They say no one knows what time it is in Las Vegas, casino floors and exclusive clubs without clocks and windows. Late nights blur into early mornings as people go from one good time to another.
Given that, it’s kind of a funny place to ask people around the NBA to be patient.
Summer league veterans know that the play on the field is pretty inconsequential — the big performances and big disappointments aren’t exactly predictive of how a prospect will turn out. The live five-on-five games help scouts and managers make some decisions on the roster and can give them insight into the players they just drafted, but the real value happens in the stands, on the courts, in the back aisles – and later in the bars – where these people gather to talk.
For a reporter, it’s a dream – key people from all 30 organizations available to provide insight into the questions to be asked. Through the first weekend in Vegas, we asked more than a dozen different people — general managers, players, college and NBA scouts, former players, agents and coaches about the Lakers’ summer. All gave their ratings under the condition of anonymity. Here’s what we’ve heard:
The general feeling of the Lakers’ free agency has landed somewhere between “fairly good” and “good.”
One league executive was excited about the Lakers signing Gabe Vincent, saying the guard is “the perfect point guard to play alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.”
The director cited Mario Chalmers as a player who reminds him of Vincent. “[Vincent] doesn’t need the ball, can shoot it and makes the right decisions. And he can really defend.”
Vincent’s underdog history with the Miami Heat — at one point failing to earn a spot on a summer league roster — should fit strongly culturally with the Lakers, who have undrafted free agent Austin Reaves as the latest example of the team’s willingness to find talent , wherever they are found.
Vincent is also considered a huge presence in the locker room and was incredibly well-liked in Miami.
The signing of center Jaxson Hayes also generated quite a bit of buzz. He attended the Lakers’ first summer league game on Friday, sitting next to veteran forward Jarred Vanderbilt. Hayes’ athleticism should mesh seamlessly with D’Angelo Russell, Reaves and James — who can run pick-and-roll plays and get the ball to a lob threat like the 6-foot-11 Hayes.
One scout questioned New Orleans’ decision to play him at power forward at times, saying Hayes is more of a classic rim-runner in the middle. One wonders why he didn’t play more with the Pelicans last season, but the Lakers’ ballhandlers seem more equipped to put him in winning positions.
Reaves’ four-year, $54 million contract has been considered a steal for the Lakers, with the team enjoying a controlled restricted free agency where teams interested in signing Reaves were confident that any offer they made would be matched.
There were some split opinions on Rui Hachimura and Russell, which was to be expected given their past in the league. With Hachimura, some executives wondered who the Lakers were bidding against in free agency when they gave him an average of $17 million per year over the next three seasons. Maybe you could have gotten a better deal.
Still, supporters of the decision pointed to two key factors. First, Hachimura answered one of the big questions about him — how he would perform under an intense spotlight — in a wonderful postseason run as he was one of the team’s most reliable shooters. Second, he consistently showed toughness and fight — his willingness to defend center Nikola Jokic, for example — that led some people around the NBA to believe the Lakers might be unlocking something in him.
With Russell, there were still big questions about his reliability on the defensive end for a team with championship aspirations, the last memories of him struggling in the conference finals still fresh. The talent is there, however, and the belief is that the Lakers can find a trade partner if necessary due to his two-year deal with a player option in the final year.
Forward Taurean Prince’s professionalism, size and shooting made sense for the Lakers, and forward Cam Reddish is a cost-effective bet on talent.
The team still has up to two minimum contracts it can offer, and insiders around the league believe it will eventually go for 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 options left, such as Bismack Biyombo, are arguably less equipped to step in, start and thrive if Davis were to miss quite a few games.
Scouts and executives are evenly split on first-round pick Jalen Hood-Schifino, a 6-6 point guard whom the Lakers drafted 17th overall.
Some point to his bizarre shooting profile in Indiana. His best work came in the midrange and top of the key while battling at the rim. There are questions about his burst off the dribble and vertical athleticism.
Others point to his command and size at point guard and are quick to point out that the goal at No. 17, at least mathematically, is to draft a contributor. If you do, you’ve won.
The shooting needs work, but he has shown the defensive and passing potential to justify his draft, an executive said.
The other player on the Lakers’ summer league team that scouts have been talking about the most is center Colin Castleton, who was signed to a two-way contract.
Scouts are really impressed with Castleton’s ball handling and passing, traits he will need to have if his shooting from three doesn’t improve. However, they wonder if his shot-blocking — which was a strength of his at Florida — can translate to the NBA. He has been in foul trouble throughout the Lakers’ summer league games, and learning how to defend without making mistakes will be crucial.
Sophomore guard Max Christie has mostly done well with his chances to be the primary scorer so far this summer. Scouts expect Christie to challenge for minutes this season and fill the void left by Troy Brown Jr., Malik Beasley and Lonnie Walker IV departing in free agency.
Rivals were impressed with the growth coach Darvin Ham showed throughout his first season, with his work against Memphis and especially Golden State highlighted.
The Lakers won’t be the favorites in the West next season. Nobody expects that. But if James and Davis can stay healthy enough, the belief is that the Lakers have improved the roster around them.
Now all that’s left is to wait.