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Why were there so many NBA veterans on Summer League rosters?

Portland Trail Blazers’ Emmanuel Mudiay drives to the basket against Los Angeles Clippers’ Daniel Oturu.
Portland Trail Blazers’ Emmanuel Mudiay (58) drives to the basket against Los Angeles Clippers’ Daniel Oturu during the second half of an NBA Summer League basketball game Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, in Las Vegas.
Associated Press

The first thing I did in preparation for the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League was to go through each team, alphabetically, and see who was on their rosters.

A few minutes into that exercise, I had to do a double take at the Brooklyn Nets’ roster. Brandon Knight? Former Kentucky star and eight-year NBA veteran Brandon Knight? Yes, that Brandon Knight.

My curiosity piqued, I searched through the rest of the rosters, not looking for rookie prospects, but for NBA veterans and players over 30 years of age. When I reached the Portland Trail Blazers roster, my eyes widened and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Michael Beasley, Kenneth Faried and Emmanuel Mudiay all on the same team. Beasley has 11 NBA seasons under his belt and Faried, like Knight, has eight. Mudiay has five, the last of which was the 2019-20 season he spent with the Utah Jazz.

It’s not out of the ordinary for some of the NBA’s lesser journeymen to play in Summer League, especially once regular contracts stop rolling in, but it seemed surprising to me the caliber of player that was showing up on these rosters, and I immediately had questions.

What have these players been up to since they last played in the NBA? Why Summer League? Why now?

The answers to these questions ended up being varied, but with a common thread. Each player has their own idea of what the future will look like, and some have things pretty well mapped out while others are just rolling with the punches.

Some will end up playing overseas and some will never be on an NBA roster again, but what each of these veteran players has in common is that they love the game and just want to play.

Mudiay became a free agent after his lone season with the Jazz, and there were teams that were willing to offer him minimum contracts. But coming out of the NBA bubble, following a summer of civil unrest and communities grappling with racial injustices along with the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Mudiay just wanted to be with his family and he had the luxury of making that decision.

“I decided to take the year off and clear my mind and it was good for me,” Mudiay said. “The reason was just mental health, getting back right. It’d been a tough year, especially 2020. Just being around family really helped me, so I made the decision to get back out here.”

Mentally and physically Mudiay is in a good place, and when the opportunity to play in Las Vegas was presented, he was happy to take it. If he could catch the eye of a team and earn a spot on an NBA roster, great. If not, there’s sure to be international teams with interest.

No matter what, Summer League is a chance to get on the court and get in some reps, to get a feel for the game.

The way Beasley puts it, it’s not like he was in Las Vegas trying to get a contract with his only goal making it back into an NBA locker room. But for guys who weren’t in the league last year, opportunities to really get up and down on the court were few and far between.

The Summer League provides that opportunity. In fact, there’s really nowhere else in the world at this time of the year that has this level of basketball.

Beasley just wants to be a part of the game. He wants to mentor younger players, he wants to get on the court as much as possible, he wants to take advantage of any chance he has to be in and around the NBA, and he was hugely thankful to the Blazers for giving him a chance to feel close to basketball again.

It’s not just the on-court product that draws players back to the game. It’s the brotherhood and all the little things that you don’t get to experience on a day-to-day basis that players can really miss out on.

“It means a lot,” he said. “I’ve been sitting at home since the 2018-19 season. Just to be out here with the guys, the camaraderie, the bus rides, the jokes, them calling me old and telling me I can’t dunk anymore, I’m here for it all. Just taking it one day at a time.”

Kyle Fogg, who featured on the Jazz’s Summer League squad, has never played in the NBA but was one of the oldest players in Las Vegas. At 31, Fogg has had a successful career outside of the NBA. After going undrafted out of Arizona in 2012, he played one season in the G League before heading overseas.

Fogg has played in Finland, Belgium, Germany, Spain and China and he’s done well. If he doesn’t get an NBA offer, he already has some offers to play in Europe. But with the coronavirus still surging, there’s no certainty of when the European or Chinese leagues will get back in action.

So, like the others mentioned, Fogg joined a Summer League team with his biggest goal being to enjoy the time on the court.

“For me, it’s just about having fun and enjoying myself and if I can, lift up the younger guys and play team basketball,” Fogg said. “It’s the perfect time to play some basketball while we wait to see what’s going to happen elsewhere.”

I talked with a lot of the more seasoned players who were in Las Vegas and I found it really insightful. Like I said, veteran players on Summer League rosters is not something that’s out of the ordinary, but I’ve probably been a little dismissive of their situation in the past.

There are players who might not be guaranteed a contract or a chance to play tomorrow, but they love this game. There are players who have never set foot on an NBA court during the regular season but have had incredible success internationally.

But nothing is guaranteed nowadays. There’s no telling if they’ll be able to continue doing what they love, so if they have a chance to play in Las Vegas with other NBA level talent, why not take it?