At the conclusion of what was the most exciting, and popular, professional basketball season in recent memory, the NBA and the NBA player’s association did the unthinkable: They entered a lockout that threatens to cancel a highly anticipated follow-up campaign.
Perhaps it is because of the predominant fear of a lost season that fans and members of the media are currently paying extra attention to summer league games, fare that traditionally ranks somewhere between professional bowling and bassmaster fishing tournaments in terms of watchability.
At the onset of the offseason, the topic that was receiving the most attention was the prospect of NBA players flocking overseas to play for European teams . Perennial all-star point guard Deron Williams gave this idea a needed dose of credibility when he announced his intention to play for Besiktas Cola Turka basketball club. Pundits speculated that other big name players would follow suit, but despite rumored contract negotiations between Kobe Bryant and several international teams, Williams remains the most talented NBA player to commit to a foreign squad. It should be noted that Wizards forward Trevor Booker has wisely decided to take his talents to Israel and hone his game with the Israeli Basketball League team Bnei HaSharon should the lockout persist.
But most big name NBA players–Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Paul are a few examples–seem content to remain domestic and stay fresh by playing in summer league exhibition games, such as the one that recently took place between Washington’s Goodman All-Stars and Baltimore’s Melo All-Stars.
Such games may be highly entertaining for fans–Durant put 59 points on the board while being guarded by LeBron James–but whether they hold merit is highly questionable. The Goodman versus Melo game featured half-hearted defense and sloppy offense that revolved around individual players chasing personal accolades rather than the execution of any sort of cohesive strategy. The game was more akin to an NBA All-Star game than an NBA playoff game.
Washington Wizards’ star-in-the-making John Wall has opted to follow in the footsteps of the game’s current stars rather than those of his teammate, Booker. He has decided not to play overseas and has been spending his summer travelling from city to city, participating in various summer league exhibitions. After a spirited 28 point performance against Los Angeles’ Drew League, Wall giddily announced that he was “back.”
Wall apparently ascribes a great deal of significance to his performances in exhibition games. At one such contest in Durham, N.C., Wall talked trash to North Carolina Central forward Dominique Sutton en route to scoring 36 points.
Swagger is a prerequisite to athletic superstardom–every great basketball player over the last 20 years has possessed the belief that when he stepped on the court, there was no one on the opposing team that could stop him. But an overall number one pick talking trash to a forward from an insignificant college program is somewhat ridiculous. Sutton is not nearly as talented as the pro players Wall will face on a weekly basis whenever NBA play resumes, and Wall needs to understand that if he is to make due on his pledge to get better during the offseason, he will need to hold himself to a higher standard.
Summer league is fun, but it’s not where stars are made.