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Summer League 2014: Saying Goodbye to NBA Draft Favorites of Yesterday

It's hard to say goodbye.

The one that got away.
The one that got away.
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

As a draft nut, it's already a challenge to say goodbye to the draft prospects that you convince yourself are going to be great. You've already figured out how they'd fit perfectly right next to the players on the team, even on a team with so few actual players like the Sixers. Just like any relationship, breaking up is hard to do. It's especially hard when you've been focusing on these prospects for an entire calendar year, rather than just a short fling from the time your team gets eliminated.

First, you try to say that the prospect wasn't all that great to begin with, and dwell on the negatives of the other person rather than the positives. I mean, it's true, Dante Exum has played almost all of his games against high schoolers, maybe he doesn't have what it takes to play at this level. He might not have the upside to become a star.

But that's just disingenuous. You had so many good times together.  Why pretend you never wanted to draft them after all? Besides, he looked great against the Sixers. There's very few people who would come away from that game saying he didn't belong on the same court with elite future stars like Tim Frazier and Scottie Wilbekin.

You hope maybe they ended up with a worse situation. You just hope the next relationship doesn't work out, maybe they'll come back to you via trade or free agency and things will work out for the best after all. Noah Vonleh playing for the Bobcats Hornets? He'll NEVER reach his true potential there. He deserves better.

But that's just selfish. We're basketball fans. We should want good basketball players to succeed, even if it's not for our team, for the good of the league. We don't need other teams to fail for our team to succeed.

You try to find somebody new to love, maybe the girl-next-door, the one who's been there all along. Then again, that's what leads to four quarters of an unnamed Liberty Ballers overlord reacting to every Brandon Davies-related play like a parent watching their child play tee-ball.

Sometimes, you even dwell on the ones you never even really thought about before, like Khem Birch, or Quincy Miller, or Otto Porter, whoever it may be. They look so good now -- how did we let them slip through the cracks?

Unfortunately, though, you always come back to the ones you love. Summer League, for me, was a tale of two days. The first, a day of saying goodbye to the one that got away, and the second, a day of saying goodbye to the one that all of my friends said wasn't right for me.

Friday night, I settled in early to prepare for the marquee match-up of Summer League, Andrew Wiggins and his Akron Lebrons of Cleveland (renamed shortly before tip-off) vs Jabari Parker and his Milwaukee Bucks. Forget Parker, though. For a full calendar year, I obsessed over Andrew Wiggins. I've never been crazier about a draft prospect before in my life, both rationally and irrationally. I watched every Kansas game, every YouTube video, every interview I could get my hands on.

And then he got picked two spots before the Sixers were on the clock. They never had a chance. (Depending on who you ask.) Just like that, he was gone, and he's not coming back.

Friday night was the first chance I got to see Wiggins play live. From the moment the game started, I realized why I loved him so much. He's an electrifier. I'm a big fan of atmosphere, in sports and in life. I've often said I'll go to any event that has an excited crowd behind it. My favorite basketball game that I've ever attended was a lockout pick-up game held at the Palestra in 2011 featuring a team of Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Paul (and others) against a team of spare parts that were either from or tangentially related to Philadelphia. It wasn't my favorite because of the gameplay, but because the crowd reacted with pure excitement to everything.

At a jam-packed Cox Pavilion, you could hear the crowd gasp every time Wiggins was on the fast break. It was a feeling of pure anticipation, and it's a rare feeling that I've only experienced with two NBA players before, and those two players are Lebron James and Kevin Durant. Obviously, I'm not saying Wiggins is those guys, but he creates that feeling of pure electricity in the building whenever he does something, and that's such a fun quality to a basketball player.

Saturday, however, was something completely different. In the build-up to the draft, I wrote an article or two defending the idea of picking a player who didn't have so-called "elite" upside at #10. To make this point, I championed Michigan State shooting guard Gary Harris. To me, Harris was a guy who did everything well, a guy you plug into your starting lineup for the next decade and go "we have Gary Harris, the position has been filled."

The truth of the matter is that I wasn't even that high on Harris as a prospect. I didn't have any real history with him, I didn't spend a year obsessing over him, he was just a guy who I looked at and decided he was a good basketball player.

After several Gary Harris related beatdowns that I took, I became a vocal supporter of Harris. Basically, to borrow a phrase from LB's wrestling chapter (Liberty Brawlers), I turned heel because of EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU. Despite a large number of people saying he wasn't all that good, or that the Sixers needed something different, I hoped that either we'd pick him, and he'd be great, or somebody else would pick him, and prove all the doubters wrong.

Harris came out and scored 13 points in the first seven minutes of the game, en route to scoring a Summer League high 33 points on Saturday against Bruno Caboclo (who may be only two years away rather than two years away from being two years away) and the Toronto Raptors. That's right, I said a SUMMER LEAGUE HIGH. Nobody has scored more points in a single game thus far than one Gary F. Harris. (Note: He does not in fact have a middle name, or a middle initial. I just gave him one for emphasis.) Since individual Summer League games are undoubtedly a foolproof barometer of future NBA success, I look forward to Gary's Hall of Fame induction, which I will live tweet (Twitter will still be a thing in 25 years) with the hashtag #ToldYouSo.

Honestly, though, I just want the best for them. I just want them to be happy, even if it's not with the Sixers. We've settled down with Joel Embiid now, and it's been EXCELLENT. After all, he's already been recruiting a best man. I may spend a little more time dwelling on the past than usual since Embiid won't be around as much this year (for metaphor purposes, he's a spouse in the military), but ultimately, Embiid is the one.

That said, it's a really good thing I'm going to be on an airplane when the Sixers tip off Monday night against Wiggins and his new team. It still hurts a little. Breaking up is so hard to do.

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