Oh, Vegas. You monstrosity. I’m amused by you, but I wouldn’t say I’ve missed you.
There’s really nothing quite like standing at a Starbucks at 7 a.m. in a buzzing casino in the middle of the desert waiting on a latte made with absolutely zero enthusiasm, as “Centerfold” by the J. Geils Band plays at 120 decibels and dudes in Ferrari-branded clothing stand around constantly checking their phones.
Any time I’m out here, I can’t seem to get past the existence of this place without commenting on it. Yes, it’s an engineering marvel. The detail and the excess and the scale arrest the senses, especially when you barely raise your eyeline and notice that all of this sits in the middle of a sandbox diorama that resembles Tatooine. It’s almost like science fiction; a hedonistic colony on Mars.
But I do have to marvel at families of 10 walking away happily with 50-ounce alcoholic slushies from a street vendor who was selling every imaginable flavor. I have to marvel at the strip club pitch man on the sidewalk who did an improvised 20-second riff on why I should hop in a car with him, which included some rhyming driven by my Second City T-shirt. And I have to marvel at paying $10 to pick up a package from the hotel. For the vast majority of people visiting Vegas, the on-the-Strip experience is not real life.
Likewise, the cops tell us we’re not supposed to overreact to summer league, the annual exhibition showcase held in the same desert. It’s not real life. We’re supposed to remain even-keeled, calculated, emotionless, unfettered to foolish dreams. Push our glasses up and consider the sample size. Stop being such a child. Remain intellectually credible, otherwise we risk reacting strongly in the short term to something that hasn’t fully played out yet. That doesn’t sound anything like the broader NBA discussion to me!
Don’t listen to the haters, man. There’s plenty of time for real stakes and seriousness later. Thrive in that space between hope and the crushing bitterness of expectation. Enjoy the deep-fried jumbo shrimp and savor the infatuation stage while you can.
With that in mind, here’s a notebook of my observations from summer league. Know going in: There was a lot to see in Las Vegas. Too much, honestly. My analysis is based on what I got to see in person, and I tried to hop around as much as I could. Let’s dive in.
Paolo Makes a Point
The sky was falling for Orlando Magic fans at the start of Salt Lake City Summer League. There was hand-wringing, teeth gnashing … and their team wasn’t even playing. Like a jealous spurned lover hoping a first date goes poorly, many Magic fans were dialed in on what was happening between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder. With every trey that Chet Holmgren banged in and every shot he erased, a sickly, panicked feeling seemed to be coming over an already tortured fan base. When you’ve been conditioned to feel dread, the natural move is to try to see it coming.
The problem with quick-triggered cynicism is that it’s a reaction to an incomplete picture. Much is to be seen! The top of this draft…