NBA Roundtable: Midsummer observations

NBA Roundtable: Midsummer observations

The frenetic pace of the NBA has slowed to a halt with the draft, free agency, and Summer League all in the rearview and training camp months away. The dog days of summer are truly upon us, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t offseason discussions to be had.

TheScore’s NBA editors address the biggest offseason questions:

Most likely to start the season on another team: Harden, Lillard, or Siakam?

There’s no world in which Damian Lillard begins the upcoming campaign with the Portland Trail Blazers. The seven-time All-Star has made it clear he wants to play for the Miami Heat, and the two sides should come to an agreement at some point this summer. In the event they don’t, there’ll be a handful of teams willing to pay the price for Lillard, who averaged a career-high 32.2 points last season. Portland isn’t going anywhere in the West as currently constructed. The Blazers already have Lillard’s successor – Scoot Henderson – and can set themselves up for a bright future with the right trade. – Chicco Nacion

While the initial trade buzz has faded, it still seems likely that James Harden will end up on another team to begin the next campaign – most likely the Los Angeles Clippers. While the team hasn’t needed an individual scorer like Harden, the Clippers could definitely use his stellar playmaking abilities, as the veteran guard led the league in assists with 10.7 per game last season. However, Los Angeles doesn’t possess the requisite draft capital the Philadelphia 76ers would be looking for in a Harden trade. Potentially adding the versatile wing Terance Mann to sweeten the deal could bring Harden back home to L.A. – Donald Higney

He may not be the likeliest to be moved, but the Toronto Raptors should be giving stronger consideration to trading Pascal Siakam this summer – arguably more than the Blazers with Lillard (due to his contract) and 76ers with Harden (due to their contention hopes). There are myriad reasons for both sides as to why an extension has yet to be agreed upon, but a trade could benefit everyone; Toronto likely intends to expand Scottie Barnes‘ role under new coach Darko Rajakovic, and Siakam could be a fantastic complementary star for any team trying to win now. His return could help the Raptors better balance the roster around Barnes, O.G. Anunoby, and Gary Trent Jr., avoiding a full-on rebuild and remaining competitive for years to come. – Jonathan Soveta

Who was the most impressive Summer League performer?

Jeff Bottari / National Basketball Association / Getty

Houston Rockets forward Cam Whitmore had a chip on his shoulder after falling to pick No. 20 in this year’s draft. It was a shocking turn of events for a projected top-five selection, but he’s already making teams regret passing on him. The Villanova product had a strong Summer League, averaging 19.3 points, 5.2 boards, 2.5 steals, and 1.8 assists en route to earning MVP honors. He tied a Summer League single-game record with eight steals against the Golden State Warriors. Whitmore won’t start from Day 1, but he’s got the potential to develop into a starter down the line. His elite athleticism, strong drives, and cutting ability should earn him some early minutes. – Nacion

If it’s possible to have the most impressive performance while playing just two Summer League games, Whitmore wasn’t even the best Rockets player at the event. Jabari Smith Jr. flipped the page from an up-and-down rookie campaign to average 35.5 points in his two contests in Las Vegas, including a highlight-worthy game-winner. Flashing elite face-up ability at 6-foot-10, Smith struggled offensively in Year 1 but looked extremely confident attacking closeouts with straight-line drives, pulling up off the dribble, and getting to the rim to draw contact. His brief breakout, plus the addition of veteran point guard Fred VanVleet to the mix, should indicate a monster step up this year from 2022’s No. 3 pick. – Matthew Winick

If Keyonte George was upset about falling just outside the lottery in June’s draft, he wasn’t shy about letting everyone know. In three Summer League contests, the 16th overall pick put up 21.7 points per game on 52.3% shooting, including a sublime 44.4% clip from three on nine attempts per contest. Not only did he flash glimpses of the self-creation that made him such an intriguing first-round prospect, but he also looked comfortable hitting open teammates in stride to the tune of 6.3 assists per game. For a rookie with plenty of questions concerning how his game will translate to the pro level, the Jazz can only be delighted with his summer showing. – Soveta

Who was the best under-the-radar free-agent signing?

