Updated July 1, 2018 - 5:57 pm
Players draw most of the attention at the NBA Summer League, but it’s worth keeping an eye on the teams as well to see which ones might emerge as contenders.
That’s not to say there is another club out there ready to catch the Golden State Warriors, but based on the draft and which players are expected to compete at the Thomas & Mack Center and Cox Pavilion beginning Friday, these are the teams to watch:
1. Phoenix Suns
Yes, the Suns. The same team that hasn’t made the postseason since 2010, second only to the Sacramento Kings’ 12-season drought. Phoenix also finished last in the Western Conference at 21-61.
But then came draft night, and the Suns chose 7-footer Deandre Ayton first overall, traded with the Philadelphia 76ers to get the 10th pick in Mikal Bridges and snapped up French point guard Elie Okobo with the first selection of the second round.
That’s not to say the Suns suddenly will become contenders, but they certainly will be worth watching in Las Vegas.
2. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls should improve on their 27-55 record, though that isn’t saying much. In the terrible Eastern Conference, it doesn’t take much to become a playoff contender, and they should at least move in that direction next season.
Chicago created hope for itself by drafting Wendell Carter Jr. at No. 7 and Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison at No. 22. Carter is more of a sure thing, of course, with his ability at 6 feet, 10 inches to play a more modern version of center. Hutchison (6-7) also is able to stretch the floor, as Mountain West fans know all too well.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
Now that LeBron James has decided to take his game west to the Lakers, there will be a total rebuild in Cleveland.
As such, the spotlight will be on Collin Sexton, the No. 8 pick of the draft. He will show in the Summer League whether he can be enough of a star to begin the process of building the team around him.
4. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks had three picks in the first round, getting No. 5 Trae Young in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks and selecting Kevin Huerter at No. 19 and Omari Spellman at No. 30. Young alone will be worth watching considering all the questions of whether he can make it in the NBA. He certainly will want the ball in his hands.
The Hawks won’t have Huerter, however, because of an injured hand, but 2017 draft picks John Collins and Tyler Dorsey are expected to play. Atlanta clearly is going with a youth movement, and it may take time to move up from the 24-58 record that landed the Hawks last in the East.
5. Boston Celtics
The Celtics figure to be real challengers to make the NBA Finals after somehow reaching the Eastern Conference Finals despite battling injuries all season. Not only will they get some key players back, but the Celtics had a lottery-pick talent in Robert Williams fall to them at No. 27 because of health and attitude questions.
If Williams can show in Summer League that the Celtics made the right choice, they will make them even more dangerous heading into next season.
NBA Summer League
■ Who: NBA rookies and underclassmen from all 30 teams
■ When: Friday through July 17
■ Where: Thomas & Mack Center, Cox Pavilion
■ Tickets: $35 for adults per session, $25 for children and seniors; available at NBATickets.com