The final stage of the Damian Lillard-Portland Trail Blazers relationship is starting to resemble a bad break up, with parties refusing to find middle ground for the benefit of their mutual friends: the fans. After 11 years as the franchise’s figurehead, Lillard has reportedly demanded the Blazers trade him to one team and one team only, the Miami Heat. While Blazers General Manager Joe Cronin understands Lillard’s desire to move on, he also needs to secure the best possible return. And the Heat don’t have it.
The suggested Miami package of Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, maybe Caleb Martin, a couple of young prospects, two far-out firsts and a pick swap is seriously underwhelming. Particularly for a player like Lillard coming off a career year with no signs of slowing down.
That leads us to the current impasse.
Fortunately, there are another 28 NBA teams, all of which boast intriguing packages. At least half a dozen have some interest in the seven-time All Star.
Unlike Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards, the Blazers are not encumbered by a “no-trade” clause, able to deal the almost 33-year-old. But that doesn’t mean the Blazers plan on sending Lillard to a miserable situation. I believe Cronin wants Lillard to be happy. The Blazers would be happier if Dame would open up his destination list.
In that vein, I’ve ranked the teams rumored to have interest in Lillard’s services based on the best possible pick and player packages.
The idea of getting a first-round pick sounds great, but the spectrum on firsts is pretty wide. Picks with heavy protections or from teams that rarely miss the NBA Playoffs are non-starters.
A package based on unprotected firsts from franchises such as the Minnesota Timberwolves or Charlotte Hornets is going to be a whole lot more attractive. For Lillard, you’d hope for at least three or four quality first-rounders with a swap or two thrown in.
One to two young players with high ceilings on rookie-scale or team-friendly deals are usually the benchmark in deals like this.
Herro misses the cut for two reasons. First, the Blazers already have a collection of young guards and wings, including a similar, cheaper and, arguably, better player in Anfernee Simons. Second, Herro isn’t good enough to be the centerpiece in a deal that yields Damian Lillard, especially with the dearth of picks coming back.
The Blazers need to bring back same or similar money in exchange for Lillard’s $45 million next season. That amount is unlikely to be matched by young players that fit in with Portland’s new timeline. The Blazers are going to have to take back some bad deals, ideally with as few years left as possible.
“Sorry, I’ve got a call on the other line”
10. Miami Heat
Salary ballast: Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Kyle Lowry
Decent prospects: Jaime Jaquez, Nikola Jovic, Caleb Martin
Picks: two future firsts and a pick swap.
Jaquez and Jovic aren’t ringing my bell and Herro is not a game changer. Martin’s a nice role player but will be 28 when the season starts. This is a less-than-ordinary return for a player in Lillard who would no doubt get the Heat close to a title.
9. Los Angeles Clippers
Salary ballast: Norman Powell, Robert Covington, Marcus Morris Sr., Nicolas Batum
Decent prospects: Ivica Zubac, Terence Mann, Bones Hyland, Brandon Boston
Picks: two future firsts and a pick swap.
The Clippers are in a similar pick situation to the Heat. Three quarters of the veterans have already played in Portland. Been there, done that. And none of the young and/or decent rotation players are close enough to being a good-enough return for Lillard.
Salary ballast: Tobias Harris, PJ Tucker
Decent prospects: Tyrese Maxey, D’Anthony Melton
Picks: It’s complicated. Prior obligations to Thunder and 76ers rely on picks conveying.
The 76ers aren’t getting Lillard with picks alone. The only reason Philadelphia is even on this list is Tyrese Maxey but he too replicates the skillsets of the three guys the Blazers hope to build around in Scoot Henderson, Shaedon Sharpe and Simons. Oh, and apparently Daryl Morey isn’t making him available.
“I’m listening “
Salary ballast: Evan Fournier
Decent prospects: Mitchell Robinson, Immanuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes, Miles McBride
Picks: Have all their own firsts plus future protected Mavericks, Pistons, Wizards and Bucks firsts.
The Knicks are surprisingly well-placed to go after a big name. Fournier’s two remaining years is the very definition of salary ballast. Robinson and Grimes are interesting young players and the Blazers could pretty much pick from the draft assets that suit them.
Cronin also has a relationship with the Knicks with the Josh Hart deal from last February’s trade deadline. But a Lillard trade is unlikely to happen with New York placing its point guard hopes on Jalen Brunson.
Salary ballast: Derrick White, Al Horford, Malcolm Brogdon
Decent prospects: Jaylen Brown, Robert Williams III, Payton Pritchard
Picks: Have most of their firsts, except a swap with the Spurs in 2028.
Jaylen Brown is still only 26 and if Henderson and Sharpe can exceed early expectations, a starting lineup of Henderson, Sharpe, Brown, Jerami Grant and insert center, is not horrible. Maybe you secure Williams in the same deal. The Celtics pretty much control their first round pick future but given the talent in Beantown, that pick is unlikely to be high.
