In a stunning roundtable discussion among Jason Lloyd of the Athletic, Dave McMenamin of ESPN, and Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, much was revealed about Kyrie Irving and his deteriorating relationship with the Cleveland Cavaliers and especially LeBron James. “It has been made clear to me by multiple people, Kyrie never really wanted LeBron to come back (to Cleveland) in the first place,” said Lloyd. “He didn’t think it was necessary. LeBron said something to Kyrie on the court following a game when he was with Miami like, ‘Keep going, keep doing what you’re doing. You never know, I could be back here one day.’ And Kyrie basically said, ‘What’s he talking about, we don’t need him.’”
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James said his primary goal upon returning to Cleveland was to build the same standard of basketball intelligence as the teams had in Miami. His first subject was Irving, and perhaps eventually Irving took that as an insult.
Following Cleveland’s second-round sweep of the Raptors, former Cavaliers GM David Griffin joined Bill Simmons on The Bill Simmons Podcast to discuss the genius of LeBron James and the relationship between him and ex-teammate Kyrie Irving. At the 46:35-mark of the episode, Simmons asked Griffin about James’ new penchant for circus shots in the NBA Playoffs, citing multiple unorthodox buzzer beaters. That addition to James’ arsenal may have been pulled from Irving’s playbook, Griffin believes.
Bill Simmons: He’s playing against himself and not the other people, and saying ‘Oh, I wonder if I can make this shot. I’ll try this one.’ I never remember him doing this before, do you? David Griffin: It’s funny, bringing this somewhat full circle, this is something I give Kyrie a lot of credit for. Because Kyrie was natively like that. He loved to make left-handed finishes that seemed circus-like that he had no reason to use but he would anyway. He would do it in practices, he and Shump would play one-on-one endlessly after practice, doing things like that. And LeBron sort of got in the routine of doing these weird, one-legged, left-handed sort of things, finish with spin for no reason. I think Kyrie, in a weird sort of way, really made LeBron start to think about ‘You know, there’s more that I’m capable of doing. I don’t have a left-handed runner; I can’t spin the ball off the glass.’ I think Kyrie’s talents and knack for doing things like that challenged LeBron. Bron thought and went ‘I want that,’ and he’s so damn good he can incorporate it into his own game. To me, maybe that’s the best LeBron story. There’s literally nothing you can show him that he can’t do.
So James, knowing that Irving asked to be traded from the Cavaliers because he no longer wanted to play with James, could’ve steered clear of Irving during the team drafting process last month. “If he was available I was taking him,” James said. James and Irving were on the court for Team LeBron’s practice Saturday. Irving said “it’s pretty awesome” when asked what it was like to be teammates with James again, and said the conversation was “just normal.” “Sorry, I know that sounds like not a lot, but it’s just normal.”
Chris Fedor: #Cavs LeBron James took Kyrie Irving on his team. Also nabbed Kevin Love
Seven days later in Cleveland, James has just put the finishing touches on a win over Atlanta, the Cavaliers’ 15th victory in their past 16 games. He conveys through the Cleveland public relations staff that he has already addressed Irving’s departure and will decline to answer questions regarding their relationship. Now, as he stands near his locker at Quicken Loans Arena, he’s asked about Irving’s contention that the Cavs didn’t want him. “That makes absolutely no sense,” James declares.
No formal offer was made by any of the teams, but news of this potential transaction stung Irving, who, sources close to him say, became convinced that LeBron’s camp, which also represents Bledsoe, orchestrated the trade talks. Team and league sources refute that, saying that it was Griffin who initiated the trade talks with Phoenix. Griffin, who is close with Irving, sensed both his unhappiness and his restlessness and was preparing for the possibility that Irving would request a trade. But once Griffin was no longer employed by the team, the conversations stalled. Cleveland then engaged in talks with Indiana and Denver, according to league sources.
Today, when asked if he feels that James viewed him as a basketball equal, Irving answers, “I don’t know if he did or not, but I don’t really care. I didn’t lose any sleep over it.” Those close to Irving insist his leaving wasn’t all about LeBron, and not one of them was surprised that Irving asked to move on from Cleveland.
