The Portland Trail Blazers continue to deal with All-Star point guard Damian Lillard wanting a trade to the Miami Heat. What will Lillard’s legacy be if he were to win a championship in South Beach?
Former Heat champion Gary Payton — a 2013 inductee into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame — gave his opinion rooted in experience on the potential Lillard move via Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
“Everybody should chase a championship,” Payton said. “Why are we playing basketball? That is the whole object of playing basketball. If you want to go somewhere else if you’ve got a chance to win a championship, go there. And that’s what I saw when I came to Miami. So I came here, look what happened.”
Payton knows a thing or two about being a premiere point guard heavily criticized for not winning a championship during his playing days.
Though he spearheaded the Seattle SuperSonics to three 60-plus win seasons between 1990 and 2003 and sought a ring with the Shaq-and-Kobe Los Angeles Lakers, winning with the Heat in 2006 took that proverbial monkey off of his back.
Far from the first high-profiled player to move teams in pursuit of a championship, he understands the current NBA landscape and how player mobility makes it easier for players to control their own narrative and manufacture their own winning environments.
For the entirety of Lillard’s career up until this offseason, remaining loyal to Portland was a foundation on which he stood on. Understandably so, the team’s inability to seriously contend of late has facilitated his desire for a trade.
The Miami Heat offer Lillard a franchise where he’d play with teammates that have been All-NBA Defensive honorees in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo for the first time in his career and contribute to a team that has sported a top 10 defensive rating in three of the last four seasons during the Butler era.
Miami has a need for another volume scorer. Not having another player outside of Butler average 16 points or better in their 2020 Finals loss to the Lakers or any player put up better than 22 points in their 2023 Finals loss to the Denver Nuggets was one of the few roadblocks that kept them from hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Despite holding the Nuggets to under 110 points in every game of the 2023 Finals — a marker they reached 61 times in the regular season — Miami only scored better than 95 points once, in their 111-108 Game 2 victory.
Lillard’s career-high 32.2 points per game last season figure to carry over into another volume scoring 2023-24 season regardless of where he plays, despite entering year 12.
Additionally, adding his offensive output to a Heat team that finished last with 109.5 points per game this past season, and failed to register an offense better than No. 15 league wide in any of the three seasons prior figures to be the missing piece to the puzzle.
Winning a championship with Miami would add to a resume including seven All-Star appearances, seven All-NBA team selections, and a Rookie of the Year nod in 2013.
Already being named to the NBA 75th Anniversary Team, Lillard has carved out a reputation for delivering in the clutch and helping to spark the three-point revolution in the league.
Former greats that departed for greener pastures later in their careers and won championships are often still memorialized based off of the glory days of their primes and the teams they helped elevate in the process.
Blazers legend Clyde Drexler won a championship with the Houston Rockets in 1995, but the NBA world and especially fans in Portland herald his time in Rip City, where he made eight All-Star teams and gave the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls a run for their money in the 1992 Finals.
Former three-time scoring champion Bob McAdoo is another 75th anniversary honoree who was able to help the dynastic Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s win two championships in 1982 and 1985.
He is immortalized for his transcendent play as a power forward who could stretch the floor and create his own offense off the dribble in an era where that was a rarity for a player of his size.
Payton’s floor generalship was a key catalyst in Miami capturing a championship against the Mavericks in 06, but is mostly remembered as ‘The Glove’ — a nine time All-Defensive First Team member with the Sonics who all that played with or against him reflect on his top-tier trash talking that was backed up by stellar two-way play.
Lillard remains in his prime and a potential Finals win and MVP honor would put him in a class with only 34 other players since the award was first given out in 1969.
Yet and still, the Portland fan base has a long list of moments over the course of Lillard’s career that will live on. A championship would silence any who would otherwise use the lack of one as a stain against his greatness, but nothing takes away from the multitude of feats and smiling faces that Lillard was able to produce while in Portland, whether the franchise fulfills his wishes or not.