LAS VEGAS — Here are 10 thoughts, sights, sounds, and cookie reviews from the NBA’s Las Vegas summer league.
⋅ This season the NBA will award title rings to the summer league champions. It’s a nice gesture, but also sort of funny. I asked one league source for his thoughts on the jewelry, and he shook his head and sighed. He said that if his team won, he would encourage them to gather outside the Bellagio and chuck the rings into the casino’s famous fountain. He was not a fan of the idea.
⋅ Spurs legend Tony Parker has found new pursuits since retiring in 2019. He played in the World Series of Poker last year and stopped by the tournament this week. Between sips of the champagne from a company he’s a lead investor in, he shared his thoughts about his former San Antonio teammate and assistant coach, Celtics coach Ime Udoka.
“He’s been amazing,” Parker said. “It’s not easy in the first year to go all the way to the Finals. I’m very happy for him, very proud of him, and what he did with that group is pretty impressive. I think Boston is going to be good for a long time.”
Parker’s Spurs lost to the Heat in stunning fashion in the 2013 Finals before regrouping and winning the title the following year. He said he could envision a similar bounce-back by Udoka and the Celtics.
⋅ Celtics assistant Will Hardy, 34, became the youngest head coach in the NBA when he was hired by the Jazz two weeks ago. But the ascension of another rising star on Udoka’s staff was somewhat lost in the shuffle. Assistant coach Joe Mazzulla, also 34, was a finalist for the Utah opening, and Jazz CEO and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told me he had a real shot of getting the job.
Ainge said he tried to lure Mazzulla to the Celtics from Division 2 Fairmont State in 2018, but Mazzulla declined because he did not want to turn his back on recruits who had committed to him. He joined the Celtics as an assistant a year later.
“I just liked his presence,” Ainge said. “He just had a good way about him and how he developed players. Then watching him spend time with Payton [Pritchard] and Romeo [Langford], he just has a great way about him of pushing guys, holding them accountable, and letting them know this is a serious time. It’s not just me he’s impressed. He impressed Brad [Stevens] and Ime and all the guys on their staff.”
Soon after Hardy departed for Utah, Udoka announced that Mazzulla would be promoted to a front-of-bench role.
⋅ Readers seemed to appreciate my San Francisco chocolate-chip cookie reviews more than my actual Finals coverage, and I’m not sure how to take that. But you have to give the people what they want, so here’s one more: The best chocolate-chip cookie I’ve had in Las Vegas can be found at Bouchon Bakery in the Venetian. The only minor complaint is just a few too many chips. 8.3/10.
⋅ Keep an eye on veteran wing Justin Jackson as the Celtics look to fill out their roster. Jackson signed a 10-day deal with the Celtics when the team was being ravaged by COVID-19 in December. Unfortunately, he then contracted COVID and was sidelined after playing just one game. One league source said the team considered re-signing Jackson to an NBA deal in March before ultimately going with Nik Stauskas.
Jackson has played 255 games for six teams over five NBA seasons. He missed the start of summer league to spend a few days with his family after competing for USA Basketball in FIBA World Cup qualifiers, but is averaging a team-high 20 points per game over his two games with the summer Celtics.
“Ever since [December], me and my agent have kind of stayed in touch with the Celtics,” Jackson said. “Kind of built that relationship. Came out here to join and kind of play a little bit of basketball, so it worked out.”
⋅ Celtics All-Star Jayson Tatum attended a portion of the opener against the Heat last Saturday, one of his first public appearances since the Finals loss. He generally seemed to be in a cheery mood during a brief scrum with reporters until we brought up, well, the Finals loss. He has been getting his mind off of things by working on his golf game, and he said he recently broke 90 for the first time.
⋅ Speaking of Tatum, his cousin, Bryton Hobbs, was added to the summer league roster for practices in Boston last week but did not travel to Las Vegas. One team source said that was the plan all along. Hobbs, 30, was a guard at Northeastern State, and Tatum’s father, Justin, said in a text message that he was instrumental in Tatum’s development as a young player in St. Louis.
⋅ Summer league results don’t matter, and most of the players in Las Vegas will never appear in a regular-season game, but it’s easy to forget how meaningful these moments can be to these players anyway. After Matt Ryan banked in a last-second 3-pointer to send Boston to a win over the Bucks on Monday, he teared up as he recounted his journey to this point.
Last year, Ryan was doing landscaping work at a cemetery and delivering food for DoorDash to make ends meet. After signing a two-way deal with the Celtics at midseason, he had a front-row seat for Boston’s Finals run, and now he’s trying to take his next step.
“It’s been a crazy couple of months,” Ryan said.
⋅ The biggest winners in the trade that sent Malcolm Brogdon from the Pacers to the Celtics were probably Malik Fitts, Juwan Morgan, and Stauskas. All three had their non-guaranteed deals for next season fully guaranteed in order to complete the deal. All three were waived so the Pacers could sign DeAndre Ayton to an offer sheet, but their salaries are locked in anyway.
⋅ Roxbury native A.J. Reeves, a lifelong Celtics fan, did not play in Boston’s first three summer league games, but checked in during the final minute of the win over the Grizzlies on Thursday and promptly drilled a 3-pointer. He was beaming afterward.
The only downside is that his mother, brother, and aunt who had come to Las Vegas left after Tuesday’s game.