As we await roster changes for the big club, some guys wearing Suns uniforms in Las Vegas are trying to make a big enough impression to get a spot on an NBA roster, either with the Phoenix Suns or with another franchise.
Las Vegas Summer League is basically a 10-day controlled mini-camp for about 400 aspiring professional basketball players wanting to make, or continue, a career playing a game for a living.
Scouts from every pro basketball league in the world converge on Vegas every summer, trying to improve the talent on their team.
The NBA, of course, is the biggest prize and the most center of stage. Scouts from all 30 NBA teams hope to find a diamond in the rough who can carve out an NBA career from a meandering, long-beaten path of pro leagues around the world.
Catch an NBA scout’s eye, and you might soon find yourself living the dream of making big money in the best basketball league in the world... and quite possibly finally in your home country.
Many of the prospects playing in Summer League are young American players who have been playing in leagues around the world while they pray for a chance to make the NBA one day.
The 15 players on the Suns Summer League team have played pro basketball in 15 different countries. A few have dipped their toe in the NBA pool, but none have established a true NBA career.
Ish Wainright, a former aspiring pro football player, used a good Summer League stint a year ago to get a contract with the Toronto Raptors with a $250,000 guarantee in it. Ish didn’t survive training camp though, and was released in early October. From there, the Suns signed him to a two-way contract for the remainder of the season.
A year later, he’s a free agent again and back in Summer League looking for another NBA contract.
In a perfect world, he carves out a career like former Suns guard P.J. Tucker did.
The 6’5” Tucker washed out of the NBA a year after being drafted in the second round. A big man in college, he just didn’t have a role in the NBA. So he went overseas and played in five different international leagues in the next five years before landing back on the Suns Summer League squad as a 27-year old guard in 2012.
Over the years, P.J. had found a perimeter game based in tasmanian devil defense and respectable offense, including a reliable catch-and-shoot three point shot.
Tucker got a full season guaranteed contract from the Suns right after Summer League, and never looked back. In the next 10 years, he won a championship, made $60 million and just signed a new $33 million contract for another three.
Ish Wainright, also 6’5”, also 27 years old and also a burly big-man-turned-wing, can only hope to have even sliver of P.J.’s success.
Ish got the most out of that two-way contract last year, appearing in 45 games for the league-leading Suns and, while he didn’t wow with the stats (2.4 points per game on 39% shooting), he was important enough to make the 15-man playoff roster.
He became a free agent again on July 1, but is with the Suns summer squad in hopes of earning a full-time contract for the 2022-23 season. The Suns signed a few minimum-salary guys for the back end of the roster this past week, but none fill Ish’s role as a backup swing forward who defend big wings and make a corner three.
Couple that with the chance the Suns will see some turnover on the wing this off-season, there’s a great chance they will need Ish’s services this fall after all the changes shake out.
For now, Wainright is the headliner on a Suns Summer team that boasts playing experience in 15 different countries, all trying desperately to get that NBA contract. He needs to prove he’s a dead-eye corner three-point shooter and show some moxie in one or two other areas (perimeter defense, rebounding, passing).
Let’s hope Ish can turn a good summer performance into a fully guaranteed NBA contract this fall. If not the Suns, there’s 29 other NBA franchises looking for talent.