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Sunday basketball notes

Keeping Gordon lets Hornets try Rivers at point

Portland Trail Blazers' Dee Bost defended New Orleans Hornet Austin Rivers during an NBA Summer League game on July 15 in Las Vegas.

David Becker/AP

Portland Trail Blazers' Dee Bost defended New Orleans Hornet Austin Rivers during an NBA Summer League game on July 15 in Las Vegas.

In his eagerness to sign with the Suns, who gave him a generous four-year, $58 million offer sheet, Eric Gordon attempted to plead and argue his way out of New Orleans.

He said that the Hornets had already drafted his replacement, Austin Rivers, and that they would be better suited moving forward with the former Duke standout starting his career at shooting guard. Coach Monty Williams and general manager Dell Demps ignored Gordon’s desire to leave town and matched the offer sheet, deciding to use Rivers at point guard.

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Rivers is accustomed to having the ball, but it’s usually a precursor to shooting. He is a pure scorer who relishes creating for himself, but the Hornets don’t have a point guard and Gordon is 23 and a career 18.2 points-per-game scorer still years from his prime.

With Anthony Davis on board as the center of the future, the Hornets are primed for success, but that will depend on Rivers adapting to the point-guard role, something his father DocRivers had no trouble adjusting to 30 years ago. Doc wasn’t courtside screaming commands when Rivers made his professional debut at the Las Vegas Summer League. He was watching youngest son Spencer playing AAU ball in Orlando.

Doc allowed Austin to experience the draft process and his introduction to the NBA alone.

“That’s the thing, you’ve got to realize you’re by yourself,” Austin said. “No one can help you when you’re in those [draft] workouts. I think the main thing is not to overthink. A lot of guys go in there and get nervous and try to do the right thing, be someone they’re not. I think the main thing is just to go in there and compete and try to win every contest, whether it’s shooting, trying to get water, get water the fastest. Every little thing I think counts, honestly, and that’s the mind-set. You’ve got to go out there and be really aggressive and understand that this is for your livelihood, not a joke.’’

Rivers was slowed by a bad ankle that required minor surgery to remove bone spurs and he was dominated in his opening matchup against Portland rookie Damian Lillard. He struggled from the field, going 3 for 13 with two assists and four turnovers against the Trail Blazers.

A day later, in his final appearance before being shut down, Rivers looked more comfortable as a distributor, finishing with five assists and two turnovers against the Bucks.

“It’s actually been a lot better than I intended it,” he said of the transition to point guard. “I have played point guard a little bit; the tempo is different. With [shooting guard], you can just wait for the ball, and when you get it, you go. Point guard, you have to make sure you get yourself going, make sure everybody else is going. Make sure the team is running right, when the team is on the run you’ve got to get your team together. You’ve got to be a leader, you’ve got to be talkative, the little things. I’ve got to keep learning.”

Rivers is never going to be confused with Steve Nash in terms of a pass-first mentality. He is already trying to pattern himself after point guards Russell Westbrook and Deron Williams, who can assume the scoring load when necessary and also hand out assists. Rivers has to become a better perimeter shooter and will need to use his size to get to the basket against smaller guards.

He struggled at times with Lillard’s quickness.

“That’s where I want to be, I want to be an attacking point guard,” Rivers said. “The guy who gets my teammates involved but is also a scoring threat, like Westbrook. Like all the best point guards in the league, Derrick Rose, Tony Parker, those guys. That’s where I want to get.”

Perhaps it’s because he’s been exposed to the media as a player since he was a pre-teen that Rivers is very savvy and poised in the spotlight. Doc Rivers is making sure he keeps his distance during this growth process, trusting close friend Monty Williams to guide his son.

“It’s a learning curve, and I think that’s what all players need to understand,” Austin Rivers said. “A lot of guys come out here and try to do stuff they’re not supposed to do or get frustrated when this is here to make you better. I’m motivated all the time because I have big goals and big dreams, so this is step 1 for me. I mean, this is my job. Guys going out there are trying to take my job. That’s how I look at it.

