Since my early teens, I’ve been heavily involved in the underground music scene — starting off with booking shows on Frenchmen St. in the mid ‘90s (before it was the place locals tell tourists they hang out even though they don’t ever actually go there except to eat at Adolfo’s or for costume watching on Mardi Gras and Halloween) and touring with local and traveling bands that I’ve helped along the way, designing flyers, t-shirts and albums and writing and art directing a local music and culture magazine. The music scene is way more of my comfort zone than the basketball community. However, this summer I made the trip to Las Vegas with The Bird Writes editor, Oleh Kosel and TBW contributor and host of The Bird Calls Podcast, Preston Ellis for Summer League. This is where my two worlds kind of collided in an unexpected way.
Summer League is the basketball world’s music festival. It’s two stages of overlapping performances that make you have to decide if you want to watch Trae Young and John Collins battle Frank Ntilikina and Mitchell Robinson or stay and watch your favorite local band’s entire set. While bouncing back and forth, you pass merch booths, autograph signing stations, celebrities — like Adrian Wojnarowski’s phone, the players, their families and all of the other superfans from across the country that you’ve interacted with on Twitter and whose basketball takes you’ve read for years.
I’m sitting 3 rows behind Woj - waiting for ACME to deliver him some TNT.— Kevin Barrios (@kevinbforbounce) July 11, 2018
There’s the attendee’s war stories of the night before the show — how much they drank and lost on the strip — seeing the sun come up from New York New York’s lobby. There’s the seasoned vet that guides you through how the festival has evolved with the obligatory tales of suffering in the early days. There’s also the nostalgic flashbacks to performances from years past and the recaps of great performances you missed while watching other performances. There’s the celebrity guest appearances — Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond taking halfcourt shots at halftime of the Pelicans and Pistons game.
Stanley Johnson, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond watching Cheick Diallo shooting free throws. pic.twitter.com/wpb7FycPDa— Kevin Barrios (@kevinbforbounce) July 9, 2018
There’s the tragic hotdogs that haunt you for the rest of the day. However, the most rewarding aspect is seeing a undiscovered gem emerge. We witnessed this firsthand with Trevon Bluiett — who not only had a local radio host and a community of bloggers engaged in an argument so intense over his talents that it lead to threats of violence, but also earned himself a 2-way contract with the Pelicans. A spot that was heavily championed by The Bird Writes crew in Vegas — especially our leader, Oleh Kosel. This last part is what Summer League is truly about because the top picks have their roster spots locked up despite how they perform. The other guys are auditioning for bottom of the rotation roles, 2-way deals and overseas’ contracts. Kevin Knox, Mo Bamba, Collin Sexton, Harry Giles and John Collins have their names on the marquee, but for the super fan, it’s about those other guys trying to go from open mic night to tour support. The Pelicans have already found one such gem in Trevon Bluiett, but I may have found them another — if he becomes available.
Honestly, I shouldn’t say I found him — though his performance was one of my favorites in Summer League — as David Fisher proposed that Dell Demps should draft Jaron Blossomgame leading up to the 2016 NBA draft:
Jaron Blossomgame was considered one of the big winners at the NBA combine. He measured out with near-ideal size for an NBA wing; 6’7.25” in shoes with a 6’10” wingspan and 8’6” standing reach. Then he went out and crushed the athletic testing with an impressive 41” maximum vertical. That absurd measurement is not a surprise to Clemson fans, who watched in awe as he converted this ridiculous dunk...His sophomore year saw his points per 40 minutes double from 8.4 to 17.0 as his PER climbed from 10.9 to 22.5. As an NBA prospect, he was still off the map thanks to 28.8% mark behind the arc. As a junior he added that to his game as well, knocking down 45 of 102 attempts. Again he increased his production with his points per 40 minutes climbing to 21.9 all while improving his efficiency from his sophomore year (22.5 PER, 55.8% TS%, 112.9 ORtg) to his junior season (27.1 PER, 61.3% TS%, 122.4 ORtg).
The Spurs would end up drafting Blossomgame 59th overall. The long-armed athletic wing has since spent all of his time playing for the Spurs G-League affiliate in Austin, where he put up solid numbers — 16.5 PTS, 8.2 RBS and 1.4 ASTS per game.
As David mentioned in his pre-draft profile, Blossomgame was not a marksman from deep and has yet to develop a reliable jumper as converted just over 30% from deep in the G-League last season. However, he has shown that he can get buckets in other ways — being a monster in transition and off of well timed cuts. He’s also a heady defender, and what I really noticed in the minutes I watched him play in Summer League, is his ability to always be in the right spot and how the loose balls just bounce his way. He is a supreme hustler. A total effort guy.
