While the NBA world was being turned upside-down during the first few days of free agency, the league was busy opening its summer league slate with three-day pit stops in Salt Lake City and Sacramento — the appetizers to the highly anticipated main course in Las Vegas.
What have coaches, execs and scouts said about the most important free agency news and rumblings? Here’s the latest buzz and intel from the Salt Lake City Summer League and the California Classic.
Buzz from Salt Lake City
How does Iguodala factor into Memphis’ summer plans?
The Memphis Grizzlies do not intend to give recently acquired Andre Iguodala a buyout before the season, league sources told ESPN. Memphis wants to explore the trade market for the former NBA Finals MVP before considering a buyout that would allow him to choose which contender he wanted to join, as the Grizzlies did with Kyle Korver. The Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks are among teams that have interest in Iguodala, according to league sources.
The Grizzlies officially closed the door on the Grit ‘n Grind era by dealing Conley. Memphis’ reshuffled front office — led by 30-year-old Zach Kleiman, who was recently promoted executive vice president of basketball operations — has impressed with its early moves in what will be a patient rebuilding process.
Much like the Atlanta Hawks under general manager Travis Schlenk, the Grizzlies are accumulating assets and young talent while building around a point guard and power forward who have the star potential to develop into pillars for a perennial playoff team. The goal is to put the franchise into position to have sustained success throughout the primes of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis’ high-lottery picks from the past two drafts.
That’s why the Grizzlies, who essentially received four first-round picks in the Conley trade with Utah, will continue to canvas the league for opportunities to collect even more future picks.
They have several expiring contracts that could be attractive for teams looking to dump longer-term deals, including Miles Plumlee ($12.5 million) and Solomon Hill ($12.8 million), who are headed to Memphis from Atlanta in a deal that finalized a divorce with Chandler Parsons that was overdue.
Losing on Butler a blessing in disguise for Houston?
Houston general manager Daryl Morey’s desire to add Butler to a dynamic that already has potential to be combustible puzzled some other talent evaluators. Especially considering that Butler would have been a distant second option to James Harden, who actively recruited the All-Star who opted to take his talents to South Beach, if not a third option behind Chris Paul as well.
“He’s not exactly a calming influence,” one league source said of Butler.
Purely from a basketball perspective, some scouts and executives questioned the logic of the Rockets’ pursuit of Butler. They believe that center Clint Capela (and his team-friendly contract) and guard Eric Gordon are proven fits as high-production complementary pieces for a contender in Houston, so dumping them to make a sign-and-trade work would have been steps in the wrong direction to take a big risk on Butler.
Mitchell: ‘Pick your poison’ trying to guard new-look Jazz
Utah Jazz fans usually flock to the annual summer league hosted by the franchise with giddiness about getting their first glimpse at their favorite team’s first-round pick.
It was here two years ago that Donovan Mitchell showed his first signs of stardom, giving Jazz fans and the front office a desperately needed lift to counter what seemed like devastating news with Gordon Hayward deciding to head east for green pastures in free agency.
The Jazz didn’t have a first-round pick to showcase in this edition of the Salt Lake City Summer League, but there definitely isn’t a lack of buzz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Utah’s offseason roster remodeling has received rave reviews locally and around the league, giving the Jazz their best championship chances since the Stockton-and-Malone heyday.
“There’s no doubt they can be a legit contender,” one scout said, a widespread opinion throughout the NBA.
This year’s first-round pick was part of the package the Jazz sent to Memphis for point guard Mike Conley, a perfect complement to Mitchell as a premier pick-and-roll operator who is also a knockdown spot-up shooter. Utah made a dynamic change to its offensive identity, moving on from Derrick Favors (a center in the modern NBA who started at power forward for the Jazz) and luring sharpshooting forward Bojan Bogdanovic away from Indiana with a four-year, $73 million deal.
“We’ve got guys that can spread out the floor,” said center Rudy Gobert, an elite screener and roller in addition to being the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year. “The way Donovan plays, the way I play, having those guys that can spread out the floor is going to be a nightmare for every defense. They’re going to have to make tough decisions.”
Utah has been a dominant defensive team. The Jazz have potential to be an offensive juggernaut now, too.
