The Washington Post

Six takeaways from 11 days at the Summer League


las vegas — For those deranged enough to stay the entire time, the NBA Summer League becomes a blur of celebrity faces and choppy play after the opening weekend and devolves into dayto-day survival mode from there.

This year’s edition was a success, even though lottery picks Jaden Ivey, Shaedon Sharpe, Dyson Daniels and Johnny Davis suffered minor injuries that limited their stints. The top three selections — Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith Jr. — gave their new fan bases something to get excited about, and several bottom-dwellers now appear reinvigora­ted by influxes of young talent. Meanwhile, Commission­er Adam Silver struck an “upbeat” tone in announcing a record $10 billion in annual revenue while setting the table for upcoming labor negotiatio­ns with the players.

Now that the Portland Trail Blazers have been crowned champs of the desert, here are six takeaways from the NBA’S 11-day summer carnival.

1. The Summer League has more untapped potential.

Silver quipped Monday that he felt like the “belle of the ball” at a recent news conference given the widespread interest in the NBA’S live programmin­g. During his Board of Governors address the next day, the commission­er sounded keenly focused on optimizing the league’s television product when he repeatedly stressed the importance of player availabili­ty. After permanentl­y adding the play-in tournament to its postseason format, the NBA also remains interested in the idea of a midseason tournament.

Before the league conceives a new event that could overhaul its regular season schedule, it should consider further elevating the Summer League. Over the past decade, the event has expanded to 30 teams, added a tournament format and garnered more national television coverage. A-list stars such as Lebron James, Kyrie Irving and Ja Morant are courtside fixtures. Unfortunat­ely, most teams tend to shut down their top players early, turning the second half of the event into a bit of a drag.

The rise of independen­t events such as the Drew League, Big3 and The Basketball Tournament

has proved there is real demand for summer hoops. Silver mentioned the possibilit­y of adding incentives to player contracts in the next collective bargaining agreement to discourage load management, and he should consider a similar approach in Las Vegas.

An improved Summer League would include a significan­t monetary prize to convince teams to play their lottery picks and a move from UNLV to an Nba-caliber arena for the most important games to set a grander tone and accommodat­e larger crowds. What better way to further the NBA’S goals of being a 12-month sport than hosting an under-23 tournament with lottery picks going head-to-head with millions of dollars at stake?

2. Kevin Durant is looking like a man without a home.

When Durant issued his trade request to the Brooklyn Nets two weeks ago, it seemed like the 2014 MVP would be at the center of the NBA’S universe until the situation was resolved. Instead, the Vegas rumor mill didn’t produce any serious new bidders for his services. To make

matters worse for Durant, the Phoenix Suns were forced to match the Indiana Pacers’ offer sheet to Deandre Ayton, a prime trade chip in a Durant package who now can’t be moved until Jan. 15. The Suns were reportedly one of Durant’s desired destinatio­ns, and now it’s hard to see how they put together a good enough package to land him.

Durant’s conundrum has drawn comparison­s to Kobe Bryant’s unfulfille­d 2007 trade request; the Hall of Fame guard returned to the Los Angeles Lakers and went on to win two more titles. The situations are different: Bryant was 28 years old and had just won back-toback scoring titles, while Durant is 33 and has played just 90 games over the past three seasons combined. Returning to Brooklyn would be a disastrous result for Durant given the departures of Bruce Brown, Goran Dragic and Andre Drummond.

Even if Durant and Irving both return, the Nets could easily wind up back in the playin tournament given that Milwaukee, Boston, Miami,

Philadelph­ia, Toronto and Cleveland have better rosters on paper.

3. The Knicks should go all-in for Donovan Mitchell.

New York’s go-for-broke pursuit of Jalen Brunson would make a lot more sense if coupled with a blockbuste­r trade for Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell.

While a Brunson-mitchell backcourt would be lacking in size and defensive chops, the pairing would give the Knicks a potent and marketable offensive duo capable of delivering consistent playoff appearance­s.

This might be the clearest win-win-win proposal in some time: Utah needs to sell high on Mitchell and play for the future after its Rudy Gobert trade; New York has a surplus of draft assets and a need for a true headlining star; and Mitchell has Big Apple ties and a desire to raise his profile. Get it done.

4. Keegan Murray was the MVP in Las Vegas.

There were some groans when the Sacramento Kings selected Murray with the fourth pick instead of Ivey, a dynamic scoring guard with star potential. Murray isn’t an explosive athlete, and it’s fair to ask whether he can be a No. 1 scoring option given his limited off-the-dribble game.

Still, the 21-year-old forward from Iowa was the most productive member of the 2022 lottery class in Las Vegas, averaging 23.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists while displaying a calm and consistent demeanor. Sacramento will count on his deft outside shooting touch and opportunis­tic scoring as it chases its first playoff berth since 2006.

5. Paulo Banchero is the rookie of the year favorite.

Banchero only played twice in Las Vegas, but the top draft pick showed enough size, strength on the ball and creation skills to get Orlando Magic fans excited. Unlike Murray, who will need to fit in around veterans such as De’aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, Banchero slots in as the Magic’s lead option next season.

Given that clear runway, Banchero should target Carmelo Anthony’s rookie production: 21.0 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists. If he puts up Anthony-like numbers as a scorer, Banchero should be able to win enough rookie of the year votes, even if the rebuilding Magic endures another tough year in the standings.

6. Josh Giddey is ready to take the next step.

Giddey was already a favorite among League Pass die-hards as a rookie, and he turned even more heads with a nice run at the abbreviate­d Salt Lake City Summer League last week. By the time he got to Las Vegas, Oklahoma City’s point guard looked bigger, stronger and more purposeful, and he had a strong case as the event’s best player even though he only played two games.

Blessed with top-shelf vision and a fearless streak, Giddey led the way for Oklahoma City on the fast break and worked a nice two-man game with Holmgren, 2022’s No. 2 pick. Still just 19, the Australian floor general has a much higher long-term ceiling than most realize.

 ?? ETHAN MILLER/GETTY IMAGES ?? Keegan Murray (13) was the most productive 2022 lottery pick in Las Vegas, averaging 23.3 points.
ETHAN MILLER/GETTY IMAGES Keegan Murray (13) was the most productive 2022 lottery pick in Las Vegas, averaging 23.3 points.

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