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Blazers GM Cronin Out-Waited Lillard to Get Bucks Trade Done

It wasn’t a matter of convincing the All-Star as much as outlasting him.

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

Now that the Damian Lillard trade saga has reached a conclusion, multiple parties are performing a post mortem on the deal and details leading up to it. Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report was the first out of the gates, describing an acrimonious parting in which Lillard felt estranged from the Portland Trail Blazers, his home club for 11 seasons.

Yesterday Sam Amick and Shams Charania of The Athletic penned their own version [subscription required], with a view somewhat kinder to the Blazers.

The Amick/Charania report confirmed Haynes’ claim that Lillard was willing to report to training camp for the Blazers this fall, but described the move as a reprieve, giving Portland more time to consummate a deal with the Miami Heat, Lillard’s preferred destination.

As the NBA offseason calendar shifted to September and there was no trade in sight to his preferred trade destination of the Miami Heat, Damian Lillard incorporated himself back into the Portland Trail Blazers’ ecosystem. For the last two weeks, team sources say Lillard has been working out at the Blazers practice facility, interacting with players and coaches.

Nearly three months after his trade request, was there a reconciliation in the works? No, but Lillard wanted the Blazers to know he was willing to remain patient while his uncomfortable exit played out.

On a call between Lillard’s agent, Aaron Goodwin, and Blazers general manager Joe Cronin earlier this month, it was communicated that Lillard would be content rejoining Portland for training camp. Lillard let the Blazers know he was willing to be fully present for the start of the 2023-24 season, if only to give the organization more time to work toward a potential trade with the Heat, sources briefed on those conversations say. But according to league sources, Cronin expressed skepticism about that approach. The Blazers were determined to get a deal done before the start of camp.

The article also described Blazers General Manager Joe Cronin cutting off communication with Lillard and his agent Aaron Goodwin, again as Haynes had described, but attributed that move as key to opening up further possible destinations for Lillard.

As the Blazers began to start serious trade talks across the league on Sept. 18, a bevy of teams — the Bucks, Boston Celtics, New Orleans Pelicans, Toronto Raptors, Minnesota Timberwolves and Chicago Bulls — all showed interest in Lillard, league sources have told The Athletic. For all involved, the questions revolved around the price tag for Lillard and whether the roster would be able to compete for a championship post-acquisition.

Meanwhile, in Lillard’s camp, sources briefed on the matter say there was a realization that he would need to start seriously considering the prospect of playing somewhere other than Miami. That had been the case since the start, back when Lillard fielded a recruiting call from the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum not long after his trade request.

But when Cronin stopped responding to all communication from Goodwin in mid-September — with the tension rising between both sides along the way — sources briefed on the discussions say it inspired the agent to explore other team options that would be to Lillard’s liking. And Tatum, as it turned out, was hardly the only superstar who wanted to bring him to town.

The article also talks about the trade from the perspective of the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns, Portland’s trading partners, plus some analysis of Portland acquiring Deandre Ayton and Jrue Holiday in exchange for Lillard.