Deck of drawing cards full of aces

Warren LeGarie’s baby is growing up quickly.

The longtime sports agent who founded the Vegas Summer League three years ago as a cozy six-team circuit has seen it mushroom into a 22-team pro basketball extravaganza. It has gotten so big, LeGarie needed a nanny to help him deal with the growing 10-day event.

The NBA has come on board as a partner and will help oversee what now is called the NBA Summer League.

Starting at 1 p.m. today at Cox Pavilion, and ending at the Thomas & Mack Center on July 15, 55 games are scheduled to be played. Eleven of the top 14 picks from last week’s NBA Draft will be showcased, including Portland’s Greg Oden and Seattle’s Kevin Durant, the top two selections.

In fact, both players will be on the court today at Cox Pavilion as Durant debuts with the Sonics at 3 p.m. against Dallas, and Oden and the Trail Blazers play at 7 against Boston. But the best has been saved for last as Oden and Durant go head-to-head on the final day when the Blazers and Sonics meet at 7 p.m. at Cox.

“We’ve had the best possible scenario,” LeGarie said. “We’ve got most of the top picks. We’ve got the most teams we’ve ever had. We’ve got the support of the NBA behind us. We’ve got a great sponsor in adidas. It’s unbelievable what has happened. Hollywood couldn’t have written a better script.”

In addition to Oden and Durant as drawing cards, the Los Angeles Lakers are making their first appearance. Usually, Las Vegas doesn’t see the Lakers until October when they play their annual preseason game at the Thomas & Mack. But with the demise of the summer league in Long Beach, Calif., the Lakers needed to go somewhere with their rookies and free agents.

“Since we can’t play in Southern California, Las Vegas is the next best thing,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said. “We consider Las Vegas our second home. We have a tremendous fan base there and, of course, our owner (Dr. Jerry Buss), loves Las Vegas. It’s one of his favorite cities.”

LeGarie said having the Lakers participate gives the summer league a new dimension.

“We’ve never had a ‘home’ team in the summer league,” he said. “Now we do because of all the Laker fans in Las Vegas.”

The impact already has been felt. LeGarie said more than 5,000 tickets have been sold, and it’s not just because of the Lakers. It’s Oden and Durant. It’s teams such as the New York Knicks, who have a lot of fans living in Las Vegas and usually draw well. And for the first time, the league has a foreign team competing — the Chinese National Team has come over to help prepare for next summer’s Olympics in Beijing.

Team China, which features 6-foot-11-inch forward Yi Jianlian, will play Memphis at 5 p.m. today and play five games in six days. On Monday, the team will be honored with a dinner sponsored by the Las Vegas World Affairs Council.

Yi, who was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks with the No. 6 pick, will play for his country rather than his new NBA team. He reportedly was not thrilled when the Bucks selected him, and his management team had indicated he has no interest of playing for Milwaukee.

LeGarie simply is glad to have Yi here. One of the things the NBA was able to do in teaming up with LeGarie was use its connections to bring the Chinese team to Las Vegas.

“Without them, it doesn’t happen,” LeGarie said of the league’s help.

Gail Hunter, who is the NBA’s point person for the summer league, said it will be business as usual with LeGarie and his staff handling day-to-day operations.

“My role is to facilitate things with Warren, work with Team China and help support the league,” Hunter said. “Part of our wanting to be involved with the league was to stay with the rookies from the draft to the preseason. The other part is the exposure, branding NBA basketball and keeping it in the minds of the fans during the summer.”

LeGarie said he doesn’t foresee a day when all 30 NBA teams show up in Las Vegas. But he likes the upgrade of this year’s league.

“We’re always trying to raise the bar,” he said. “We felt this was the right time to do it.”

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