“Whether [Doc Rivers] is at my game or not, it doesn’t take away from me. I don’t care about any attention. I’m trying to go out there and play. Whatever my dad does, he does as well. He’s a real simple dude, he tells me to go attack. Everybody out here is hungry. Everybody wants a check. Everybody out here wants to play in the NBA.”

Post presence

Kings rookie
states his case

It wasn’t until the Kings’ final summer league game against the Celtics that Thomas Robinson began to resemble the dominant post player who led Kansas to the national championship game in April. Robinson, in a comfortable matchup with the Celtics’ JaredSullinger, finished with 15 points and 16 rebounds, his second double-double of summer league.

Robinson is playing with a perpetual chip on his shoulder. A complementary player on the Kansas teams featuring Marcus and Markieff Morris, he catapulted to a national player of the year candidate as a junior. During the pre-draft process, the 6-foot-9-inch Robinson wondered aloud why Kentucky’s Anthony Davis was the prohibitive No. 1 pick. Because of the death of his grandparents and mother in a three-week span during his sophomore season, Robinson has played with a passion and desire usually not present in college players, and has brought that mentality to the NBA.

Robinson was not pleased with his performance in Las Vegas, and expressed relief that he was able to control the paint in his final appearance.

“I came into summer league thinking I had to prove to everybody that I was worthy of the fifth pick, and I have to play up to a name,” he said. “I don’t have to prove myself to nobody. I came in here trying to prove to people I was an offensive player where really my niche is rebounding.”

The Kings are formulating quite an impressive younger core with Tyreke Evans, DeMarcusCousins, Marcus Thornton, Jason Thompson, Isaiah Thomas, and Jimmer Fredette, who did enjoy his share of moments in summer league. The biggest assignment for coach Keith Smart, entering his first full season, is getting the core to play together and get along.

Evans was Rookie of the Year in 2009-10, but his scoring and assist averages have decreased the past two seasons. Cousins has undergone his share of maturity pains, while Thompson has been wildly inconsistent. He was re-signed to a $6 million-per-year contract.

Robinson realizes his place. He will not begin his first NBA season with any delusions of stardom. He promises to enter the season with the same work ethic as he did three years ago in Lawrence, Kan.

The most important adjustment Robinson took from his first NBA experience is the increased contact, and that was especially the case against Sullinger.

“They are not calling nothing for me this year,” he said. “I’m a rookie. I love it, I love playing against Jared. I think I mentioned that to somebody the other day — who do I love going against, I mentioned Jared.

“Jared’s a competitor, he’s going to be cool with me off the court but on the court no words for me. That’s when I perform at my best level, when people are challenging me. When I take one play off I am going to lose, and I can’t do that with him.”

Robinson said he will make a concerted effort to keep his emotions in check in his quest to prove he’s a lottery talent. It will be a challenge.

“It’s easy to say you can but it’s hard because it’s a whole other level,” he said. “You want to prove to people that you’re good. But in reality you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t good. So it took a while to realize that, but I got it. It finally just hit me that my life has changed and I’m a different person. And it’s all for the better.”

ETC.

Marshall has
Rondo’s game

The scouting report has already been drawn up for Suns rookie Kendall Marshall: When he dribbles the ball on the perimeter, lay off and allow him to shoot. If this sounds familiar to Celtics fans, it should. Marshall comes to the NBA with the same pass-first, no-shoot mentality as Rajon Rondo did six years ago.

Marshall is expected to start for the Suns, the replacement for Steve Nash, who was traded to the Lakers. The Suns have rebooted their roster, moving Nash, Robin Lopez, and Hakim Warrick, using the amnesty clause on the disappointing Josh Childress, bringing back free agent Goran Dragic, and allowing Grant Hill to sign with the Clippers.

Marshall is an NBA-caliber passer who will emerge as a frontline floor leader. But the question is whether he will develop into a shooter who demands the respect of defenses. During the Las Vegas Summer League, Marshall shot a ghastly 11 of 35 in four games and 8 of 23 on 2-pointers.