While Lonnie Walker IV has been the face of the Spurs’ Summer League squad, Jaron Blossomgame is certainly not being covered by his shadow. Blossomgame is putting up solid numbers in Vegas — 14 PTS, 7.6 RBS, 1.3 BLKS while shooting 64% from the floor (70.4 TS%) and 81% from the line on nearly four trips per contest. Then there’s the eyeball test. Jaron was everywhere on the floor. He fought through screens, he boxed out, he dove for loose balls, and he cut hard to the rim. His vibe was strong.
The Spurs are facing turmoil like they haven’t seen in over 20 years. Tim Duncan is retired. Tony Parker is a member of the Charlotte Hornets. Kawhi Leonard — the next face of the Spurs — wants out. Kyle Anderson is in Memphis. Without knowing what San Antonio will do with Leonard, it’s hard to know what their plans are for Blossomgame, who has shown enough to elicit praise from his coach, Will Hardy.
“We’ve been really happy with the progress Jaron has made. The thing you like the most about him is that he is so versatile. He can guard different positions, and that’s so important in today’s NBA.”
With the recent re-signing of Bryn Forbes, the Spurs have 14 filled roster spots with a single regular roster opening and a huge question mark shaped asterisk next to Kawhi Leonard’s name. With Kyle Anderson’s departure, Blossomgame would make a lot of sense for the Spurs, but they do also have Lonnie Walker, Rudy Gay, Danny Green and Davis Bertans to play the roles he could fill.
With how well he has played, the Spurs are going to have to make an important decision — a decision Blossomgame’s agent should be pushing for. Though the Spurs have not offered Jaron a contract since being selected in the 2017 draft — according to Basketball Reference — he is only one of two players whom can be considered draft and stash prospects within the United States — the other being Satnam Singh of the Texas Legends (Dallas owns his rights). Blossomgame should ask for his rights to be renounced so he can test the market — a market that should exist — or bet on himself similar to what K.J. McDaniels did not too long ago.
In order to retain the draft rights of a second-round prospect, teams must offer second-round picks a tender of the minimum salary, with all that money non-guaranteed. Most players decline the offer, knowing that it’s not really all that valuable due to the likely lack of cash involved. Accept that offer, and you’re stuck with the team for training camp, and out of the running for a larger guaranteed sum elsewhere.
Recently, however, players have started using the tender to their advantage. If you’re selected, and if you believe you are a NBA player, you can accept the tender, go to camp with the team that picked you, and try to make your way onto the roster. If you succeed, you get your money. If you don’t, you are free to sign with any other team, thereby giving you more future freedom to essentially pick your spot.
Being under control of the Spurs organization does not benefit him very much if at all. He will easily find a G-League contract if he somehow slips by all 30 GMs in the NBA, which is the contract he’s played under thus far in his career. However, by getting his rights renounced, he’d be free to explore all options within the NBA — including a return to the Spurs. That being said, if Blossomgame were to make the regular season roster or sign a 2-way deal in San Antonio, it would be an uphill battle for playing time.
Should Blossomgame find his freedom and if Dell Demps cannot find anything to his liking on the trade market, the Pelicans’ wing rotation could even use this small sized boost. Solomon Hill has not yet shown that he can be any kind of threat offensively, Darius Miller shot lights out while teamed with DeMarcus Cousins but instantly fizzled after the Achilles injury — and never really contributed consistently in any other area, E’Twaun Moore did yeoman’s work playing out of position for New Orleans last season, but he is better suited as a third guard in the rotation bench scorer. The path to minutes on the wing in New Orleans is seemingly much easier than in San Antonio.
DeAndre Liggins being waived is a mere formality at this point, which would allow Dell to sign Blossomgame to the regular roster keeping that 15th slot open as he likes to do. Jaron has the defensive versatility, the IQ, the instincts, the size and athleticism to at least be an upgrade in Darren Erman’s defensive scheme. If he never develops a jumper, he at least is an aggressive cutter that finishes well through contact and in transition — something that Solomon Hill has yet to show consistently.
Blossomgame can be a low-risk/high-reward wing that at worst helps the defensive scheme, and at best, be the solid two-way player on the wing we’ve longed for. If push comes to shove, Dell could steal him away from the Spurs with the promise of minutes, possibly even trading a future 2nd round pick for his rights should San Antonio buck at his request for release.