp invites, just hanging out at the Pyramid in the LBC, playing hoops? I saw Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire ... I saw a Clippers' roster that featured Odom, Darius Miles, Corey Maggette, Quentin Richardson and Keyon Dooling - all on the same summer league team! And it was all 10 minutes from my door. And the weather outside was 75 degrees.
Those days are long gone. The Clippers defected to Las Vegas in 2004. Back in July 2006, the Long Beach SPL featured four NBA teams, the Lakers one of the final holdouts for the local event. But by 2007, the NBA had left Long Beach. The SPL tried to hang on with a league devoid of NBA teams, featuring all teams of free agents (and the Polish National Team!) And then it was gone. Thirty-eight years of tradition.
Damn you, Las Vegas.
Look, I love Summer League in Vegas. But it's a totally different vibe than the old Long Beach event. It's a bit of a drag for me personally, since it's a four hours instead of a 10 minutes. Not to mention that I hate Las Vegas. I'm not fond of 115 degree heat, I've never been into gambling, and the ClipperWife wouldn't exactly approve of most of the other Vegas pastimes either.
But the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas has some great advantages. For one thing, because it features such a high number of teams (this year's installation featured 22 of 30 NBA clubs and a 23rd team of D-Leaguers), it is also the white hot center of the NBA universe for 10 days, the one place where every NBA rumor starts. Long Beach was much more low key in that regard.
Las Vegas also provides a consistent level of play across the board. The teams all feature players hoping to make a roster, or at least trying to catch the eye of the European scouts in the stands and make some Euros, and all the teams have coaches and everything. Some of the teams that showed up in Long Beach back in the day were pretty weak, and several were not particularly well organized. Former Clipper Bo Outlaw would show up every year with a bunch of nobodies and basically run plays for himself all game long. (Bo was the best thing about the SPL, truth be told.)
I got back Sunday from four days at the NBA Summer League this year, and you probably never thought you'd hear me say this but ... that was just too much basketball. Don't get me wrong. I still loved it. But after watching quadruple headers four days in a row, it all sort of became one giant blur.
Maybe it was a blur because of John Wall, who looks like a blur when he plays. That dude is as good as advertised. He has a gear that you don't often see, but even more amazing is that he can still play basketball at that speed. He gets to the rim in a blink, and is able to finish under control when he gets there.
DeMarcus Cousins began the week impressively and made everyone believe he was the steal of the draft. Then I watched him go 0-for-10 in a terrible and lethargic first half of the only game I watched him, and he looked like the bust of the draft. So he also is as advertised: A world of talent, but currently lacking the focus and drive to apply it every night.
How did the LA teams do? Well, the Clippers and Lakers go into summer league with different agendas. For one thing, the Lakers have never had a lottery pick in Las Vegas. They've only had one lottery pick this decade, when Andrew Bynum played in Long Beach in 2005. The Lakers haven't even had a first round pick in three years, let alone a lottery pick. The regular season roster has been pretty full in the last few years, so players aren't even that interested in being on the Lakers summer league squad, since the odds of making the team are very slim.
This year, the team featured their two second round picks, Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter, and a bunch of guys you've barely heard of. Ebanks and Caracter were both pleasant surprises, and look like they could actually make the team and help some. Caracter in particular played well, averaging 15.4 points and 8.6 rebounds in five games while shooting over 59 percent.
However, as you might expect from a summer league entry lacking in marquee talent, the Lakers lost all five of their games in Las Vegas. But who cares? It's summer league, right?
The Clippers on the other hand always seem to go into summer league with something to prove. Of course, that's because, in stark contrast to the Lakers, they almost ALWAYS have a lottery pick on their squad, and that lottery pick (as well as other summer league participants) is invariably expected to be a major contributor to the regular season team. This year was no exception. The Clippers' roster in Las Vegas featured four players under contract - 8th pick Al-Farouq Aminu, 18th pick Eric Bledsoe, 54th pick Willie Warren and third year center DeAndre Jordan - as well as a long ago draft pick who was expected to make the jump from Europe to the NBA, Sofoklis Schortsanitis.
How did they do? Not so well. Bledsoe, playing the point full time for the first time since he was in high school, looked out of control most of the time. His court vision is OK, but his handle needs a lot of work, and he has little idea of how to run a team. He has a world of talent, which he showed at times, but he also got caught in the air time and again, and had a terrible habit of flinging the ball randomly when he did. In one game, I counted five passes thrown into the crowd.
Aminu also struggled, as the Clippers started his move from college power forward to NBA small forward. He doesn't really have the handle of a three yet, nor does he have the offensive repertoire to be able to score on an isolation. But that didn't keep the Clippers from running multiple isos for him. He shot less than 30% during the week. The good news is that he's definitely got an NBA body, and is already a very good rebounder. But he has a lot to learn at the three.
Jordan played well in spurts, but has yet to develop much of an offensive game in his first two NBA seasons. Multiple summer league post ups for DJ are great practice for the kid - but they're sure not great basketball.
Schortsanitis struggled more than anyone. He was scoreless with three turnovers in his first game. He looked better in the next three, but the summer league environment was not well suited to him. Guards tend to dominate the ball in the unstructured summer game, where teams have maybe three practices to prepare. Getting a post player the ball in the right spot, giving him the room to operate, spacing the floor properly... these are things that tend not to happen in summer games. Add in the fact that players get 10 personal fouls before being disqualified so that they're essentially allowed to foul at will, and it all made for a bad summer vacation in America for Big Sofo. It looks as if his NBA audition is done, as he's rumored to be about to sign with Greek power Panathanaikos. On the plus side, Sofo did have this highlight reel block during the week.
The Clippers lost four of their five games, and it wasn't pretty. They lost their first two by a combined 54 points. They also managed to lose 20-point leads in two different games, though they did hold on to win one of those. Their summer league ended, perhaps appropriately, when Mark Tynedale of the D-League team sank an off-balance three to send the Clippers to their final defeat.
But hey, it's only summer league.