CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Cavs rule the basketball world in July, at least in Las Vegas, where they were summer league champions. Fans have questions.
Hi Terry: Have the Cavs ever had a summer league player that either became a star or a major contributor to the team? – Bob Kaplan.
Hi Bob: This was a unique situation, but the answer is … LeBron James. The year was 2003. You can find a lot online about LeBron’s first summer league game. It was vs. Orlando Magic. It drew a large crowd at the Magic’s home arena. This was Orlando’s summer league.
But there was also another game. A special game. It was played at the Magic’s practice facility. The Cavs faced Miami. It was LeBron vs. Dwyane Wade, both taken in the 2003 draft. Only a few media members and some NBA scouts were there.
I knew LeBron had a chance to be great. After that game, I realized the same was true of Wade. The two dueled each other. It was a small circle of basketball addicts who saw it. I found some old videos online to prove that my memory was correct. It was a small practice facility and two all-time greats facing off for the first time as pros on a July afternoon in central Florida.
I checked with The Franchise, a book I wrote with Brian Windhorst on the early LeBron years. I talked to Miami’s Pat Riley after the game about LeBron, and the Hall of Fame coach said, “LeBron’s a Pied Piper, like Magic (Johnson). People just want to be around him. Other players follow his lead. He’s an incredible talent. … There’s a couple of players that come with every generation. There was Larry Bird and Magic. Then Michael (Jordan), and now maybe it’s this kid’s turn.”
At the time, LeBron was 18 years old.
I know you’re more interested in a story like this: I sat down with Cavs GM Wayne Embry and assistant GM Gary Fitzsimmons. We watched a summer league game where Steve Kerr played for Phoenix. He played just 26 games as a rookie, averaging 2.1 points for the Suns. Embry said, “I want Kerr.” In 1989, they traded a second round pick for Kerr. The guard played 15 years in NBA. He is now likely to become a Hall of Fame coach after winning four titles with Golden State. He also won five titles as a player, giving him a total of nine.
Hi Terry: I know Summer League performances should be taken with a grain of salt, so what about Emoni Bates and Isaiah Mobley? Did they play their way into a bench role on the NBA roster, or did they simply show promise of a bright future down the road? – Michael Tidrick
Hi Terry: Do you think Isaiah Mobley will have a meaningful role with the Cavs this year? – Larry Posan.
Hi Michael & Larry: Two different cases:
1. Bates is only 19. He has to play … a lot. Cleveland Charge coach Mike Gerrity did a great job with the summer team, helping Bates learn that not every shot he sees is good. The 6-foot-9, 183-pound Bates needs a heavy dose of the G-League and a lot of time in the weight room. He also needs good nutrition, something the Cavs can provide.
2. In other words, I don’t see a significant role for Bates with Cleveland this season. I repeat, he’s only 19. The NBA is finally using the G-League a bit like baseball does with the minors: Don’t let the kids sit on the end of the bench in the NBA; find them time on the G-League field.
3. Mobley turns 24 on September 24, which means he’s almost five years older than Bates. The 6-foot-8, 238-pound Mobley averaged 21.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists, shooting .517 (.353 on 3-pointers) in the G-League last year. He was well coached by his father Eric Mobley, an assistant at USC.
4. Mobley is more NBA ready and physically mature than Bates. I believe he can help as a backup center/power forward. That’s especially true if he can improve his 3-point shooting — something he’ll work on the rest of the summer.
Hi Terry: Sam Merrill reminds me a bit of Mark Price. At 27, do you think he has a chance to make the team? He can shoot the lights out. —Bob McClure.
Hi Bob: I’m biased, but I thought Price was the best Cavs player ever until LeBron came along. Price made four All-Star teams in his nine years with the Cavs. In that span, he averaged 16.4 points and shot .479 from the field, .409 on 3-pointers and .906 at the foul line. Four times he was in the top 10 in MVP voting.
Merrill is an excellent shooter. Not in the elite class of Price, but very good. The different is Price was a great ball handler. He was a pure point guard. It’s not Merrill. That said, Merrill can help the Cavs as a shooter off the bench. A specialist. The Cavs should keep him and see if they can find a role for him.
Hi Terry: If Ricky Rubio’s knee continues to limit him this season, would you replace him with Craig Porter Jr. (CPJ) or Sam Merrill (at backup point guard)? – Craig de Fasselle.
Hi Craig: I don’t see Merrill as a point guard. Ball handling is not his skill. I love CPJ at the time. He is a versatile tough guard. He’s not a good 3-point shooter. It can be improved. Veteran Ty Jerome is the No. 3 point guard behind Darius Garland and Rubio. But CPJ will make the coaches fall in love with him. I’m a big fan of the 23-year-old from Wichita State.
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