DALLAS — The Dallas Mavericks have signed free agent guard Gian Clavell, an undrafted rookie who has played for Puerto Rico’s national team.
Clavell was the Mountain West Conference player of the year at Colorado State last season. He averaged a league-high 20.4 points with 6.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 27 games for the Rams.
The 6-foot-4 Clavell is the second Puerto Rican native with the Mavs, joining guard J.J. Barea. His signing Tuesday came three weeks after Dallas signed 6-11 forward Maxi Kleber, who is from Dirk Nowitzki‘s hometown in Wurzburg, Germany.
In five games with the Miami Heat’s summer league team in Las Vegas, Clavell averaged 12.4 points and 1.4 assists. He shot 41 percent from 3-point range and made 11 of 12 free throws.
With July and the bulk of free agency in the books, now is a good time to look back at the moves teams have made to try to improve for the upcoming 2017-18 season and beyond.
Here are my grades for Western Conference teams based on how well they took advantage of the opportunities they had to add to their roster via free agency, the draft and trades. Teams are graded on what’s in their control, not the decisions of free agents to go elsewhere.
So how did your favorite team grade out? Let’s take a look.
The Dallas Mavericks have said re-signing restricted free-agent center Nerlens Noel is a top priority, but so far a deal has yet to be finalized. Noel’s agent, Happy Walters, blames the Mavericks for the lack of progress.
“We’re very disappointed with where things stand,” Walters told The Dallas Morning News. “Nerlens loves Dallas and spent June there working out, but we’re still waiting on a serious offer.”
If the Mavericks and Noel can’t find common ground on a new contract, the four-year NBA veteran can accept the $4,187,599 qualifying offer, which would make him an unrestricted free-agent in 2018. With the free-agent market tough on centers in 2017 and most teams currently lacking a lot of salary-cap room, the standoff with Noel and the Mavericks may last for a while.
Noel joined Dallas on Feb. 23 as part of a multi-player trade with the Philadelphia 76ers. In 22 appearances with the Mavericks, 12 starts, Noel averaged 8.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.
LAS VEGAS — With the first quarter of the Dallas-Phoenix matchup dwindling down to a close, Mavericks guard Josh Adams dribbled up the floor, received a screen from Ding Yanyuhang and drove left. The Suns’ Mike James and Dragan Bender, charged with protecting the pick-and-pop attack, trapped Adams, leaving Ding wide open from beyond the arc. Adams swung the ball over, and the 2017 Chinese Basketball Association MVP swished a straight-on 3 to the tune of hundreds of elated Asian-American fans busting out in applause.
All the while, Satnam Singh — a 7-foot-2 center and the first Indian-born player drafted into the NBA — stared on from the end of the Mavericks bench. Challenged with igniting hoops enthusiasm halfway across the world, he must climb a steep ladder to catch the attention of his home country.
While Ding merits his own acclaim, it is hard to imagine that an arena full of fans would have trekked to Las Vegas in the dead of July for NBA summer league had Yao Ming not come before him. But what happens when you’re not a bona fide All Star such as Yao?
The truth is, two years after being selected by the Mavs in the second round of the 2015 NBA draft, Singh — the face of Indian basketball — is still toiling away, fighting for minutes in the NBA’s development league with the Texas Legends.
However, Singh’s resolve remains steadfast. And even if he hasn’t increased his minutes or on-court opportunities, observation alone has proved an invaluable experience. He spent two anxiety-ridden years champing at the bit, watching the clock and wondering when his name would be called. He now has learned not to focus on what he can’t control.
“I was stressing my mind,” Singh said. “Always thinking, ‘I need time. I need time.’ Whereas now, nothing is happening. If I waste my time like that, I get too much pressure on my mind. I lost everything.”
It helped that the Mavs were a wrecking squad en route to the summer league championship in Orlando this year, providing the garbage-time minutes Singh so desperately craves to hone his abilities.
“If I get a couple minutes, I just rebound and finish the shot,” he said. “Focus on running, keep running up and down the court.”
In that game against Phoenix, which Dallas won 88-77 on Sunday, Singh played In the final two minutes, boxing out and putting the hurt on any Sun who dared venture near the rim.
Toiling away in the background and hustling up and down the court in the hopes of maybe one day becoming the fourth big man in an NBA rotation isn’t exactly the easiest sell. But to understand Singh’s potential, you also must understand how far Singh has come in such a short period of time — and against what odds.
Born in Ballo Ke, a tiny village in the state of Punjab, he was destined to a life of wheat farming, until his father took a life-defining chance at the suggestion of a friend and sent Singh to Ludhiana, a nearby city, to play basketball. It was there that the IMG Academy in Florida granted him a three-month scholarship that eventually stretched out to the day he declared for the draft. Starting at 14 years old, Singh not only was tasked with perfecting a new sport among lifelong prospects but also learning to speak English, a language with which he had no familiarity. In many ways, it is remarkable that he is even here at all.
