Las Vegas • What once was a summertime curiosity has become the NBA’s most important offseason gathering.
As Las Vegas Summer League teams shuffle in and out of hot gyms, so too do the NBA’s biggest power brokers: owners, general managers, agents, union officials and more. In the stands of Thomas & Mack and in the hotel ballrooms of Vegas, deals are being discussed and struck, and the future of the league is being hammered into place.
Of course a good deal of that happens on the court as well, with the NBA’s future stars getting a crack at their first minutes against professionals. Here’s what’s been happening in Vegas during summer league:
Who stood out
Fans of the New York Knicks know a special kind of agony over the years: a moribund roster, constant changes in coaching and management and an owner who famously played a concert on draft night last year. But it looks like the Knicks finally got something right: Kevin Knox.
The 6-foot−9 wing has been arguably the most exciting player in Las Vegas, reeling off big dunks in every game and playing solid defense against summer league competition. Averaging 23.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and more than a steal in his first three games, Knox has shown a tantalizing ability to attack the rim, and his jump shot has a solid foundation — enough to think that it might develop. The Kentucky forward is hoping to blend in with established Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis to form one of the East’s most intimidating front courts.
One of Knox’s fellow Wildcats is also having a breakout summer league: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been the standout for the Clippers, averaging 19 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in his first four games. His all-around ability to stuff the stat sheet has helped justify the Clippers moving up a spot to get him in the draft, and some consider him the best point guard prospect in the class.
Meanwhile, it’s been a good test for second-year players: The Hawks’ John Collins, the Lakers’ Josh Hart and the Wizards’ Devin Robinson have been among the top sophomores in Vegas. Specific to the Jazz, rookie Grayson Allen, second-year center Tony Bradley and two-way player Georges Niang have all averaged 16 points or better in Vegas games.
With LeBron James moving to Los Angeles, there’s a comic imbalance to the league. Need proof? Just try filling out an All-Star ballot.
Even beyond the loaded Golden State roster, which just added Demarcus Cousins, there are a lot more All-Star candidates in the West than the East, where the Heat’s Goran Dragic got a slightly dubious invite last season, and such inclusions are likely to continue.
But even beyond that issue, there’s one of competitive parity: Is it fair that the road through the Western Conference playoffs is so much more rocky than the East? Commissioner Adam Silver re-engaged discussion of seeding the playoffs 1 through 16, but the hang-up with increased travel seems to be a deal-breaker for NBA teams (Silver estimated between a 40 and 50 percent increase). At the very least, it’s not some “we can do quickly,” Silver told an assembly of media this week, without a total re-examination of the playoff system, including the TV package.
As for Golden State’s continued run of dominance, Silver refused to cede that the league is disappointed with one team being a cut above every other.
"As I've said before, we're not trying to create some sort of forced parity,” he said. “What we are really focused on is parity of opportunity.”
End of one and done?
Since 2006 when the NBA raised its age limit, the college game has had an influx of so-called “one-and-done” players such as Kevin Durant, John Wall, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns.
But for every one of these big successes, there have been other one-and-dones that have not found a foothold in the league, and the NCAA has been rocked by related scandals and controlled by players who have no great interest in higher learning.
Not many people seem to be happy with the arrangement: Condoleezza Rice recently concluded through a commission that players who wish to go straight to the NBA should have the opportunity to do so. It seems that the the league’s thinking is shifting that way, too.
“I mean that sort of tips the scale in my mind that we should be taking a serious look at lowering our age to 18,” Silver said.
The change, if implemented, wouldn’t come until 2021. Silver said the league would soon look to negotiate with the National Basketball Players’ Association to see if the age requirement could be lowered.
CBA players set
The NBPA extended the contract of executive director Michele Roberts on Tuesday for four more years. While Roberts has been criticized for allowing a 2016 salary cap spike that resulted in record spending followed by much more fallow free agency periods in recent years (the NBPA declined a “smoothing” approach that would spread out the spike over several seasons), the extension reasserts Roberts as the person who will negotiate big deals with the league in the next four years.
One of those big deals is the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, which runs through the 2023–24 season. Roberts’ extension has her poised to be the primary figure helping dictate the terms of the next CBA when negotiations start in 2022. Since Silver was recently extended by the league, he’ll be on the other side of the table.