The National Basketball Association Summer League has been a critical staple for longtime hoops habitués, and not simply because of the games. The significance of the flurry of activity inside the lines has traditionally been muted at best, but, every once in a while, diamonds in the rough do crop up; just ask Division II baller Max Strus, who parlayed stellar efforts in Las Vegas into a starter’s spot with the Heat. That said, it’s the wheeling and dealing off the court that has appeared to make lasting impacts on the future of franchises casting longing glances at the hardware.
Take last Friday’s festivities at the Thomas & Mack Center, which featured, among other contests, the Suns taking on the Lakers and prominent figures in attendance. There was embattled Russell Westbrook behind the bench of the purple and gold, taking in the action and taking up would-be teammates — ultimately, to no avail. There was top dog LeBron James on the other end of the arena, munching on snacks from a Ziploc bag he brought in; apparently, even billionaires are loath to spend $40 on overpriced popcorn. And in between was a parade of known personalities exchanging pleasantries with the latter.
Interestingly, James wound up engaging Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka and head coach Darvin Ham in a discussion during a break in the set-to. Fans can only guess the subject of their powwow. Later on, the front-office head could be seen beside Nets counterpart Sean Marks, who also happened to be with Raptors president Masai Ujiri; the picture painted a thousand words, and no prompting was needed for social media to kick up a storm. Perhaps deals for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant were being explored.
Insofar as awkward scenes go, none was more telling than the fact that James never connected with Westbrook in the one and a half hours he was there. He was able to press flesh with the likes of agent Rich Paul, current teammates Talen Horton-Tucker, Juan Toscano-Anderson, and Thomas Bryant, and former teammates James Jones and Jerry Stackhouse, but evidently did not see the need to greet the one player he recruited heavily this time last year. Now, he’s angling to get Irving vice the former Most Valuable Player awardee, and to the point where he’s said to refuse a contract extension if the planned trade falls through.
At this point, conventional wisdom pegs the Irving-to-Lakers scenario to be a matter of when, not if. For La-La Land diehards, the hope is that Summer League rumblings will pave the way for it to be done sooner rather than later. Judging from the looks of things, though, they may want to stay patient. The Nets are seeking a king’s ransom for Durant, and it’s a deal that looks to go first. Until then, waiting — and, yes, no small measure of praying — is what’s in store.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.