July 06, 2023
The trade markets for Damian Lillard and James Harden are still taking shape, as the Blazers and Sixers weigh all the possible outcomes of sending star talent out the door. And while Lillard looks like a safer bet to move in the immediate future, some important factors are slowing down the offers from teams like Philadelphia.
In the latest from ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the source guru checks in on the situation in Portland, where Lillard and his team have given something close to a "Miami or bust" mandate to the Blazers' front office. Per Woj:
Ownership plans to honor Lillard's request for a trade, but Blazers officials are telling teams they'll move Lillard for only the deepest return of assets available. Portland is pursuing the sliding scale superstar package of desirable draft picks and high-level young players. For the summer, Cronin's betting the market over Miami.
As he executes the exit of the greatest player in franchise history, executives talking to Cronin describe him as devoid of sentiment. Business for Lillard, business for the Blazers.
As Cronin explores the broader landscape, Lillard's agent, Aaron Goodwin, has been calling prospective trade partners and warning against trading for his client, team executives told ESPN. Goodwin is telling organizations outside of Miami that trading for Lillard is trading for an unhappy player. As interference goes, this is a time-honored agent maneuver to depress offers and clear a path to a predetermined destination. [ESPN]
For those of us without real skin in the game, it makes for a fascinating story to follow. Lillard, whose loyalty to his franchise has been sold as one of his greatest character traits, is now threatening to tank whatever value they might recoup for him on his way out. The Blazers are in a position where they have to decide between honoring the wishes of a franchise legend, one who they failed to put a suitable contender around, or doing what's best for the organization.
This battle, and the combined position of Lillard and Goodwin, does go a long way toward explaining Philadelphia's public stance on Lillard. Philadelphia has not ruled out a trade for Lillard entirely, sources have said throughout the past week, but team personnel have consistently underplayed the odds of doing so. That's for good reason — it would come at a high price, it would require multiple teams and a lot of moving parts, and it's unclear if the Sixers would emerge as a championship-ready team from such a trade. Gutting your team for the sake of chasing another star could have disastrous consequences, and potentially leave the Sixers in a worse spot than they're in right now.
Then there's the Tyrese Maxey component. After we reported last week that the Sixers would not be extending Maxey this offseason, initial speculation about his availability in a trade turned into one consistent message. The Sixers have communicated to anyone who will listen that he's not being moved and that Maxey is a treasured member of their current and future core. It's the truth insofar as anything can be set in stone for an NBA team aiming to win a title in the immediate future. Part of the reason Maxey isn't available is because of that pushback from Lillard and his agent. As Lillard and Goodwin push to render all non-Miami trades irrelevant, the Sixers have added incentive to put their relationship with a young and rising player first. Why put Maxey in an offer that for all intents and purposes won't matter in the end?
As Woj points out, this is pretty standard posturing from a modern-age star trying to force their way to a new home, and teams have reaped the benefits of taking the gamble before. I'm not sure the Kawhi Leonard to Toronto example is going to hold up in this instance, though. The Raptors were able to keep a strong team and culture around Leonard post-trade because of what the Spurs prioritized in return for the wing star. By comparison, the Blazers don't seem to be prioritizing readymade players (a la Demar DeRozan in that Raptors trade) and parts in return for Lillard, with the organization looking toward a potential rebuild. That means you're going to have to try to win a trade on volume and upside, and a team like the Sixers could end up in the danger zone offering either, if not both of those things.
That's why for now, it looks unlikely for Philadelphia to be Lillard's next home. The Sixers continue to look at all options behind the scenes, and the next week in Las Vegas will undoubtedly accelerate conversations between executives around the league. But keep your expectations in check for big, starry additions until Philadelphia figures out exactly what's happening with their own disgruntled guard.
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