With free agency rumors continuing to swirl, the Dallas Mavericks are gearing up for a trip to Las Vegas.
Twenty-four franchises are sending teams there to play in the second NBA Summer League session. The Las Vegas Summer League, which takes place on the UNLV campus, is the larger of the two sessions, the other takes place in Orlando, and takes on a tournament style of play.
Who wins the tournament is not as important as what the games provide. Summer League has grown from a novelty, of sorts, into a valuable platform to evaluate young draft talent and those trying to make their way into the NBA.
This will be the ninth time the Mavericks will participate in the Las Vegas Summer League, and Dallas' roster is replete with players young and old.
The most recognizable names to fans are probably those of Bernard James, Ivan Johnson, Ricky Ledo, and Gal Mekel. James, Ledo, and Mekel were all on the Mavericks last season, with Ledo spending much of his time with the team’s D-League affiliate, the Texas Legends.
Johnson played two seasons with the Atlanta Hawks from 2011-13. He played for the Zhejiang Golden Bulls in China last season. During his time with the Hawks, Johnson averaged 6.5 points on 51.7 percent shooting and 3.9 rebounds in 15.8 minutes per game. Unfortunately, he is most recognizable for his emotional outbursts and occasional offensive hand gestures.
Johnson, whose play can be described as tenacious, is looking to get back into the NBA. His pairing with James in the frontcourt should prove to be one of the more formidable duos.
James’ inclusion on the Summer League team is somewhat surprising. He is a free agent this summer and played the previous two seasons with the Mavericks. “Sarge,” as he's known among fans, has struggled to find minutes in Dallas during his time with the club. He appears to be on the outside looking in where a roster spot is concerned this fall, but has showed that he is more than capable of competing at a NBA level.
Mekel made a name for himself in the Israeli basketball league, being named MVP twice, before joining the Mavericks. Like James, Mekel had a tough time breaking into Rick Carlisle’s rotation. He appeared in just 31 games, started one, and averaged 9.4 minutes. Mekel also spent two stints with the Legends before a knee injury kept him out for the second half of the season. It is likely that, because of his NBA and D-League experience, Mekel will be the starting point guard. How he handles that role will be important and is something to keep an eye on.
However, most eyes will be focused squarely on Ledo. The second-round draft pick did not play during his one year at Providence, and came into the NBA as a raw scorer surrounded by questions about his skill and maturity.
As noted above, Ledo spent the majority of his time with the Legends last season. In 39 games, he averaged 13.3 points on 42 percent shooting, 5.9 rebounds, and 2.9 rebounds. Ledo will be expected to show improve and carry part of the scoring load in Vegas.
Besides these four players, only two other players on the team appeared in the NBA: James Nunnally and Chris Smith.
Nunnally spent much of the last season in the D-League playing for the Legends. However, he appeared in four games the Hawks and nine games with the Philadelphia 76ers. Nunnally shot 41.7 percent on three-point attempts in the D-League.
Smith, brother of New York Knicks’ sixth man J.R. Smith, sort of played in the NBA. He appeared in two games with the Knicks last season, playing a total of two minutes. His moment of fame came on Christmas during a nationally-televised game in which he logged one minute and 21 seconds on the court. He didn’t record any statistics and the appearance was only really memorable because the broadcasters mentioned how confusing it was to see him in the game. In fact, his entire stint with New York is somewhat confusing and mired in rumor. What he brings to the table in Summer League is anyone’s guess.
Dee Bost, Jackie Carmichael, Sean Evans, C.J. Fair, Chris Goulding, Eric Griffin, Javon McCrea, Yuki Togashi, and Axel Toupane round out the rest of the roster.
Carmichael may be familiar to Summer League enthusiasts. He was on the Mavericks squad last year and played well. His most notable contribution was setting a Summer League record by blocking seven shots in one game.
Fair went undrafted this summer, but expected Dallas to pick him, if they had a selection. They didn’t, after sending their second-round picks to New York in the Tyson Chandler trade.
Now, Fair has his opportunity. The 6-foot-8 forward led Syracuse in scoring last year averaging 14.3 points on 47 percent shooting. He also pulled down seven rebounds per game.
Griffin played in Summer League last year for the Miami Heat. He was also given a training camp invite from Miami. They undoubtedly liked his leaping ability and his enthusiasm for dunking.
McCrea also went undrafted this summer. The 6-foot-7, 250-pound forward out of Buffalo averaged 18.5 points on 56.1 percent shooting, 9.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.5 steals, and 2.2 blocks during his senior year. He may be a little undersized to battle NBA frontcourts and he needs to work on his outside shot, but he makes up for it with hustle.
Togashi is a 5-foot-8 guard from Japan and has "experiment" written all over him. He should be fun to watch.
Dallas will be coached by Caleb Canales. He was the Portland Trail Blazers’ interim coach for 23 games in 2012 before joining the Mavericks’ coaching staff the following season. He will be accompanied by Jamahl Mosley, Mike Shedd, Mike Weinar, Darrell Armstrong (who told me this season that his coffee intake is down from his playing days), and Mike Procopio.
The Mavericks play the Knicks in the LVSL opener Friday afternoon at 3 p.m. CT.