By Maurice Brooks
As I boarded the plane Thursday afternoon for my flight from Newark, N.J. to Las Vegas, I noticed a familiar face. Sitting in first class was Timberwolves guard Randy Foye.
Two things crossed my mind: 1) I can't believe he is wearing a hat with FB on it -- I thought FUBU clothing went out of business years ago; and 2) This is going to be his third year in the league -- is he really playing summer-league ball again?
After chatting with him for a few minutes, I found out that he'll be in Sin City to practice with his teammates, but he doesn't expect to actually play in a game. Also, he had been home in New Jersey spending time with his young child. And most importantly, the FB on his cap stood for Foye's Boy, not FUBU.
Anyways, here are a few things I plan on keeping an eye on when NBA Summer League begins Friday -- with 53 games from now until July 20 -- at the Thomas & Mack Center and COX Pavilion on the UNLV campus.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me
Unlike Charlie Brown, who repeatedly made the mistake of trying to kick the football with Lucy as the holder, I am ready to learn from my past experiences. This year, I come to Vegas with a better understanding of what's reality and what's not.
For example, when the Warriors take the floor against the Sixers in the opener at 4 p.m. ET, I know not to fall in love with Marco Belinelli again, no matter how many 3-pointers he swishes. In his summer-league debut last year, when he exploded for 37 points, people in attendance were comparing him to Larry Bird. I called him the steal of the draft and predicted big things from the rookie. Then he went out and scored 95 points ... for the entire regular season.
Basically what I'm saying is that no matter how well or how poorly someone performs at summer league, it doesn't determine if they will be a bust or an All-Star.
Team records also mean nothing
Led by summer-league MVP Nate Robinson, the Knicks went undefeated in Las Vegas last year, while the Hornets didn't win a single game. But when the teams played games that actually mattered, it was a totally diffent story. The Knicks finished the season in the lottery and the Hornets were a win away from advancing to the Western Conference finals.
Lots of talent
Last year's Vegas summer league established new attendance records thanks to the fact that the top two picks in the draft -- Portland's Greg Oden and Seattle's Kevin Durant -- were in the house.
This year, the top two picks from the draft -- Chicago's Derrick Rose and Miami's Michael Beasley -- are in Orlando, not Vegas. But that doesn't mean the NBA Summer League is lacking star power.
Six of the top 10 picks of the 2008 draft -- including the Clippers' Eric Gordon, the Bucks' Joe Alexander and the Bobcats' D.J. Augustin -- will be in action. And who knows, maybe Oden will make a surprise appearance for the Blazers, like Durant did in Orlando by suiting up and leading Oklahoma City to a win this week.
Mayo and Love are the headliners
After being swapped for one another on draft night, all eyes will be on Memphis' O.J. Mayo -- my early season choice for Rookie of the Year -- and Minnesota's Kevin Love.
Mayo knows he has the green light on offense and I wouldn't be surprised if he breaks the summer-league record for points in a game (42).
And Love, while not as flashy, will quickly become a fan favorite with his workmanlike skills. He has all of the tools necessary to be the perfect teammate -- he sets picks, plays defense, rebounds and passes.
Can Gallinari quiet the boo birds?
When the Knicks drafted Danilo Gallinari, I sent out a dozen or so text messages to my friends who are Knicks fans. It read, "Hahahaha."
But a strong showing from the Italian star can make the doubters, like me, into believers -- temporarily, at least.