The latest on Damian Lillard, Pascal Siakam and others who may be on the move

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 employees and veteran players sneak into the building away from the public eye. Such a migration of NBA personnel each July — despite the sweltering heat that blankets the sport’s annual summer league — brings a swirl of conversation each year as the offseason winds down to a hiatus. For an industry, especially the team-building element that moves in cycles within a business that has a limited number of partners, the topic buzzing over group dinners and around the late-night lobby bars on casino floors could serve as a kind of bookmark on the NBA’s recent history. It is a convention of ideas as much as recreation.

Last year, the colossal price Minnesota paid Utah to acquire three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert claimed the best price for the Summer League jabber. Kevin Durant’s trade request from Brooklyn certainly hung over the event, and spectators were eager to snap photos of Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka talking to Nets general manager Sean Marks — presumably to sweep Kyrie Irving from Brooklyn’s impending doom. But the Gobert price point, pairing the 7-foot-1 center with Timberwolves-dominant All-NBA big man Karl-Anthony Towns for five years with first-round draft capital and then some, plus the Hawks’ acquisition of Dejounte Murray for three unprotected first, provided the noisy backdrop for Durant talk 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 certainly replaced the Durant fodder from last summer. And it’s no coincidence that 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 backcourt asks to part ways with Lillard .

Damian Lillard dribbles against Pascal Siakam in the first quarter of a game at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

But for the steady stream of incremental updates on Lillard’s Miami-or-bust saga, even with Blazers general manager Joe Cronin speaking to reporters during a news conference this week, Lillard’s uncertain future didn’t bring much theater to the ground in Las Vegas. There was no substantiated word of significant talks between Portland and Miami. There were no conspicuous seats by the yard, such as Lillard’s agent, Aaron Goodwin, who was noticeably deployed with the Heat’s front-office luminaries. Cronin has delivered consistent messages about his pursuit of dealing Lillard, even claiming “if it takes months, it takes months.” He, nor any of the Blazers senior officials in attendance, appeared to act as if they were at the center of the NBA’s latest storm. Like Lillard, they act pretty unfazed by all these raindrops.

Some rival executives have viewed this moment as the first spotlight to truly land on Cronin and his young front office. He is a longtime Blazers employee dating back to a basketball 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 figures in this world. Cronin emerges universally praised 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 top 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 of , which rival team can expect. What we know so far: So green into his No. 1 tenure, Cronin has been using 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 these current situations certainly sound like a slow fix. Many top executives have begun to leave Las Vegas after the league’s opening weekend, and as many premiership prospects as Victor Wembanyama have already been pulled from activities. Even with Harden’s continued interest in joining the Los Angeles Clippers after opting for 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 considerations that Morey and the Sixers aren’t afraid to take his trade process into September — and perhaps training camp if necessary.

For the Blazers’ hopes of finding a multi-team package with Miami, there is optimism among league personnel that Portland will find at least one first-round pick from another franchise more eager to welcome Tyler Herro. Though outside of the early rumblings of Brooklyn and Chicago, the only team even loosely linked as a Herro suitor has been Utah. The Jazz’s valuation of Herro was also a major talking point around last year’s Summer League, as team officials were poised for Utah to move on from Donovan Mitchell — in a trade contest that NBA figures believed would come down to the Heat’s offer of Herro, similar to their possible package for Lillard, and a potential offer from New York that could have included RJ Barrett. Both players went on to sign four-year contracts worth about $30 million in average annual salary, beginning with this 2023-24 season.

There has been speculation around the league that Brooklyn has looked into adding Herro as an attempt to relieve Ben Simmons. But the Nets, league sources told Yahoo Sports, have had no meaningful trade conversation about Simmons and this Lillard-to-Miami blockbuster. Yes, this is another offseason filled with social media sightings of Simmons recovering, 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 very different Brooklyn environment. The Nets also have to acknowledge any deal framework that would send out the last two years, and nearly $80 million remaining on Simmons’ contract from his All-Star past will be quite challenging to pull off.

Pascal Siakam’s own contract status remains one of the other major dominoes in this summer landscape. Siakam is entering the final season of his deal, worth $37 million for 2023-2024, and he has left rival teams with the impression that he only intends to sign the extension he is eligible to receive this offseason if he remains in Toronto. If that stance remains as strict as Lillard’s steady eye for Miami, how could a team like the Hawks sacrifice the capital the Raptors would surely want to part with him?

Sportsnet first revealed Indiana’s apparent interest in Siakam, in addition to Atlanta’s longtime pursuit of him, which also became the talk of Las Vegas. Aside from Lillard and Harden, Siakam has been certified as the second-biggest trade name on the league’s unforgiving rumor mill. Siakam’s absence also became another hot topic in the Summer League. The All-NBA talent has made notable annual appearances around the event to practice with Raptors teammates and watch Toronto’s exhibition games. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the 29-year-old veteran is jumping out in the same summer that 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 perspective. For the past year and change, the Pacers have seriously explored every modern entry-level power forward across the NBA, from Tobias Harris to Harrison Barnes to Siakam’s teammate, OG Anunoby, sources said. There’s no doubt Indiana has at least discussed the premise of adding Siakam and the steep price Toronto has apparently charged for all of its veteran talent the past few seasons.

The Pacers have been mentioned in another possible trade discussion this week. Phoenix has continued to explore trade scenarios regarding backup guard Cam Payne, league sources told Yahoo Sports, and Indiana point guard TJ McConnell has been a player on the Suns’ radar. There was a lot of talk around the Summer League about a trade discussion with several teams in development. Maybe something to do with the Knicks. Rival front offices continue to say New York remains committed to trade routes for veteran shooting guard Evan Fournier, and the Knicks are receptive to doing so as part of multi-team frameworks, sources said.

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