Behind the scenes at NBA Las Vegas Summer League: The vibe is all LeBron, Donovan Mitchell and Boogie Cousins And not even top-level NBA execs seem to have a clue where Kawhi Leonard is going
“We’ve got LeBron,” says a Lakers fan in a throwback Magic Johnson jersey — to another fan in a vintage Kobe Bryant No. 8. “It’s lit. I don’t care. At least we’re relevant again. I’ll worry about the rest later.”
Rookies, undrafted rookies and unknown free agents looking for a chance to change their lives are the main plot lines of summer league in Las Vegas. It’s where the legend of Donovan Mitchell was born this time in 2017. This week, Mitchell is shaking hands, kissing babies, and signing autographs in Sin City like he’s the mayor.
NBA Summer League is a first chance to see the league’s new crop of talent in action, from Trae Young to Deandre Ayton to Zhaire Smith. The annual summer tradition is a bridge between the draft and the start of training camp. A potluck of players — rookies, young vets, older veterans and retired OGs — are in Las Vegas, as well as scouts, agents, fans, sportswriters and broadcasters from across the country. Tourists trying to escape the heat, or nurse a hangover, show up for the festivities as well.
Summer League is also a hotbed of speculation about how the league will look when the season tips off in a few months. The dominant conversation among the NBA extended community in town for NBA Summer League is still free agency.
A group of Warriors fans walk past press row at the University of Nevada’s Thomas & Mack Center during Saturday’s Hawks vs. Knicks game, the best game of summer league so far, in Warriors jerseys. One is wearing an Andre Iguodala swingman. The other, a Klay Thompson. A third rocks a Stephen Curry swingman, and the fourth is in a makeshift DeMarcus Cousins jersey with “Boogie” written on Scotch tape pasted on the back. The Warriors organization isn’t too far from anyone’s mind either.
“It’s a case of the rich get richer. Boogie never reached out to us,” said one Western Conference executive. “I don’t think it was a case of anyone trying to disrespect Boogie. It was more so shock. Like this guy is really available?”
He continues, “It’s great for Golden State. Great for Boogie because he gets to rehab with the best team, basically have a strong second half … and get paid next summer. Great for them … terrible for the rest of us.”
By far the most glaring question mark hovers above superstar San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard. Quite literally no one knows (or will even whisper) what will happen with the former Finals MVP. But Kawhi is the talk in the casinos. He’s the talk on The Strip. He’s the talk throughout the Thomas & Mack.
“It’s weird, right? Where do you think he goes?” asks a Western Conference executive. He never expected the Spurs to be in a position in which the face of the franchise wants out. “You gotta expect that he’s gone sooner than later. You don’t want that dragging into the season. And for someone like Kawhi, you absolutely have to get something in return. … It’s like the entire league is just waiting on the shoe to drop.”