When asked if he expected to be in a Trail Blazers uniform at the start of next season, Damian Lillard said, “Yeah, I expect it.”
Apparently, most NBA executives expect the same thing.
From the start, it’s been clear Lillard is both upping the pressure on the Trail Blazers and giving them a chance to build a contender, which is why most executives do not think a Lillard trade happens this offseason, reports Kevin O’Connor at the Ringer.
Few team executives expect a Dame deal to happen this offseason. But multiple front-office sources say the Heat, Kings, Knicks, Rockets, and Sixers have recently been the most aggressive suitors.
Front-office executives say that if the Blazers eventually move Lillard, they can expect a return rivaling or surpassing what the Nets gave up for James Harden: multiple young players, plus three first-round picks and four first-round pick swaps. Harden is a former MVP, but he had only two guaranteed seasons left on his contract at the time of the trade. Portland could do even better because Lillard has four seasons remaining on his contract worth a grand total of $176 million. The long-term security in Lillard’s contract could lead to more interest from teams and more return in a trade.
The list of suitors has many of the expected names on the list.
Miami is in win-now mode with Jimmy Butler in his prime, and they have good young players they can throw in a trade (Tyler Herro would likely be part of any deal, for example). The Knicks turnaround under Tom Thibodeau last season makes Madison Square Garden a destination again, and New York is always big game hunting. The Kings have been one of the most aggressive teams looking for roster upgrades this offseason, looking to make a leap (and end a 14-year playoff drought). Even if Daryl Morey is gone, the Rockets are always in these conversations, with Eric Gordon likely the centerpiece of a trade.
Philadelphia might be the most intriguing, with some form of Ben Simmons for Lillard trade. If forced to trade Lillard, Portland is not a market looking to tear it down to the studs and rebuild ala “the process;” adding Simmons keeps the team competitive while it finds a new direction (and it’s an obvious fit and talent upgrade for Philly, but they would have to throw in much more than just Simmons).
Whether a trade happens this offseason is largely in the hands of Lillard. The amount of smoke coming out of Portland means there is a fire — it is obvious he is disenfranchised and, at age 31 hears the clock ticking — but if and when this process reaches another gear is up to Lillard himself.
If he demands a trade this offseason — as some reports have suggested he will — then the game is on. So far, he has not taken that step. What he has done is put a lot more pressure on the Trail Blazers to build a contender, essentially putting the franchise on notice.
“I don’t disagree that maybe Chauncey [Billups, the new Portland coach] can change our team and make us a better team,” Lillard said from Las Vegas with Team USA. “But I think if you look at our team as it is, I don’t see how you say ‘this is a championship team, we just need a new coach….’
“We need to be more urgent… we have made the playoffs all these years, we’re a good team, we’re not a bad team, but it’s reached the point where we have to ask ‘have we done enough?'”