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How the NBA Memo About Damian Lillard Affects the Trail Blazers

Is this the break in the dam or much ado about nothing?

Portland Trail Blazers v Miami Heat Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

Yesterday the NBA issued a memo to all 30 teams, commenting on the ongoing trade triangle between Damian Lillard, the Miami Heat, and the Portland Trail Blazers. If you missed it, you can read the text of the memo here. It warns against public comments that would bend the trade process, some of which may have happened in the current scenario.

On the surface, many Portland Trail Blazers fans are taking this as a big win for their franchise. To this point, the Blazers have been stuck in “Dealing with Miami” hell. Could the declaration force the parties to explore new options and get Portland a better return for their superstar? The Blazer’s Edge Mailbag was quick to fill up with questions like this one.


Is The Memo a watershed moment in the Dame negotiations? He’s going to have to open up to other trades now, right? The league isn’t going to stand for this anymore. There’s also rumors that they might veto a Heat trade now, so he can’t even go to them anymore. I see this as a victory for us when we’re getting screwed over. How do you think it will go now? Is this the ray of sun we’ve been waiting for? Can’t wait!

Brandon M

The NBA isn’t trying to help Portland. The NBA is trying to help the NBA.

You may recall back in 2011 when Chris Paul, a 25-year-old, four-time All Star, demanded to be traded away from the New Orleans Hornets, the team that had drafted him six years prior. Paul tabbed Los Angeles as his destination. That was it. No alternatives.

New Orleans was between owners at the time. The NBA itself was running the team, almost as in receivership. Then-commissioner David Stern arranged a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers, moving Paul for a package of forwards and guards including veteran Lamar Odom. An uproar from fellow owners put the kibosh on that deal, so the league arranged a the Los Angeles Clippers. That one went through.

You may note the common theme of “Los Angeles” in those two deals. If the league had any objection to the star point guard calling his landing spot, they sure didn’t show it. Nor have they with any superstar since.

Things haven’t changed. The NBA isn’t standing on some ethical or moral platform when issuing its warning to Lillard and agent Aaron Goodwin. It’s telling them to go about their business in a way that doesn’t create so many ripples.

As many of you know, I work for a church. The individual congregation is part of a larger body, regionally and nationally. At the national level sits a cohort of bishops who make high-level decisions and set big-picture direction for the denomination.

A couple of years ago, as the pandemic took hold and everyone scurried online, the Grand Poobahs noticed that we lacked any guidance on using social media or other online venues. So they came up with one.

Our leaders could have delved into many matters. We desperately need a discussion about the difference between online environments and brick-and-mortar buildings. Guidance on the propriety of, and boundaries around, calling yourself a “pastor” online would be a no-brainer. What kind of conversations should we engage in when we’re identifying officially? Is it ethical to offer even light “counseling”? What about “meeting” with people in DM’s, the equivalent of seeing someone one-on-one in a church building with nobody else present? How about ages, limits on disclosure and get the idea.

Do you know what they came up with? It amounted to, “Don’t use your church account to say personal things online and remember people are watching and it might reflect badly on the church.”

In other words, “Go do what you do, but don’t embarrass us.”

Their statement wasn’t about direction or exploration of online interaction, it was about protecting the institution. The memo from the NBA does the same thing.

The Blazers have the right to trade Damian Lillard anywhere they wish to. That’s what his contract and league rules say. They could have traded him to Minnesota last Tuesday. They can still do it today. That was never disputed, nor was it the hold up in the trade process. The issue was Lillard’s desires, and particularly how they’re expressed. That’s what the league’s statement addressed.

If Daman Lillard only had Miami as a destination before that memo, he only has Miami as a destination after. On the surface, it appears the memo says he’s not allowed to express that anymore. Not quite! He’s not allowed to say it out loud anymore. There’s a difference.

If you think an NBA team about to fork over a boatload of future assets for the privilege of paying $210 million to a franchise-changing point guard isn’t going to place at least a cursory call to his agent to take his temperature before making that deal...hoo boy. That would take a leap of faith.

