I came, I saw, I
gambled and had great meals worked nonstop.
Back home after a Vegas run for summer league, the closest thing there is to an NBA convention. Most of the GM types are there along with most coaches, many of the best young players, the occasional established vet watching from the stands or the bench, and the rare curiosity of some once-upon-a-time auditioning to get back in the league or catch the attention of an overseas scout. There was a Robert Traylor sighting with the Cavaliers this time, for example. Not that it was a tough sighting. Man-made structures visible from space: the Great Wall, the Pyramids, Tractor Traylor.
Some teams showed with pretty legit rosters because they have a heavy influence of youth. The Grizzlies with O.J. Mayo, Mike Conley and Darrell Arthur as three potential starters of the regular season. The Warriors with three first-rounders from the last two years -- Brandan Wright, Marco Belinelli and Anthony Randolph.
Some barely showed at all. The Spurs don't figure to have anyone on the July team in the rotation come November. At least they had a full contingent, though. The Lakers not only didn't have any major prospects (Coby Karl, second-round pick Joe Crawford and Davon Jefferson were the headliners), they didn't bother to put an assistant coach on the bench or the No. 1 chair for games. The staff was from their D-League team.
Either way, it's a great time, in a gym rat sort of way. Games start at 1 p.m. on most days and go until about 10 p.m., sometimes two at a time in the Thomas & Mack Center and the adjoining Cox Pavilion. Lots to see, lots to hear.
*Baron Davis got even a sweeter deal from the Clippers than five years and $65 million. He also got an early-termination clause for the summer of 2012, just as Elton Brand would have received as part of the contract he turned down to go to Philadelphia.
Davis used the same clause to surprisingly bolt from the Warriors a couple weeks ago, but L.A. is unconcerned it could meet the same fate. If anything, the Clips love the idea of Baron in a contract drive in that fourth season, when he will be 31, and that Davis opting out will mean he has played well enough to expect a raise. Both of those developments are good news. And if he miscalculates and goes for free agency without money waiting on the other side, they're off the hook on the contract a year sooner.
The Davis injury concerns? Unavoidable. But he was the one who played 82 games last season while Brand had eight appearances because of a torn Achilles' tendon.
*The straw poll on Jason Thompson to the Kings at No. 12 was wildly inconsistent in a sign of the split opinion around the league. Some said good pick, some said reach.
More specifically: The Bobcats gave him a long look at 9 and the Warriors considered him at 14, though Golden State would have stayed with eventual selection Anthony Randolph if both were on the board. But, one exec said Randolph and Marresse Speights (No. 16 to Philly) will both have better careers and another said his team would have liked Thompson a lot better in the 20s.
*More bad news on the referee front. Jess Kersey, one of the best, will retire, barring an unexpected change of plans, because of a serious hip injury that cost him all last season. An announcement is expected sometime in the summer, an unusual move for the league that reflects Kersey's status after 31 years, 189 playoff games and 18 Finals games.
* It's not one of the all-time Mad Professor Don Nelson moments. It's real intriguing, though, and lineup quirkiness with mismatches and turning a problem into a potential advantage. Pure Nellie.
Though a lot of teams project Anthony Randolph to play power forward once he stops imitating an exclamation point (200 pounds on a 6-10 frame), some scouted him with small forward in mind. Superior ball-handling skills for that height, great offensive possibilities, moves very well -- you had to think SF. But Nelson is the one who took the concept and built it into something few would try: Randolph as point forward.
It's only summer league, but the idea is real. The Warriors are running Nelson's regular-season system, with top assistant Keith Smart on the bench, and Randolph is bringing the ball up and creating plays on the perimeter. He's had some very good moments, too. If the consideration translates to the actual use when everyone's keeping score for real, it would be a way to get Randolph extra time on a team that had established forwards but needs ball handlers with the projected move of Monta Ellis to the point.
Said one GM: "If he's handling the ball well, that's a big problem (for opponents). A very big edge."
*Talk about informality. During halftime one of the first nights, a referee used the public restroom 30 or 40 feet from the court, in full uniform among the fans. He washed his hands and went back out for the second half. Gotta love summer league.