Tai Webster’s Summer League Odyssey Has Begun

Going undrafted was the first step. Had Tai Webster been picked up late in that second round, which was always an unlikely chance, then he coulda skipped all the other steps but that’s not what he was preparing for. Six confirmed workouts for teams before the draft, as it happened the Knicks were the only one of those teams with a pick in that late second round area and there were a hundred or more guys in Webster’s exact situation. New York took a Serbian point guard who will probably be stashed back in Europe next season. Sean Marks did the same with a Bulgarian forward the pick prior.

No worries, not only did Tai go and sign a Summer League deal with the Charlotte Hornets for the Orlando meet but he followed that news with the further scoop that he’d also be competing in the Las Vegas SL tourney with the Golden State Warriors, another team that he worked out for.

It’s not necessarily a big deal which team(s) you play for in Summer League. For a dude like Webster it’s almost a networking thing at the moment. Get known, get recognised, make some connections with coaches and players so that when some jerry gets injured mid-season it’s you they turn to for the quick fix and then take it from there. The Summer League is so stacked with scouts, from the NBA to worldwide folks, that as long as you put your name in the hat it’s bound to get pulled out somewhere, someplace, sometime.

But the Hornets and Warriors are both in sorta funny positions, largely thanks to the salary cap. For the Warriors: whatever. They just won the title and they’re busy offering supermax deals to keep their core in place for the contingent dynasty. Well, only one supermax… but they still managed to outbid the crowd for Andre Iguodala and Kevin Durant’s still gotta sign something now that Steph Curry’s all sorted.

The Dubs will get their focus later when Tai Webster rolls into camp but as a quick breeze they’ve pretty much got 11 guys locked for 2017-18. They’ll want to add another two guards to that list and Webster isn’t completely out of the question. He’s not entirely dissimilar to Ian Clark, you know - who is a free agent and the Warriors probably aren’t gonna be able to match any deals for him.

Best not get too attached to that idea, this is The Warriors we’re talking about and people wanna play for them. You’re not getting a better chance of a ring anywhere than you are in the Bay. They probably don’t need to stoop to an undrafted rookie to play any minutes when others will take a pay cut to do the same. As a longer term project player out of the G-League, now that’s something that TW might turn a few heads for. In terms of immediate NBA impact though, and we may as well focus on that best case scenario, the Hornets are way needier.

However come the first game of the Orlando Summer League and Tai Webster wouldn’t even get a second off the bench for the Charlotte Hornets. The team managed a 74-67 win over the Miami Heat, despite some highlight reel stuff from Heat first-rounder Bam Adebayo, with the starting five of Johnny O’Bryant, Anthony Gill, Briante Weber, Treveon Graham and Dwayne Bacon getting most of the minutes (Rasheed Sulaimon was the only bench player to play more than ten).

That’s a pretty conservative look from the Hornets. O’Bryant, Weber and Graham are the three contracted dudes from last season to be competing here while Bacon was their second round draft pick and Gill… well, he’s a Charlotte native who went undrafted in 2016 and just spent a year in Turkey and has an existing relationship with CH’s Summer League coach Stephen Silas. He’s a power forward anyway, so no reflection on Tai Webster there.

(Sidenote: there’s a rumour on Gill’s Wikipedia page that he’s a practising magician who owns a two-headed cat… but it turns out that was just a joke he played on his college information director).

More relevant to Tai’s case is the responsibility given to starting point guard Briante Weber. Having played for four teams in two seasons in the NBA, Weber got on the court in 13 games for the Hornets last season. His backcourt contributions were quality against the Heat. Weber had 17 points with 5 rebounds and 4 steals, not bad for a dude not really known as a scorer (his three point shooting is trash, easily his weakest aspect).

Webster was never likely to play huge minutes here from the start but with Gabe York, who is the only returning player from last season’s Summer League roster for the Hornets, struggling with an ankle injury that kept him out of practice the previous week he would’ve at least felt a possibility. As it happened, York was good for 11 minutes with Sulaimon also covering some point guard duties and Webby was one of five players not used in game one. Sulaimon was at the Hornets’ preseason training camp a year ago and has spent the time since at their G-League team: The Greensboro Swarm.

Come game two, an 84-77 defeat to the Indiana Pacers, it was the same deal. Big minutes for the same starting five, pretty much identical rotations off the bench. If Webster can show he can hit threes then he’s in contention because again the Hornets were awful there – 4 of 20 from deep - … but to be honest Tai was a 29.4% shooter from deep last college campaign. With a day off between their second and third game the team now has a nice chance to re-evaluate and it could be that Webster gets a little playing time over the last couple matches. Or it could be that he doesn’t and thoughts move towards Vegas instead, where his brother will be competing concurrently – although the Dubs and Mavs can only meet if things break right in the finals.

Charlotte Hornets Orlando Summer League Schedule

  • Day 1 vs MIAMI HEAT – W 74-67
  • Day 2 vs INDIANA PACERS – L 84-77
  • Day 4 vs OKC THUNDER – 9.00am Wednesday (NZT)
  • Day 5 vs DETROIT PISTONS – 7.00am Thursday (NZT)
  • Day 6 – Championship/Classification Day - ??? Friday (NZT)

And Tai’s path towards Charlotte court time is only gonna get harder if/when Malik Monk returns from his ankle tweak because the 11th overall pick is expected to play some backup point for the main roster and he’ll need to log some practice minutes there – although there’s a chance the ankle doesn’t heal in time to take any part in Orlando. Also on the same day as the Orlando opener it was revealed that the Hornets had reportedly come to an agreement on a one-year contract with Michael Carter-Williams.

The backup point guard situation behind Kemba Walker has been a problem for the Hornets. They just declined Ramon Sessions’ team option so that’s one fewer player but the proliferation of guards on the SL squad shows what they’re looking for. Frankly, there isn’t much room behind Walker, Carter-Williams and Monk, and Briante Weber is way ahead of everyone else in contention. August 1 is the deadline for the Hornets to pick up the $1.4m option on Weber’s contract.

With MCW, the idea is that he’s cheap… but it also helps that he’s young, has a point to prove and at 6’6” is pretty tall for a PG. That means that slotting him into dual-PG line-ups alongside Kemba Walker could be a goer, which GM Rich Cho has spoken about doing after having some success with that while Jeremy Lin was on the squad two years back. MCW is a piss-take of a three-point shooter but he still has some useful skills.

With that signing though, the Hornets have pretty much exhausted their free agency options. They can sign one more dude on a mid-level exception but they’re so close to getting hard capped that they can’t even offer the full terms there without severely limiting their trade/signing flexibility over the rest of the season. They added salary with the Dwight Howard trade, remember. For a team that might not even make the playoffs, owner Michael Jordan (yes, that one) probably doesn’t think it’s worth the dosh. Which at least means a steal of an undrafted free agent would appeal to them.

Charlotte head coach Steve Clifford is known as a defensive coach, which probably helps Webster as a bloke who’ll give a hundy and follow instructions. But instructions are a lot easier to follow when you have prior experience within the systems and most of the guys he’s up against here have that over him. Briante Weber is clearly the man they’d prefer there as their third PG and Webster’s looking more and more likely to spend a year in Europe (or Auckland)… or possibly a G-League stint if he thinks he’s that close. We’ll see how things go in the last few games first.

Be a champ and whack an ad for good luck, it’ll give the Cache a little boost and won’t cost you anything against the salary cap.