“Ky,” Lue said, “I want you to play a little faster.” “Why?” Irving asked. “Because if we play faster, we get shots off easier.” “I don’t need to play faster to get my shot off,” Irving replied. “I can do that anytime.” “I’m not talking about your shot. I’m talking about RJ and JR,” Lue said, citing teammates Richard Jefferson and Smith. “Well, that’s No. 23’s job,” Irving replied, referring to James. According to members of the Cavs organization who witnessed the exchange, Lue ended the conversation by walking away, shaking his head.
David Griffin: When LeBron James, probably the best player of his generation and unquestionably the greatest facilitator in the NBA, is on your team you’re going to have a lower usage rate than your game really desires. It was obvious that eventually (Kyrie Irving) was going to run out of real estate with us in terms of ability to express the player he wanted to be.
“My team looks at me to be that scorer now,” LeBron James said. “The last couple years, Kyrie Irving obviously being as great as he was in the fourth quarter, we kind of picked our games. There were games half the time that he had it going and, ‘Hey, go get [it].’ There were games half the time where I had it going and I’d go get it. “But right now my teammates look at me and they’re like, ‘OK, like this is your quarter. You’ve done this your whole career. Let’s try to make some things happen.’ It’s very important that I try to come through for them.”
“It’s been a while since I’ve had that clear-cut guy who can get guys involved but also score at the same time,” James told B/R Mag. “But it’s fine. It’s something that our team will make an adjustment to.”
Lloyd relays an interesting story that has been confirmed to him by several sources involving Cavaliers team official Randy Mims, also one of LeBron’s closest friends, and Drederick Irving, Kyrie’s father. Here are the details from Lloyd’s report: Mims, one of James’ lifelong friends and an official Cavs employee, reached out his hand to slap Drederick five. But Dred, Irving’s father, pulled his own arm back and refused the gesture. When James later asked Irving about the incident and if there was something wrong, Irving said his father believed they shouldn’t be “fraternizing with the enemy.” Three sources with knowledge of the exchange independently confirmed it to The Athletic, revealing just a glimmer of light into a fractured relationship that both men hid well during their time together.
LeBron James said the Cleveland fan base gave Kyrie Irving a pretty easy time during his first return trip to Quicken Loans Arena. “It was nothing,” James said. “That was nothing. What do you want me to say? I’ve experienced big boos before. That was like a pat on the back.
Chris Forsberg: Kyrie and LeBron hug after Kyrie’s attempt at tying shot misses. Cavs win 102-99.
Chris Fedor: #Celtics Kyrie Irving picks up a technical foul for trash-talking with LeBron James. It was a little while after Kyrie was jawing with Lue
LeBron James says that Kyrie Irving will be “fine” when he is received as a visiting player in Cleveland for the first time Tuesday when the Cavaliers host the Boston Celtics and does not draw any parallel to when he returned to Cleveland for the first time as a member of the Miami Heat.
“Everybody’s good. Everybody’s good,” James told The Jump’s Rachel Nichols as a part of a joint sit-down interview with him and Dwyane Wade that aired during Monday Night Football on ESPN. “KD (Kevin Durant) last year in Oklahoma City, Paul George going to go back to Indiana, you know, D-Wade’s going to go to Chicago, Kyrie’s coming back to Cleveland. No (it will not compare).”
“They will be fine,” James said of Irving and the Celtics. “People were throwing batteries at us.” The atmosphere was so charged that the person playing the Cavs’ mascot, Moondog, wore a bulletproof vest under his costume when he took the floor for the national anthem, according to “The Blueprint: LeBron James, Cleveland’s Deliverance, and the Making of the Modern NBA,” by Jason Lloyd. “I’ve never seen nothing like that in my life,” Wade added.
