Just two days before the 2021 NBA draft begins at Barclays Center, teams across the league remain steadily negotiating deals throughout the first round, both in efforts to secure preferred prospects and to improve their positioning ahead of next week's free-agency period.
With the number of front offices considering their rosters one trade or addition away from cementing their status as title contenders—such as Phoenix acquiring Chris Paul, and Milwaukee with Jrue Holiday—the opportunity to chase a 2022 championship that is perceived as open for the taking seems to be the key undercurrent to this week of activity.
And the next All-Star-caliber player team personnel currently eye as available: Oklahoma City point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who's suddenly eligible to sign a projected five-year, $168 million rookie scale extension this summer. It would appear, however, any interested team would need to meet the Thunder's significant asking price. "It's going to take a f--king lot to get him, but he's no longer impossible to get," said one team executive.
That would present a categorical change in the Thunder's approach to Gilgeous-Alexander from ahead of the 2020 draft last August, sources said, when all four teams selecting within the first four picks contacted OKC about the 23-year-old and were quickly rebuffed by Thunder officials.
Flashing forward to this summer, where Oklahoma City proactively called Detroit to offer Gilgeous-Alexander plus the No. 6 pick for No. 1, sources said, in an attempt to land Cade Cunningham—the framework B/R's Jonathan Wasserman first alluded to on Monday. Since drawing the top selection in June, Detroit has consistently messaged to rival teams it would need a first in this year's draft, future draft ammo and an established young star.
There's still a strong expectation that OKC will search for avenues to move up in the first round, with a swap centered on the Thunder sending pick Nos. 16 and 18 to Charlotte for No. 11 as a deal structure to monitor, sources said. There's a sense among team officials that Oklahoma City and Toronto are exploring options on swapping the No. 4 and No. 6 picks as well.
By all accounts, Bradley Beal is still weighing his future with the Washington Wizards two days before the draft, yet there's a growing expectation among league personnel that the All-Star guard may still choose to remain with the Wizards for now. Winning, and winning in the nation's capital, has long been communicated as Beal's top priority, and Washington's ability to offer a fifth year to his next deal using Bird rights next summer could ultimately net Beal an extra $54 million over the length of that contract.
Still, the potential domino of Beal reaching the open market hovers over trade conversations around the NBA, especially pertaining to Toronto's discussions in advance of the Raptors' No. 4 pick, Golden State's options with pick Nos. 7 and 14, plus Philadelphia's ongoing efforts to gauge Ben Simmons' trade value. And league executives contacted by B/R continue to mention the possibility of the Sixers holding onto Simmons, should a desirable offer still fail to arise during the draft, in the hopes of Damian Lillard ultimately seeking to leave Portland. Talks between the Raptors and Sixers are considered to be the most advanced of any early conversations Philadelphia has had for the 25-year-old All-Star.
And to clarify: Sixers brass have indeed maintained contact with Simmons and his representatives, most notably meeting in Chicago during the combine, but not too dissimilar to offseasons past, Philadelphia has thus far been unable to collaborate with its Defensive Player of the Year candidate on a summer player development plan, sources said. The overwhelming expectation around the NBA remains that Philadelphia will trade Simmons before the start of training camp.
Sacramento's No. 9 pick continues to be considered available, as well. While Memphis took on the contracts of Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams as part of the price to move up from the No. 17 pick to the 10th pick, San Antonio (No. 12) and Indiana (No. 13) are both still considered prime candidates to trade back into the mid-teens or early 20s for the right value.
New Orleans' deal appears directly engineered as a way to clear salary-cap space for an aggressive offer for Kyle Lowry in free agency. The Lakers, Sixers, Mavericks and Heat all remain linked by league sources as potential Lowry suitors, which will be just one element of a cluttered point guard market. It's believed New Orleans, like each other team just mentioned, would have its sights set on Spencer Dinwiddie should Lowry choose to play elsewhere. The spinning of that point guard carousel will surely impact the landing spots for Lonzo Ball and Dennis Schroder, too.
Dallas has actively explored trade scenarios involving Josh Richardson, sources said, in the event the swingman opts in to his 2021-22 player option. The Mavericks must make their own efforts to clear salary space for a planned spurge in free agency that still appears to prioritize retaining Tim Hardaway Jr. in addition to Dallas' other pursuits.
The Mavericks are also considered to be a possible landing spot for Jazz guard Mike Conley, although there's a strong belief around the league that Utah will be successful in its attempts to shed salary and offer Conley a substantial deal.
The Jazz continue to hold discussions on Joe Ingles and Bojan Bogdanovic, while Royce O'Neale, due to his lower cap figure and strong two-way success this season, is not expected to be included in any outgoing Utah package. The Jazz remain engaged in talks on trading the No. 30 pick to send Derrick Favors' salary elsewhere, sources said.
Houston (Nos. 23, 24) and New York (Nos. 19, 21) have continued their efforts searching to jump into the teens, while Brooklyn also appears active in talks to move up from No. 27, with the Nets offering sharpshooting guard Landry Shamet, sources said. Would a team like Indiana be willing to drop so far back? The Pacers are also discussing Aaron Holiday with rival teams, sources said.
And in front-office news, after it was heavily rumored that Dallas was targeting a CBA-minded lieutenant to join new president of basketball operations Nico Harrison, the Mavericks have hired Brooklyn Nets official Andrew Baker, a respected salary-cap strategist, for a senior role in Dallas' new front office, sources said. Meanwhile, back in Boston, the Celtics continue to be linked to Landry Fields in their search for a general manager under new president Brad Stevens, but two other names to keep an eye on are Nets assistant general manager Jeff Peterson and Pelicans assistant general manager Bryson Graham.
Jake Fischer covers the NBA for Bleacher Report and is the author of Built to Lose: How the NBA's Tanking Era Changed the League Forever.