It’s still Dame Time in Portland, but rumors of the All-Star guard’s unhappiness have other teams testing the waters.
Damian Lillard, by all reported accounts (and his own words) doesn’t seem to be going anywhere this summer. This won’t stop thirsty teams from trying to trade for the superstar point guard, though. The Knicks, Heat and 76ers are all interested Lillard’s services, according to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, with the Rockets and Kings also two teams in on Lillard.
Trading for the 31-year-old is going to take a lot. Like, a lot, a lot. Lillard is owed $176,265,152 over the next four years, or approximately $25 million more than the “Space Jam: A New Legacy” budget. (Lillard is going to be a much better return on investment, though.)
Not all fits are created equal, though: Lillard works better with some teams and matches up better than others.
If — that’s a big if — Lillard is actually dealt this offseason, here’s how Lillard’s best fits works out:
Damian Lillard best trade fits
Houston completely fell apart after the James Harden trade this year finishing last in the Western Conference, and with John Wall as a pricy point guard on the team already, it’s hard to see how exactly a trade would get done without swapping Wall for Lillard, or shipping Wall out somewhere else.
That said, Houston is loaded with first-round picks for the foreseeable future, including the 2021 second-overall pick, and has some attractive younger players and proven vets that could help facilitate a deal.
Nearly any trade between Houston and Portland would likely have to include Wall, short of completely bankrupting the team of its first-round picks. The Blazers probably wouldn’t balk at the idea, but it would also take one (or more) of Houston’s young players to get the deal done. The question, though: Would Lillard want to plant himself in the middle of a rebuilding cycle?
Lillard is championship-starved and that’s part of his dissatisfaction with Portland at the moment, so heading from one team a few steps away from competing to a team that finished with 17 wins in a loaded conference isn’t the most desirable landing spot for him.
The Kings are in a little bit better of a spot than the Rockets organizationally right now, but one of the team’s best young stars plays the same position as Lillard — and another emerging star does, too.
Trade rumors surrounding De’Aaron Fox swirled earlier in the season, but Sacramento doesn’t seem keen on wanting to trade him for anyone. That’s fair.
The Kings likely aren’t going to part with Tyrese Haliburton either after a promising rookie season, but he would make an intriguing piece of a deal with Portland. Even then, do the Kings have enough to really compete in the Western Conference? Not yet, at least.
The Knicks and not having quality point guard play: Name a more iconic duo.
The Knicks are coming off an utterly surprising 2020-21 season, reaching the playoffs despite having a roster devoid of talent. The concept of trading for a star to pair with Julius Randle makes sense, but at what cost? Even coming off a good regular season, the Knicks still have a lot of work to do on the roster, so bankrupting their future (and parts of their present) just makes the route to contention that much more difficult.
Teams have done more roster building with less assets, and reigning coach of the year Tom Thibodeau worked some serious magic with the roster last year. The Knicks, though, are more than just a Lillard away from competing.
Does Lillard make the Knicks better in the immediate? Depending on what the cost is, most likely. Will trading for Lillard result in long-term, sustainable success? Not so much. The Knicks are still a year away from being in that conversation.
While Miami was most recently attached to another Blazers piece — CJ McCollum — instead of Lillard, the Heat can wiggle out of some contracts and still have cap space to absord Lillard’s contract moving forward. The grouping of Lillard, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo would be fun and potentially just enough to challenge the Eastern Conference’s best teams.
The Heat do have assets they could part with to land Lillard, but they’d need to get a bit creative: They are without their 2021 first-round pick (thanks to the Goran Dragic trade), and the Trail Blazers are reportedly looking for a lot of first-rounders and also pick swaps in exchange for Lillard. They also have a few player options on the team (Andre Iguodala, Goran Dragic) and would need to pick up those options to facilitate a trade to make the money work.
It’s definitely doable, even if Miami has a little bit less versatility in a potential trade than others on the list. Miami, Erik Spoelstra and a decent supporting cast could push Lillard to take his talents to South Beach.
Any trade involving Lillard and the 76ers will likely send Ben Simmons out west — and that’s just fine for Philadelphia.
More than anything else, the 76ers needed a player with a real killer mentality to help close out games during the playoffs. Simmons doesn’t seem to be that guy — his reluctance to shoot late in games doomed Philly in the playoffs, and Joel Embiid can’t be the only dude on the roster to be the de facto closer on the team.
Lillard would give the 76ers that extra closing oomph that they’ve sorely lacked, and they have some assets to trade, too, including Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle, Paul Reed. They’re limited by first-rounders they can deal, too, (thanks, Al Horford trade), but Philly could be that formidable contender that’s the perfect storm for Lillard to walk into.