As much as he disliked the environment tailored to LeBron’s ball-halting, body-stagnating style — which Irving was encouraged by Tyronn Lue to clone in order to exploit his fabulous finishing touch, and make the Cavs twice as dangerous — he resisted crabbing about it, and waited wearily for the least unfavorable time to ask out. Did Kyrie resent LeBron having the Cavaliers’ comprehensive catering service on demand 24-7? Yes. That’s what I was told.
At the same time, Kyrie did not mind being one of LeBron’s caterers. It was the near-exclusivity that disturbed him, being unable to cater correctly to the other three players on the floor because LeBron handled at least half the time, and Kyrie was expected to penetrate and kick out to James many other times.
Chris Forsberg: Celtics guard Kyrie Irving on First Take this morning and pressed hard on decision to leave Cleveland. Irving repeatedly downplayed notion that this was about his relationship with LeBron James, stressed desire to “evolve” in new situation.
Should he have talked to LeBron? Well, maybe during the season or the playoffs to air his grievances, sure. But that wasn’t the question. Kyrie was even savvy enough to dodge questions about the Cavs front office and coaching staff. “I know exactly what I want, and I want to be happy.” And at one point, he said, “I didn’t hear anything you say that was reality based.”
“We all kind of knew certain things about this team that was tough,” Shumpert said of the Cavaliers. “Like, it’s tough.” “But I’m saying this isn’t just a Kyrie-LeBron thing,” Shumpert added. “That’s what I’m saying. The media turned it into that for y’all. And that’s what I said about the internet. It’s the story. That’s the clicks. ‘LeBron and Kyrie hate each other, ahhhhh.’ No. It’s two dudes that need the ball. LeBron needs the ball, Kyrie needs the ball, Kevin needs the ball. Swish can’t shoot unless he has the ball. Kyle Korver can’t shoot unless he has the ball. …. Somebody’s gotta get the short end. And a lot of times fans can’t all the way understand that. They think it’s 2k. ‘Bron can score 40, Ky can score 40, Iman should have 20, J.R. should have 30, this person should have this — it’s like, dog, it don’t work like that.”
“(People say) it’s LeBron and Kyrie hate each other,” Shumpert said. “No, it’s two dudes that need the ball. LeBron needs the ball, Kyrie needs the ball, Kevin (Love) needs the ball. Swish (J.R. Smith) can’t shoot unless he has the ball. Kyle Korver can’t shoot unless he has the ball.” Shumpert, who is a friend to Irving, said the two still talk. He said “it could be awkward for a little bit” between James, Irving, and Love (there has been no mention of any tension between Irving and Love in media reports), but “it ain’t gonna last.”
Draymond Green has heard the criticism lobbed in Kyrie Irving’s direction. He’s heard how Irving was selfish for wanting to leave the side of LeBron James, how he was foolish for wanting to prove he could strike out on his own and do his own thing. Green, though, took Irving’s trade request, which led to him being dealt from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Boston Celtics, in a far different vein than most: His level of respect for the all-star point guard rose.
“Most people would probably say, ‘LeBron is the greatest player in the world,’ ” Green, who faced Irving in the past three NBA Finals, said. “I don’t say this in disrespect to LeBron … but speaking of Kyrie, to say, ‘I don’t want to play with him no more. I want to do my own thing.’ You have to deliver with that. He’s basically saying, ‘I’m ready to deliver.’ That’s big. That says a lot.”
As for Irving telling reporters during his introductory press conference in Boston that he hadn’t spoken to LeBron James since reports that he wanted out of Cleveland first surfaced? Shumpert, as has been the team line for weeks, thinks there’s nothing to that. “There’s no hard feelings,” he said. “And I’m sure Ky at some point is going to talk to everybody, the same way he talked to me. Ky’s a regular dude. He’s going to compete and he knows we’re going to be out looking for him when we play Boston. It’s all fine.”
Chris Forsberg: Kyrie Irving says he hasn’t spoken with LeBron James since the trade but calls playing with him “awesome” and thanks him for time together.
Tom Westerholm: Kyrie says he wouldn’t call it “issues” in Cleveland. Says it was an unbelievable ride, but says he’s excited to be a part of Boston.