The Chicago Bulls added two quality rotational pieces to help shore up the defensive end of the court. On the heels of a career season with the Milwaukee Bucks, Illinois’ own Jevon Carter was brought on board as a backup guard, while Lonzo Ball is on the mend for at least the majority of next season. The 28-year-old averaged eight points last season with Milwaukee, knocking down 42% of his shots from deep while providing stellar defense along the perimeter. Chicago also added versatile forward Torrey Craig from the Phoenix Suns, another 3-and-D player coming off a career year. Shooting 40% from beyond the arc while providing switchability along the perimeter and even against bigger players, the Bulls came away with another defensive piece to help complement their core. – Higney

Adding Chet Holmgren to an Oklahoma City Thunder starting lineup that nearly made the playoffs last year will be the main reason many expect a significant jump next season, but nabbing Euroleague superstar Vasilije Micic to run their second unit is another huge insertion. One of the best passers in the world’s top basketball league outside the NBA, Micic has also made over 44% of his threes in two straight seasons. The Serbian can run the show in an all-bench unit, provide spacing around superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and take on-ball reps when Josh Giddey sits. Plus, he’ll provide veteran leadership as one of the oldest players on the roster. – Winick

LeBron James‘ best teams featured shooters around him. He consistently finds teammates off the drive-and-kick, and his ability to attack downhill creates cleaner looks for those outside threats. The Los Angeles Lakers were 24th in both triples (10.8 per game) and 3-point percentage (34.6%) last season. There’s no doubt Taurean Prince will help, as he’s a career 37.2% 3-point shooter and made 40.9% of his catch-and-shoot threes last season. He’ll also strengthen the club’s perimeter defense, providing length and the versatility to guard threes and fours. At just $4.5 million, the Lakers found great value in addressing one of their most glaring needs. – Nacion

Which team has had the most puzzling offseason?

Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Surely, the Hawks can’t be done yet. The franchise’s biggest moves so far have been dumping John Collins‘ salary on the Utah Jazz for Rudy Gay and a future second-rounder, then flipping Gay and other excess pieces for Patty Mills, who’s no lock himself to stick with Atlanta after being traded three times in 10 days. The Hawks also signed Dejounte Murray to an extension, signifying they’re content with their backcourt core of Murray and Trae Young, but now have a huge hole at the four with presumably lofty aspirations for next season. The rumors of their interest in Siakam make a lot more sense under that context, but a deal with Toronto still seems nowhere close, and nobody seems to know what Plan B is. – Soveta

It seems like the Sixers pressed pause during the offseason as the team awaits a pending Harden trade. The few signings the franchise did make have come across as questionable at best. While Patrick Beverley provides nice guard depth, Philadelphia signed a litany of backup big men – adding Mo Bamba and bringing back reserves Montrezl Harrell and Paul Reed. What makes those moves head-scratching is they don’t replace who left in free agency. Valuable depth pieces along the wings, such as Georges Niang, Shake Milton, and Jalen McDaniels, left the franchise with no clear players ready to step into those roles. – Higney

Even with a month to digest everything, it’s still very hard to justify what the Raptors have been up to. On one hand, it may seem like the team is planning to enter a rebuild, with VanVleet jumping ship and continuous trade rumors surrounding Siakam ahead of a contract year despite his reported desire to remain in Toronto. On the other, the Raptors quickly pivoted to Dennis Schroder as a veteran stopgap at the point and signed Jakob Poeltl to an extension worth $20 million annually, a seemingly necessary move, given February’s trade to bring him in cost the team its 2024 first-rounder. Perpetuated by a shaky offseason, there isn’t a team with a cloudier outlook than the Raptors. – Winick

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