The teachable moments for those young Clippers with big NBA dreams began to take shape at the summer league in Las Vegas.
For Brice Johnson, it was his time to show Clippers coach Doc Rivers that he can be a rotation player after an uneventful rookie season. For second-round draft picks Sindarius Thornwell and Jawun Evans, it was their time to demonstrate that they could play at the highest professional level. For the undrafted Isaiah Hicks and Jamil Wilson, it was their time to demonstrate that they belong in the NBA.
Over the course of five games, it was time for all the players to display their skills under the guidance of Clippers assistant coach Sam Cassell.
“The good thing is we got all these guys on the team to play hard, to play with one another,” Cassell, who coached the summer league team, said in a phone interview. “You’ve got some guys who have different agendas, but me being the head coach, I just wanted these guys to play together, respect each other and play for each other. I think 80%, 90% of the time, that’s what they gave me.”
With so much at stake, it would have been easy for some of the players to be selfish, to play for that contract.
“Ain’t no doubt about it,” Cassell said. “Everybody is trying to get to a team. Everybody wants more minutes. Everybody wants to score the ball more. Everybody wants to get more attempts. But we didn’t have that with our guys.”
A back injury limited Johnson to only three games last season.
He declared himself healthy for the summer league, averaging 14.4 points and 5.2 rebounds to prove his point.
Now he hopes that can translate to playing time this season.
“When Brice wants to put forth the effort to be a good pro, everything is on Brice,” Cassell said. “This ain’t about me. This ain’t about Doc. This is about Brice. If Brice wants it, he’ll go get it. If he don’t want it, he won’t go get it.”
Hicks and Wilson showed enough to earn a “two-way” contract from the Clippers. The NBA roster expanded from 15 spots to 17 because of the two-way contracts that allow a player to spend up to 45 days on an NBA roster. But Hicks and Wilson are expected to spend most of their time playing for the Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario, the team’s new Gatorade League club.
The summer league was also a training ground for Cassell, who is viewed as one of the up-and-coming NBA head coaching candidates.
He was the one in control calling the plays and timeouts. He was the one designing out of bounds plays and encouraging players.
His goal, Cassell admitted, is to one day be the head coach of his own NBA team.
“It wasn’t about me. I think people already know I can coach,” Cassell said. “This summer league is never about the coaching. It’s all about the players. It’s about putting the players in the best possible position to be successful. But I do just want an opportunity. God is going to show me the way. I’ve got full confidence in Him.”
The Clippers waived forward Kyle Wiltjer on Saturday.
Follow Broderick Turner on Twitter @BA_Turner