LAS VEGAS — The halls of the Thomas & Mack Center are more crowded these days from the concourse that connects UNLV’s main arena and the smaller Cox Pavilion, to the back corridors where team staffers and veteran players sneak into the building away from public eyes. Such a migration of NBA personnel, every July — despite the overwhelming heat that blankets the sport’s annual Summer League — brings a swirl of conversation each year as the offseason slows to a lull. For an industry, particularly the element of team building, that moves in cycles within a business that features a limited number of partners, the subject matter buzzing over group dinners and around the late-night lobby bars on casino floors can function as some form of bookmark on the NBA’s recent history. It’s a convention of ideas as much as recreation.
Last year, the mammoth price Minnesota paid Utah in order to acquire three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert claimed top billing of Summer League jabber. Kevin Durant’s trade request from Brooklyn certainly hung over the event, and spectators were eager to snap pictures of Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka talking with Nets general manager Sean Marks — presumably about swiping Kyrie Irving from Brooklyn’s impending demise. But the Gobert price point, pairing the 7-foot-1 center with Timberwolves incumbent All-NBA big man Karl-Anthony Towns for five years of first-round draft capital and then some, plus the Hawks’ acquisition of Dejounte Murray for three unprotected firsts, made up the noisy backdrop for Durant conversation, as it set the Nets’ benchmark for any possible Durant return.
Damian Lillard’s trade request from the Portland Trail Blazers, delivered on the second day of this year’s free-agency period, has surely replaced the Durant fodder from last summer. And it’s no coincidence the eventual return Brooklyn landed from Phoenix for Durant — two blue-chip young players in Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, plus four first-round picks — is floating around the league as Portland’s ballpark ask to part with Lillard.
Yet for the steady stream of incremental updates on Lillard’s Miami-or-bust saga, even with Blazers general manager Joe Cronin addressing reporters during a news conference this week, Lillard’s unsettled future did not bring many theatrics on the ground in Las Vegas. There was no substantiated word of significant talks between Portland and Miami. There were no eye-raising courtside seating arrangements, like, say, Lillard’s agent, Aaron Goodwin, being noticeably stationed with the Heat’s front-office luminaries. Cronin has delivered consistent messaging about his pursuits to trade Lillard, even claiming “if it takes months, it takes months.” He, nor any of the Blazers lead officials in attendance, seemed to be conducting themselves as if they’re standing in the center of the NBA’s latest storm. Just like Lillard, they’re acting quite unbothered by all these raindrops.
Some rival executives have looked at this moment as the first spotlight that’s truly landed on Cronin and his young front office. He’s a longtime Blazers staffer, dating back to a basketball operations internship in 2006, with an extensive cap strategy and scouting background. But it’s common for team figures, who manage to spend a career with one franchise, to be lesser-known personalities within this world. Cronin appears universally lauded as one of the good ones in a sea of sharks. He rose to become one of Portland’s assistant general managers in 2021, before being elevated to the lead role that December when former Blazers president Neil Olshey was fired for violating the team's code of conduct, but Cronin doesn’t have an extensive history of what rival teams can expect. What we know so far: So green into his No. 1 tenure, Cronin has utilized the exact playbook Brooklyn executed with Durant last summer, and how Daryl Morey’s 76ers are handling James Harden’s ongoing trade request from Philadelphia.
Both of those current situations sound destined for a slow resolution. Many top executives have started departing Las Vegas after the league’s opening weekend, and so many premier prospects like Victor Wembanyama have already been pulled from activities. Even with Harden’s continued interest in joining the Los Angeles Clippers after opting into a $35.6 million salary for the 2023-24 campaign, there was nothing resembling a real update on his dynamic with Philadelphia, aside from the familiar musings that Morey and the Sixers aren’t afraid of taking his trade process into September — and perhaps training camp if need be.
For the Blazers’ hopes of finding a multi-team package with Miami, there is optimism among league personnel that Portland will find at least a first-round pick from another franchise that’s more keen to welcome Tyler Herro. Although outside of early rumblings about Brooklyn and Chicago, the only team even loosely connected as a Herro suitor has been Utah. The Jazz’s valuation of Herro was a key talking point around last year’s Summer League, too, as team staffers were readying for Utah to move on from Donovan Mitchell — in a trade sweepstakes that NBA figures believed would come down to the Heat’s offer featuring Herro, similar to their possible package for Lillard, and a potential offer from New York that could have included R.J. Barrett. Both players went on to sign four-year contracts worth about $30 million in average annual salary, which will begin with this 2023-24 season.
There’s been league-wide speculation that Brooklyn has looked into adding Herro as an effort to offload Ben Simmons. However the Nets, league sources told Yahoo Sports, have not held any meaningful trade conversation regarding Simmons and this Lillard-to-Miami blockbuster. Yes, this is another offseason rife with social media sightings of Simmons on the mend, shirtless and lifting and back on the court, but Nets officials seem genuinely intrigued to see how a healthy, former three-time All-Star can perform in a much different Brooklyn environment. The Nets also have to recognize any deal framework that would send out the final two years and nearly $80 million left on Simmons’ contract from his All-Star past will be quite challenging to complete.
Pascal Siakam’s own contract status remains one of the other major dominoes of this summer landscape. Siakam is entering the final season of his deal, worth $37 million for 2023-24, and he has left rival teams with the impression he only intends to sign the extension he’s eligible to receive this offseason if he remains with Toronto. If that stance remains as stringent as Lillard’s steady eye for Miami, how could a team such as the Hawks sacrifice the capital the Raptors surely would want to part with him?
Sportsnet first revealed Indiana’s apparent interest in Siakam, in addition to Atlanta’s long-standing pursuit of him, which became somewhat of a talking point around Las Vegas as well. Aside from Lillard and Harden, Siakam has been certified as the next biggest trade name on the league’s unforgiving rumor mill. Siakam’s absence also became another hot topic of Summer League. The All-NBA talent has made notable yearly appearances around the event to practice with Raptors teammates and watch Toronto’s exhibition games. It doesn’t appear to be a coincidence the 29-year-old veteran is skipping out the same summer he has an undetermined contract situation and an undetermined city to call home.
Indiana would make sense as a possible destination, at least from the team side of things. For the last year and change, the Pacers have earnestly explored any starting-level, modern power forwards across the NBA, from Tobias Harris to Harrison Barnes to Siakam’s teammate, O.G Anunoby, sources said. There’s no doubt Indiana has at least discussed the premise of adding Siakam and the steep asking price Toronto has, by all accounts, maintained for all of its veteran talents the past few seasons.
The Pacers have been mentioned in another possible trade discussion this week. Phoenix has continued to explore trade scenarios regarding reserve guard Cam Payne, league sources told Yahoo Sports, and Indiana point guard T.J. McConnell has been one player on the Suns’ radar. There was some talk around Summer League about a developing multi-team trade discussion. Maybe there’s some business to be done with the Knicks. Rival front offices continue to say New York remains engaged on trade avenues for veteran shooter Evan Fournier, and the Knicks are amenable to doing so as part of multi-team frameworks, sources said.