The pathway to the Los Angeles Lakers landing Damian Lillard is admittedly narrow, but one insider believes the team has a way to make a potential deal with the Portland Trail Blazers work. While it is still a long shot, Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus detailed two key things to watch in the Lakers’ potential pursuit of Lillard.
First, the Blazers superstar would need to demand a trade and make it clear that he wants to play for the Lakers. Pincus added that the Blazers’ evaluation of Talen Horton-Tucker would also need to be high. The swingman would need to agree to a sign-and-trade for the deal to work.
“If the Blazers are a believer, the Lakers could have some traction,” Pincus explained. “Horton-Tucker can earn up to about $33-$46 million over three or four years via sign-and-trade. Portland would have a team salary limit at roughly $143 million for the 2021-22 season, which should not be an issue. The Lakers would need to include additional salary, starting with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kyle Kuzma. Others, like Montrezl Harrell (if he opts into his final year at $9.7 million) and Alfonzo McKinnie ($1.9 million, some of which would need to be guaranteed) could round out a deal, especially if the Blazers were willing to include center Jusuf Nurkic, who notably told a Bosnian media outlet if Lillard is out, he’s out.
“The Lakers also have the No. 22 pick, which can be dealt in August when Horton-Tucker is eligible for a sign-and-trade (legally, Los Angeles would not be able to select a player at Portland’s direction). The Lakers can also send one of their 2027 or 2028 first-rounders and five of their next seven second-rounders (through 2028).”
THT Has Become a Valuable Player Around the NBA
Horton-Tucker is a restricted free agent so the Lakers do not entirely control his future but will have an opportunity to match any offer he receives. Pincus believes the Lakers’ narrow path to landing Lillard hinges on the Blazers placing a high value on Horton-Tucker. The Lillard trade rumors have heated up since Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes reported that backlash from the Blazers hiring Chauncey Billups could push the superstar “out the door.”
“The enormous backlash from the Portland Trail Blazers’ process to hire a new coach and his concerns on whether a championship contender can be built have become factors that may push the franchise player — Damian Lillard — out the door, league sources told Yahoo Sports,” Haynes noted. “Lillard has remained loyal to Portland in large part due to the tremendous fan base. But over the last few days, he’s seen some of those same fans attacking him on social media for a pending coaching hire he played no part in consummating, sources said.”
The Lakers’ Chances of Landing Dame Hinge on the Superstar Forcing His Way to L.A.
With no cap space along with few tradeable assets, the Lakers need Lillard to wear the villain hat by attempting to force his way to Los Angeles. The Lakers had success when Anthony Davis did something similar with the Pelicans, but Los Angeles also had more appealing assets to offer New Orleans in a deal. The question is whether Lillard is willing to follow in James Harden’s footsteps by forcing his way out of Portland.
“Portland has the leverage contractually, for sure, but Dame could pull a [James] Harden and make it messy to gain leverage,” one player agent told Bleacher Report.