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NBA transitions from free agency fury to summer league games

NBA teams are now turning their attention to youngsters and player development with summer leagues set to tip off after executives and owners around the league agreed to shell out millions of dollars to veteran free agents this week in an attempt to improve their immediate lot.

While free agency isn’t over, summer leagues begin this weekend with games Saturday in Orlando, Florida; Salt Lake City set to tip-off on Monday; and the 24-team fan-friendly event in Las Vegas opening on July 10.

The league in Orlando will feature nine teams, with the Magic fielding two to give it an even number.

If there is a unifying characteristic among this year’s teams trekking to Florida, it’s that they are all, for the most part, trying to find their way back to the NBA’s top tier. Only three of the nine teams competing in Orlando this summer — the Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, and Brooklyn Nets — qualified for the playoffs last season.

Also, unlike summer leagues in Utah and Las Vegas, the Orlando version is closed to the public with only coaches and front office staff in the stands.

That anonymity isn’t a bad thing, though, Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said.

“What makes our summer league unique is the intimacy, the fact that it’s just basketball,” he said. “It allows teams to just focus on improving their young talent and maybe not having to be distracted by some additional ‘noise’ that can be in the stands.”

There will be some anticipated debuts, though. No. 8 overall pick Stanley Johnson is expected to play for Detroit, along with ninth overall pick Charlotte’s Frank Kaminsky, and Justise Winslow, selected 10th by Miami.

There is also expected to be plenty of continued activity on the free agent market.

Several teams in Orlando this week need plenty of help, and though the Magic couldn’t pry free agent power forward Paul Millsap from Atlanta, Hennigan promises his team “will continue to be aggressive.”

In Utah, the Rocky Mountain Revue returns to Salt Lake City for the first time since 2008 with a new name — the Utah Jazz Summer League. Jahlil Okafor, the No. 3 pick in the draft by the Phialdephia 76ers, will be among the players to watch.

The title doesn’t have the same ring, but Jazz organization is thrilled nonetheless. The Rocky Mountain Revue closed its doors after the Las Vegas league was expanded. Jazz president Randy Rigby said the current environment is fertile for the addition of another summer league.

“The timing is right with teams adding more to the development of their players, wanting more time to look at players — not only those they’ve drafted, but players that could be part of their D-League programs,” Rigby said. “The demand and the need for that kind of exposure and working with players has been growing over the last couple years.”

Rigby said the intent is for the league to run long-term, and unlike Orlando, keep the number of teams to a minimum. Four teams, including the Jazz, will participate next week and Rigby thinks that could eventually increase to eight.

The organization doesn’t get any specific tangible benefit from hosting, according to Rigby, though it is an opportunity to get fans involved in a smaller market in the middle of summer.

“We are putting on a quality event for these four teams so they really come away saying this is an event we want to be involved in,” Rigby said. “We want to be involved in this for many years to come. … We want to keep this a little smaller, a little intimate. We like the idea of having two games, then letting the teams have a day off so they can see what they need to work on … then have another final game.”

After the lights go out on Utah and Orlando, all the focus will be on Las Vegas.

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