The NBA summer leagues kick off this upcoming Tuesday, July 2nd and there will plenty of North Carolina Tar Heels for fans to keep an eye on. Teams have steadily been announcing their summer league rosters over the past few days, and no less than eight former Heels will be fighting for roster spots on NBA squads.
The NBA Summer League is broken down into three separate events. From July 2-5 the Miami Heat, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, and Sacramento Kings will play a round-robin styled event over the three days in Sacramento, California called the “California Classic”. During that same time, the Atlanta Hawks, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, and Utah Jazz will participate in a similar event in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Then, from July 6-17 all 30 NBA teams will head to Las Vegas for 12 days of competition. These games help NBA rookies and sophomores continue to get acclimated to the pro game or allow G-League players and veterans try and latch onto a team. Last summer the Heels had nine players take the court. Here’s a look at this year’s currently known participants.
J.P. Tokoto, Golden State Warriors
Tokoto left UNC after his junior season and was originally drafted in the second round by the Philadelphia 76ers. He failed to stick with the main club and bounced around the G-League for a few seasons. Known for his athleticism and jumping ability while at UNC, he hasn’t displayed the consistent shooting needed to stay on an NBA team.
He decided to take his talents to Perth, Australia last year where he averaged 15.4 points and 5.9 rebounds. Earlier this week Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News tweeted out the Warriors summer roster, and Tokoto ‘s name was listed. Unfortunately, he’s a long shot to make the defending champion’s roster and will have to hope he impresses one of the other 29 teams who will be in attendance.
Warriors announce summer league roster pic.twitter.com/eg8im7WAyn— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) June 27, 2018
Brice Johnson, Charlotte Hornets
Stop if you’ve heard this before: the Charlotte Hornets signed a former Tar Heel to their roster. This time, Brice Johnson showed up on the Hornets’ mini-camp roster, which is usually a precursor to the NBA Summer League rosters. After a tumultuous sophomore campaign, he’ll use the sessions to prove to teams he can still play like the dominant All-American that he was in college.
Originally a first-round pick for the Los Angeles Clippers, his rookie season was derailed by a lower back injury. He never gained traction on a roster that at one point included Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, and was traded to the Pistons mid-way through his second season. The Pistons promptly packaged him to Memphis, where he was ultimately released.
Isaiah Hicks, New York Knicks
Hicks spent most of last season with the Westchester Knicks, the G-League affiliate of the New York Knicks. He eventually worked his way to Madison Square Garden where he made 18 appearances. Those performances were enough for the Knicks to make Hicks a restricted free agent earlier this week, thus guaranteeing him at least a 2-way contract with the good ol’ Knickerbockers.
Now, Hicks will head off to Las Vegas. If he continues his upward trajectory, another team can make him an offer. At that point, the Knicks can match or let Hicks move on to a new team. Regardless, Hicks is playing with house money this summer and should be with an NBA organization this fall. Not bad for a former undrafted free agent.
Kennedy Meeks, Denver Nuggets
The other big man from the 2017 championship team will also head to Vegas. Meeks, who spent last season with the Raptors 905, has moved west to the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets clearly liked what they saw from the big man, as he averaged 12.8 points on 50.4% shooting and 9.6 rebounds per game for the G-League runner-ups.
However, a head coaching change of both Raptors 905 and the parent team Toronto Raptors may have played a role in Meeks finding a new (and likely temporary) home. Jerry Stackhouse left the G-League sidelines to join Memphis Grizzlies as an assistant, and 2018 NBA Coach of the Year Dwane Casey was fired after the top-seeded Raptors were swept in the second round. A fresh start will probably be beneficial to Meeks.
Tony Bradley, Utah Jazz
The 28th overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft will stay with the Utah Jazz this summer. Admittedly drafted as a long-term project, Bradley spent most of last season in the G-League. There he developed and honed his craft to better fit into the NBA’s style of play. Along the way he averaged 15.3 points and 10.1 rebounds per contest.
Now, after a year of specialized focus, he'll get a chance to test his new skills against more talent than is usually in the NBA’s minor league system. Bradley remains a project, but he should have a roster spot with the Jazz for the foreseeable future.
Justin Jackson, Sacramento Kings
After an up and down year, the 15th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft started to come to life as the season came to a close. Though he initially struggled to adjust to the NBA game (and played six games for the Reno Bighorns in the G-League) Jackson gradually improved through the season. He eventually finished the season cracking the starting lineup for the Sacramento Kings in 41 of his 68 appearances.
As the Kings’ official website pointed out in March, Jackson was at his best as the season drew to a close. The Kings rewarded Jackson with a spot on their Summer League roster, where he’ll take the court with one of the most talented young rosters in the league. Like Bradley, Jackson’s roster spot is safe.
Joel Berry II, Los Angeles Lakers
This wasn’t a surprise. After Berry signed with the Lakers as an undrafted free agent, his inclusion on their Summer League roster was expected. As has been mentioned numerous times, Berry is a long shot to make any NBA roster, much less the Lakers. However, many more less accomplished players have earned chances in the past. If Berry can land a G-League contract while out in the desert of Las Vegas, this summer should be considered a success.
Theo Pinson, Brooklyn Nets
Like his Tar Heel brethren mentioned above, Pinson also went undrafted. However, the Brooklyn Nets wasted zero time signing Pinson to a 2-way contract, indicating they are interested in keeping him around the organization past the Summer League. As was expected from the moment his agreement with the Nets was announced, Pinson will head to Vegas as well.
As we’ve touched on numerous times on this blog, Pinson’s unique skillset makes him an intriguing prospect. He’s not your typical undrafted free agent and has the potential to develop into a reliable NBA wing and playmaker.
Marcus Paige, Free Agent
Yesterday it was announced the Charlotte Hornets decided to release Paige. It’s tough timing, but he’s now a free agent and will look to find a Summer League team before the Las Vegas session starts. If not, he’s still free to sign with any NBA club on July 1.