Late Friday night, July 5, Jerome Robinson’s phone began exploding with calls and texts. He had no idea what had just happened, only that suddenly he was a popular man.
“Man, it’s about to be crazy,” is the extent of what most of the texts read. Robinson then flipped on the television and found out his second season with the Los Angeles Clippers would be much different than his first.
The Clippers had just signed Kawhi Leonard and acquired Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder, giving the club two of the league’s top 10 players and thrusting the Clippers into title contention.
Robinson, the former Boston College standout who was one of the Clippers’ first-round picks in 2018, is suddenly on the league’s fastest-rising team after Doc Rivers scored an offseason jackpot.
“I was just getting a bunch of calls when it first happened, saying it was about to be crazy, and I didn’t know what was going on at first. It’s going to be cool. It should be a great year next year,” Robinson said. “PG was a finalist for the MVP. Kawhi was the Finals MVP. Learning from those guys, going at those guys in practice, earning their respect, just having fun with it. They’re my teammates now, my new brothers, and just diving into it and not thinking that much about it.”
It was a learning experience for Robinson as a rookie. He played in 33 of 82 games and averaged 9.7 minutes. The Clippers were a revolving door for players last season, making several deals in order to clear cap space to sign Leonard. Robinson experienced most of his rookie education from the bench. He used that time to build a close relationship with Rivers.
“Coming in at first it’s like, damn, it’s Doc Rivers. Growing up and knowing who that is and now having a personal relationship with him . . . ,” Robinson said. “Being able to go talk to him. That grew as the year went on. I was not comfortable at first, but he made me comfortable, coming to talk to me and starting the conversation, and that kind of helped me break that wall and be able to talk to him whenever.”
What Robinson tried to do during his rookie season, knowing that playing time would be sparse, was learn from the bench. In addition to trying to make an impression in practice, Robinson wanted to become more of a student of the game.
“I think I learned a lot on the bench, sitting next to Sam Cassell and Doc, he’s very active on the bench talking to us,” Williams said. “Sitting next to Lou [Williams] on the bench and then guarding them in practice, so you learn a lot and see a lot of action. You almost feel like an extra coach when you’re not playing because you’re helping your teammates. You want to win, as well. Kind of going through those things, which was different for me. But you learn and grow from that and it helps you when you get on the court.”
This was an important summer for Robinson, who averaged 12 points in four games in the Las Vegas Summer League. He wants a more prominent role next season after sitting behind Williams and rookie Landry Shamet, who was inserted as the starting shooting guard last season after being acquired from the 76ers.
The presence of George and Leonard will affect Robinson’s minutes. The Clippers also acquired Maurice Harkless, who can play multiple positions. Depending on how Rivers decides to use his multifaceted lineup, Robinson could be the third shooting guard behind Shamet and Williams. Patrick Beverley is the team’s lone true point guard, so Robinson could also see time there.
“Just to really be patient, kind of stick to the grind and stay true to yourself,” Robinson said. “It’s a long season and injuries happen, slumps happen, and trades happen. Staying focused and knowing it’s a big picture and don’t get caught up in the day to day. Just knowing summer league is just one step and you have to have progress going into it. Good game, bad game, whatever. You don’t want to be peaking in July.”
The business of the NBA already has affected Robinson. He had formed close bonds with fellow first-round pick Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and veteran Danilo Gallinari, who were moved in the George deal.
“It was tough at first — you see it happened and you don’t know who got traded,” Robinson said. “To see Shai and Gal, it was tough and it’s part of the business, but I’m glad that we’re cool enough friends that we’ll still have that friendship from now on.”
One benefit from having all 30 NBA teams in summer league is Robinson was able to reunite with former BC teammate Ky Bowman, who was signed to a two-way contract by the Warriors. Bowman entered the draft after his junior season but was not selected.
He’ll get an opportunity with the Warriors despite his draft night disappointment.
“I think everything will work out for him,” Robinson said of Bowman. “He’s a hard-working kid. He’ll stick his nose down and nothing is going to stop him from getting to that next level. For him, eventually you’ll see his name on that stage and he’ll be fine. He’s always going to have fun with it and he’s going to grind.
“The draft is one night and that doesn’t matter in two years if you’re not drafted and you get to that second contract and you’ve been playing and the guy taken in the first round isn’t playing. It could be situational. It could be he’s in a better situation than somebody that was picked higher than him. So it’s just finding that situation and getting better from it.”
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Randle wants NY to go old school
The Knicks missed out on free agent targets Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard, but they were able to pad their roster with talented players such as former lottery pick Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton, former Celtic Marcus Morris, Taj Gibson, and Bobby Portis. These additions should allow the Knicks to be competitive but also chase a major free agent in 2020.
Randle, who signed a three-year, $63 million deal, understands the perception that the Knicks failed miserably this summer because they couldn’t land a franchise-changing player. He wants to change that thinking.
“Like dogs, man, that’s what we need,” he said. “Get back to the old school. Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley. Not backing down from nobody. I understand it. I’m not going to take anything away from [the fans feeling like the Knicks fell short of their offseason goals]. That fanbase is smart. We’re going to be competitive every night. I’m going to work my butt off to get to that point.
“I believe in this team. But it’s a process. Every day is a process. Putting in the groundwork every day. It’s not always going to be smooth. We’re going to take our lumps, keep moving, and hopefully accelerate the process. It will be tough but I think we have a bunch of dudes who have the right mentality and want to win.”
Randle started his career with the Lakers, enjoyed some positive moments, but was dealt to New Orleans to clear salary-cap space last summer to make room for LeBron James. In his lone season with the Pelicans, Randle averaged 21.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 3.1 assists, leading him to opt out of his contract to become a free agent.