There is work to be done and Marshall realizes NBA scouts watched his games and his reluctance to shoot at North Carolina.

“It’s a little different for me,” he said. “It’s something I’ve got to get used to, obviously the time in the gym will get my confidence to take those shots and ultimately help my team out. I feel like regardless, teams know I like to pass but I have to start taking advantage of those opportunities.”

Marshall, who missed the final two games of North Carolina’s NCAA Tournament run to the Elite Eight with a fractured right wrist, is just working himself back into condition.

“Elbow, wrist I can play, I can do what I want out on the court, now it’s just a matter of getting better,” he said. “It’s still going to take time to get into game shape. Obviously, summer league games are a lot different from season games — season they’re back-to-back-to-back for four or five months. Once I figure that out, I’ll be good.”

Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry did not want to talk about the Suns’ trade of Nash or care to offer reflection on the two-time MVP, but he was pleased with the team’s offseason effort to get younger and more athletic.

“At some stage you have to make a decision based on [competitiveness],” he said. “We’ve got good guys in place that know what they’re doing, and we’ve just got to continue to try to move forward.”

The Suns had to make some changes. They were good enough to compete among the second-tier teams in the Western Conference, but never good enough to overcome the Lakers, Mavericks, and Thunder, and they haven’t been the same since allowing Amar’e Stoudemire to sign with the Knicks. By finally moving forward from the Nash era, taking a chance with Michael Beasley, and signing players for an exciting, uptempo style, Phoenix has abandoned delusions of winning a title with a bunch of aging players.

“We have to get a group of guys together, got to try to mesh them into a team of good chemistry, and play extremely hard,” Gentry said. “That would be our goal from Day 1. We’ve had a lot of success there and we have to get back to that level, [to be a] factor in the West, and then we have to turn and make the move to win a championship. Realistically sometimes it takes a little while to be able to do that. I think we’ve just got to make sure we’re making progress to what our ultimate goal is.”

Layups

The Celtics reluctantly included former second-round pick E’Twaun Moore in the trade to the Rockets for Courtney Lee and they are not allowed to sign him even though he was waived by Houston. Moore is an unrestricted free agent and is seeking at least a partially guaranteed deal. Moore will likely have to wait until other free agent slots for more heralded players are filled . . . The Trail Blazers still don’t have a coach and the pool of candidates is growing thin after Pacers assistant Brian Shaw decided to go back to Indiana after pulling out of consideration for the Magic and Blazers jobs. Former Bucks and Hawks coach Terry Stotts, now an assistant with the Mavericks, is interviewing for the position, but look for interim coach Kaleb Canales to retain the job. Canales was the favorite to return before new general manager Neil Olshey decided to open up the coaching search . . . Former San Diego State swingman Malcolm Thomas drew his share of attention during the Las Vegas Summer League and has emerged as one of the top rookie free agents yet to sign. Thomas earned an all-summer league slot as a member of the Bulls . . . The emergence of former Kansas standout Josh Selby has given the Grizzlies options as they enter an important season. If Selby can fill the backup point guard role to Mike Conley, the Grizzlies don’t have to place as much responsibility on Tony Wroten, who was erratic in Las Vegas. Memphis already cleared some roster space by moving reserve guard Jeremy Pargo to Cleveland for D.J. Kennedy, who is not expected to make the Memphis roster . . . A player to watch this season in Brooklyn is rookie point guard Tyshawn Taylor, who may be the backup to Deron Williams for the suddenly high-powered Nets. The Nets did not have a first-round pick and appear to have grabbed a gem with Taylor, taken 41st overall . . . After a sparkling summer league performance offensively, former lottery pick Adam Morrison is waiting for a training camp invitation. He finished his Clippers stint with 26 points in the final game against the Celtics. An NBA scout said Morrison can still score and could help a team coming off the bench.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.
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