In this case, of course, they don’t have to. Lillard’s reported desires are now known in every hamlet and village between the hinterlands of Alaska and Antarctica. That horse is not only out of the barn, it’s in the next county and still running fast. Nobody is going to deal for him without making very, very sure that he’ll be willing to play for them.

If those desires turn out to be untrue—if Lillard has been open to other teams all along—the memo won’t change that, either. In this case, he and his agent could have cleared that up the second the rumors came out, so I’m not holding out hope. But if Dame will happily go elsewhere, it’s not because of the league chastising him.

The memo didn’t change either of those things. It told all parties involved that, in the process, they should watch what they say and not embarrass the institution.

In particular, the memo warned against making a mockery of the trade process. It underlined this warning: Don’t ever even WHISPER the implication that a max-level, superstar player will refuse to honor his contract where anybody else can hear it.

I don’t believe for a second that the league actually cares if Lillard ends up in Miami. That’d be better for their profile and his. New York, LA...those would be great too. They won’t intervene if he goes to Oklahoma City, though, as long as its legal. The idea of them vetoing a move seems ludicrous...see also the Chris Paul deal above. Nowhere is that stated, implied, or even in the penumbra of the memo.

But here’s the thing. If Lillard and Miami are going to swear that they only have eyes for each other, they better do it like fifth graders passing notes across the class: “Do you like me? Circle One: Yes or No”. This public “Promposal” thing is unseemly, disruptive, and makes everybody watching kinda sick, so knock it off. And again, if you even breathe a syllable about sitting out of that max deal, you’re going to get detention, cuz that makes all 28 other owners as angry as hornets.

Look at the opening paragraph of the memo:

Recent media reports stated that Damian Lillard’s agent, Aaron Goodwin, called multiple NBA teams to warn them against trading for Lillard because Lillard’s only desired trade destination is Miami. Goodwin also made public comments indicating that Lillard would not fully perform the services called for under his player contract if traded to another team.

It’s not an accident that “media reports” and “public comments” are emphasized.

The second paragraph details the league’s examination into what was said and to whom...not what’s actually happening, but how it’s being communicated.

Then there’s the final paragraph:

We have advised Goodwin and Lillard that any future comments, made privately to teams or publicly, suggesting Lillard will not fully perform the services called for under his player contract in the event of a trade will subject Lillard to discipline by the NBA. We also have advised the Players Association that any similar comments by players or their agents will be subject to discipline going forward.

It doesn’t forbid sitting out. It doesn’t say at thing about having preference, or about Miami as the ultimate destination for Lillard. It simply says, “You cannot say you won’t play.”

Here’s the thing. Neither Lillard nor his agent have to. They can simply look at the ground and shake their heads when a destination is mentioned and everybody, including the team looking to buy in on them, will know what that means.

GM: “Aaron, level with me. Will Dame come here and be happy?”

Goodwin: “Well................” (silence)

As long as they don’t do that in front of cameras on ESPN, not a single word of the injunction got violated in that conversation.

Or if that’s too much for you:

Reporter: Rumors indicate that the Blazers would like to trade Damian Lillard to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY ANONYMOUS league sources say that he wouldn’t be thrilled with that move.

The memo is not a bad thing, but be careful how much stock you put into it changing the current situation. The league’s not issuing a warning because they’re worried about where Lillard ends up. They’re issuing a warning because this whole thing has gotten messy. These matters are sensitive right now because of the Ben Simmons holdout. Owners don’t like the idea of paying hundreds of millions of dollars to players who aren’t playing and don’t want to encourage that idea.

The NBA will happily sign off on a Lillard-to-Miami deal as long as it’s done in conventional ways that don’t throw the system into controversy. If they don’t want to deal with the Heat as their sole trading partner, the Blazers and their fans still have to hope that Lillard’s List really is bigger than advertised. The league isn’t coming to the rescue with anything more than a pat on the head and a warning to play nice.

Thanks for the question! You can send yours to and we’ll try to answer as many as we can!