The Portland Trail Blazers host NBA Media Day in just over a week on Oct. 2, and the Damian Lillard trade saga remains unfinished.
However, Portland is working hard to manufacture a deal before the big press event in an effort to avoid the awkward elephant in the room and move into the season with no distractions, according to Marc Stein in his latest report for The Stein Line [subscription required].
Only the Blazers themselves know if they consider the start of training camp to be an absolute deadline organizationally, but the belief leaguewide is that they wouldn’t be talking to as many teams as they’ve talked to in recent days if they weren’t serious about wanting to get a deal done before the season starts anew.
Among the franchises emerging from the trade chatter, Stein reported many teams around the league think the Toronto Raptors have “genuine” interest in acquiring the seven-time NBA All-Star point guard. How willing Toronto is to push its chips in for Lillard may be held up by Lillard’s reported disinterest in playing for the organization, Stein said.
The Toronto Raptors have convinced numerous teams around the league that their interest in trading for Lillard is genuine.
The uncertainty at this point stems more from gauging Toronto’s true willingness to push all the way forward with its Lillard pursuit when it’s believed that the All-Star guard, behind the scenes, remains so resistant to the idea of becoming a Raptor.
Parallels could be made to Toronto’s 2018 swing to trade for Kawhi Leonard and a surprise move to land Lillard this off-season. The Leonard gamble famously resulted in a championship, but Stein said there are big differences that make a Lillard transaction riskier. For one, Toronto had a better all-around roster when it traded for Leonard. Secondly, Leonard had only one season left on his deal and didn’t have the reported one-team demand like Lillard, who has four seasons left on his contract and reportedly only has eyes for the Miami Heat.
Do the Raptors really want to trade for the expensive Lillard, at age 33, if he doesn’t want to play for them?
If the Blazers end up unable to find mutual ground on a trade with Toronto, Miami or any other team soon, Stein proposed they may just have to not abide by their unofficial pre-season deadline. Stein said waiting would be smarter than settling for a lackluster deal in the name of change.
A strong case can be made that Lillard is too good, too important to the franchise and the community and too difficult to replace on too many levels for Portland to rush the process now … even if that means bringing a halt to trade talks, starting the season with Lillard still on the roster and dealing with the various distractions that would cause.
It’s shaping up to be an important and busy eight days until Media Day in Rip City, no matter which path Portland takes.