“We have seen these things drag out before and sometimes there are weird wrinkles that pop up out of nowhere,” one executive told Heavy Sports. “But these teams have other things they need to get done, so it would be a surprise if this did not get done fast. If it winds up staying as the Heat, if that does not fall apart here, then there’s only a few things to work out to make the deal final.”
Other teams that have been mentioned as potential Lillard suitors: the Sixers, the Nets and the Clippers. Lillard has mentioned the Nets as a potential destination himself, but a trade with Brooklyn would almost certainly require Portland to take back Ben Simmons, and the Blazers are hesitant on making that move (for obvious reasons).
But the Nets have some potentially valuable extra first-rounders (as many as seven) to put into a deal, including 2027 picks from Philadelphia and Phoenix and 2029 picks from the Suns and Mavericks. The Sixers’ pick is protected for the Top 8 for two years, but the others are unprotected. Additionally, Brooklyn has 2023 draftees Noah Clowney and Dariq Whitehead.
“If you want to go into a full rebuild, Brooklyn has the better assets going forward,” the executive said. “But Portland is pretty clear that they are not looking to be terrible next year. They will be young but they want to stay competitive. Dealing with Miami gets you there.”
The Blazers, who signed forward Jerami Grant to a five-year, $160 million contract on Friday, have already had some preliminary talks with the Heat about Lillard, and the expectation is that Lillard wants to be in Miami, where he could team with longtime friend Bam Adebayo and wing Jimmy Butler.
Young Assets, Jusuf Nurkic Among the Heat-Blazers Issues
Among the issues for the Heat to work out is what they will give back in a Lillard trade. A package could be built around Tyler Herro, and the Heat are eligible to trade future first-rounders in 2027 and 2029. Miami has two young players of interest on its roster besides Herro—this year’s first-rounder, Jaime Jaquez, and last year’s, Nikola Jovic.
Trying to keep as many of its young assets as possible will be part of Miami’s goal. But if the Blazers can attract offers from other teams, the Heat might have no choice but to give up all four of those pieces.
Another issue to work out: Would the Heat be willing to take back the contract of center Jusuf Nurkic, which the Blazers have wanted to move as part of a Lillard package? It’s not a deal-breaker, but getting off Nurkic’s remaining three years and $53 million is a goal in PDX. Nurkic has had trouble staying healthy, but has been productive when he is on the floor. In 52 games last season, he averaged 13.3 points and 9.1 rebounds.
Significantly, Nurkic tried 119 3-pointers last year and made 36.1% of them. He had attempted just 138 3-pointers in his first eight seasons. If he can continue to develop as a floor-stretcher, he could be a useful backup big man. The Heat, though, came in with a new singing on Saturday adding backup center Thomas Bryant.
To make a Lillard-Nurkic package work, the Heat would have to give up Kyle Lowry in addition to Herro. Lowry struggled this season, but provided a big boost in the playoffs off the bench for Miami.
Heat Would Have Overhauled Roster
In such a scenario, the Heat would come out with eight roster spots filled, and not a lot of room to fill the empty ones. Already, the Heat lost free agents Gabe Vincent and Max Strus, but did make a pair of signings that should help with depth, bringing back Kevin Love and adding ex-Heat guard Josh Richardson.
Miami traded away Victor Oladipo, too, in an effort to clear out luxury-tax room. Still, with much of the Eastern Conference backsliding so far in free agency, the Heat’s current lineup looks very much like a championship contender:
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: Josh Richardson
SF: Jimmy Butler, Duncan Robinson
PF: Caleb Martin, Kevin Love
C: Bam Adebayo, Thomas Bryant, Jusuf Nurkic (possibly)