NBA SUMMER BALL IS LIFE
*Photo via 24/7 Sports
The last we saw of any live NBA basketball action, was an incredible Game 7 of the NBA Finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers edging out the "greatest regular season team ever" the Golden State Warriors. LeBron James showed he was still the best player in the league when he brought back the Cavs ( with help from Kyrie Irving) from a 3-1 deficit. King James put on a masterful performance in the last three games, going for 41 points in Game 5 and 6, and then dropping a triple-double in Game 7 to clinch the championship. He won the trophy for Cleveland aka Believeland, the first chip there in any sport in 52 years. It was a fairy tale ending for the Cavaliers. As for Golden State, it was a very disappointing final, coughing up a 3-1 lead to lose what was an incredible regular season for them. You would think the Warriors learned a thing or two from the previous series when they themselves were down 3-1 to the Oklahoma City Thunder, only to come back and win. Dub Nation was in great sorrow for a couple weeks until they reloaded and got the prize player in the free agency market,, Mr Kevin Durant. But that's another story we will save for the summer.
NBA action doesn't stop after the finals are over and done with. If your life is built on the phrase " ball is life," then you too are a huge NBA Summer League fan. The summer league season starts off a couple weeks after the finals. There are three leagues, Orlando ( only 10 teams and NBA officials, players, coaches, management etc are invited), Utah (only 4 teams and is 3 days long) and the biggest one of them all, Vegas ( 24 NBA teams are invited and basketball fans are able to watch the games in person). The summer leagues are fun because you get to see the newly drafted rookies in action, 2nd and 3rd year players working on their game, or NBA veterans trying to stay in the league, but mostly overseas and NBDL players trying to make the NBA or just trying to get seen by scouts around the world. Basketball has become a global sport in the last 20 years and there are leagues everywhere. There are so many talented basketball players in the world which makes it difficult to make a team. An NBA team roster is small compared to its other sports league counterparts, so players have to be really talented or lucky to earn a spot. Its sometimes about the perfect fit for that player trying out for a certain team. And if a player plays well and gets cut from one team, then maybe another team might pick them up.
*Photo via USA Today
All these players fighting to get one of the 400 plus positions in the league. You see all kinds of players from dudes that used to be "the man" on their high school and college teams, others are just role players looking to get a chance at the NBA or overseas opportunities. Also you get to see all-time great player's sons like Gary Payton Jr, Glenn Robinson Jr, Michael and David Stockton to name a few. The games can get a little sloppy with no chemistry between the players, but all the players play hard because their basketball livelihood are on the line. The league formats have improved in the past few years. Every minute and quarters count. For example in Orlando, any time a team wins a quarter, a point is added to their overall standings along with team wins or losses. And this can determine who gets to the championship game on the last day of the tournament. With the Vegas league, all teams are guaranteed 5 games, along with playoffs. And if you lose in the playoffs, there is a consolation bracket so that every player will be able to showcase their skills.
Summer league is not regulated to just the players but also coaches and referees. Young referees coming up are also trying to get to the big time, so they are evaluated on their performance as well. Rookie head coaches and assistant coaches also use this opportunity to gain coaching experience through the summer league and maybe down the line get the opportunity to be a head coach in the league. Steve Kerr, Tyron Lue, Jeff Hornacek, Luke Walton and a few other head coaches in the NBA have coached in summer league games. Last year Becky Hammon (the first woman coach in the NBA) won the summer league championship with the Spurs and it ended up opening doors for her to coach men or women at the college level. So summer is for establishing and gaining confidence that you belong in the NBA. Tonight will be a sad day for basketball junkies because it is the championship game of the Vegas league. That means no more NBA games after tonight until October when the preseason starts.
In the Orlando summer league, the championship game was between Orlando Magic White (They had two teams in the tournament) and the Detroit Pistons. Orlando ended up taking the chip, with an 87-84 victory over the Pistons. And then what was probably the greatest summer league championship game ever at Vegas, the Chicago Bulls beat Minnesota Timberwolves 84-82 in overtime. It was a very exciting ending to what was a great summer league season. The game was tied at 74 and Tyus Jones, formerly of Duke (who was named the MVP of the Vegas Summer League) hit a three pointer with 5 seconds to go which everybody thought was the game winner for the “Teen Wolves”. But incoming rookie from Michigan State, Denzel Valentine tied up the game with a three pointer of his own, off a perfectly designed misdirection play by Bulls coach Pete Myers. In OT, down 3 points, the T'Wolves Xavier Silas hit a desperation backboard three-pointer to tie the game at 82. But it was "Valentine's day", as Denzel drove to the free-throw line, did a step back, then shot faked his defender and made the mid-range jumper to end the game. Gametime!!!!!!!!!! Bulls win, Bulls win!!!!!! Jerian Granted ended up being the MVP of the game, but Denzel should have got it off those clutch shots. It was a great way to end the summer leagues.