LAS VEGAS (CBSMiami/AP) — The NBA summer leagues in Orlando and Las Vegas are more important to a young player’s career than some people realize.READ MORE: Centner Academy Reverses Course On 30-Day Quarantine For Vaccinated Students
Think of NBA summer league like this: A job fair where nobody wears a tie.
For a few of the 450 or so players on this year’s teams at the three respective summer leagues — Orlando, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas — jobs for next season are guaranteed. They’ll be in the NBA.
The vast majority, they don’t know where the next check is coming from.
Justin Dentmon might be the quintessential example of what it’s about.
By the time training camps start this fall, Dentmon will be 30. He’s played in eight NBA games for three franchises, never lasting long at any stop. In Las Vegas, he’s part of the D-League Select squad, and he knows the odds against him are stacked higher than a 10-foot rim.
Still, his mission is simple: Get noticed by an NBA team. Any NBA team.
“The door might be halfway closed,” Dentmon said. “But it’s not closed yet. When it closes, I’ll stop.”
That’s the mantra for just about everyone at summer league.
Whether it’s unknown players, young referees trying to climb the ladder, video guys or coaches aiming to break through, summer league is one giant collection of dreamers.
Sounds right. After all, it is Vegas.
“It’s been the right time for some other people,” Dentmon said. “It hasn’t been my time yet. It’s coming. I believe that.”
Players all around him have different backgrounds, but the same hope.
Keith Bogans is 35 years old, the oldest player on a roster in Las Vegas. He was a McDonald’s All-American before some guys in summer league were in kindergarten. He’s made his money. And he’s still here, trying to get back.
“My goal is to just be around the game,” Bogans said. “I’m in the best shape of my life.”
He knows he’s a longshot to get return; his last NBA appearance was in January 2014. The Trail Blazers essentially think of him as a coach of sorts helping mentor the young players.
He’s not looking to coach — yet.
“I still want to play,” Bogans said.
Joe Jackson sounds worried.
He overcame injury to be the D-League’s Most Improved Player last season. He was a four-year standout at Memphis, went to the NCAA tournament four times, had a 24-point game in 2014 against Shabazz Napier and eventual national champion Connecticut.
At 6-foot-1 and 171 pounds, some think he’s too small for the NBA.READ MORE: Gov. DeSantis Wants To Offer $5,000 Bonuses To Law Enforcement Officers Who Come To Florida
“You wait and you wait and you know you belong, but there’s so many politics and prejudging,” Jackson said.
So he went to the D-League. The game got slower. He got smarter. He has a degree, but isn’t thinking about any other career. Any real opportunity that comes his way, he’s taking.
“Live and learn,” Jackson said. “When you’re fighting for your shot, you fight a lot of monsters.”
Henry Walker expects he’ll be in the NBA this season. He’s got a partially guaranteed contract to return to the Miami Heat, with whom he made 13 starts in 24 appearances last season.
He’s on Miami’s summer roster but isn’t playing because of a sprained ankle.
“It’s already been a long two months off,” Walker said. “Sometimes you want to just go up against guys again.”
Walker has been in the NBA for parts of five seasons already, first with Boston and then New York. He went nearly three years without an NBA opportunity before Miami brought him back, and he’s not looking down on being in summer league whatsoever.
“Nothing comes easy,” Walker said. “I was just looking forward to proving that I belong on a team. That’s all it is, opportunity. That’s all you need is opportunity. As you get older, you start to realize certain things aren’t in your control anyway.”
Josh Harrellson came to Las Vegas to get seen.
He’s been in 75 NBA games with New York, Miami and Detroit, last appearing on Feb. 1, 2014. Surgery to repair two bulging disks in his back interrupted his NBA career — and after playing in summer league with Phoenix, he’s hoping someone gives him another shot.
“It’s about getting out there, showing people that I’m healthy, that I’m back and that I’m just myself,” the 6-foot-10, 275-pound Harrellson said. “They know what I can do. They know I can play. I needed to show them I can still run.”
When Harrellson got told he needed surgery, there was a real concern that his NBA career was over. But he said after two days, he was able to walk without pain. Eight months later, he was back on the court, wound up playing in China and now just wants that phone to ring.
“I think I’ll get a camp invite,” Harrellson said. “My main goal is to get a contract out of this. Even if it’s a partial, just something.”
THE LAST SHOT
Jerome Randle knows time is running out.
He was the Pac-10 player of the year in 2010, a year after James Harden won the award. He thought that meant the NBA would call.
He’s still waiting.
“It’s very discouraging,” said Randle, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound guard who’s on Milwaukee’s roster in Vegas. “I have a family to take care of. I love the game, so whether it’s in the NBA or overseas, I just want to play the game. My dream is still to make to the NBA.”
He’s seen the world — Turkey, Israel, the Ukraine, China and Belgium, plus he’s spent time in the D-League. At 28, he needs the big break — now.
“This is my last summer that I felt I was going to really try,” Randle said. “It’s a wear and tear on my body. … I’m not frustrated. I just want to keep working hard and hopefully something happens.”MORE NEWS: Key West Fantasy Fest Underway With Pandemic Induced Changes
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