Ten strange but true moments from Las Vegas Summer League
LAS VEGAS -- Summer League is at its best when fans get a first look at the NBA's future stars uncorking vicious crossovers or rising for transition dunks. Getting to those good moments, however, requires sifting through some unsightly play -- a mess of ill-advised passes, unnecessarily hard fouls, overly ambitious contested jumpers and dreary blowouts.
True Summer League masochists take things a step further, seeking out hilarity amid the ugliness. With that in mind, here's a rundown of 10 strange but true happenings from the 11-day, 67-game competition, which concludes on Monday with the championship game between Houston and Sacramento.
1. Morris twins in perfect harmony
Markieff and Marcus Morris helped lead the Suns to a second-place finish last year. Their on-court chattiness and shot-happy games are perfect fits in this loose environment, and it was more than a little disappointing to see their names missing from Phoenix's roster this summer.
Then, lo and behold, the 24-year-old twins showed up early last week to sit courtside for the Suns' opener against the Warriors. Now, it's not uncommon for NBA players to make a cameo in Las Vegas -- DeMarcus Cousins, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and John Wall were among those in attendance last week -- but nothing really compared to the twins, who arrived in matching T-shirts, pants and chains. Summer League started with a bang thanks to a head-to-head duel between Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, but the event didn't seem officially underway until the brothers rolled through. Call it the Summer League Opening Ceremony.
In 2008, Nate Robinson had his Summer League jersey retired. The Morris twins should receive the same honor. Together.
2. Bruno Caboclo breaks down in tears after getting posterized
For the rest of his life, former Syracuse forward C.J. Fair will be able to tell his friends and future grandkids that he posterized someone so badly that his opponent cried.
Some context is required: The undrafted Fair (who was playing for Dallas) dunked over Raptors rookie Bruno Caboclo, a virtual unknown from Brazil who was surprisingly selected in the first round of the June draft. Caboclo, a baby-faced and long-armed 18-year-old, has upside for days, but his youth was exposed a bit after the highlight slam. He was first involved in a brief shoving match and then whistled for a technical foul. After returning to the bench, he covered his eyes with his jersey and put a towel over his head as he tried to compose himself. Reports indicated that the meltdown might have resulted from a misunderstanding over the technical foul, as Caboclo's English is limited and it's possible he thought he was ejected. He was also said to be upset because the Raptors were being routed.
Regardless, it was an unusual scene that will stand up as a useful "Remember when?" marker as Caboclo progresses. It should also be mentioned that he averaged 11.4 points and three rebounds in five games, which is pretty solid production considering he was the youngest player in the tournament.
3. Ivan Johnson speaks his mind
Not every player in Las Vegas is a youngster attempting to earn his stripes. Count the notorious Ivan Johnson, 30, among the many veterans trying to work their way into (or back into) an NBA contract.
Johnson, who played for the Hawks from 2011-13, is best known for being banned by the Korean Basketball League for flipping off an official. The well-traveled Johnson was also fined by the NBA for directing the same gesture at a fan in 2012.
His reputation as a man who shouldn't be messed with was reinforced yet again during an interview with Basketball Insiders. Asked about his no-holds-barred style of play, the undersized power forward delivered one of the better quotes in Summer League history.
"Excuse my language, but I've got to kind of like f--- anybody in front of me," Johnson said. "You know what I'm saying? That's the type of mentality you have to have to try to make it in the NBA."
It's just that simple!
4. Sudden-death overtime
Last year, the Summer League adopted a new tournament format that includes a number of arcane rules. For example, teams earn points for each quarter that they outscore their opponents during opening-round games, with the points determining seeds for the tournament's knockout round. Another strange rule: Any opening-round game that is still tied after a two-minute overtime period heads to a first-basket-wins sudden death.
The Hawks and the D-League Select team triggered this situation and, in the process, seemed ready to actually fight to the death for the victory. This was a scramble to end all scrambles, as both teams missed good looks and chased the ball from end to end. With bodies flying everywhere and the ball nearly going out of bounds, Devin Ebanks finally delivered a two-point victory, setting off a celebration on the D-League's bench and drawing appreciative applause from the crowd.
One of the oldest Summer League maxims is that everyone always roots against overtime. This sequence flipped that concept on its head, as media members immediately began brainstorming ways to infuse the NBA with more sudden-death scenarios.
5. Seventh heaven
Speaking of extra time, the Wizards and Spurs played a thrilling quarterfinal on Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center. It went back and forth until reaching triple overtime. (Weird rule update: There was no overtime sudden death during the knockout-round games.) Washington swingman and Summer League MVP Glen Rice Jr. (36 points) hit a three-pointer off a beautifully designed out-of-bounds play to force the third extra period. The Wizards went on to win thanks to a game-clinching block from Otto Porter, who joined Rice on the All-Summer League first team.
The twist? Not many people stuck around until the bitter end. Combine a 7 p.m. start time on Saturday night with three extra two-minute periods and what do you get? An arena that was roughly 90 percent empty. Just about everyone had hit the road (or the Strip) by the time Washington finally closed out its 95-94 victory. The game was so entertaining, though, that the fans who did stay went through a dumbstruck discovery process as they turned their attention away from the court, only to realize how empty the building had become. "Where'd everybody go?"
