Welcome to NBA Summer League, where even LA Lakers fans have hope

Summer League is the NBAs equivalent of spring develop, drawing touted rookies, anonymous journeymen and diehard fans to the Vegas strip

Summer League doesnt mean anything. Summer League doesnt mean anything. Summer League doesnt mean anything .

I have to keep recurring this mantra to myself when the Memphis Grizzlies DJ Stephens posterizes Thon Maker, or every time Devin Booker inters a three in someones face. Its mostly bad basketball played by a cadre of anonymous journeymen. Could I genuinely get excited about it? Can anyone genuinely derive any actual knowledge about player developing from a game where a second overtime period is decided on sudden death rules?

Im feeing a taco salad conspicuously missing any actual salad, and thumbing through a program with a list of every teams Las Vegas Summer League roster. Save for the 30 first-round draft pickings and the occasional veteran trying to claw his route back into a paycheck( e.g. Michael Beasley, Jimmer Fredette ), its a lot of names Ive never heard. Eventually, I would find something to love about the Phoenix Suns Alan Williams and ruthless aggression of second-year player DAngelo Russell, but at the start, it was all an exercise in the unknown.

Summer League is the NBAs equivalent of MLBs spring training a brief window of time where the most diehard, obsessive basketball fans come together in one place to shoot the shit about hot prospects, declare gamble picks premature busts, and conjure up fantasies of their team seeing the next Jeremy Lin. This is the Lakers most optimistic season since 2012 a fandom version of the Amish Rumspringa , a rare opportunity to cast off the shackles of futility and ensure what the rest of the NBA universe is like, if merely for a few months before we all have to go back to the realization that the Lakers might not win 20 games again.

Being that its Las Vegas a four-hour auto ride from and an annual preseason destination for the team the Lakers are massively popular in the Thomas& Mack Center, the venue where the biggest games are played. This is an especially hopeful summertime for Laker Nation. Luke Walton has replaced Byron Scott as the head coach and the team drafted Duke standout wing Brandon Ingram to play alongside Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and Russell. A young core and a trendy coach-and-four are a recipe for exhilaration, if not actual on-court success.

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For all the talk about the future, Laker fans at Thomas& Mack Center still cling to the past. There are so many Kobe jerseys that one would get the impression that either he was making an unscheduled appearance in Las Vegas or that the garb was mandatory. LA advocates simply havent procured someone to canonize in Bryants place. Russell is certainly making a concerted great efforts to confiscate the vacant title of Los Angeless favorite athlete. His buzzer-beater in Game 2 against Philadelphia and his 22 -point first half against Golden state in Game 3 have NBA analysts calling him this years King of Summer League. Hes prone to the spectacular, eager to assert his will on video games, and loves a hot check. In other words, hes the prototypical NBA superstar-in-the-making in the era of Stephen Curry theatrics.

That hasnt stopped Lakers assistant and Summer League head coach Jesse Mermuys from criticizing Russells shot selection and prodding him to develop into more of a facilitator. Mermuys told ESPNs Baxter Holmes: I think what were going for is just impression , a matured approach to the game and team-first, team-first, team-first[ and] lets focus on the defense. Lets genuinely get a foundation, a solid foundation of a team defense, sharing the basketball, and then when its go time, its run time.

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Floyd Mayweather watches a Summer League game between the Warriors and Rockets. Photo: John Locher/ AP

But Summer League is not about beautiful basketball. Balanced offenses are rarer than getting the Mr Big bonus on the Sex and the City: Big Diamonds slot machine( I lost $80 on that damn thing ). Its an isolation ball hogs dream. The teams are thrown together quickly and veterans regularly demand attention on offense.

Can you really blame Russell for being aggressive? After a mostly atrocious 2015 Summer League and a year playing for the conservative-minded Scott in the regular season, hes clearly a player itching for the green light to express himself. After the Nick Young videotape scandal, Russell is also seemingly isolated from the rest of his team-mates. Prior to the Warriors game, he stood apart from his team-mates still dressed in street clothes and mutely watched the preceding game. Thats either laser focus or a general lack of interest in socialize, or maybe both. That distance reminds me of one Kobe Bean Bryant, a player less interested in making friends than lifting trophies. Russell has some of Bryants intensity, the ice water in his veins, and the will to subdue. Hes developed a workable post-up game in the off-season and seems to be a greatly improved three-point shooter. As highly touted as the lanky Ingram is, it merely might be Russell who is the real second coming.

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Other than the Lakers, Summer League is a pretty sedate affair. Merely the most dedicated fans of the other 29 NBA teams bother to come to Vegas for two weeks of basketball gluttony. That entails, the rest of the crowds are a curious mix of scouts, coaches, agents, hangers-on, wannabes, autograph hounds, and hoops bloggers. Its an IRL manifestation of the basketball Twitter community. I half expected a weeping Michael Jordan to appear at the metal detectors to greet people. If the NBA were really believing, in lieu of broadcasting these games, theyd simply release an hour compilation of all the best Vines from Summer League and spare us the sloppiness. Most of them would be insane Ben Simmons pass or the aforementioned DJ Stephens dunks.

NBA D-League (@ nbadleague) July 13, 2016

“I feel like every night I’m fighting for my life.” – @IowaEnergy dunk machine @DdotJAY30: https :// t.co/ mt2X9WDF2ghttps :// t.co/ GaPJ1MSRqw

The two arenas the Thomas& Mack Center, plus the adjacent, more intimate Cox Pavilion do their very best to shake people out of their stupors, but eight straight hours of basketball can be taxing, even on a super-fan like myself. On Monday, we were treated to mariachis in the concourse, as it was Noche Latino, an NBA promotional outreach to Hispanic communities. During a Timberwolves game where rookie sensation Kris Dunn sat out due to a concussion, the crowd was so silent that you could hear the mariachis jaunty tunes hemorrhaging into the arena soundscape. Thats all you got? Its called a dance cam! Get it, girl, the public address announcer calls during a break in the action at an earlier Grizzlies-Bucks contest in the Pavilion. Little man needs to start dancing, he says when a young child aims up on the dance cam and refuses to do as hes told. He was belligerent and irrational as merely a hungover person in Las Vegas can be.

Like every NBA spectacle, half the point is to get the average fan not enthralled by a crisp chest pass to pay attention for the entire runtime of video games. Summer League isnt quite on the level of the cannon belching fire at Oracle Arena. Its a bit more like an upmarket minor league hockey game. Instead of throwing T-shirts in the crowd, hypemen toss stress balls at fans eager for literally anything free. Where a regular NBA game features wall-to-wall music and obnoxious chant bait, Summer League lets the games exist as is. Shoes squeak on the hardwood. Men freely grunt and sigh. Heckles rain down unchallenged. Without musical accompaniment and garish fireworks displays, only the true hotshots shine.

Russell, Simmons, Booker and Dunn cannot help but rise above the fray in a define like this. Its a showcase, in the purest sense of the word. The flashy rookies and second-year players want to make a statement. The D-League and unsigned guys are fighting for their lives. For a lot of players like DJ Stephens, Summer League is their merely chance to test themselves against the multimillionaire situated. Every made basket, every Vine highlight, and conversely, every bad pass and every airball, could be the turning point in someones career. Amid the mariachis, the half-court shot competitions, and the bright lights of Vegas, are true human moments life-changing moments. You merely have to take a moment to listen.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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