You might think that the Las Vegas Summer League is an NBA-run event, but it's not. The man behind the Vegas mid-summer classic is sports agent Warren LeGarie. LeGarie is well known in NBA circles for his representation of many of the NBA's coaches, including Mike D'Antoni.
Warren founded the Vegas Summer League 6 years ago after hearing from the various players and coaches that live here in the offseason, "All these other summer leagues had sort of fragmented and they were two or three days in one place and they were looking to maybe bring it to a place where there were far more players and with an accessible site."
The event started with six teams and quickly grew to sixteen, which prompted the league to impose some rules to help support the smaller events. The Suns were a team that was going to be impacted by that rule, forcing them to play in the Rocky Mountain Revue in Salt Lake City before that event announced this spring that it would not continue operations. Now the only other formal summer event is held in Orlando, FL, where six teams participated as compared to 22 at the Vegas event.
NBA teams place a high importance on the Summer League, using it as an opportunity to both acclimate their new rookies and have other young players work on aspects of their game that they might not be able to showcase at the NBA level.
Phoenix Suns assistant coach Igor Kokosov explains, "The Phoenix Suns, we brought three players from our roster, so we're going to use this tournament, all these games, to see their improvement and they are also going to use these games as a new experience. There are so many reasons why the players should be here."
Suns center Robin Lopez is going into his second year in the NBA. On the regular season roster he will be asked to play a supporting role, while here in Vegas he is a team captain. Kokosov said this about Lopez' role here, "When we talk about Robin, I think it's a great opportunity for him to accept a different role and be more aggressive and take a lot of experience from this summer league."
Kokosov is also the head coach for the Georgian National Team and provides this insight into the league's other main purpose. "As a foreign coach, as a foreigner, I can tell you that this is the biggest basketball market in the world. So many of my colleagues, my friends and coaches from all around the world, whoever is looking for a free agent player they want to sign, all the coaches and general managers from all around the world ... they're here," explained Kokosov.
Even for teams without rookies or roster players come to Vegas to stay in tune with the market. "As a coach or general manager, you have to be here," said Igor.
In any industry when the movers and shakers gather, the advertisers and vendors will soon follow. This year, the Vegas Summer League is sponsored by EA Sports, who are using the event to promote their NBA Live 10 game to the media here. Using free food and booze, they lured some of us into a demo and explanation of their next generation of Dynamic DNA technology, which integrates real-time game play data from Synergy Sports Technology. I am not a gamer myself, but will probably pick this up before the next season just for the scouting and player tendency information that will be available. It is an unprecedented opportunity to access highly complex NBA scouting data in real time.
When Warren LeGarie started this league, he didn't envision where it would go, but he does have some definite plans for the future. "Everyone always re-writes history but no, we had no idea it would get to this size and this involvement ... We also think a lot of teams will see this as a marketing tool where they'll bring out season ticket holders, as well as some sponsors, and use this as a way to let those people see up close and personal not only the team members, but the coaching staff and see how hard these kids work and how hard the coaching staff works so they get a better understanding of who their team is."
For the fans, the coverage of the Vegas Summer League took a step back this year when NBA TV moved under the TNT umbrella and they decided to no longer provide coverage. That prompted LeGarie and his crew to put together a paid online viewing package for both live and "video on demand" coverage. There are two markets who independently arrange for their own broadcast: The MSG Network has long covered all of the Knicks games and Comcast from Portland provides coverage of the Trailblazers to their fans.