July has settled in, and the league is still as wild as it was when the month arrived. Summer league in Las Vegas has started to wind down, but the chatter is still piping hot.
As of Sunday morning, there are only four teams still active in the tournament — and the countdown to the 2019-20 season continues.
What have executives, scouts and coaches said about the most intriguing transaction news and prospect sights? Here are the latest and most relevant messages from the MGM Resorts Summer League.
OKC wins star point guard swap
At one point during a game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers in Las Vegas on Thursday afternoon, a pop went through the crowd — and particularly among the executives sitting watching the game. It wasn’t, however, for anything that was happening on the court.
It was over the stunning exchange of future Hall of Fame point guards, with Chris Paul, two first-round picks and two swaps going to Oklahoma City in exchange for Russell Westbrook. After the initial shock was over, the talk immediately shifted to how impressive a move it was for the Thunder.
“Huge win for Oklahoma City,” said one executive.
While another exec characterized it as a “clear win” for the Thunder, the deal also elicited plenty of confusion as to what, exactly, the Houston Rockets will look like with Westbrook playing alongside James Harden. The price to secure Westbrook was reasonable in the eyes of several executives, even if they liked the deal better for Oklahoma City, because it would’ve likely taken a first-round pick or two to move Paul into someone’s cap space this summer.
In this deal, of course, the Rockets also got a star in Westbrook who remains a polarizing player around the league.
“Are they better? Worse? The same? I don’t know,” said a scout. “They’re going to be potent offensively. They’re going to be a factor. But now they have, arguably, the two most ball-dominant players in the league playing on the same team.”
An executive summed it up simply: “I kind of like the trade for Houston too. The two existing guys were going to kill each other, and this one is a lot more durable.”
— Tim Bontemps
Golden State’s polarizing offseason
One of the biggest topics of debate in the team section at the Thomas & Mack Center was how the Golden State Warriors reacted to Kevin Durant‘s departure in free agency. Instead of a more conventional attempt to replace Durant and injured Klay Thompson in free agency and by creating a trade exception in a sign-and-trade deal sending Durant to the Brooklyn Nets, the Warriors instead boldly worked out a sign-and-trade for Brooklyn free agent D’Angelo Russell. This subjected Golden State to a hard cap of $138.9 million that forced them to trade away former Finals MVP Andre Iguodala.
Some of the team employees I talked to thought Golden State had rushed the Russell sign-and-trade, costing it a lightly protected first-round pick to send Iguodala to the Memphis Grizzlies. Another thought the Warriors had a good offseason and people were sleeping on them in the playoffs. The overall sentiment trended more toward the former position.
To the extent that Golden State’s moves are polarizing, it’s largely because Russell is such a polarizing player. Some scouts are skeptical he really is as good as his All-Star appearance last season with the Nets made him appear — particularly in a situation in which he will no longer be featured on offense.
The moderate position suggests waiting to see what moves are next for the Warriors, who could eventually look to flip Russell in a trade that brings them better-fitting young talent and depth to help replace what they lost this offseason. One possible explanation for the Russell move is that Golden State simply didn’t want to lose Durant without getting anything in return, even if the move potentially cost the Warriors a pair of first-round picks because — as reported by our Brian Windhorst on Thursday — Durant felt the Nets should get a first-round pick in the trade.
— Kevin Pelton
No more moratorium
With Marcus Morris‘ reversal on a commitment to the San Antonio Spurs and eventual agreement to a one-year, $15 million deal with the New York Knicks, this now marks three times in two years that players have reneged on a verbal agreement. (Nemanja Bjelica and Yogi Ferrell backing out last summer with the Philadelphia 76ers and Dallas Mavericks, respectively, to sign with the Sacramento Kings were the other two.)
The topic of players backing out of agreements — and whether this will become a trend — was much discussed among league executives in Las Vegas.
Some said that going back on one’s word is unacceptable in any situation — especially when San Antonio cleared the space to sign Morris by agreeing to a sign-and-trade with the Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards to acquire DeMarre Carroll, sending Davis Bertans to Washington. San Antonio recovered Thursday by signing Trey Lyles to a two-year deal, but it still was an unfortunate situation for the Spurs.
Others saw it differently, though. People are allowed to change their minds, as Morris did in this case. And until a deal is official, there is still the chance for someone to do so and back out of an agreement (as DeAndre Jordan did with the Mavericks back in 2015 after the famous sit-in by his then-teammates with the LA Clippers in his Houston home).
What just about everyone who was asked agreed with, though, is that this could place further momentum behind shortening the league’s annual moratorium in July — something just about every executive in the league doesn’t like.
Yes, it does allow for more creative sequencing of moves. But as one executive put it, “a five-day window is a lot of time for s— to go down.”
Another put it even more simply: “It’s just too long.”
And while it exists, it still leaves open the chances for players to have second thoughts on making a move they previously agreed to.
— Tim Bontemps
Teams outside Oklahoma no longer hoarding draft picks
Within the past six months, we’ve seen a dramatic change in the way teams are valuing first-round draft picks. When the Mavericks traded for Kristaps Porzingis ahead of the trade deadline, I noted that it was the first time a team had traded two future first-round picks without getting one in return since the 2015 deadline.
The Porzingis trade opened the floodgates. We’ve subsequently seen four more such deals: the 76ers giving up a pair of first-rounders for Tobias Harris; the Los Angeles Lakers giving up three first-round picks and a swap for Anthony Davis; and more recently, the Clippers giving up five first-rounders and two swaps in their deal for Paul George on July 5, and the Rockets giving up two first-rounders and two swaps in their deal for Westbrook on Thursday night.
Team employees have definitely noticed a change. One pointed out that ahead of this year’s deadline, teams still were trying to negotiate heavy protection on any picks they moved. The Lakers and Clippers both were willing to include unprotected picks — three of them from the Clippers, along with one they acquired in the Harris deal.
It’s possible, one scout noted, that we’re seeing an overcorrection after teams were too reluctant to part with first-round picks in the recent past. Others have pointed out, however, that the value of the “bird in the hand” often will outweigh the uncertainty of draft picks — particularly for big-market teams who want to build through free agency rather than the draft. With a championship a more realistic goal than it was when the Golden State dynastic core was intact, teams might continue using future picks to improve their current rosters.
— Kevin Pelton