When Portland Trail Blazers franchise legend Damian Lillard requested a trade on July 1 after 11 seasons of service, his value on the trade market quickly became somewhat murky.
Reports surfaced that Lillard’s only preferred trade destination was the Miami Heat, a team with modest assets to offer in return. Lillard’s agent Aaron Goodwin was even doing his best to actively tank the trade market and scare off other destinations in an effort to strong-arm his client to South Beach.
Then add Lillard’s contract reality to the mix: At age 33, as an offense-first guard — the type of player who traditionally doesn’t age gracefully in the NBA — Lillard is owed approximately $216.21 million over the next four seasons. On the last year of Lillard’s deal, at age 36, he’s set to make over $63 million.
Lillard’s talent and production is unquestioned. He’s a Top 75 player of all time and coming off arguably the best season of his career, averaging a career-best 32.2 points per game. But, given the extenuating circumstances and the expensive price tag, skepticism reigned about whether the Blazers would be able to get the typical superstar value in return for the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.
Under this atmosphere, Trail Blazers General Manager Joe Cronin decided to stay patient this summer and not immediately acquiesce to Lillard’s Miami Heat request. Then, earlier this week, on Wednesday, the first and biggest domino of the Lillard blockbuster fell: Portland traded the seven-time All-Star to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for Jrue Holiday and first-round draft capital. Also in the deal, Portland sent center Jusuf Nurkic, forward Nassir Little and guard Keon Johnson to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for former No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton and 2023 second-round pick Toumani Camara.
Today, the next domino tumbled: Portland traded Holiday to the Boston Celtics for guard Malcolm Brogdon, center Robert Williams III and more first-round draft capital.
As the dust settles from those two major transactions, with likely another, more minor move on the way (it was a thrill to know you, Malcolm Brogdon), this is where the complete haul for the Damian Lillard package stands at the current moment:
Players in return: Deandre Ayton, Robert Williams III, Malcolm Brogdon, Toumani Camara.
Draft capital in return: a 2029 first-round pick from Milwaukee (unprotected), the right to swap picks with the Bucks in 2028 and 2030, a 2029 first-round pick from the Celtics (unprotected) and a 2024 first-round pick from the Golden State Warriors (protected 1-4).
After the skepticism and fear all summer that Portland would be fleeced on the market for one of its greatest players, this is the type of return that more closely aligns with trading a player of Lillard’s caliber — the type of return perfect for a young rebuilding team with eyes toward the future.
Portland got a young, near All-Star caliber center in Ayton who has potential to blossom in a new situation. It’s a gamble given how things shook out in Phoenix, as a discontented Ayton was on a slide this past season, but one worth taking. At the very least, you can see the calculus behind the swing, especially given Ayton’s solid pairing with No. 3 overall pick and new foundational pillar Scoot Henderson at point guard.
Williams gives Portland a rotation player at a position of need. He’s an athletic defender who fits the aggressive defensive schemes Portland Head Coach Chauncey Billups has been trying to implement for two seasons. With Ayton at starting pivot, Williams shores up a solid center room that has been thin for years.
Then the Blazers received another quality rotation player in Brogdon. In the direct aftermath of the trade today, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, foreshadowed Brogdon’s likely departure on X, formerly known as Twitter:
“Portland plans to keep Robert Williams to pair with Deandre Ayton, sources say, but there has certainly been interest in veteran Malcolm Brogdon and expect teams will be calling on him. Blazers are committed to young guards.”
Fresh off a Sixth Man of the Year campaign, Brogdon is sure to attract value on the trade market. If/when Portland moves the 30-year-old guard, the franchise will likely add more draft capital or another young prospect to a growing treasure chest of assets.
Which brings us to the draft capital acquired in the past five days. As it stands at the moment, Portland received three future first-round picks and two first-round swaps. As our own Dave Deckard pointed out in his analysis of Wednesday’s trade, those picks from the Bucks forecast to have tremendous value, considering the current state of Milwaukee’s win-now, aging roster.
Three firsts, two swaps, combined with the incoming players and potential for a little more, makes for a worthwhile haul. In addition, Portland holds ownership of almost all of its own future first-round picks, save for a 2024 first-round pick Portland owes the Chicago Bulls that is seemingly lottery-protected until the cows come home (2028 in layman’s terms). Given the new circumstances, Portland isn’t likely to get out of the lottery for at least a few seasons and will be able to add more rookie talent to its nucleus in the immediate future.
So, all things considered, the Lillard return ultimately amounts to a great foundational boost to a rebuild that already features Henderson, second-year shooting guard Shaedon Sharpe and 24-year-old, 20-points-per-game scorer Anfernee Simons. Maybe more importantly, following several seasons in which the Blazers felt rudderless — in despite of Lillard’s praiseworthy, herculean efforts to pull them into relevancy — the franchise moves forward with a clear direction toward development and a stocked cupboard to work with once again.
Given the dire state of things in early July, this all comes out as good business for Rip City. The loss of Lillard is cause for mourning, but the new foundation built for the future is cause for celebration.