The Blazers’ Damian Lillard has played in Portland for eight seasons now. For the most part, those seasons have gone well. He was the Rookie of the Year in 2013, has been an All-Star five times, and has been to playoffs six times, including last year’s trip to the Western Conference finals, where Portland lost to Golden State.
But there’s still a sense, as Lillard heads toward his 30th birthday this summer, that his Blazers have not quite lived up to their promise and that the best versions of this team are behind it. Portland has had a terrible year, even as it has rebounded some following the signing of Carmelo Anthony.
The Blazers were 29-37 and out of the playoffs by 3.5 games when the season was put on hold because of the coronavirus in March. That would mark the first time since Lillard was a rookie that he did not play in the postseason.
As SNY’s Ian Begley pointed out this week, there has been occasional bubbling up of Lillard trade rumors and there has been chatter around the league that Lillard would be open to playing in a bigger market, especially the Knicks or the Lakers.
Stephen A. Smith outlined that on ESPN in 2018—before Lillard signed a monster four-year, $200 million ‘supermax’ extension last summer. Lillard is on the Blazers’ books through the 2024-25 (when he will be in his mid-30s) season for $230 million.
Lillard to Lakers or Knicks a Long-Simmering Rumor
Here’s what Smith said at the time:
And if Damian Lillard is going to leave the comfortable and financially beneficial confines of Portland, it’s only for two places from what I’m being told. He’s only interested in New York or LA. One of the two. New York or LA, and by LA, I mean the Lakers, not the Clippers. That’s what Damian Lillard wants. His preference would be for the Portland Trail Blazers to find somebody, somebody big time to join him and CJ McCollum in Portland. That’s Damian Lillard’s preference. But if they can’t improve the team and if they can’t find anybody, then he’s interested in going one of two places: my sources tell me it’s the Lakers or the Knicks.
The Knicks could work a deal in which they put together a package of draft picks and absorb Lillard’s contract into cap space. There’s been no hint that the Blazers are ready to do that, but with the death of former owner Paul Allen in 2018, there have been indications that the team could look to trim costs ahead of an eventual sale.
That could open a path for a Lillard trade.
Given their current roster construction, the Lakers would not be able to pull off a Lillard trade—not in the short-term, at least. L.A. could only give up contracts Portland would have no interest in, like a package built on Danny Green, Avery Bradley and JaVale McGee, or by dealing away Anthony Davis or LeBron James. That’s not happening.
But in the summer of 2021, when the Lakers will have a clean cap and are expected to make a run at free-agent Giannis Antetokounmpo, L.A. would be able to absorb Lillard into cap space and skip out on its pursuit of the Greek Freak.
The Lakers would need to conjure up some draft picks in the coming year (a Kyle Kuzma trade?) but it could work under NBA rules.
Lillard Has Been Committed to the Trail Blazers
Having said all that, Lillard has been saying publicly for a while that he wants to stay in Portland. In January, he told The Athletic’s Jason Quick he was committed to the Blazers.
“I mean, it’s not like we are going to do something that is going to take us to the championship at this point. I think it’s more important for us to protect the assets we have, the guys who are going to be here and who are going to help us going forward. I don’t think it makes sense to sacrifice that just to make a desperate play.
“It’s been a tough season, but the season is not over. We can make something of this season as we are, but it’s not worth, you know, saying ‘OK, let’s force something and go do something that at the end of the day doesn’t make sense.’ But that has nothing to do with my commitment. I said it after last game (Golden State): I feel like I can find a way. I can weather the storm. I can go through hard times.”
Things change, of course. Lillard’s situation is one worth watching.