LeBron James: That’s the only way to be to the kid! Special talent/guy! Nothing but respect and what a ride it was our 3 years together Young Gode #Filayy
“It’s not the end of the world,” Durant said. “Both of those guys won a championship together. They love each other. If Kyrie wants to do something else, that’s on him. I’m sure whatever happens, it’ll work out for the best for both of them. But it’s just a normal NBA problem. It’s just two big stars that it’s happening to.”
Griffin said he thought Irving would end up getting traded, but would not speculate on where the Cavs All-Star point guard might go. He said both sides would be better if Irving were traded. “This is a guy whose list included really good coaching situations — Brad Stevens and [Gregg] Popovich. This is a guy who recruited LeBron [James], [Gordon] Hayward and a host of other free agents, and all of a sudden LeBron came back, so he was sold a totally different situation than he’s actually in, and he worked very well in, he won a championship in.”
David Griffin: “I see this as him looking for a fit for himself, to take the next step in his career. I think this is a guy who wants to know how good he can be. LeBron casts a very large shadow over an organization. And most of it is really, really positive. You know you are expected to win a championship by way of example. But what that doesn’t always allow is for a player like Kyrie to test his boundaries and see how good he can really be, and can I really be the front man of a team like that.”
The Kyrie Irving trade request saga is bordering on soap opera levels of absurdity. And now Steph Curry has thrust himself into this little drama brewing in Cleveland, where Irving has requested a trade. Curry and Irving attended Harrison Barnes’ wedding over the weekend, and the two appeared to be having a great time on the dance floor. You may even recognize Curry’s dance moves…
Scottie Pippen: “I am a very strong supporter of what he’s doing because I’ve watched what has happened to him in his career and how things went for him in Cleveland, and I think he’s at a superstar level now that he can control his own destiny. A lot of players in our game have that opportunity and they don’t take advantage of it.”
Scottie Pippen: “I think it’s the perfect timing, Cleveland didn’t win a championship, they were right there, but there’s been a lot of things going on within that organization. LeBron doesn’t give those guys the security that they need, that the superstar is gonna be there and he’s gonna support us and I see Kyrie looking at the opportunity to run before LeBron runs, because there’s a lot of chatter out there that LeBron’s coming to play with the Lakers.”
We got Drew Gooden at LAX, who played with LeBron from ’04 – ’08 and asked him if there’s any way these two NBA titans can put the bad blood behind them and get back to losing to Golden State. According to Drew there is, and involves some fists, ’cause he told our guy the two men need to just kick the crap out of each other, get all the bad vibes out, and then start over.
Altman said the James-Irving feud was “overblown” by the media. Altman mentioned that he signed Rose on his first official day on the job and that the media should be talking more about the franchise’s offseason additions. Altman also told reporters that the Cavaliers will keep things “in-house” on Irving. “A lot of it has been overblown,” Altman said. “I think the people who are in this building every day haven’t seen any of that animosity. This is, along with [forward] Kevin Love, this is a group that got us to three straight Finals and won an NBA championship together. They play great together on the floor, and a lot of that I do think is overblown. We haven’t seen a lot of that ‘animosity’ that’s been out there in the media.”
Chris Bosh has some advice for Kyrie Irving and LeBron James — “Work it out.” Of course, Bosh knows firsthand what it takes to have a successful NBA relationship with James — the two won ‘ships together with the Miami Heat. Plus, they’re still good friends.
Kristian Winfield: Koby Altman on whether Kyrie and LeBron can coexist: “I think a lot of it has been overblown.” Says there’s no animosity between the two.
The drama between LeBron James and Kyrie Irving appears headed to an ugly breakup, and in this age of social media, a breakup isn’t official until the “unfollow” button is clicked. On Tuesday, NBA fans took notice to the fact that Kyrie Irving isn’t following LeBron James on Instagram. While it’s impossible to tell if Irving unfollowed LeBron without an earlier screenshot, it’s definitely suspect as Irving follows his other Cavaliers teammates.