“Obviously, adding a guy like Bogdanovic, that’s big,” Mitchell said. “You have him, you have Joe [Ingles], you have Mike, and Royce [O’Neale] is a really capable shooter, too. It’s going to open up a lot for us as far as getting in the lane, and you’ve got big Rudy rolling too, so you’ve got to pick your poison.”
Do the Cavs have the league’s next Dame-CJ?
The future of the Cleveland Cavaliers could be spotted at Salt Lake City sitting — or often, standing and cheering — next to each other near the end of the bench, wearing team-issued polo shirts.
Collin Sexton, fresh off a second-team All-Rookie season, has proven enough to sit out summer league, but he flew to Salt Lake City to bond with teammates. The Cavs are taking a cautious approach with Darius Garland, the fifth overall pick who missed all but five games of his only season at Vanderbilt due to a torn meniscus in his left knee.
The Cavs drafted Garland, who like 2018 No. 8 overall pick Sexton, is a 6-foot-2 guard with a scorer’s mentality, primarily because they believed he was clearly the best talent on the board. Rebuilding teams can’t afford to reach for fit, but Cleveland is confident that Garland and Sexton can complement each other despite their similar styles and statures, particularly considering new coach John Beilein’s offense relies on two primary ball handlers.
“That’s the ceiling,” said Sexton, who excelled down the stretch of his rookie season, averaging 21.1 points and 3.3 assists in the final 29 games while shooting 47 percent from the floor and 41.7 percent from 3-point range.
“Also, recently you’ve seen Kyle Lowry and [Fred] Van Vleet. They had a great run with the two-guard offense. We’ll watch a lot of film of those two [duos] and just try to learn how they lead off the two-man offense.”
Beilein envisions Sexton and Garland sharing ballhandling duties when they’re on the floor together, determining who brings the ball up the floor by feel on a possession-by-possession basis and creating offense by attacking as penetrators. The Cavs won’t designate a point guard and shooting guard.
“Two guards that can just do it all — get your teammates involved, can make plays for each other and score at the same time,” Garland said. “I think it’s going to be great. Coach B is usually playing two guards, so I think that we’re going to fit right in. The future looks bright for both of us, so I’m excited about it.”
Spurs first-round pick Keldon Johnson scores 29 points vs. the Grizzlies, including a third-quarter buzzer-beater from beyond half court.
Less rookie sizzle in Salt Lake
Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant and the aforementioned Garland, a pair of top-five picks, didn’t play because they’re both recovering from knee surgeries. The Cleveland Cavaliers‘ Kevin Porter Jr., the final pick of the first round, was sidelined by a hip flexor. Memphis’ Brandon Clarke wasn’t eligible because he was acquired in a deal that won’t be official until Sunday.
Those rookies had mixed results, highlighted by Johnson’s 29-point, seven-rebound outing in a win over the Grizzlies and Windler’s 19-point, six-rebound summer league debut.
San Antonio guard Lonnie Walker IV, an 18th overall pick entering his second season, had 20 points and seven rebounds in the opener, rested on the second day and had 19 points and eight rebounds in the finale.
The best player in the four-team round-robin: Jazz big man Tony Bradley, the No. 28 overall pick of the 2017 draft, who averaged 20 points, 15.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in the two games he played.
— Tim MacMahon
Buzz from the California Classic
The league is waiting on Kawhi
Sacramento Kings alum Chris Webber was spotted in the front row with GM Vlade Divac and new head coach Luke Walton. T-Pain had set up a free concert outside Golden 1 Center, but the chatter among several coaches, scouts and team employees at the California Classic Summer League centered around this summer’s biggest mystery:
What is Kawhi Leonard going to do?
With Los Angeles Lakers GM Rob Pelinka and head coach Frank Vogel back in L.A., some of the team personnel on hand were asking for the latest on Leonard, naturally curious about the decision that could potentially tip the scales from the Lakers being a LeBron James/Anthony Davis-led title contender to historic juggernaut.
So what complementary players would arguably the most fearsome star trio in NBA history need around them?
“It doesn’t matter,” one assistant coach said of who else the Lakers sign if they get Leonard.
If Leonard goes to the LA Clippers, the assistant envisions the Western Conference becoming wide-open with the improvements the Lakers, Jazz and Blazers have made to go along with the Nuggets returning a year more experienced.
And if Leonard stays in Toronto?
