Mark your calendars, because the “Damian Lillard watch” officially has an end date — and a final destination for that matter. That is, at least according to Bleacher Report’s Greg Swartz, who boldly predicts that the Portland Trail Blazers star will ultimately find his way to Beantown “before Christmas” day.
Sans an official trade request, combined with CJ McCollum claiming his current backcourt-mate is “all in” via ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Lillard looks destined to tipoff the 2021 campaign as he has the past nine seasons, as a member of the Blazers. However, Swartz doesn’t foresee his time in Portland lasting much further beyond that point, envisioning a Boston Celtics-Lillard deal to be the first-early season trade domino to fall.
“Even though Lillard should begin the season with Portland, a trade to the Boston Celtics won’t take long,” Swartz wrote. “Much like James Harden playing just eight games with the Houston Rockets last season before being dealt to the Brooklyn Nets, Lillard to Boston will be the next early-season blockbuster.”
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Worth the Price?
Of course, acquiring a player of Lillard’s stature won’t come cheap, and as you could expect, would almost certainly revolve around a package headlined by Jaylen Brown. Swartz’s projection follows suit with this train of thinking and then some. The B/R columnist floats a handful of young developing pieces as trade chips, such as summer league standout Payton Pritchard and even the possibility of unloading the freshly-inked Dennis Schroder.
With Jayson Tatum off limits, the Celtics can offer Portland a package based around Jaylen Brown, with other young talent (Aaron Nesmith, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard) available to sweeten a deal as well. Boston owns all of its future first-round picks in the likely event the Blazers seek draft compensation. If newly-signed point guard Dennis Schroder is included in the deal, it would have to occur after Nov. 11 (three months from his signing with Boston).
We’ve readily maintained our opposition on unloading Brown, a newly-christened All-Star, for a player in Lillard who is seven years his senior. Not to mention Lillard’s hefty $196 million contract pays him nearly $45 million per season through 2025, essentially $20 million more than Brown is set to make annually through 2024.
Will Brad Stevens Swing for the Fences?
In this scenario, the Celtics would be gutting their roster, profoundly upgrading their starting point guard position but stripping their depth behind Lillard in the process. The idea of potentially unloading both Pritchard and Schroder is extremely steep and would leave a Carsen Edwards-esque player to handle far more of a workload than the team would likely prefer. Then again, Schroder could easily be a one-and-done player for Boston as is, while Marcus Smart’s new extension will likely hinder Pritchard’s floor time to some degree as long as he remains with the Cs.
As many “super teams” have shown us in the past, a duo or trio of superstars can get you by in this league. Organizations will worry about filling out their roster when that time comes, just as long as they have a few key cogs to go to battle with. And, as Swartz notes, the Celtics would certainly be in good hands with a tandem of Tatum and Lillard.
A core of Lillard, Tatum, Marcus Smart, Al Horford and whoever is left over from the trade should once again be one of the top teams in the East, while Portland begins its rebuild around Brown. After a decade of Danny Ainge failing to acquire star players via trade, Brad Stevens lands one of the best players in the NBA in his first season as president of basketball operations.