While he said he didn’t speak with LeBron James until after he removed his name from consideration, Billups said he wasn’t bothered about the idea of James leaving Cleveland and called rebuilding a “beautiful” thing. However, he said their lack of assets was a more concerning dilemma. But the most interesting point of the interview was when Billups spoke about Irving. When asked if he was surprised about the recent rumors, he then took a deep breath and said no. “As they were doing their due dilligence on me, I was doing the same thing. I knew so much about the situation that the rest of the world doesn’t know. But that’s unfortunate, man. Because he’s a special talent and in my opinion, so much of what he’s been able to accomplish on and off the floor has been a beneficary of having LeBron James, man.”
LeBron James is reportedly “eager” for Cleveland to trade Kyrie Irving http://slam.ly/lebron-kyrie-eager … LeBron James: #NotFacts people! 🗣Booooo!!! Get another source.
LBJ is extremely unhappy with Kyrie’s trade request. “LeBron James would be tempted to beat his ass.” 👀 LeBron James: #NotFacts people! 🗣Boooo!! Get another source. 🤦🏾♂️. #EnjoyingMySummer #YouDoTheSame 😁😁😁
Brian Windhorst: I think Kyrie is making his point very clearly that he doesn’t want to be in the room with LeBron anymore.
Citing sources, Smith claimed that James “has tried to appease [Irving] at every turn,” but then he went on to offer the “beat his a—” tidbit. That might not make for Silver’s favorite sort of “drama,” but for many fans of the NBA, Cleveland’s soap opera has turned into riveting theater.
Jefferson, whose podcast is hosted on LeBron James’ “Uninterrupted” multimedia platform, took exception to Irving’s trade request being fueled by any sort of feud with James. “I don’t think that there’s a power struggle, like with LeBron and Kyrie and (Kevin Love),” Jefferson said.
Much of Irving’s disenchantment with James was rooted in game play, sources said. James, as a once-in-a-lifetime talent, controlled the ball more than any other forward perhaps in league history. Which means the ball was out of Irving’s hands more than he preferred. That said, Irving led the Cavs in shots in the 2016-17 season, averaging 1.5 more per game than James, and Irving averaged a career-high 25.9 points. It was the first time in James’ career he didn’t lead his team in shots per game.
Several times during the Cavs’ playoff run, Irving had long, intense conversations with James as they tried to get the team into a groove following a choppy and inconsistent regular season, sources said. After a horrible loss to San Antonio on March 27, one in which Irving tied a career-worst plus-minus rating of minus-29, as he scored only eight points on 4-of-13 shooting, Irving was distraught. The Cavs had just lost for the third time in four games to fall out of first place in the Eastern Conference for the first time all season.
In registering his preference to Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert for a trade, league sources said, Irving divulged that he’s become increasingly uneasy about a future that includes a roster constructed to complement LeBron James — a roster that could well be devoid of James come free agency in 2018.
The Cavs are paying James’ Klutch Sports clients Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith for significant deals, and those contracts won’t easily leave the Cavaliers’ books. The Cavaliers have a singular tradeable asset, and it’s Kyrie Irving. Which he knows because Cleveland had included him in trade talks around the NBA draft, league sources told ESPN. Long before Irving voiced his desire to be moved, Cleveland had considered the possibility, too — and perhaps did so with a nod from James.
Jared Dudley: Something not adding up! 3 straight finals, 1 championship, and you want to leave. Bron the perfect compliment to his game 🤔
James, according to two sources, had no idea that Irving was unhappy with his role this past season or wanted out of Cleveland. James’s future in Cleveland is already uncertain after this season; he will be an unrestricted free agent in 2018 and many around the league have believed for weeks that he’s likely to leave the Cavs for a second time and sign either with the Lakers or Clippers next summer.
Tommy Beer: Windhorst on ESPN: “LeBron was devastated, from what I understand… He learned this several days ago. This wasn’t new to him today.”
