Let's start here: We don't know if Damian Lillard wants out of
There have been recent reports, notably from Henry Abbott of the
True Hoop network, that Lillard is on the verge of asking out. The
Blazers' stretch of good-but-not-good-enough productivity has begun
to weigh on Lillard; a first-round loss to the injury-riddled
Denver Nuggets may very well have been the final nail in the
Lillard has denied wanting to leave, for the most part.
Following a recent Team USA practice, Lillard denounced the wanting-out
rumors. What he didn't do, however, was give the Blazers a
strong vote of confidence.
"The best way to put it is be more urgent about our next step
and how we move forward,” Lillard told reporters.
“We made [the] playoffs a lot of years in a row. We’re not a bad
team. We’re a winning team. We got a great environment, great city,
great fans. But we’ve reached that point where it’s not enough. Do
we actually want to win it all? Is that what we’re shooting for? We
have to do things to show that. We got to put action behind that
desire to win at that level."
Lillard has been steadfast in his desire to stay in Portland
throughout his career, but it does seem that the wall the Blazers
hit this past postseason is weighing on him. If the Blazers aren't
able to follow through with a strong summer, they risk falling
(further) behind in the Western Conference hierarchy. Any slip may
be enough for Lillard to push his way out.
In the event that Lillard does ask out, you'd be hard-pressed to
find many teams that wouldn't check in on his availability. We're
talking about one of the most dynamic pull-up threats the NBA has
ever seen, a strong finisher and a proactive passer with the vision
necessary to make scrambling defenses pay.
Shot creation reigns supreme in today's NBA, particularly in a
playoff setting. Adding a guy like Lillard, an offense in and of
itself, could boost quite a few teams into legitimate
Beyond that basic premise, The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor reported that five teams in
particular -- the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks,
Houston Rockets (I would assume they're more likely to be a third
team than a landing spot, but who knows?) and Sacramento Kings --
have been the most aggressive in their pursuit of Lillard.
None of this guarantees that the Blazers will make a move, but
there's enough smoke to examine what a potential Lillard deal would
look like. Here are a few teams that are -- or at least should be
-- in the mix for the six-time All-Star.
We can dub this, "the Ben Simmons section." Simmons-to-Portand
has been a popular rumor for a while now; the quibbling is over
which backcourt mate he'd be moved for.
If it's for Lillard, more than Simmons would be required. One of
Tyrese Maxey or Matisse Thybulle. One of Seth Curry or George Hill.
Multiple firsts. It'd take a haul, but it'd be difficult to think
of many better duos than Liillard and Joel Embiid.
The half-court scoring prowess of Lillard, Embiid and Tobias
Harris could go toe-to-toe with just about anyone in the Eastern
Conference. Replacing what Simmons brings defensively would be
tough; honestly, it's been a bit undersold when brought up on the
interwebs. Retaining Thybulle would help. Bringing back Danny
Green, slip as he may, would also help. Scouring the free-agent
market for wings and bigs would become a priority.
For the Blazers, you'd get a strong building block in Simmons.
That's slightly different than being a centerpiece; Simmons may not
be as bad as his showing in the Atlanta series, but his half-court
limitations are real. Still, he remains a transition demon, a
strong finisher, one of the best passers in the sport and an elite
The Sixers could replicate the James Harden/Brooklyn Nets
package in terms of draft picks and swaps with the Blazers. In
Maxey or Thybulle, you're either getting a speedy guard with
budding pull-up and point-of-attack chops, or one of the most
absurd off-ball defenders to hit the league in quite some time.
Curry could replace a portion of Lillard's pull-up/movement
shooting equity, while Hill could provide a steadying presence on
NEW YORK KNICKS
The Knicks have all of their picks, plus an extra first from the
Mavericks (2023 top-10 protected, extends thorugh 2025 before
turning into two second-rounders). They have interesting prospects,
headlined by burly wing RJ Barrett.
If they want to go all in, they very
well could: picks and swaps through 2027, Barrett, Immanuel
Quickley, Obi Toppin. Kevin Knox if the Blazers want him. A literal
all-in move could make fans and the front office alike a bit
queasy, but that can be alleviated by the cap space the Knicks
would still have this summer.
A Randle-led team gritted its way to a first-round appearance,
then sputtered when forced to play more half-court basketball.
Adding Lillard would change the math in a very real way. With those
two in tow, I find it hard to believe that the Knicks would
struggle to attach vets to fill things out.
Barrett began to pop this season, improving as a rim threat
while making incredible strides as a spot-up shooter. Being able to
force close-outs will only complement the rim pressure he already
provides; that added rim volume will open more windows to showcase
his underrated passing chops. The Blazers can work with that.
Beyond that, Quickley has already flashed #FloaterGawd
potential, and a quick-trigger from deep if defenders don't track
him closely enough over screens. I'm intrigued by Toppin playing
one, with more pull-up shooters, and two, playing the 4 -- his best
position. His upside is a bit lower to me because of where he is
defensively, but there's a productive NBA player in there with a
better roster construction around him.
The Heat are always sniffing around these kind of rumors, even
when they don't have the assets on the surface.
If Portland wants to blow things up, the Heat will be at a
massive disadvantage in terms of pick capital. They could get
creative and work out a side deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder to
try to free up some of their future picks.
Beyond that, the Heat are a bit stuck. Tyler Herro is
intriguing, but falls a bit short of "blue chip" status. Precious
Achiuwa had an uneven rookie season, though some of his Olympic
exhibition flashes should raise some eyebrows.
What makes the Heat intriguing in the Lillard sweepstakes is
that they have the true trump card. They may be stuck if their goal
is to create a Big Three with Lillard, Jimmy Butler and Bam
If the Heat prioritize maximizing Butler's window, however, then
the option of using Adebayo as a centerpiece becomes available. And
if that big red button is pressed, it's hard to imagine there being
a better centerpiece on the table.
The Nuggets are likely content with their core. They have the
MVP in Nikola Jokic, an All-Star caliber guard with high-level
playoff flashes under his belt in Jamal Murray and a bona fide
shot-creator in Michael Porter Jr. that can't really be defended
when he has it going.
They're mentioned here because Lillard is flat-out better than
Murray, and you'd need a 99th percentile outcome from Porter Jr. to
reach Lillard status. With Murray coming off an ACL injury and
Porter Jr. having questions about his back -- and quietly
approaching his pay day -- this would be a unique opportunity for
the Nuggets to cash in those chips for a legitimate All-NBAer.
Of course, those health (and money) concerns could turn off the
Also, hey, the Nuggets just beat the Blazers and potentially
pushed the Lillard situation to the brink to begin with. It's
probably nothing; I'm just intrigued by this possibility.
It's worth the call if you're the Raptors. They have their picks
moving forward, including the No. 4 pick in this year's draft. The
fourth pick, two of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet or OG Anunoby and
swaps is a (starter) package that could be eclipsed by... how many
The Celtics don't have the pick bounty they had a couple of
years ago. They do, however, own their picks from 2022 onward. They
also have Jaylen Brown, one of the best wings in the NBA on a
contract that would classify as a steal at this point.
Portland would ask for more -- I'd guess one of Marcus Smart or
Robert Williams plus Payton Pritchard at least -- but the Celtics
have enough to make talks interesting.