Behind the scenes at NBA Las Vegas Summer League: The vibe is all LeBron, Donovan Mitchell and Boogie Cousins
And not even top-level NBA execs seem to have a clue where Kawhi Leonard is going
5:15 PM“We’ve got LeBron,” says a Lakers fan in a throwback Magic Johnson jersey — to another fan in a vintage Kobe Bryant No. 8. “It’s lit. I don’t care. At least we’re relevant again. I’ll worry about the rest later.”
Rookies, undrafted rookies and unknown free agents looking for a chance to change their lives are the main plot lines of summer league in Las Vegas. It’s where the legend of Donovan Mitchell was born this time in 2017. This week, Mitchell is shaking hands, kissing babies, and signing autographs in Sin City like he’s the mayor.
NBA Summer League is a first chance to see the league’s new crop of talent in action, from Trae Young to Deandre Ayton to Zhaire Smith. The annual summer tradition is a bridge between the draft and the start of training camp. A potluck of players — rookies, young vets, older veterans and retired OGs — are in Las Vegas, as well as scouts, agents, fans, sportswriters and broadcasters from across the country. Tourists trying to escape the heat, or nurse a hangover, show up for the festivities as well.
Summer League is also a hotbed of speculation about how the league will look when the season tips off in a few months. The dominant conversation among the NBA extended community in town for NBA Summer League is still free agency.
A group of Warriors fans walk past press row at the University of Nevada’s Thomas & Mack Center during Saturday’s Hawks vs. Knicks game, the best game of summer league so far, in Warriors jerseys. One is wearing an Andre Iguodala swingman. The other, a Klay Thompson. A third rocks a Stephen Curry swingman, and the fourth is in a makeshift DeMarcus Cousins jersey with “Boogie” written on Scotch tape pasted on the back. The Warriors organization isn’t too far from anyone’s mind either.
“It’s a case of the rich get richer. Boogie never reached out to us,” said one Western Conference executive. “I don’t think it was a case of anyone trying to disrespect Boogie. It was more so shock. Like this guy is really available?”
He continues, “It’s great for Golden State. Great for Boogie because he gets to rehab with the best team, basically have a strong second half … and get paid next summer. Great for them … terrible for the rest of us.”
By far the most glaring question mark hovers above superstar San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard. Quite literally no one knows (or will even whisper) what will happen with the former Finals MVP. But Kawhi is the talk in the casinos. He’s the talk on The Strip. He’s the talk throughout the Thomas & Mack.
“It’s weird, right? Where do you think he goes?” asks a Western Conference executive. He never expected the Spurs to be in a position in which the face of the franchise wants out. “You gotta expect that he’s gone sooner than later. You don’t want that dragging into the season. And for someone like Kawhi, you absolutely have to get something in return. … It’s like the entire league is just waiting on the shoe to drop.”
Thon Maker’s embarrassing role in the Philippines vs. Australia melee
He was one of 13 players ejected in a scary brawl in FIBA game in Manila, Philippines
6:59 AMWell, if there is one thing that we learned on Monday, it’s that Thon Maker can’t fight. This is evident from the wild brawl that took place in a FIBA World Cup qualifying game between Australia and the Philippines.
Thon Maker trying to drop kick opponents during a basketball brawl between Australia and Philippines!
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) July 2, 2018
The Milwaukee Bucks center has shown the ability to block shots and stretch defenses by shooting from 3-point range. However, it’s clear that his ability to connect on a right hook probably needs as much work as Ben Simmons’ jump shot this offseason.
Around the four-minute mark in the third quarter of the game, Australia led 79-48. They were well on their way to victory in the game in Manila, Philippines. That’s also when Philippines guard Roger Ray Pogoy threw his elbow at the head of Australia’s Chris Goulding.
At that point, both teams wanted all the smoke. The retaliation that ensued by the Australian players resembled something out of a WWE cage battle. And players from the Philippines were seen throwing punches and chairs.
Except these guys weren’t acting.
In all, 13 players were ejected. Fists, elbows, and objects that included a chair were used in the melee. Some even resulted to kickboxing as a method of defense.
Crazy photos from the Australia & Philippines brawl pic.twitter.com/ZqoxPTfsxN
— David Astramskas (@redapples) July 2, 2018
Which brings me back to Thon Maker …
This man threw more leap kicks in a 30-second altercation than a ballerina at a Nutcracker recital. I don’t know if he thought his hands were off-limits or he thought he was channeling Jaden Smith in The Karate Kid. Either way, it was just flat-out awkward, and not good sportsmanship. But he isn’t the only one to blame.
Yo @ThonMaker14 out here tryin hit dudes wit the flying knee😭😭😭😭😭😭😭😭
— Donovan Mitchell (@spidadmitchell) July 2, 2018
Thon Maker is that big dude In the neighborhood that everyone knows can’t fight but they just don’t mess with him cause they know that reach deadly 😂
— Donovan Dooley (@DonovanDooley) July 2, 2018
In Maker’s defense, he is 7 feet, 1 inch with a 7-foot-3-inch wingspan. So anyone with any sense knows not to pick a fight with him. But height is no substitute for experience. When placed into imminent battle, Maker embarrassed himself on several levels.
His impact on the fight was equivalent to the impact Jordan Clarkson had on this year’s NBA Finals. Maker landed the same number of punches as Kevin Durant has hair brushes: 0.
This is unacceptable for someone of Maker’s stature. While Maker is an emerging young player in the NBA, it’s clear from this fiasco that Maker needs to get in a gym. A boxing gym.
Maker did apologize on Twitter.
— Thon Maker ™ (@ThonMaker14) July 3, 2018