Two sources told cleveland.com Irving did not want to play with James, who has been the focal point of rumors about a possible departure from the Cavs as a free agent next summer.
“Kyrie informed the Cavs he no longer wanted to play alongside LeBron,” said a source with knowledge of the meeting between Irving, Gilbert, and Cavs’ leadership. “He wants to be the focal point, a franchise guy.”
Both the franchise and James were rocked when Irving asked the team to trade him last week. James was informed after Irving told the Cavaliers and was unaware of the guard’s feelings, sources said.
As the Cavs consider their options, sources said James has expressed to the team that he is focused on his offseason workout regimen and is planning to report to training camp with the intention of leading his teammates to a fourth consecutive Finals — no matter who those teammates are.
Chris Broussard: Here’s what I know on Kyrie front: he didn’t like LJ’s control of franchise, and he wants to be a full-time PG and get chance to run a team
James was informed of Irving’s request and was blindsided and disappointed, sources said. Other members of the team have learned of Irving’s intentions in recent days as well.
Dwyane Wade: I think he likes and liked playing with us both. It doesn’t have to be one over the other. He loves playing with good players period.
“When Kyrie made the decision to stay with us, we didn’t present LeBron as a free-agent option,” Griffin told ESPN this week. “We were concerned what would it look like for him because Kyrie had been really active with us in recruiting everybody that was going to come if LeBron didn’t come. And was very successful as a recruiter. [Gordon] Hayward wanted to come, Chandler Parsons would have come, Channing Frye would have come, Trevor Ariza would have come. Like, we had an opportunity to get everybody, and he had done a great job for us. So there was a little bit of trepidation on our part of, ‘Is he going to feel like we’ve asked him to go backwards?’ And from the very beginning, it was like, ‘Griff, all I want to do is win.’ So he’s been very receptive to it.”
Irving counts Bryant as a mentor and has talked to him about O’Neal in order to avoid the same mistakes with James. “It’s a tough balance,” Irving told ESPN. “Because everyone knows, Shaq was really dominant and [had] a lot of the individual accolades … unbelievable. And that’s who he was. And Kobe was just consistently working on his game and consistently trying to prove everyone all the time. And you got to commend somebody for that. That just shows the true testament of their will and what they’re willing to do and what they’re willing to sacrifice, but I know I don’t want to look back and say that I let my selfishness get in the way of us winning championships, because we have unbelievable talent on this team and unbelievable players, and so I don’t want to ever take that for granted.
Cavs management is tickled by how Irving has taken to James’ tutelage. “I think the one thought we had was that if he embraced it, it would be a great way for him to be around a true alpha and learn how to lead,” Griffin told ESPN. “He had leadership kind of thrust upon him very early because he was our best player, but he wasn’t really emotionally evolved enough to lead. He didn’t want that mantle. He didn’t want that responsibility. Nor should he have. So what’s happened now, I think he’s grown into that, and as he’s growing as a player and as a leader, LeBron becomes much more important to him, because having that sounding board there and having that actual example set for you is a really valuable thing. So we hoped that LeBron would be the one. The dream scenario is that he raises the next great player here.”
James is aware that Irving’s time is quickly approaching. “First of all, I don’t know how Kobe and Shaq managed their partnership. All I can know, from the outside looking in, [is] that it didn’t work out,” James told ESPN. “For me, I see Kyrie growing every single day and wanting to be great. And so me, I just try to give him the blueprint, as much as I can. You know, his experiences, he’s going to learn on his own as well, and that’s what he should do, but all I can do is give him the blueprint, and that’s it. Because he’s going to be around a lot longer than me.
In a league in which Stephen Curry has stretched the three-point arc with his range, Irving has been capable of taking over with his in-between game, his ball-handling, his 17-foot jumper. He completely won his matchup with Lowry, and won the admiration of his teammates. “Kyrie’s becoming a leader, a staple of this team,” James said. “I’m just in amazement with the way he handles the ball,” Channing Frye said.