Randle was considered a second-tier free agent and when the Knicks were convinced they couldn’t get Durant or Irving, they quickly chased the former Kentucky standout, reminding him of a 27-point game he dropped on them while he was a member of the Lakers.
“They brought that up, said it was a long plane ride back,” Randle said. “You’re talking about one of my favorite places to play in, Madison Square Garden. Any time you play the Knicks, you get up for it. When I was with the Lakers and people played the Lakers they got up for it. You’ve got to be ready for that. I knew this was the place I wanted to be, so there was no waste of time [signing] for me.”
WNBA has plenty of issues to tackle
WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert has a plethora of issues on her hands in her first full season. Among them are player misconduct, standout players such as Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore sitting out the season to pursue other interests, and the treatment of players who deal with commercial airline travel and difficult logistic back-to-back sets.
Several players, including Taurasi and Las Vegas center Liz Cambage, have been vocal about what is perceived as mistreatment of players regarding travel in comparison to NBA players who take chartered flights.
WNBA teams so far have not showed the desire to invest in chartered flights. The players have what could be an interesting collective bargaining agreement coming up and there is most certainly going to be disagreements with owners.
“One of the things I’ve been really, really amazed at is the strong voice of our players, and we want our players to be expressing what they think are some of the things that have worked and haven’t worked in the league,” Engelbert said. “And I certainly look forward to engaging with the players and getting that feedback on this listening tour that I’m already on that started — kind of kicked off here at [the All-Star Game]. I’ve been able to meet so many of the players and so many of the executives, owners of the teams, general managers. So that’s absolutely something I want to hear, all of the issues, and make sure that I’m prioritizing things right, especially as we’re in CBA negotiations, while trying to transform the league, grow revenue, get more fans in the seats.”
The success of the US women’s soccer team and its fight for equal pay has certainly energized WNBA players, some of whom believe they should be paid more comparable to their NBA counterparts.
“We do have a golden opportunity, I think, to really keep the conversation going year-round because of this inflection point around women’s leadership and women’s sports. You saw it with the US women’s soccer team, and we already touched on that,” Engelbert said. “So there is absolutely a desire for us, and that’s why I said in my remarks, I need your help in telling our stories, keeping the conversation going. Certainly this collaboration with USA Basketball and having our players in games, in the market outside of our season will help, as well, to keep the conversation going leading up to a patriotic event like the Olympics and then obviously continuing our season next season. Lots on the plate as it relates to making sure we are taking, grabbing this momentum and making sure we can make this a year-round conversation to elevate our players and elevate the brand of the league.”
Speaking of year-round, the WNBA is moving forward in trying to eliminate the narrative that players have to leave the United States in the offseason to earn money playing basketball. Team USA is setting up a full-time training program so that elite WNBA players who want to play for Team USA can train and be compensated.
Many WNBA players play overseas in the winter because the pay is more lucrative. But a handful of standout players, including reigning WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart, have been injured in these European leagues. Stewart is expected to miss the season with a torn Achilles’ tendon.
The WNBA wants to be the world’s premier women’s league, but it’s difficult for players to sell the league in the offseason when they are relegated to playing overseas for better money. There is no easy solution because there is no plan to pay players year-round salaries for a 34-game season.
“That’s certainly one of my priorities is to tackle this issue of, again, the economics of the league, the financials of the league and the owners, and really to tackle that in a very multidimensional way, not through just CBA negotiations but through corporate sponsorships, through other models,” Engelbert said. “We need to upgrade our capability around sales and marketing and ticket-selling and attracting fans in the seats and marketing our players year-round.
“So this is a multidimensional answer, but it’s also a multidimensional solution as we think about it. But I think, give us some time. I’m new in this role, and we’ll have a lot more on this in the future.”
Last summer, Celtics forward Gordon Hayward was on the Team USA list for this fall’s World Cup. Hayward did not participate in the minicamp because he was still recovering from his horrific leg injury sustained in the opening game of the 2017-18 season. Hayward is not on the Team USA list for this summer’s minicamp that begins this coming week in Las Vegas and despite the score of players who have dropped out, Hayward won’t accept an invite, according to agent Mark Bartelstein. Four Celtics — Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart — are on Team USA, but Hayward won’t be joining them, even though he’s completely healthy. “Gordon wants to concentrate on next season,” Bartelstein said. “He’s making great progress and we expect him to have a great season. He’s in a good place and he is at the facility every day working out.” There are 17 players in Team USA camp for 12 spots. Hayward would have had a legitimate chance to make the team but would have likely had to compete with Tatum and Brown for spots at small forward . . . The Basketball Africa League announced that six cities — Cairo, Dakar, Lagos, Luanda, Rabat, and either Monastir or Tunis — will serve as the host sites for the 12-team league that begins play in March 2020. The league could be critical to the future of the NBA because there is a wealth of basketball talent in the continent that needs to be developed from the youth stages. The NBA will pour money into the league as well as youth programs in Africa. The NBA has had several African superstars but believes more attention needs to be paid because of its potential talent pool . . . Have we seen the last of former Celtics first-round pick Jared Sullinger in the NBA? Sullinger hasn’t been in the league since being waived by the Suns in February 2017. Sullinger had a tryout with the Nets more than a year ago but was beaten out for a roster spot by another former Celtic, Tyler Zeller. Sullinger is playing with the Ohio State alumni team in The Basketball Tournament, a single-elimination competition filled with players who don’t have any NBA affiliation. Sullinger is reportedly expected to return to playing in China after taking a year off. He’s only 27 years old.