“That makes them the favorites,” the assistant said.
Leonard taking his time to make an NBA-altering decision had some scouts attempting what so many others were doing — trying to read into Leonard’s thought process.
“Biggest surprise I would have to say is that Kawhi still hasn’t decided,” one scout said on Tuesday night. “He is really mulling it over, exhausting every option.”
Said another scout: “Let’s be honest, everyone knows that if the Warriors were healthy, they would have won. So is he sure if he comes back that he would have a chance to win it with [Toronto]?
“If I’m him, I’m going to the Lakers.”
A super Herro sighting in Sacramento
After Herro debuted Monday with 18 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds and made 5-of-10 3-pointers in a win over the Lakers, other scouts, assistants and executives took notice.
“Herro was the only one who stood out on the first day,” one scout said.
Herro played in two of the Heat’s three games, adding 20 points to go with 5 rebounds in a win over Golden State on Wednesday despite missing nine of his 11 3-point attempts.
“Herro is good,” an assistant coach said. “He’s a guy who has an NBA-ready game, being able to score.”
Other prospects who stood out to scouts, coaches and executives: Warriors rookie Jordan Poole, Kings rookie Kyle Guy and Lakers undrafted rookie Zach Norvell Jr., who hit a late go-ahead 3 to give L.A. a win Wednesday night.
Zach Norvell Jr. knocks down the corner triple with four seconds left giving the Lakers a 99-97 win over the Kings.
In a New York state of … confusion
One assistant coach at the California Classic was absolutely baffled by the New York Knicks‘ moves so far. After the Knicks had to swallow a Brooklyn Bridge-sized pill watching Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving join forces across the river, New York moved quickly, signing Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Elfrid Payton, Taj Gibson, Reggie Bullock and Wayne Ellington this week.
“The Knicks and all their role-player signings,” one assistant coach said. “I just don’t understand it.”
Another assistant coach, though, pointed out that Knicks’ management did what it had to after striking out with big stars by having Portis, Payton, Gibson, Bullock and Ellington sign deals with team options in the second year (Randle’s deal has a team option in the third season).
“They never had a chance,” one assistant coach said of the Knicks landing Durant and Irving. “The Knicks did a good job to buy time. They didn’t do any [longer deals] because [had they done that] in two years, there could be a new management and coach.”
How Nets, Sixers moves shake up the East
“This is the new NBA. Everybody is going after talent, talent, talent [but] short satisfaction,” an NBA scout said. “We won’t really know what is going on until Year 2 for the Nets. I have some fear, but if they want to play together, they’ll find a way to make it work. Talent wins in this league.
“They had a good group [before] in Brooklyn, what they built toward last year. They’re trying to make that elite jump. I think the storyline to watch is how will they react next year knowing that KD is not playing and Kyrie is Kyrie. He’s an unbelievable talent, but he’s a different guy.”
But it was another Atlantic Division team that impressed most scouts in Sacramento.
“Best move was Al Horford with Philly and an underrated trade [for] Josh Richardson,” one scout said of the Sixers losing Jimmy Butler but gaining Richardson from Miami. “I really like what [Sixers GM] Elton Brand is doing. He’s putting the pieces of the puzzle together.”
Kings take the throne … for worst move?
While Golden State did all it could to rebound from losing Durant — the Warriors traded for All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell and agreed to a deal with center Willie Cauley-Stein — a couple of NBA assistants and scouts on hand did not like what the California Classic’s host team did in free agency.
“I’m not running with the [Dewayne] Dedmon signing,” a scout said of the Kings. “For that amount of money, I don’t see it.”
One assistant coach didn’t hesitate when asked who he thought was the worst signing. “Dedmon,” he said. “Felt like a lot.”
Dedmon agreed to a three-year, $41 million deal with the Kings on the first day of free agency.
The other move that some scouts described as “shocking” was the Charlotte Hornets opting not to give All-Star guard Kemba Walker the max, ultimately dealing him in a proposed sign-and-trade for Boston Celtics restricted free agent Terry Rozier.
“I think he is going to do really, really well there,” one scout said of Walker in Boston. “I think Brad [Stevens] likes ball-dominant guards and Kemba is coachable. He is an off-the-charts person, off-the-charts teammate.”
— Ohm Youngmisuk and Marc J. Spears