“Our core guys – LeBron, Kyrie, Kevin, and so on – have just started to find a greater level of chemistry.” “Go Kyrie, go,” teammates heard James telling Irving. With 27 points and five assists for Irving and 24 points from James, they easily won the matchup against DeMar DeRozan (18 points) and Kyle Lowry (eight points). The Cavaliers crushed the Raptors on the glass (45 rebounds to 23) and in shooting (55.4 percent to 42.1). With Golden State and Oklahoma City appearing to be in the early stages of a classic conference final, Cleveland deposed of Toronto swiftly on this night, easily dismissing the Raptors’ fury.
Irving remains a dynamic scorer, but the disconnect between Irving and James is real, several scouts and coaches told The Vertical, with the on-court chemistry between the two, said one scout who saw Cleveland play recently, “basically nonexistent.” Team sources insist the relationship is solid, that James is simply teaching, trying to raise Irving’s basketball IQ. No one understands Irving’s importance more than James, team sources told The Vertical, which is why no one is working harder than James to get the two All-Stars on the same page.
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July 17, 2018 | 10:32 am EDT Update
According to sources, Okafor, the No. 3 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, worked out for four teams last Wednesday in Las Vegas, and remains hopeful of signing with a team ahead of training camp next fall. Okafor averaged 17.5 points per game as a rookie in Philadelphia in 2015-16. He has spent the last few months working out in Miami with trainers David Alexander and Idan Ravin, fueling speculation that he could land with the Heat, especially if Miami finds a trading partner for Hassan Whiteside.
He will not be back with the Nets, the last team for which he played, a source said. Okafor has had interest from the Pacers and Bulls, among others, this summer but neither were at the workout in Las Vegas.
These are the real boys of summer, the grinders using the 12-day audition in the desert to impress NBA executives enough to earn the honor of an invitation to training camp. Take Cooley, 27, the unofficial dean of NBA Summer League stars. This is Cooley’s sixth stint in Vegas. He’s a member of the Phoenix Suns now, a teammate of Ayton’s. Before that he was a Sacramento King, setting screens for De’Aaron Fox, and before that a Cleveland Cavalier, throwing outlet passes to Andrew Wiggins. For Cooley, this was never a dream. In 2009, he chose Notre Dame, not for a springboard to the NBA, but because it had a top business school. “I used basketball to get the best education,” Cooley said.
But when he graduated, NBA teams called. Some 18 brought him in for pre-draft workouts. When he went undrafted, he started getting invitations to Summer League. “I remember my first year I was struggling to remember all the plays,” Cooley said. “Now my sixth year, this is the most complicated offense I’ve had, but it’s second nature, basic easy stuff. It’s a lot easier to understand.”
There’s Justin Harper, with the New York Knicks. Casper Ware, with the Portland Trail Blazers. Brady Heslip with the Memphis Grizzlies. There are no paychecks for playing in Summer League. There’s per diem, around $100 per day. There’s a hotel room, two-hour practices, daily bus rides and no guarantee of playing time. “It’s a grind, man,” Machado said. “Every time you come out to Summer League, everyone is trying to prove themselves. Me, trying to facilitate, sometimes you overthink it. Every time you come back, you think, ‘Man I did this already.’ It’s a constant grind and constant pressure you put on yourself.”
As Summer League winds down, most of the boys of summer will disperse. Some will sign on with G League teams, to maximize exposure. Others will ink European contracts, where the money is better. They will ride buses to small towns in the U.S. or live in isolation in far-flung cities around the world. They will do it, and they will hope for an invitation back to Las Vegas next summer, for the opportunity to impress once again. “There’s only about 1% of me that thinks about not playing,” Cooley said. “This life is pretty intense. But I love it, I’m glad it’s not easy. Not playing would be a terrible itch that I wouldn’t be able to scratch. I know once the time comes, I will definitely be a part of the game, because I’ll go crazy if I go cold-turkey out of basketball. But right now, I’m a player. The body of work I have put together has caused a pretty good stir here. I believe I’m an NBA player. I believe I can play in the league for a long time.”