In the documentary “One in a Billion,” which chronicled his rise to prominence. including a pre-draft visit back to India, Singh stood atop a dust-covered pathway in his home village and proclaimed that one day, he would build a basketball court in that very spot. This summer, Singh will return to the homeland to represent the Indian national basketball team in the FIBA Asia Championship.
“In the last three years when I was drafted to Dallas, I’ve never been back home,” he said. “Becoming the first Indian-born player who gets drafted, other kids they can see we have a great opportunity, we can go play in the NBA.”
Singh isn’t taking anything for granted.
“It’s not easy to play over here,” he said. “It’s pretty hard. You need to work every single day. You need to work every summer, nonstop.”
Inch by inch, he is clawing for the chance to play in his first NBA game. If and when that happens, those size 22 feet — the same ones that nearly a decade ago wore raggedly cushioned shoes cut in the middle and held together by duct tape — will take a giant leap, both for his career and, perhaps more importantly, his nation.
With all due respect to the city of New York, there is an increasingly valid case to be made that Las Vegas, in the early weeks of July, is the true mecca of basketball. The Vegas edition of the NBA summer league is home to every variant on the scale of basketball skill. You can find blue-chip prospects like Lonzo Ball — who can summon pilgrims from all over the nation — playing alongside mid-second rounders hustling for a rotation spot in the regular season.
And then there are the relative cellar-dwellers — the bottom 10 percent of the top 1 percent of basketball talent in the world — hoping against hope, peering from outside the pane-glass window for a shot at donning the esteemed uniforms. If the NBA is the cream of the crop, its summer league displays a more full range.
That brings us to 28-year-old Corey Webster, who carries on his shoulders not only his hopes of making an NBA roster, but the cause of basketball in his home country, New Zealand. The 6-foot-2 guard hopes that his quest to follow in the footsteps of Kiwi NBAers Steven Adams and Aron Baynes will inspire a new generation of ballers in his homeland.
“You can get your opportunities over here if you play well back home,” Webster said. “Just keep pushing and follow their dreams.”
Webster’s dreams — as well as his brother Tai’s, who is playing for the Golden State Warriors summer league squad — were buoyed by the basketball pedigree of the family’s patriarch, Tony Webster, an All-WAC collegiate athlete who went on to play professionally in New Zealand.
However, the road map for young proteges who don’t find a basketball encyclopedia sitting across the dinner table every evening is more complicated. Webster believes a lack of investment stands in the way of a basketball explosion in his rugby-obsessed nation.
“If more money goes into the game, more kids are going to play,” he said. “They’re going to have more opportunities, more coaches.”
Still, Webster finds himself on the outside looking in, for the second time. For fringe prospects, the margin between success and failure is thin. And in the two years since his short stint on the New Orleans Pelicans’ preseason roster, all the momentum he once possessed has cratered.
Plagued by hip and back injuries, his production plummeted. Last November, on the day of his birthday, he was arrested and charged with assault in a nightclub. The investigation is ongoing, and though Webster denies involvement, it was enough for the NZ Breakers to part ways with him.
“There’s a lot of distractions,” he said of Vegas. “But you gotta stay locked in and do the right thing. I don’t wanna make any mistakes from being out or any of those kinds of things.”
He bounced back in a big way, signing with the Wellington Saints and posting a 26-point average that led the team to a 16-0 record and cemented his second MVP award. But the ghosts of stunted progress are not easily shed.
“I was a little bit shocked at the time, a little bit overwhelmed by it all,” he said of his earlier shot at the NBA. “The second time around, I’m being myself out there. I’m more relaxed.”
While that’s certainly true, playing within himself is unlikely to translate to a golden ticket to the NBA. Through three games, the two-time NBL MVP is averaging just 4.7 points in 16.8 minutes off the bench behind Dennis Smith Jr. and Yogi Ferrell. Any hopes he has of playing in the NBA are contingent on his ability to transition to the point guard spot. If his NBA dreams don’t pan out, the soft-spoken shooter will compete for a spot in the EuroLeague. And the NBL, of course, would welcome its MVP back with open arms. (After signing a two-year deal with the Perth Wildcats in March, Webster was granted a request to be released on Wednesday so he could pursue opportunities overseas).
The NBA summer league, in recent years, is increasingly viewed as the breeding ground for future phenoms. But this event is inextricably tied to the ethos of Las Vegas, where there are more long shots than sure things.
For every Markelle Fultz there are 10 Corey Websters, trying desperately to weave together enough ragtag contracts and slight opportunities to turn their passions into their livelihood, fueled by nothing but consummate love for the game.
Which players have been most impressive so far at the NBA summer league in Las Vegas? Whose careers have gotten off to slow starts?
We’re midway through summer league action, with the tournament portion of the competition beginning Wednesday. With each team having played three games — and some of the big names already shut down for the remainder of the competition — now is a good time to take a preliminary look at the most impressive (and most disappointing) players in Las Vegas.