Live from courtside at Cox Pavilion....
The summer league at UNLV, at Thomas & Mack Center and the adjacent Cox Pavilion, opens today for the Kings, although eight others started Friday. Twenty-one teams, 10 days, 53 games, dozens of first-round picks from 2008 and '07, and countless other young hopefuls trying to earn at least an invitation to training camp. The six-team Orlando summer league began Monday. Another session, also with six clubs, will be in Salt Lake City for the July 18-25 session that will include some of the Vegas entrants.
In that case, the perfect summer-league primer: the best young teams in the league.
This is all spec, of course, but it's also very relevant in Sacramento, with the Kings finally merging into rebuilding mode in a slow reaction that has left them behind several teams in a race to the future.
These are not the best rosters or a prediction of 2008-09 finishes. It is a ranking of the top talent blocs 25 or younger on opening night, an age chosen because 22 or 23 discounts too many players in the early stages of development and because 27 usually means the players has been around five-six-seven years. If that is not deep into their prime, it's also not young.
It comes with the slight complication of a few free agents, where noted, but very few of those are expected to move. Maybe Josh Smith or Josh Childress because everyone knows Hawks management is so dysfunctional that it's possible to sign away well-regarded talent that other clubs would retain in a similar situation. Otherwise, Andre Igoudala will likely be back in Philly, Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins in Golden State, and Luol Deng and Ben Gordon in Chicago. If either depart the Bulls, it will be by a sign-and-trade.
But, for now:
1. Trail Blazers.
Important players: LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Jerryd Bayless, Rudy Fernandez, Channing Frye, Greg Oden, Travis Outlaw, Brandon Roy, Martell Webster.
Comment: The easy call. Aldridge, Roy, Webster and Outlaw are already blooming and Oden and Fernandez will join the 2008-09 rotation amid great expectations. The Blazers, through slick moves and the deep pockets of owner Paul Allen, have set themselves up for the future like no one else.
Important players: Luol Deng (restricted free agent), Ben Gordon (restricted free agent), Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, Tyrus Thomas.
Comment: Not the easy call, just because of the immaturity concerns with Noah and Thomas and the contract status with Deng and Gordon. But that's close to a starting lineup of prospects that could play a meaningful role for most teams. Thomas needs to finally show consistency in this, his third season.
Important players: Ronnie Brewer, Kosta Koufos, Paul Millsap, Deron Williams.
Comment: That's two starters (Brewer, Williams) and a key reserve (Millsap) off a 54-win team. Not great under-25 depth, but an impressive talent level.
Important players: Josh Childress (restricted free agent), Al Horford, Acie Law, Josh Smith (restricted free agent), Marvin Williams.
Comment: Don't look now, but Atlanta is on to something. Horford should have been Rookie of the Year, Williams took an important step forward, and Childress appears at worst to have set himself up for a productive career off the bench.
Important players: Dwight Howard, Courtney Lee.
Comment: Dwight Howard plus anybody makes the list. He's 22, a center, and just averaged 20.7 points and 14.2 points while shooting 59.9 percent.
Important players: Darrell Arthur, Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo.
Comment: The pure-spec pick since Gay is the only one to actually produce. But if it works, Conley (point guard), Mayo (shooting guard) and Gay (small forward) packaged together for the next eight or 10 years would be explosive.
Important players: Andris Biedrins (restricted free agent), Marco Belinelli, Monta Ellis (restricted free agent), Anthony Randolph, Brandan Wright.
Comment: That's a lot of under-25 depth, even if Ellis and Biedrins are the only ones who can be seen without binoculars pointed at the end of the bench. Wright should get a chance this season and coach Don Nelson is already in love with Randolph. Of course, he was in love with Belinelli at this time a year ago and that didn't turn into much once the games mattered.
Important players: Francisco Garcia, Spencer Hawes, Kevin Martin, Jason Thompson.
Comment: Martin alone gets Sac this high. The three others are either important reserves (Garcia) or unproven (Hawes, Thompson).
Important players: Corey Brewer, Rodney Carney, Randy Foye, Al Jefferson, Kevin Love, Rashard McCants.
Comment: Jefferson is the centerpiece of the entire team, not just the future.
Important players: Andre Igoudala (restricted free agent), Jason Smith, Marreese Speights, Louis Williams, Thaddeus Young.
Comment: The development of Igoudala, to where he averaged 19.9 points a game, takes on greater importance with the free-agent arrival of Elton Brand. If Igoudala and the others move forward, so do the Sixers.