clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Demystifying Damian Lillard Returning to Portland

Yes, it can happen. But do you want it to?

Los Angeles Clippers v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The NBA is in the midst of its annual August hibernation period, but the Portland Trail Blazers and Damian Lillard still have unfinished business on the trade front. Lillard’s fate might not be a subject for daily speculation the way it was last month, but it’s still a multi-times-per-week discussion on national and local fronts.

The delay is causing some Blazers fans to consider alternate scenarios. Trade machine suggestions are still the most popular. As time passes, though, more folks are taking the opposite route, as evidenced by today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag question.


What if a trade for Dame never materializes? We keep hearing that he wants to go to Miami but if he really wants out of Portland wouldn’t he allow for more options? Maybe he doesn’t hate being here as badly as people think. Being a 2nd option is still better than 28 other teams. If he can’t get his 1st, do you see any way he comes back and is happy? Is it too late to walk all this back for another year or maybe more?


Yes, he could return. But we need to look closer at this. It’s not going to be exactly what you expect.

Saying, “The Blazers are Damian Lillard’s second choice if he isn’t traded to the Heat” sounds good in theory. In practice, it doesn’t help. If Lillard returns to start the season, it’s not because he wants to play in Portland. It’s because he still wants to play in Miami.

If Lillard were traded anywhere else besides the Heat, his chances of ending up in South Beach would diminish greatly. The team receiving him would not be able to turn around and move him because of NBA trade restrictions. Even when those expire, they wouldn’t be inclined to trade him right away, like a house to flip. They want him to play for them.

Barring some kind of Jimmy-Butler-level shenanigans, Lillard would be looking at two years, minimum, before he could hope for a Miami move. At that point he’d be 35, with huge contract years remaining. Even if his new team would consider trading him for diminished returns, there’s no guarantee the Heat would still want him under those conditions.

If Dame is serious about playing for Pat Riley and company, the deal has to go down now (or soon). Returning to Portland would be a sign that he’s still holding out for that trade, forsaking all others, digging in his heels about moving anywhere else. It would indicate that he was more committed to the terms of his current trade demand, not less.

At that point, Lillard and the Blazers would be like a late-stage married couple, knowing they were divorcing eventually but staying together now for practical reasons (finances, the kids, you name it). I can guarantee you that almost anybody who’s been in that situation just cringed when they read that sentence. You can make it work, but a limbo state isn’t pleasant for anybody. That’s true even when both parties are equally committed to it. In this case, the Blazers don’t even like the kids they’re staying together for (a mandated trade to Miami).

We’re probably not going to see public animosity from either party. They’re too smart for that, too conscious of their images. Everyone will say exactly the right things, keeping up appearances, like the married couple showing up for work functions. That’s not going to make the situation palatable, especially in an ultra-competitive environment where everybody staying on the same page is one of the prerequisites for performing well.

Every time Lillard scores 35, it’ll come with an asterisk. “Ok, but when...” Every time he’s asked whether the superlative performance means he’s happy in Portland again, he’ll have to grit his teeth and come up with a boilerplate answer. That’s going to wear thin, quickly.

We’re not even considering Scoot Henderson and the development of the team behind Lillard. He’s not going to inhibit their growth in any way besides absorbing minutes they’d otherwise get. I don’t believe there’s any chance he submarines the squad. But Scoot wasn’t drafted to be the understudy, nor will he be happy doing so for long. The questions for, and about, him will be as plentiful and onerous as Lillard’s. Ditto Anfernee Simons and, behind him, Shaedon Sharpe.

Even if they solve that conundrum, the team can’t move on to their next iteration with Dame at the center of the action. It’s like saying your polka band is going to switch to punk rock, but the lead accordion player is staying on for a while and you’re going to put half the stage mics on him. The show must go on, but you’ll not going to hear the real rendition of Anarchy in the U.K. with “Roll Out the Barrels” screaming through the amps, even if that Oom-pah-pah guy is a superstar musician.

If Lillard comes back, the season goes into a holding pattern. The team may actually be better for the duration, but it’s not going to last. Even if the losses mount, they can find better, more lasting, uses for these games.

If a suitable deal can’t be found this summer, the Blazers may end up in the same situation as the Brooklyn Nets last year with Kevin Durant. If so, they’ll make it work. But this is a classic case of, “Be careful what you wish for.” It’ll feel better, in a way, if Lillard suits up in October. It’s not going to feel good enough, or last long enough, to distract from the overarching issue. If possible, a clean split is going to be best for all parties. If that doesn’t happen, the sooner Miami (and friends) can come up with a suitable offer, the better.

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