The summer that was: USA players reflect on a hectic July

LAS VEGAS (AP) — James Harden completed his work at USA Basketball’s national team minicamp, sat in a courtside chair and began to put together his assessment of what happened around the NBA this summer.

He did not need long to formulate his thoughts.

“Nothing that happens in the NBA surprises me anymore,” the league’s MVP and Houston star said.

Summer isn’t over, but in the NBA spending sense, it’s winding down. About $2 billion in deals have been made in the last four weeks, not to mention a few trades. But with the biggest names who were available in free agency staying put for the most part, most of the players who were in Las Vegas for the national team camp this week seemed to agree with Harden.

Not much surprised them.

“The league is definitely shaken-up a little bit, but that’s how it is,” Charlotte guard Kemba Walker said. That’s the name of the game. That’s the business. You’re going to see guys go from team to team. ... It’s just forcing everyone to step their games up individually.”

Here’s proof of that: Minicamp was officially over, most players had left to go resume their summers, and a few players — including Phoenix’s Devin Booker and Oklahoma City’s Paul George — were among the last on the floor working out.

They were in a wild series of 1-on-1 games against the likes of Golden State’s Kevin Durant, among others. Booker signed a $158 million extension earlier this month, George signed a deal to remain with the Thunder for $136 million. And there they were, trying to beat Durant, just like their teams will be trying to beat Durant’s two-time defending champion team in a few months.

“For the most part the players have kind of dictated the movement across the league,” Booker said. “I think it’s great for the fans. I think it’s great for the league both domestically and internationally. It’s just a lot to follow and keep up with.”

Very few moves this summer involved a superstar-level player choosing to change teams. LeBron James left Cleveland for the Los Angeles Lakers and agreed to a new four-year contract, and the Warriors were able to add DeMarcus Cousins on a one-year, $5.3 million deal.

Maybe that was part of the no-surprise factor.

The term “player movement” was a bit of an oxymoron this summer. Players made moves, but most didn’t involve moving — James’ was the only free agent signing that exceeded $40 million in total value and involved a change to a new club.

“I think the DeMarcus Cousins thing surprised a lot of people,” Memphis guard Mike Conley said. “At the end of the day, that is what it is. LeBron going to LA, Kevin Love staying in Cleveland, there was a bunch of big-time news. But I think everybody’s gotten better and we just have to try to keep up with the way the league is going. Teams are loading up.”

That they are, especially out West, where the Warriors reign and yet will have challengers anyway.

Houston lost some pieces, but was able to retain Chris Paul and Clint Capela to play with Harden. The Lakers have James, which changes their franchise immeasurably. San Antonio may have gotten better, in that it added DeMar DeRozan for an unhappy Kawhi Leonard.

DeRozan knew Popovich was a fan of his game before last week’s trade.

“He always showed me mutual respect that I definitely appreciated,” DeRozan said. “There have been times he’s told me things on the sideline about my game, that he was a fan and to keep working. Just to see things to come full circle, for me be in this position, definitely cool.”

And in the East, things changed — in the sense that for the first time since 2010, James won’t be on a team that wins the conference title. Boston and Philadelphia may be favored, but there will be no shortage of teams like Miami, Indiana and Toronto believing they have a better chance in the East now that James has moved West.

“If it’s a free-for-all, I’m all for that,” Heat President Pat Riley said Friday. “Because then I think the door’s wide open for almost anybody to do something very good.”

Walker put it even more succinctly.

“Everybody has high hopes,” he said. “I know everybody’s excited LeBron’s out of the East. Don’t have to play against him four times anymore.”

Isaiah Thomas did change uniforms this summer, signing a minimum deal with Denver — a step he hopes is a precursor to cashing in next summer if he can return to his elite-scoring form and prove that his problematic hip is no longer an issue.

He thinks the buzz around the NBA this summer only made the league stronger.

“All publicity is good for the league, but this was a crazy summer with LeBron going to the Lakers, Paul George staying in OKC, a lot of movement, DeMarcus going to Golden State, it was a lot going on,” Thomas said. “But every now and then a summer needs to be like that for the NBA to keep going.”


Associated Press freelancer W.G. Ramirez contributed to this report.