If Portland star Damian Lillard, who is being shut down for the season by the team with a calf injury, has played his final NBA game as a member of the Blazers, it will, ultimately, be his call to make. While it makes perfect sense for the Trail Blazers to recognize that, at age 33 and with four years and $215 million on his contract, Lillard is now more useful as a trade cog in a rebuilding scheme, the team has no intention of foisting a deal on Lillard without his approval.
“They’re not going to trade him on their own. He is going to have to come to them and say, ‘OK, it is time, let’s move on,’” one NBA executive told Heavy Sports. “They’re not just going to ship him out to get rid of him. He has shown them loyalty and they’re going to do the same. But more and more, there is a bigger chance he will ask out. He could very well be the focal point of all talk in the next couple months.”
Indeed, it has been 11 seasons in Portland for Lillard, and at 32-43, the Blazers are primed for a rebuild. The team peaked with 53 wins and a trip to the Western Conference finals in 2019, but has been backsliding since, with Lillard unable to stay healthy the past two seasons, logging 87 total games.
That has raised the chances of Portland entertaining offers for Lillard this offseason, with his blessing on finding a new home. His fealty to the franchise is admirable, but he has expressed little patience for rebuilding and it would be in the best interest of both sides if there was a parting of ways.
There would, of course, be a rush to pursue Lillard this summer. We asked some NBA execs for their thoughts on which teams could go after Lillard, and here’s what they said:
Eastern Conference Stalwarts After Lillard?
One of the big questions from last offseason heading into this one will be whether the Knicks front office feels any added pressure for having missed out on Donovan Mitchell, who was traded to Cleveland after extensive trade talks between the Knicks and Jazz last summer. If there is pressure, especially from owner James Dolan, the Knicks will find themselves thrust deep into the Lillard chase. In fact, the Knicks nearly made a hard charge at a Lillard trade last offseason before Lillard made clear he wanted to stay put. New York has young assets, plus as many as four extra first-round picks in upcoming drafts.
Eastern Conference GM: “(New York) is the most interesting place for him. They have expressed interest in Lillard before but nothing ever came of it. Now, you have the big contract for R.J. Barrett you can deal. You can fill things out with Evan Fournier’s deal. You can include a young guy or two—(Miles) McBride, (Quentin) Grimes, maybe even (Mitchell) Robinson. They would not include (Immanuel) Quickley, they are tightening up on trading him. If they are going to deal him it is going to be in a separate kind of thing, where he is the main piece. They think he has too much value now. But with the picks they have, there are ways to make it work.”
Potential deal: Lillard for Barrett, Fournier, Obi Toppin, McBride, three first-round picks.
Brooklyn can be expected to be at the forefront of teams making offers Lillard should he become available, because he would be an ideal fit for a young, defense-heavy roster. But the Nets probably do not have the draft assets on hand to make a deal work. And the big problem is that the Nets would have to persuade the Blazers to take on Ben Simmons for Lillard.
Eastern Conference executive: “Would Portland want Ben Simmons? At this point, would anyone? It would cost the Nets Nic Claxton, too, you’d have to guess, and Cam Thomas. But it’s hard to think Portland can’t get a better offer than something built around Simmons because who knows if the guy is going to play again?”
Potential deal: Lillard for Ben Simmons, Nic Claxton, Cam Thomas and a future first-round pick.
The Heat promised a bold move last summer, but came up emptyhanded and have had a disappointing season because of it. They will be in better position for a bold move this summer, and it would be surprising if they did not come up with a major deal this time around.
Eastern Conference executive: “It would have to start with Tyler Herro, once his extension kicks in, you can send him to Portland. Then it is a matter of, can they include Kyle Lowry? Duncan Robinson? Portland would have to take back a bad contract to make it work. So then, how much draft capital is Miami willing to give up? They owe a pick (2025 first-rounder) to OKC, so they can only give up a couple picks, and they could include (Nikola) Jovic. They’d have to put everything into the now and there’s a chance they’re going to be willing to do that.”
Potential deal: Lillard for Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Nikola Jovic, two future first-rounders.
Western Conference Surprises?
The Warriors traded away 2020 No. 2 pick James Wiseman to bring back Gary Payton II at the trade deadline. Maybe the Warriors are willing to go all-in on winning now, giving up the notion of having a base of future stars to take over for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. If that’s the case, an offer for Lillard would be a bold move.
Western Conference executive: “It would be a wild swing if they went out and got him and I don’t think the Blazers want to see Dame stay in the West but he is an Oakland guy and if it is the place he wants to be, both sides could make it happen. The Warriors have had this approach of building post-Steph with young guys, and I’d doubt they would come off that completely. They’d probably have to gut that idea to get Dame but it would make for a really, really interesting mix.”
Potential deal: Lillard for Jordan Poole, Jonathan Kuminga, Pat Baldwin Jr., future first-rounder.
L.A. has gone through Reggie Jackson, John Wall and, now, Russell Westbrook this season, so it makes sense that the Clippers would be on the hunt for another aging big-time point guard in the offseason. Lillard fits the bill. It’s not clear, though, that Lillard would work well with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. What is clear is that the middling Clippers need to take some risks head of the opening of their new arena in 2024.
Eastern Conference GM: “They do not have the picks, and that’s the big problem, they can really only give up one to Portland and that is probably not enough. But if you included Terence Mann and B.J. (Boston), you’re sending some young assets, plus maybe (Ivica) Zubac. Norm Powell would have to be in it, too, and maybe if there was a third team giving up a pick for him, the Clippers could get closer to a competitive package.”
Potential deal: Lillard for Norman Powell, Ivica Zubac, Terence Mann, Brandon Boston, future first-round pick.