The obvious concern for Portland is trying to be good, too quickly, but it’s definitely an interesting thought exercise. Lillard has also said he doesn’t want to be in Boston, which is strange considering his previous comments regarding “just wanting a chance to contend”.
[ed. Another concern is Brown’s desire for a max contract, which would eliminate him from trades in the next year.]
Salary ballast: Ben Simmons, Dorian Finney-Smith, Royce O’Neal
Decent prospects: Nic Claxton, Cam Thomas, Day’Ron Sharpe
Picks: No short-to-medium firsts of their own, four Suns firsts and future firsts from the Mavericks and 76ers.
Lillard named the Nets as an interesting landing spot a couple of months ago, but omitted them when it came time to actually announcing the trade request. While Brooklyn doesn’t control its own pick future, they do hold future firsts from the Phoenix Suns. Given the age and injury history of the Arizona franchise’s new superteam, those picks could end up being decent.
The Nets also own future Mavericks and 76ers picks with the Dallas first also a chance to be OK. I’d be fine taking a flyer on Simmons, if the Blazers could secure Claxton in said deal.
There’s some full circle narrative here with the Blazers using the Nets’ pick in 2012 to draft Lillard. But Brooklyn is reportedly being miserly with their young players, which may inhibit trade prospects.
Salary ballast: Paskal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Chris Boucher, Thad Young,
Decent prospects: Scottie Barnes, Gradey Dick, Precious Achiuwa, Christian Koloko
Picks: Short-term obligation to the Spurs. Once this obligation is met, they own all future firsts
Could the Raptors have been the team that prompted Lillard trade request after they reportedly refused to part with OG Anunoby?
If I’m trading Lillard north of the border, I want Scottie Barnes in return. The 21-year-old makes perfect sense with this young backcourt. With the signing of Dennis Schroder and the reluctance to part with Anunoby and Siakam, Raptors president Masai Ujiri might be gearing up for one last title run before the latter two become free agents.
The Raptors also have relative control of their pick situation but if they’re already parting with Barnes, I doubt Ujiri is prepared to part with anything else of real value.
3. New Orleans Pelicans
Salary ballast: CJ McCollum, Jonas Valanciunas, Larry Nance Jr.
Decent prospects: Zion Williamson, Herb Jones Trey Murphy, Jose Alvarado
Picks: All their own firsts, a Lakers first and a couple of Bucks firsts including swaps.
The reunion of Lillard and McCollum is a non-starter. And I’m certain Cronin has no ambition to bring back McCollum. A third team would have to get involved if the former Lehigh prospect was included in a Lillard swap.
In the lead up to the draft there were rumors swirling about the Pelicans sending Williamson to Portland for the third pick and Anfernee Simons. Would Lillard be enough for David Griffin and the Pelicans to give up on Williamson? If the big guy can get his body right, he’d be a great fit next to Henderson and Sharpe, considering he’s still 23. I’d also be interested in one of Jones or Murphy and a couple of picks.
2. Utah Jazz
Salary ballast: Collin Sexton, Kelly Olynyk, Talen Horton-Tucker
Decent prospects: Taylor Hendricks, Ochai Agbaji, Keyonte George, Walker Kessler
Picks: Owe pick to Thunder next season, free after that. Collection of Wolves and Cavs firsts. Also own a top four protected Lakers pick in 27.
As far as players go, Hendricks, George and Agbaji with Olynyk and Sexton as the matching salary is the goal here. Kessler would be nice but that might be a bridge too far for Danny Ainge.
The Rudy Gobert trade between the Jazz and Wolves could go down as one of the biggest overpays in NBA history. The Blazers can capitalize. Those unrestricted Wolves picks are worth their weight in gold, given the Minneapolis franchise’s inability to stay competitive. We’ve yet to see any indication that the Anthony Edwards, Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns trio can be effective.
That doubt is enough to give me confidence in trading Lillard to Salt Lake City, just down the road from where he played his college basketball.
Salary ballast: Doug McDermott
Decent prospects: Keldon Johnson, Jeremy Sochan, Devin Vassell
Picks: All their own firsts, plus a collection of Hawks firsts, a Raptors first, a Hornets first and a top 11 protected Bulls first in 2025.
The reports of the Spurs’ interest in Lillard might not be firm, but if they decided Victor Wembanyama needs immediate help, the outgoing Portland point guard is a great start.
The variety of picks they own is tantalizing and the young players definitely pique some interest. Johnson will turn 24 just before the start of the season and serves as a nice wing to start at small forward. Sochan is even more appealing with his unique skillset from either forward position. He would solidify the core of this young Portland team.
There’s no doubt the Blazers want Lillard to be happy in his new situation, but the franchise needs to get decent enough value in return.
Whether Lillard’s willing to move on his one-team destination and whether other franchises are brave enough to deal for him, knowing his one-team desire, remains to be seen. But it would behoove Cronin to look further afield to bring back the optimum number of young players and picks.
Despite the omission of a no-trade clause in his contract, Lillard still does have say in where he goes. Let’s just hope he, his management team, and Cronin can find some semblance of middle ground.