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#TBT: The birth of the Las Vegas Summer League

The Phoenix Suns were one of six participants in the first ever Las Vegas Summer League in 2004.

Suns v Lakers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Casey Jacobsen

Jackson Vroman

Maciej “Magic Lamp” Lampe

Leandro Barbosa

Brett Blizzard (this dude has a superhero name)

Yuta Tabuse

Derrick Dial

Austin Nichols

Michael Wright

Arthur Johnson

Jerry Holman

That was the roster for the first ever SunsLas Vegas Summer League team in the first iteration of the off-season de facto youth scrimmages.

The first summer league consisted of just 13 games played between six teams (Phoenix Suns, Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets).

In their opener, just the second Vegas Summer League game ever, the Suns handled a Washington Wizards squad “headlined” by Jared Jeffries and Steve Blake. Barbosa scored 18 and Jacobson had 17 in the Suns 92-88 win.

Brett Blizzard’s super power was apparently grabbing one rebound in nine minutes (lots of zeros on that boxscore).

The second game saw Phoenix fight off a 17 point, 20 rebound performance from Lonnie Jones to down the Cleveland Cavaliers 98-89.

Jones would go on to play a grand total of zero minutes in the NBA.

Jacobson led the Suns with 23 points in just 15 minutes. Barbosa equaled his point total from the first game (18). Blizzard redeemed himself with a 13 point effort.

In their finale, Phoenix rolled the Orlando Magic 119-95.

This time the Suns faced a couple actual NBA players, with Dwight Howard filling up the box score to the tune of 12 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 blocks, 9 turnovers and 7 fouls while playing all 40 minutes. Jameer Nelson led the Magic with 22 points.

Jacobson (23 points) and Barbosa (20 points) once again led the charge for the Suns. This time the “Magic Lamp” made his presence felt, posting 18 points and 11 rebounds against Orlando’s phenom center.

Phoenix finished the first summer session 3-0.

There was no championship or playoffs back then.

That practice didn’t start until 2013 when the Suns finished runner-up to the inaugural champion Golden St. Warriors.

The Suns finished runner-up again in 2015.

Despite Jacobsen’s strong showing, the best player across all teams in the first Summer League wasn’t on the Phoenix Suns.

Nikoloz (Night Train) Tskitishvili, drafted by Denver, led all players with an average of 26.0 points per game. Unfortunately, Skita wasn’t able to carry over his dominance to the actual NBA and became one of the more spectacular busts in NBA history... averaging just 2.9 points and 1.8 rebounds per game in 172 career appearances before washing out of the league (including 12 for the Suns in 2005-06).

The 2002 #5 overall pick was in the summer league after two disappointing seasons to start his NBA career... two seasons that made Dragan Bender look like Nikola Mirotic. He was out of the NBA by the age of 22. Tskitishvili that is... even Bender will probably hang on longer than that.

Casey Jacobsen’s sensational play over the summer didn’t end up translating to NBA success either. Interestingly enough, he actually played in 84 games during the 2004-05 season by virtue of a mid-season trade (40 for the Suns and 44 for the New Orleans Hornets). Following that, though, he ended up overseas for two years before a final stint of 53 NBA games with the Memphis Grizzlies during the 2007-08 season.

It wasn’t all melancholy for Casey.

He ended up with a cornucopia of German League championships, German Cup victories, Finals MVP’s and All-League teams. He was no Luka Doncic, but he still held his own.

The Brazilian Blur went on to be a Suns’ fan favorite.

Barbosa played a total of nine seasons with the Suns during three separate stops with the team. The Blur was named sixth man of the year after averaging a career high 18.1 points a game as a sub during the 2006-07 season.

Leandro carved out a 14 year NBA career and won a championship with the Warriors in 2015.

Here are the Suns results over the past seven Summer Leagues (none played in 2011 - lockout) — all since the Suns last made the playoffs.

  • 2012: 2-3
  • 2013: 6-1 runner-up
  • 2014: 2-3
  • 2015: 5-2 runner-up
  • 2016 4-2 semifinals
  • 2017: 2-4
  • 2018: 3-0 #3 seed entering playoffs

So the Suns have been 21-15 in the Summer League since their last playoff appearance... and 253-387 in regular season games.

Maybe these games haven’t been the greatest barometer for the Suns.

People should be reasonably dubious of the results of a league that produces MVP’s like Josh Selby, Kyle Anderson and Tyus Jones... and champions like the 2014 Sacramento Kings.

And by dubious I mean that Summer League results are virtually meaningless in terms of predicting regular season success for players and teams.

But winning is still better than losing even when the results are meaningless... especially now that the field has expanded to include all 30 NBA teams.

And especially when the players getting the lion’s share of Summer League minutes are actual rotation players for the regular season Suns.

So let’s take home that Summer League trophy, Suns!

They get a trophy, right?


#TBT: Throwback Thursday