NBA Summer League doubles as first networking summit

“My God,” thought Jamahl Mosley during a casual stroll through The Palms.

“There is Antoni. There is Pop.

The coaching icons Mosley had long admired were suddenly accessible for the 27-year-old Denver Nuggets development specialist in his 2006 NBA Summer League debut in Las Vegas.

Making his dream as an NBA head coach all the more tangible – and the 11-day event all the more exciting.

“It was surreal at the time because you’re there with your head down working. I go to the gym. I stay and watch the games,” said Mosley, now 43 and coach of the Orlando Magic, which drafted Paolo Banchero from Duke last month with the No. 1 overall pick.

“But you look up and you see a coach who has just gone to the final. Or a coach who just won a championship. …and they’re just sitting there. … It becomes real then.

The Summer League isn’t just a proving ground for rookies and other young players vying for spots in the NBA, G League or professional leagues overseas. It’s a gathering place for the league as a whole, where apparently everyone connected with the NBA will congregate from Thursday until its July 17 conclusion at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Coaches, executives, agents, coaches and veteran players find value in the networking opportunities that exist around – and during – the 75 games that make up the Summer League schedule.

“There are tons of dinner dates. Catch up. Speaking of players,” said Aces coach Becky Hammon, who guided the San Antonio Spurs to a Summer League championship in 2015 during his eight years as an assistant coach under Gregg Popovich.

“There are a lot of things going on that have nothing to do with the teams playing on the field. It is a moment of relationship building. Everyone works there all the time.

“The nerve center”

Due to the inherent nature of the NBA’s rigorous 82-game schedule, league luminaries are rarely found in a central location. The Chicago Combine offers some of the elements that the Summer League provides as representatives of all 30 teams rate players.

But May is usually when the NBA playoffs are in full swing, which limits attendance. At least to some extent. In this sense, Summer League doubles as the conclusion of the previous season and the start of the following season before the eight-week sabbatical that precedes the start of training camps.

“It’s the nerve center of the NBA,” said Johnny Davis, who played 10 NBA seasons, coached 23 and returns to Las Vegas this week as president of the National Basketball Retired Players Association.

“More than any other venue at this point. … This is where it’s at for the NBA as a whole.

The spectators who fill the Thomas & Mack Center and the Cox Pavilion – there were nearly 140,000 in 2019, the last Summer League before the COVID-19 pandemic – often find themselves seated a few feet from general managers, agents and other executives who influence staff decisions.

Blocks of seats are reserved for those who achieve VIP status and are identifiable by their plastic credentials, though it’s not uncommon for them to wander the halls or sit among the audience.

As games unfold, so do conversations about player ratings, potential trades, and other business dealings. Games and situations are analyzed, players are scouted, and ideas are exchanged among those running the NBA.

“It’s a great place to pick up the minds of other agents, the minds of other team leaders, and just build more relationships,” said Anthony Fields, a Las Vegas resident who represents the Magic Center. Wendell Carter Jr. as Vice President of Basketball Operations for Vanguard Sports. .

“Ultimately, this space is all about relationships.”

Cameos from veteran superstar players are not uncommon, and they often line up court seats and sign autographs before heading out to train at local gyms or take advantage of the unique Las Vegas social scene.

Professional networking extends well beyond the confines of UNLV locations and the Strip hotels where teams stay. The Cave Wine and Food Hideaway and Delilah are among favorite restaurants for informal get-togethers, though there’s no shortage of top-notch dining options.

“Whether they have a drink or not. Everyone is on,” Hammon said. “There are constant meetings. There are coach meetings. There are all kinds of meetings.

“All About Basketball”

This is not to minimize the value of games. They are also important in themselves.

Several coaches – including Mosley and Hammon – gained valuable experience leading Summer League teams when they were assistants. The rookies are playing in an organized setting for the first time in several months, and other young players have the opportunity to audition in front of the entire NBA collective.

International agents and scouts are also present, scouring Summer League rosters for potential overseas adjustments.

“You’re scouting,” Mosley said. “Then you try to see other players who might be good for your roster…and what other teams are running. All those little bits. So you spend the majority of it in the gym. Then at 9 o’clock in the evening, you say to yourself: ‘Let’s go have something to eat, the four or five of us, and then start again the next day.’ »

As this happens, old relationships are strengthened and new ones are forged.

This is where the value of the Summer League lies.

“Everything basketball happens here in Las Vegas,” Davis said. “Whatever is being done, or about to be done, or maybe at the end of doing something, it’s happening in Las Vegas.”

Staff reporter Andy Yamashita contributed to this report. Contact Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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