The NBA’s version of a crowded bar: Inside the Las Vegas schmooze pit

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There’s no official start or end time, but the apex doesn’t reach fevered heights until well into the day. The boundaries are ill-defined, but it consists of the approximately 700 square feet of concrete behind the baseline all the way to the players tunnel. And it doesn’t have a name, but everyone knows it’s where to go to find someone.

As another summer league game is playing out not 30 feet away, some of the most influential names in basketball are connecting, reconnecting and generally carousing on the edges of Jerry Tarkanian Court. nike

On this night, agent Rich Paul is chatting with a peer off to the side. Klutch Sports’ announcement that LeBron James is heading west is only days old, but there’s still plenty to talk about. As Paul moves on to the next subject, the next discussion partner, he spots Warren LeGarie — the longtime agent and architect of the Las Vegas Summer League — carrying on several of his own
At any given moment during the nearly two-week event, the pit is filled to the brim with coaches, execs, players, agents and media members bustling, catching up, investigating opportunities, congratulating each other and doing a bit of needling. It’s basketball’s equivalent of the hotel lobby at the baseball winter meetings.

“This place is getting more business done, nobody even knows it, they don’t see it, they don’t always understand it, but there are signs,” LeGarie said. “You can watch who’s talking to who, how they’re talking, what their reaction is. It’s the unknown known quantity of the summer league, but that’s our central nervous system right here.”

In years past, superstar free-agent destinations were still unknown as dealmakers and players alike sought out scuttlebutt just as much for rabid curiosity as for their own machinations. But with few teams possessing meaningful cap space this season and the star variables mostly resolved early, this season’s schmoozing is more about planting the seeds for the future than it is for any immediate movement.

The results are various impromptu conversations and reunions occurring in and around the pit. The 2018 No. 4 overall pick Jaren Jackson Jr. and 2015 No. 2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell catching up while waiting for the next game. Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni having a lengthy conversation with Shawne Williams, a former player from his New York Knicks days.