Increasingly, it appears that Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard is gearing up for the moment for which folks around the NBA have been waiting: He is preparing to get together with the team’s front office and look for a trade.
Having spent 11 brilliant seasons with Portland, both the Blazers and Lillard are expected to approach the situation as a collaborative effort, the team offering deals and markets (i.e., nothing in the West, please) it would be willing to accept, and Lillard offering his input on where he’d most like to be.
But Lillard might not be making things all that easy for himself. Just this week, he told Showtime’s Last Stand show that he considers Miami and Brooklyn his top two destinations — though it should be pointed out that he was not eliminating teams like Philadelphia and New York.
One of Lillard’s close media friends, Chris Haynes of TNT, told the Dan Patrick Show that Lillard has no interest in playing for the Celtics.
“He’s not doing Boston,” Haynes said.
The more teams that are eliminated from a potential trade destination list, of course, the more difficult it becomes for the trading team to get fair value for the player. For Portland, that is a concern. Maybe Lillard would not do the Celtics, but it is not helpful to the trade process for the world to know that, not when Celtics star Jaylen Brown is, arguably, the top potential trade target in the NBA this summer.
As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—who requested a trade from Milwaukee in 1974 under hush-hush conditions—once told me, “I don’t know why these guys all spill everything about where they want to go. If your goal is to be traded, how does that help the cause?”
Lillard Trades to Include Nurkic?
There could be a complicating factor when it comes to Lillard, too. While the team is expected to do right by Lillard to whatever extent is possible, there is also the matter of center Jusuf Nurkic, who is entering the second of a four-year, $70 million extension. Nurkic is only 28, but still, if Portland moves on from Lillard, moving Nurkic’s money would be part of the goal, too.
“I would not say it would be a package deal or anything like that,” one Eastern Conference GM told Heavy Sports. “But Portland is going to prefer where they can trade Dame and say, ‘Here’s Nurk, too.’
“Portland is looking to move on there (from Nurkic), and if you are going to have Lillard in a blockbuster kind of trade, you’d like to clear your sheet as much as possible. Put (Nurkic) into a deal and you have some more flexibility in terms of what you’re getting back, and you can get yourself really set up for rebuilding.”
Nurkic-Lillard Packages Could Have More Value
That could actually work out well for the Blazers. Nurkic has struggled to stay healthy since suffering a gruesome broken leg in March 2019, and has played in only 145 games in the last three seasons, but he is still an effective and starting-caliber center, with averages of 13.5 points and 9.8 rebounds. He’s also made an effort to stretch his game to the 3-point arc, and made a career-high 36.1% of his 3s last year on 119 tries.
He had attempted 138 total 3-pointers in eight NBA seasons before last year.
Insisting a team take back Nurkic would allow the Blazers to do a trade with the Nets that could land them Ben Simmons, Dorian Finney-Smith (who could be traded to a third team) and 24-year-old Nic Claxton, plus draft assets.
Adding Nurkic to the mix would also help in a potential Miami deal, with the Blazers having the room to take back both Kyle Lowry (as salary filler, and likely to be waived in such a deal) and Tyler Herro for Lillard. Portland could also get back Nikola Jovic and future draft assets.
It will not be easy for the Blazers to get back fair value for Lillard, and it is even harder when his desires are so publicly known. But including Nurkic would help the team get a bit more talent and youth back, and would get them out of the next three years of Nurkic’s money.