LAS VEGAS — The halls of the Thomas & Mack Center are busier these days, from the hall that connects UNLV’s main arena and the smaller Cox Pavilion, to the back hallways where team staffers and veteran players sneak into the building away from the public eye. Such a migration of NBA personnel each July — despite the overwhelming heat that blankets the sport’s annual Summer League — creates a whirlwind of conversation each year as the offseason grinds to a halt. For an industry, especially the team-building segment, that moves in cycles within a company with a limited number of partners, the topic that buzzes at group dinners and around nighttime lobby bars on casino floors can function as a form of bookmark for the recent history of the NBA. It is as much a convention of ideas as it is recreation.
Last year, the mammoth price paid by Minnesota to Utah to acquire three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert claimed the top bill of Summer League gibberish. Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant’s trade request was certainly hanging over the event, and spectators were eager to snap photos of Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka talking to Nets general manager Sean Marks – presumably about chasing Kyrie away Irving of Brooklyn’s impending doom. But the Gobert award, tying the 7-foot-1 center to 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 scoops provided the noisy backdrop for Durant talks, as it set the Nets’ benchmark for any possible Durant return.
Damian Lillard’s trade request of the Portland Trail Blazers, filed on the second day of this year’s free trade period, has certainly replaced last summer’s Durant feed. And it’s no coincidence that eventual return Brooklyn from Phoenix landed for Durant — two blue-chip young players in Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, plus four first-round picks — floats through the league as Portland’s ballpark calls for say goodbye to Lillard.
But despite the steady stream of incremental updates on Lillard’s Miami-or-bust saga, even with Blazers general manager Joe Cronin addressing reporters at a press conference this week, Lillard’s uncertain future hasn’t brought much theatrics to the ground in Las Vegas. There was no substantiated word about significant talks between Portland and Miami. There were no conspicuous court seats like, say, Lillard’s agent, Aaron Goodwin, who was conspicuously stationed with the Heat’s front office stars. Cronin has consistently reported his pursuits of trading Lillard, even stating “if it takes months, it takes months.” Neither he nor any of the top Blazers officials present seemed to act as if they were in the thick of the NBA’s latest storm. Like Lillard, they act quite unfazed by all those raindrops.
Some rival executives consider this moment to be the first spotlight that really landed on Cronin and his fledgling front office. He has been a longtime Blazers staffer, dating back to a basketball operations internship in 2006, with an extensive cap strategy and scouting background. But it is common for team figures, who manage to spend a career with one franchise, to be lesser-known personalities in this world. Cronin seems widely hailed as one of the good guys 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 in 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 from what rival teams can expect. What we know so far: So green in his No. 1 tenure, Cronin has used the exact playbook Brooklyn ran with Durant last summer, and how Daryl Morey’s 76ers are handling the pending trade request from Philadelphia’s James Harden.
Both current situations sound destined for a slow resolution. Many top executives have begun to leave Las Vegas after the league’s opening weekend, and so many high-profile prospects like Victor Wembanyama have already been pulled from activity. Even with Harden’s lingering interest in joining the Los Angeles Clippers after opting for a $35.6 million salary for the 2023-24 campaign, there was nothing like a real update on his dynamic with Philadelphia, aside from the well-known musings that Morey and the Sixers’ He’s not afraid to take his trade trial to September – and maybe to a training camp if he needs to.
For the Blazers’ hopes of finding a multi-team package with Miami, there is optimism among the league staff that Portland will find at least a first-round pick from another franchise looking to welcome Tyler Herro more. Though outside of the early rumblings about Brooklyn and Chicago, Utah was the only team even loosely tied as a Herro suitor. The Jazz’s valuation of Herro was also a major talking point around last year’s Summer League, as team staffers geared up for Utah to leave Donovan Mitchell — in a trade game that NBA figures believed would come down to the United States’ bid. Heat with Herro, similar to their potential package for Lillard, and a potential New York bid that could have included RJ Barrett. Both players then signed four-year contracts worth approximately $30 million in average annual salary, which will begin with this 2023-24 season.
There has been speculation throughout the league that Brooklyn has looked at adding Herro as an attempt to relieve Ben Simmons. But the Nets, league sources told Yahoo Sports, have not had a meaningful trade conversation about Simmons and this Lillard-to-Miami blockbuster. Yes, this is another offseason filled with social media sightings of Simmons on the mend, shirtless and lifting and back on the field, 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 that every deal framework that has come to fruition over the last two years and nearly $80 million left on Simmons’ contract from his All-Star past will be quite a challenge to complete.
Pascal Siakam’s own contract status remains one of the other great dominoes of this summer landscape. Siakam is entering the final season of his deal, worth $3
7 million for 2023-2024, and he has given rival teams the impression that he only intends to sign the extension he is eligible for this off-season if he is at Toronto stays. If that attitude remains as strict as Lillard’s steady eye for Miami, how can a team like the Hawks sacrifice the capital that the Raptors would surely want to separate from him?
Sportsnet first revealed Indiana’s apparent interest in Siakam, alongside Atlanta’s longtime pursuit of him, which also became somewhat of a talking point in Las Vegas. Next to Lillard and Harden, Siakam has been certified as the next biggest trade name in the league’s relentless rumor mill. Siakam’s absence also became another hot topic of Summer League. The All-NBA talent has made notable appearances around the event annually to practice with Raptors teammates and watch Toronto’s exhibition games. It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that the 29-year-old veteran skips 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’s point of view. For the past year and change, the Pacers have been seriously scrutinizing every starting modern power forward in the NBA, from Tobias Harris to Harrison Barnes to Siakam’s teammate, OG Anunoby, sources said. There is no question that Indiana has at least discussed the premise of adding Siakam and the steep asking price that Toronto has likely maintained for all of its veteran talents over the past few seasons.
The Pacers have been mentioned this week in another possible trade discussion. Phoenix has continued to explore trade scenarios involving reserve guard Cam Payne, league sources told Yahoo Sports, and Indiana point guard TJ McConnell was a player on the Suns’ radar. There was some talk around Summer League about an evolving multi-team trade discussion. Maybe there’s business to do with the Knicks. Rival front offices continue to say New York remains active on trade routes for veteran shooter Evan Fournier, and the Knicks are willing to do so as part of multi-team cadres, sources said.