(Note: Please don’t give us a $1 million dollar fine for this post. We can’t afford it.)
The NBA lockout is depriving us of one of the greatest parts of the summer: Las Vegas Summer League. This is a time when young, talented basketball players hoping to make a name for themselves, earn a roster spot, or get some quality reps are thrown into a week-long league in the City of Sin. One might think the most enticing part of the Las Vegas Summer League is watching over-hyped, emotionally vulnerable players being thrown into a city designed to deceive them and swallow their presumed riches. Yet, it is the ability to evaluate future talent and being surprised by previously unknown ballers that makes this one of my favorite weeks every year.
Remember when Bayless took the league by storm, earning MVP honors and cementing a rotation spot? Or when Koponen wowed spectators with his athleticism and shooting when he played off the ball? Then there was last year when we watched Patty and Armon battle for what appeared to be the final roster spot, a preview of their battle for the backup point, which Patty eventually won. Then there was the biggest flop of all in summer league, a guy whose name we couldn’t pronounce—“BATE-UM”—who we were shocked earned a contract when we all believed he should be sent back to Europe to develop with Koponen and Freeland. The Blazers saw something in him, and you could argue the talent scouts of the Blazers sometimes know what they’re doing.
As the Blazers move into a new era for the organization, working to develop a championship contender instead of making the playoffs, this is the time the Blazers need summer league to evaluate the optimal final pieces. Is Nolan Smith the “heir apparent” which some prognosticators believe? Could Jon Diebler be the sharp shooter we thought we got in Luke Babbitt last year? Can Babbitt rebound and show we didn’t waste a first round pick on him? Is Elliot Williams the freak athlete and combo guard we need off the bench?
Unfortunately, none of these questions will be answered anytime soon. And trying to evaluate these key players will be a lot more difficult with a shortened training camp and an even shorter regular season. Let’s hope this is the last time we have to go without summer league, because we need it.