It was an unusual step taken this week by the NBA, which sent out a memo to all 30 teams about one specific player and a potential transaction that has not yet taken place—one that still appears very far from fruition. The player, of course, is Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, and the transaction is his looming trade to the Miami Heat.
Except, of course, that the Heat have not actually made a trade for Lillard and no such deal is forthcoming yet.
Still, public comments from Lillard’s agent, Aaron Goodwin, made clear that Lillard wants to be traded to Miami and nowhere else, and Goodwin was also clear that he had let other teams know that was the case. There were inferences, as well, that Lillard would simply not show up for camp if he was traded elsewhere.
The league office, watching helplessly as a player on a contract with four years and $220 million remaining on it vowed a one-man mutiny, sent out the memo basically getting Goodwin to retract his statements about Lillard’s intent and hoping to get more teams involved in a potential Lillard trade.
The willingness of the league office to stick its nose in the Lillard situation, though, has raised a specter among NBA observers: The NBA, seeking to harness stars forcing trades to specific teams, could void a Lillard trade to Miami, given the way the situation has unfolded so heavily in the Heat’s favor.
But the view from the league office is that commissioner Adam Silver will stay on the sidelines. “That’s not true, no,” one league source told Heavy Sports. “The league wants no more involvement in it, and there is no plan for that.”
Silver’s Involvement Would Break Precedent
Of course, never say never, but it would be breaking precedent if the Heat put forth a fair offer for Lillard, the Blazers agreed to it and the league stepped in to stop it. The NBA almost never gets involved in legal player transactions, even ones that are pretty clearly unbalanced.
It was just weeks ago, after all, that the Hawks traded John Collins—a 25-year-old with career averages of 15.8 points and 8.0 rebounds—to Utah for Rudy Gay and a future second-rounder. Gay will turn 37 this month. If the league did not stop that trade, it would have little cause to stop a Blazers-Heat trade.
Still, the NBA is bothered by the trend of star players accepting very large contracts and asking for a trade shortly thereafter. Not just any trade, either—a trade to a specific market. To be fair to Lillard, he gave 11 seasons to the Blazers and gave the franchise time this offseason to choose its direction.
When it was clear Portland aimed to rebuild with youth, Lillard asked out. That is not unusual, nor is it unseemly.
But what has been problematic is the way word has spread throughout the league that Lillard was so intent on going to the Heat in any trade that he would sooner go AWOL than report to another training camp. The league did not much like it when Nets wing Ben Simmons refused to report after seeking a trade out of Philadelphia two years ago, and it does not much like the prospect of Lillard taking things a step further and refusing a trade after Portland had made it.
Unfortunately, the damage has been done, memo or no memo. There is almost zero interest in Lillard around the league at this point, outside of Miami, in large part because the small handful of teams that might have been willing to make a deal for him have been successfully scared off.
Lillard’s Agent Made Clear it Was Miami-or-Bust
Earlier this month, Goodwin told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald: “I do what I should for my client. Some teams I did call. Other teams have called me. It’s a respectful relationship with most teams. Truthfully, he wants to play in Miami. Period.”
But the NBA, in its memo, suggested that Goodwin did not say that Lillard would not play anywhere except Miami.
“We interviewed Goodwin and Lillard and also spoke with several NBA teams to whom Goodwin spoke,” the memo stated, per Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report. “Goodwin denied stating or indicating to any team that Lillard would refuse to play for them. Goodwin and Lillard affirmed to us that Lillard would fully perform the services called for under his player contract in any trade scenario. The relevant teams provided descriptions of their communications with Goodwin that were mostly, though not entirely, consistent with Goodwin’s statements to us.”
That’s all well and good but, again, the memo could not undo what Goodwin and Lillard had already accomplished, sabotaging the Blazers’ efforts to get a fair deal for Lillard by limiting Portland’s options to Miami and Miami. When a deal sending Lillard to Miami eventually comes to fruition, the NBA might not much like it, but won’t do much to stop it, either.