Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, July 12, 2013 | 2 a.m.
The NBA is selling this year’s Las Vegas Summer League with a new format designed to inject a little more competitive fire into the glorified pickup games. That may work to attract some extra casual national viewers, but for locals, there’s already plenty of intrigue waiting in the next 11 days of basketball at the Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion.
Even without former Rebel and top overall pick Anthony Bennett, who’s still sidelined following postseason shoulder surgery, there’s local interest littered across several of the 22 NBA organizations who field teams in this event. From the 14th pick in this year’s draft to an assistant coach on Portland’s bench, there will be a lot of familiar faces competing from July 12-22.
As for that new format, the NBA decided to set up a mini-tournament that will crown a champion at the end. Every team will play three preliminary games; starting July 17 the teams will be seeded and placed into a single-elimination championship tournament. There will also be a consolation tournament, meaning every team will play at least five games. All of the games will air on either NBA TV or NBA.com.
Shabazz Muhammad, G, Minnesota Timberwolves
Drafted: First round, 14th overall
• 3:30 p.m. Saturday vs. NBA D-League, Thomas & Mack Center
• 3:30 p.m. Monday vs. Phoenix, Thomas & Mack Center
• 1 p.m. Tuesday vs. Miami, Cox Pavilion
With Bennett sidelined until the fall, Muhammad is the star of the locals show this week.
This should be the fun part for the former Bishop Gorman High and UCLA wing. The draft is behind him and questions about his past are more or less answered. The only important thing right now is playing basketball.
Muhammad and fellow first-round pick Gorgui Dieng of Louisville, who together were traded from the Utah Jazz for Michigan’s Trey Burke, will be playing with a group far different from the Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love-led squad that has them excited to be in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Still, this is their first chance to stake their claim to roles on what should be a playoff-contending team.
And it will also just be fun for Muhammad, who should have the crowd on his side.
Pierre Jackson, G, New Orleans Pelicans
Drafted: Second round, 42nd overall
• 1 p.m. Friday vs. New York, Cox Pavilion
• 5:30 p.m. Sunday vs. Milwaukee, Thomas & Mack Center
• 3 p.m. Monday vs. Cleveland, Cox Pavilion
As of Thursday morning, Jackson still wasn’t officially a Pelican. The Desert Pines High and Baylor grad was part of a draft night trade with the Philadelphia 76ers that was expected to be rubber stamped by the league office Thursday or Friday.
Whenever that happens, Jackson will be part of the first team to wear the Pelicans uniform after New Orleans changed its nickname from the Hornets this offseason. The undersized guard has always played with a chip on his shoulder, something that will likely be on display as he fights for a role on the team heading into this season.
Among the guys Jackson will compete with is second-year Duke guard Austin Rivers, the son of new Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers.
Anthony Marshall/Myck Kabongo, G, Miami Heat
Both undrafted in 2013
• 7:30 p.m. Saturday vs. Toronto, Thomas & Mack Center
• 7 p.m. Sunday vs. Atlanta, Cox Pavilion
• 1 p.m. Tuesday vs. Minnesota, Cox Pavilion
This is probably the must-see team for locals to watch over the next 11 days.
For UNLV fans there’s Marshall, the former Mojave High star and all-league shooting guard/point guard who’s trying to catch on with any NBA team that will give him a chance. Just how much playing time he gets for the Heat will be something to watch and could be an indication of whether he has a chance to join Miami’s D-League team.
And then there’s Kabongo, a former Findlay Prep star who barely played his sophomore season at Texas because of an NCAA investigation. Kabongo still declared for the draft and despite most considering him a first-round talent who would go somewhere in the second round, he never heard his name called.
That was fine for Heat President Pat Riley, whose team didn’t have a draft pick this year. They scooped up Kabongo, and most think he has a great chance to make the team this season.
As the two-time defending champs, every player with a title in mind wants to join the team. Marshall and Kabongo just happen to have an inside track at making that a reality.
Elijah Johnson, G, Los Angeles Clippers
Undrafted in 2013
• 3 p.m. Friday vs. Atlanta, Cox Pavilion
• 1:30 p.m. Sunday vs. NBA D-League, Thomas & Mack Center
• 5 p.m. Monday vs. Los Angeles Lakers, Cox Pavilion
The Cheyenne High grad had an incredibly up-and-down senior season at Kansas, which was probably best exemplified by his heroics in a road victory at Iowa State and his pass that effectively ended the Jayhawks’ season against Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen.
