They say nobody knows what time it is in Las Vegas, on casino floors and high-end clubs with no clocks and windows. The late nights blur into the early mornings as people move from one good time to the next.
With that in mind, it’s kind of funny to ask people in the NBA to be patient.
Summer League veterans know that the game on the pitch is pretty much irrelevant – the great performances and big disappointments aren’t exactly predictive of how a contestant will fare. The live five-a-side games help scouts and executives make some decisions behind the roster and can give them insight into the players they’ve just drafted, but the real value is in the stands, in the halls and back hallways – and later in the bars – where these people gather to talk.
It’s a reporter’s dream – key people from all 30 organizations are on hand to provide insight into any questions that need to be asked. During the first weekend in Vegas, we interviewed more than a dozen different people—company executives, player staff, college and NBA scouts, former players, agents, and coaches—about the Lakers’ summer. All gave their assessments on condition of anonymity. Here’s what we heard:
The general impression of the Lakers’ free agency is somewhere between “fairly good” and “great”.
A league executive gushed about the Lakers’ signing of Gabe Vincent, saying the guard is “the perfect point guard to play alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.”
The manager named Mario Chalmers a player who reminds him of Vincent. “[Vincent] doesn’t need the ball, can shoot it and make the right decisions. And he can really defend.”
Vincent’s underdog history with the Miami Heat — at one point he failed to secure a spot on the summer league roster — should be a good cultural fit with the Lakers, who have undrafted free agent Austin Reaves as the latest example of the team’s willingness to find talent, where whenever they are present.
Vincent is also known for being extremely present in the dressing room and was incredibly popular in Miami.
The signing of center Jaxson Hayes also caused a stir. He attended the Lakers’ first summer league game on Friday, sitting alongside veteran forward Jarred Vanderbilt. Hayes’ athletic ability should fit seamlessly with D’Angelo Russell, Reaves and James – who can make pick-and-roll plays and get the ball into a dangerous lob like the 1.9m tall Hayes.
A scout questioned New Orleans’ decision to use him as a power forward at times, saying Hayes is more of a classic rim runner at center. One wonders why he didn’t play more for the Pelicans last season, but the Lakers’ ballhandlers appear better equipped to put him in the winning position.
The four-year, $54 million Reaves contract was seen as a bargain for the Lakers because the team benefited from controlled, restricted free agency where teams interested in signing Reaves were assured that any offer they made would be accepted.
There were some divided opinions about Rui Hachimura and Russell, which is to be expected given their past in the league. At Hachimura, some executives wondered who the Lakers would be up against as a free agent if they gave him an average of $17 million a year over the next three seasons. Maybe a better offer could have been made.
Still, supporters of the decision cited two key factors. First, Hachimura answered one of the big questions about him – how he would fare in the intense spotlight – in a wonderful postseason run when he was one of the team’s most reliable shooters. Second, his consistent toughness and willingness to fight — for example, his willingness to defend center Nikola Jokic — led some people in the NBA to believe the Lakers might have unleashed something in him.
Russell still had big questions about his defensive reliability for a championship-minded team and the last memories of his troubles in the conference finals are still fresh. The talent is there, however, and it’s believed the Lakers could find a trade partner if needed given his two-year deal with a player option last year.
Forward Taurean Prince’s professionalism, size and shooting power made sense for the Lakers, and forward Cam Reddish is a cheap bet on talent.
The team can still offer up to two minimum contracts, and insiders in the league believe it will eventually go to a big man. Christian Wood is an option, although there are real concerns about his ability to function in a winning team. The talent is undeniable. The other remaining options, such as Bismack Biyombo, are less likely to step in, start and thrive should Davis miss a string of games.
Scouts and executives are evenly divided on first-round pick Jalen Hood-Schifino, a 6-6 point guard the Lakers drafted 17th.
Some point to his bizarre shooting profile in Indiana. He got his best work in the midrange and upper registers while struggling on the fringes. There are questions about his dribbling and vertical athleticism.
Others point to his prowess and size as a point guard, and are quick to point out that the goal at No. 17, mathematically at least, is to draw a contributor. If you do that, you win.
His shooting needs work, but he’s shown the defensive and passing potential that justifies his draft berth, a manager said.
The other player on the Lakers’ summer league team that scouts have talked about the most is center Colin Castleton, who has been given a two-way contract.
The scouts were really impressed with Castleton’s ball handling and passing game, qualities he must have when his three-ball shot doesn’t develop. However, they wonder if his shot blocking – which was a major strength for him in Florida – can be carried over to the NBA. He’s struggled with fouls throughout all of the Lakers’ summer league games, and learning how to defend without committing fouls will be crucial.
Sophomore guard Max Christie has made good use of his chances to become top scorer for the most part this summer so far. The scouts expect Christie will challenge for minutes this season, filling the void left by Troy Brown Jr., Malik Beasley and Lonnie Walker IV as free agency.
The rivals were impressed with the development shown by coach Darvin Ham in his freshman season, highlighting his work against Memphis and Golden State in particular.
The Lakers won’t be the West favorites next season. Nobody expects that. But if James and Davis can stay healthy enough, one is convinced the Lakers have improved the roster around them.
Now it’s just a matter of waiting.