With free agency now behind us (mostly) with the conclusion of Le Decision — and for Phoenix Suns fans with the Amare Stoudemire sign-and-trade now complete — it’s time to look ahead to the next most important part of the offseason (well, kind of): summer league.
I will be on the scene in Las Vegas Friday through Tuesday to give you the low down on what’s going on with the Suns’ summer league team, starting with Friday’s 3 p.m. game against Houston that will be televised by NBA TV.
So while the rest of the nation is still digesting The Decision, here are five story lines to ponder about the Summer Suns.
1. Will Earl Clark make the leap?
No, not a leap to superstardom (perhaps one day), but the leap from a non-factor to a contributor. We saw flashes of the improvement of Goran Dragic and Robin Lopez last summer, and now it’s Clark’s time.
Alvin Gentry expects him to be in the Suns’ rotation next season and by all accounts he’s been working hard this summer, so this is his time to show that.
I’ve been on the Earl Clark bandwagon since before he was selected. I love his offensive and defensive games and think he could really help the Suns. We barely saw that Earl Clark last season, but I hope to at least see glimpses of that guy this weekend.
2. Can the rookies play?
I’m not sure if Dwayne Collins will even be healthy enough to suit up, but I want to see what kind of contributor Gani Lawal can be.
I understand this is only summer league, but even though Lawal is one of the most talented players on this team I want to see if he’ll be doing the dirt work he’d be expected to do with the real Suns. Is he blocking shots left and right? Is he corralling all the boards? Is he diving on the floor for loose balls? Is he playing with fire?
If the answer to those questions in summer league games that don’t matter is yes, the Suns might have found a nice piece for their bench.
3. The point guard spot
Scottie Reynolds brings the All-American cache, but Zabian Dowdell is just as intriguing of a prospect at the point guard spot.
Dowdell was one of the more impressive Summer Suns last year, but the Suns just didn’t have room for him. By bringing him back they clearly like him and another impressive summer should at least net him an invitation to camp if he wants one.
Reynolds, of course, was the first first-team All-American to go undrafted since the 1976 merger. He clearly has the talent if not the size and athleticism to make an NBA roster. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a guy like that be pissed off by everybody passing him up and setting Vegas on fire.
4. Griffin’s last chance?
Taylor Griffin holds a tenuous grip on a Phoenix Suns roster spot. He’s a model teammate who works hard and understands the system, but he just doesn’t possess NBA swingman skills as hard as he’s been working at it.
Or does he?
He’s now spent a year attempting to convert from a college post player to an NBA wing player. Does he have the shooting range and handles for such a move? He certainly has NBA athleticism, but it’s hard to say he has NBA skills. This summer league is important to showcase himself for an NBA job somewhere, if not in Phoenix.
5. Watching college stars
I’m pretty excited to see the Suns go up against the Houston Rockets’ Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill, players I covered for two seasons when I wrote about Arizona men’s basketball for The Arizona Daily Wildcat. During the regular season, it’s hard to pay much attention to a pair of bench players, particularly when the Suns are in the heat of a playoff push. Today I can really zero in on how much (or little) Chase and Jordan have improved since college.
For Pac-10 fans, you might remember Stanford forward Lawrence Hill, who is playing for the Suns. I always loved Hill’s game at Stanford, where he was a teammate of Suns center Robin Lopez. He’s got some length and a decent mid-range game and should be a nice summer player even if he doesn’t have NBA skill.
I remember watching Hill play high school basketball, and he was the best player I ever saw in the gym of my alma mater Desert Mountain High School.