As fun as the above highlights are, nothing encapsulated the night quite like the scoreboard, which simply read: "Period: 7" during the final overtime period. Sadly, the marathon sapped the Wizards' energy and they were eliminated by Sacramento in the semifinals on Sunday.
6. Three points given, three points taken away
Days after the sequence, memories of possibly the biggest squandered gift in basketball history still cause a vigorous head shake.
With less than a second remaining in the first quarter of a Trail Blazers-Rockets game on July 13, Portland's Thomas Robinson corralled a defensive rebound and prepared to heave a 90-foot desperation shot. As Robinson gathered himself, though, Houston forward Akil Mitchell inexplicably reached in from behind. Mitchell tried to walk off the court like his foul never happened as the television commentary crew tried to swallow its laughter, but the referees conferred, placed 0.2 seconds on the clock and granted Robinson three free throws with the Blazers leading 19-14.
What happened next? Robinson, a career 54 percent free-throw shooter, missed all three. Of course. And he nearly airballed his third attempt too.
Portland won 75-67, thanks in part to a six-point fourth quarter for Houston. But the Rockets proceeded to win five consecutive games to advance to Monday's title game.
7. Utah's best of times and worst of times
Nobody rode the Summer League roller coaster of good, bad and ugly quite like the Jazz. Case in point: Utah set a tournament record by scoring just four points in the first quarter against the Blazers, shooting 1-for-19 from the field in 10 minutes. But Portland mustered only 11 points, and Utah rallied to take a 29-25 halftime lead and held on for a 75-73 victory. Only in Vegas.
Jazz rookie forward Rodney Hood also embodied the up-and-down life. The No. 23 pick in last month's draft debuted with a 1-of-10 performance from three-point range in a loss to the Sixers. In the next game, the former Duke swingman sank 7-of-10 from long range and scored 29 points in a win over the Bucks. That effort drew multiple standing ovations from Jazz fans, who have always traveled well to Las Vegas, even though this was Utah's first appearance in the field.
8. Sim Bhullar loses a jump ball
The tallest player at Summer League is Bhullar, a 7-foot-5 Canadian center. Bhullar went undrafted after two years at New Mexico State, and he really struggles to keep up with the pace of play. That shouldn't come as a surprise: He is listed at 355 pounds. Bhullar is getting only spot playing time for the Kings -- he's scored just two points in 10 minutes over four games -- but he still found a way to make this list.
With one minute left in Sacramento's 80-61 win over Chicago on Saturday, Bhullar engaged in a jump ball with 6-11 Chad Posthumus. The first thought that came to mind was whether the referee could throw the ball high enough to clear Bhullar. Instead, Posthumus won the tap as the Bulls dug out the meaningless possession. Fans were left wondering, Did a 7-foot-5 center really just lose a jump ball? Sadly, the answer was "yes."
In case you were curious, Basketball-Reference.com's database lists only seven NBA players who were at least 7-foot-5 or taller: Manute Bol, Shawn Bradley, Yao Ming, Gheorghe Muresan, Chuck Nevitt, Pavel Podkolzin and Slavko Vranes.
9. Referee gets payback on Meyers Leonard
Portland's Leonard was eager to make a good first impression. The 11th pick in 2012 received only sporadic minutes last season, and a shoulder injury sidelined him for the first two games in Sin City. No wonder the always energetic 7-footer looked a little extra amped for his debut against Atlanta last Tuesday.
While getting ready to jump for the opening tip, Leonard accidentally hit the referee in the face (lightly), causing a slight delay as everyone reset their positions. Guess what happened next? On Portland's first defensive possession, Leonard was immediately whistled for two fouls within seven seconds. Leonard finished with a game-high seven fouls (players don't foul out in Summer League); no one else was called for more than three.
Let this be a lesson to all young big men: Never get on the referees' bad side before the game has even started.
10. Oh, P.J. Hairston
The Hornets' Hairston has had an eventful month since being drafted in the first round out of the D-League after being dismissed from the North Carolina team following an investigation into his use of rental cars linked to a convicted felon. Hairston faces misdemeanor charges of assault and battery after allegedly punching a high school prospect in the head during a pickup game. Days later, Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon was arrested for DWI while reportedly driving a car registered to Hairston. Both incidents somehow occurred before Hairston even made his Summer League debut.
Though he will finish as one of the leading scorers in Vegas at 18.3 points, Hairston posted some putrid shooting lines: 2-for-16 in a loss to the Warriors, 6-for-20 in a loss to the Kings and 4-for-18 in a win over the Mavericks. It wasn't all bad -- he cracked 20 points three times-- but it's probably worth pointing out that he had six assists compared to 120 field-goal attempts in 215 minutes.
Anyway, the highlight of Hairston's tournament had nothing to do with scoring or not passing. During the second quarter against the Knicks on Saturday, Hairston may or may not have flopped while drawing an offensive foul on Tim Hardaway Jr. Hairston celebrated by making a big show of clapping his hands in Hardaway's face -- a foolish move that prompted a technical foul.
Hardaway cashed in the free throw. And wouldn't you know it? The sequence launched a 16-0 Knicks run that turned a 15-point deficit into a one-point lead. The good news for Hairston is that Charlotte held off New York down the stretch and prevailed 82-79; otherwise, he would have gone home as the goat of the week.