In Vegas, jackpot's on course
LAS VEGAS - Musings as the Las Vegas Summer League runs its course. …
• Andrea Bargnani is going to be a good player in the NBA. The natural comparison for the 7-foot, 250-pound rookie from Italy, who was taken by Toronto with the first pick in the June 28 draft, is Dirk Nowitzki. Another player sometimes mentioned is Pau Gasol.
Keith Drum, a scout for the Sacramento Kings, offered one he had heard - Tom Chambers, the 6-10 former All-Star who played his best ball with Phoenix and Seattle in the late '80s and '90s.
'That's a good one,' Boston coach Doc Rivers says. 'Bargnani has a great pump-fake that can lead him to the basket. Tom perfected the pump-fake move; Bargnani has it already, and it'll put him at the foul line a lot. He can really shoot, and I think he'll be a post-up player earlier in his career than Dirk because of his size. He's bigger, thicker than Dirk was. But he has to get used to the physical play in this league. Teams will put smaller, quicker guys on him until he proves he can score on the post.'
Bargnani, who averaged 14 points in his first three games, runs the court well and plays like a small forward. In a game against Sacramento, he scored on three dunks - one off a lob, the other two off baseline moves.
'He's really good,' says Geoff Petrie, Sacramento's president of basketball operations. 'He doesn't have much of a post game, but if he ever gets one, watch out. He can shoot it, he can drive it and he's really mobile.'
Bargnani, 21, played an exhibition against Toronto last year with his Italian team, 'and he more than held his own against (Raptor All-Star) Chris Bosh,' Drum says.
Defense? Well, Bargnani at least makes an effort.
'We're getting him indoctrinated to the NBA,' Toronto coach Sam Mitchell says of the Italian. 'In Europe, they let you play with your hands. We don't do that in the NBA. We just have to break some habits he has. No problem.'
• The consensus among NBA executives is Minnesota point guard Randy Foye was the best player in the summer league. The 6-4 Foye - the player Portland swapped for Brandon Roy on draft day - is a scoring point guard who, at least here, was thinking shoot first, second and third. In his first three games, he scored 77 points and dished out two assists.
Roy was right there with Foye in terms of performance and value to his team. Another player who drew raves from scouts was Houston point guard John Lucas III, with father John Lucas watching each game from courtside. The junior Lucas, a 5-10 point guard who went undrafted out of Oklahoma State a year ago but played some with Houston last season, averaged 23.4 points and 7.6 assists in leading the Rockets to a 5-0 record and the VSL title. A quibble: too much on-court dressing-down of teammates for my liking.
• Nate McMillan left Las Vegas after Portland's third game to get some family time in Seattle. The Blazer coach probably will have the busiest summer of his life as a member of the U.S. national team's coaching staff, assisting Duke's Mike Krzyzewski.
After a three-day youth camp in Portland that ends Saturday, McMillan returns to Las Vegas on Monday to begin a training camp that runs through July 25 with 23 players who hope to make the club, including ex-Duck Luke Ridnour of Seattle.
Following a five-day break, the U.S. group reconvenes in Las Vegas for three more days of workouts and an exhibition against Puerto Rico. Then it's on to China and South Korea for tournaments that lead up to the world championships in Japan from Aug. 19 through Aug. 24.
• Joel Freeland is a personable kid Blazer fans will enjoy, but not for at least another year. The 6-10, 225-pound forward from England, drafted by Portland with the final pick of the first round, says he expects to spend another year with Gran Canaria Fadesa in Spain.
'It's the club's decision, but I think the idea is for me to go back one more year to get more experience,' says Freeland, 19, who has a soft shooting touch, good skills and could develop into a small forward with time.
Says Kevin Pritchard, Portland's director of player personnel: 'He's only been playing basketball two years. His upside is really high because he is such a great worker.'
• Buck Williams worked the summer league as a big-man's coach with Golden State. The ex-Blazer great, who has been in private business in Potomac, Md., since retiring from the game in 2001, sold his company - Century Technologies - two months ago and is looking to get into the NBA in some capacity.
'I did the entrepreneur thing, but I know basketball, and that's where my heart is,' says Williams, 46, who played in Portland from 1989 to '96. 'My initial thought is to get into management, but sometimes you have to do it from an entry viewpoint. That would probably mean being an assistant coach somewhere.'
'I'd come back in a heartbeat,' he says. 'What a great experience I had there. But Nate has a pretty tight staff. I don't know where this will lead.'
Williams was in the foyer at Cox Pavilion one day when he was approached by Blazer guard Martell Webster.
'He reached out and said, 'Hey, Coach Williams,' ' Williams says. 'We had met somewhere before, and he was showing me the respect of appreciating I was a former player. He probably wasn't even born when I started playing, but he wanted me to know he knew me. That was very impressive. The kid gets it.'