My initial intentions were not kind. But people change.
After two hours of watching the NBA summer league in Las Vegas, I didn't have one real idea of what to write about, mainly because 95 percent of the NBA players I knew of were not in attendance. I'd watched a portion of one game, and wandered around the arena desperately looking for inspiration, but had nothing beyond an essay titled "NBA Summer League Groupies and the Men Who Love/Just Met Them."
Most fans view summer league as something of a basketball barometer. If a guy can play — whether he was a top pick, a second-round wild card, or an unsigned outcast — he’ll show it in summer league and find his way onto an NBA roster. If he can’t, well, Europe, China, or the D-League awaits. It would be a mistake, however, to make things that simple, especially for unsigned free agents battling for their basketball livelihood. Plenty of players who don summer league jerseys in hopes of landing a prized NBA contract are more than capable of adding value to franchises across the league. When some players fall short, it can’t always be attributed to a lack of talent or skill.
“There’s a lot of guys out there [at summer league] that don’t make the NBA that are definitely good enough to make the NBA,” says former Phoenix Suns GM Steve Kerr. “There a lot of good players out there. And some of it is right time, right place.”
There may be no player who embodies Kerr’s sentiment better than Matt Janning, a player Kerr himself brought onto the Suns' summer league roster just before leaving the franchise in 2010. The 25-year-old undrafted free agent from Northeastern is a wily veteran of the summer league circuit — the Bulls squad Janning plays on now is his sixth team in three summers (over a span of four years because one summer was lost to the lockout). A skilled combo guard who already had a cup of coffee with the Suns, Janning isn’t plying his trade in Las Vegas and Orlando in a vain attempt to land a job. He’s one of those players caught up on the NBA fringes, showcasing his skills in hopes that he can find that right-time, right-place scenario that allows him to reach his NBA dreams.
I did not attend the East Coast Invasion at the Roxy. I didn’t crash the 2 Kings dinner thrown by LeBron James and Jay-Z. I didn’t wind up in a secret basement humidor club with World Wide Wes, Phil Knight, and J. Prince. I’m sure at some point I was sweating, but it probably had more to do with a room service quesadilla than with molly, and it did not happen at Empire Night Club with Trinidad James and DJ Khaled. I went to Charles Barkley’s surprise party, but the closest I got to all of the lights was nodding appreciatively at Dodgers play-by-play man Charlie Steiner when he said to me, “I don’t know about Flo-Rida. I’m more of a New Ride-as of the Purple Sage man myself.” It probably says more about me that I got the joke than it does about Steiner that he made it.
This week in Reno, Nevada, dozens of NBA scouts and executives are gathering for the annual NBA D-League Showcase, a four-day event that offers talent evaluators a look at the best of what the league has to offer.
Plenty of members of the national media are in attendance, as are a handful of scouts representing teams from Europe and Asia. Over the next few days, we’ll look at a number of topics surrounding the showcase, but first here’s a quick introduction to the event.