It would be a nice tribute to the NBA Summer League to say it played a part in helping the Los Angeles Lakers reach the NBA Finals this past season.
But general manager Mitch Kupchak wasn’t ready to make that leap. He said the summer league’s role in his team’s run to the Finals was negligible at best. Mostly, the Lakers used the Las Vegas event to populate the far end of their bench.
"I don’t want to overdramatize the impact the summer league had on us," Kupchak said, referring to the Lakers’ 2-3 record here last year. "Jordan Farmar had a really good summer league and it helped his confidence. Coby Karl added some chemistry to our roster, but frankly, the majority of the players who were with us in the summer league last year weren’t around to help us for the most part."
The Lakers, who open summer league play at 5 p.m. today against Detroit at Cox Pavilion, will barely need 10 days in Las Vegas to out fill their roster. The Western Conference champions have 10 guaranteed contracts and could also retain restricted free agents Sasha Vujacic and Ronny Turiaf if they decide to match both players’ offer sheets.
If both return, it would leave only three openings on the 15-man roster. That translates to slim odds for most of the second-year players, free agents and rookies on the summer team, including Joe Crawford, a 6-foot-5-inch guard from Kentucky, whom the Lakers drafted in the second round.
"Summer league is all about getting a chance and that’s all these guys can ask for," Kupchak said. "They want to have the opportunity to put their foot in the door.
"The main thing is that no one has a guarantee. If I was on the summer league roster, I’d feel good knowing there’s a level playing field."
Los Angeles’ summer squad will be coached by Dan Panaggio, who coaches the D-Fenders, the Lakers’ entry in the NBA Development League. In addition to Karl and Crawford, the roster includes guard Cedric Bozeman (UCLA), forward Sean Lampley (Cal), guard Dontell Jefferson (Arkansas) and forward Sharrod Ford (Clemson).
There are also two names that might be familiar to UNLV fans: one-time Rebels recruit Davon Jefferson, who wound up playing at Southern Cal, and former UNR guard Marcelus Kemp.
However, UNLV product Wendell White did not survive Thursday’s roster cuts and will not be with the Lakers in Las Vegas.
This will be the Lakers’ second season in Las Vegas. In the past, they were participants in the summer league in Long Beach.
"We prefer to play in Southern California where the majority of our fan base is," Kupchak said. "Having said that, with no summer league here (in Los Angeles) now, Vegas does a very good job of filling our needs."
Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.