The Summer League crowd will be much more indifferent than what Johnson is used to, which should be a good thing. Of course, he may not get a lot of time to draw any cheers or jeers from the stands. Johnson will be competing with guys like North Carolina rookie Reggie Bullock, the Clippers’ first-round pick this year, and four-year veteran Jonny Flynn for minutes at the two guard spots.
There are enough games that Johnson should get some big minutes in at least one of them. His future — in the NBA or abroad — could be greatly affected by what he does with them.
Chace Stanback, F, Denver Nuggets
Undrafted in 2012
• 7 p.m. Saturday vs. Milwaukee, Cox Pavilion
• 7:30 p.m. Monday vs. Chicago, Thomas & Mack Center
• 7 p.m. Tuesday vs. Washington, Cox Pavilion
This isn’t the path Stanback had hoped for to the NBA, but at least he’s here for now.
The 2012 UNLV grad didn’t play in last year’s Summer League and then played only 12 games in the Developmental League last year for the Erie Bayhawks. He continued training, though, and recently the Nuggets announced he would join the franchise’s Summer League team.
What does this mean for Stanback’s NBA future? Probably nothing, at least for now. Most of the guys who jump onto these teams don’t make the league, especially not in that same year.
However, there will be a lot of international scouts in attendance for the Summer League. Plus, a solid performance could help keep his name in the minds of the NBA coaches who will be swarming all over campus.
Mike Peck, assistant coach, Portland Trail Blazers
• 5:30 p.m. Saturday vs. Phoenix, Thomas & Mack Center
• 3:30 p.m. Sunday vs. Los Angeles Lakers, Thomas & Mack Center
• 5 p.m. Tuesday vs. Chicago, Cox Pavilion
The former Findlay Prep coach left last September to join the Portland Trail Blazers organization as the head coach of the Idaho Stampede, its Developmental League team. This week he will join fellow Portland coaches as an assistant on the Trail Blazers’ Summer League team.
Peck is already familiar with the area, both from his time at Findlay and, before that, on Lon Kruger’s staff at UNLV. He’ll likely be one of the only assistants with a cheering section of fans excited to see their old friend take on another role within the Portland organization.
Tony Snell, G, Chicago Bulls
Drafted: First round, 20th overall
• 5 p.m. Saturday vs. Memphis, Cox Pavilion
• 7:30 p.m. Monday vs. Denver, Thomas & Mack Center
• 5 p.m. Tuesday vs. Portland, Cox Pavilion
Though certainly not a UNLV fan favorite, the former New Mexico Lobo doesn’t bring out the vitriol like the San Diego Aztec he’ll face in both of their NBA Summer League debuts. Because of this, it may be possible to watch Snell's games with clear eyes if not a full heart.
It was a little surprising to see Snell keep his name in the NBA Draft pool, at least until workouts began and he started vaulting up draft boards. Picked at No. 20, Snell clearly made the right choice, and a solid Summer League could help put him in solid position to be a spark plug off the bench for a team that figures to be a factor in the Eastern Conference, pending Derrick Rose’s health, of course.
Jamaal Franklin, G, Memphis Grizzlies
Drafted: Second round, 41st overall
• 5 p.m. Saturday vs. Chicago, Cox Pavilion
• 5 p.m. Sunday vs. Cleveland, Cox Pavilion
• 5:30 p.m. Tuesday vs. Phoenix, Thomas & Mack Center
This is more for the chance to boo than the chance to cheer, though there’s plenty of reason to be excited to watch Franklin again in person (other than those of you hoping he falls on his face).
While his jump shot is the biggest hurdle Franklin must clear to find consistent court time in the NBA, he can already dunk with the best of them. And in a league that more resembles pickup basketball than the real thing these players were drafted into, Franklin may be on the perfect stage to shine.
Add in the extra motivation of being passed over by nearly every team at least once and the fact that this is the only crowd he’ll play in front of as a rookie that actually has an opinion of him — and it’s not a good one — and Franklin may have one of the best debuts of any rookie in the field.