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July 01, 2023

NBA Trade Rumors: Damian Lillard asks out of Portland, but only wants Miami

Our long national nightmare is finally over. After years of speculation surrounding Damian Lillard's future in Portland, he has finally requested a trade away from the Blazers, according to reports from all across the NBA universe.

The Blazers' star now becomes the most coveted man on the NBA trade block, but there is a catch. While initial reporting suggested that the Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat were two of his preferred destinations, the scope narrowed quickly from there, with a group of reporters including The Athletic's David Aldridge suggesting that Lillard's only preferred destination is Miami. 

Yahoo's Vincent Goodwill took it a step further, reporting that the Sixers were not even up for consideration on Lillard's end:

Looking at this from a Philadelphia perspective, that would appear to make this an open-and-shut case. But the Heat standing atop the power rankings creates a fascinating dynamic even compared to recent star trades of the past.

A star player having eyes on one team in a trade isn't new, but many prominent examples have featured intriguing packages going the other way. When Anthony Davis had his eyes on the Lakers, for example, they were loaded up with prospects like Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and picks to trade. When Kevin Durant made his way to Phoenix last season, the Suns had Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, and a lot of picks to offer the Nets, who sent Durant packing to end the Brooklyn superteam era.

By comparison, Miami's best offer to the Blazers looks awfully light. The headliner would figure to be Tyler Herro, who makes no on-paper sense in a Portland backcourt that already features Anfernee Simons and incoming No. 3 pick Scoot Henderson. The Blazers or Heat would likely have to find another trade partner who was interested in Herro in order to make this a more appealing starting point for Portland. The saving grace for the Heat: while they aren't exactly loaded up with young talent elsewhere, they do have control of several first-round picks and can bolster a package with draft capital.

The Blazers have a choice to make. Do you work on sending a franchise hero to his preferred destination at the cost of a poor trade return and a painful immediate future? Or do you try to do right by the franchise while still trying to honor his hope to join a contender elsewhere? Even if they choose the second door, Lillard's lust for Miami will likely dampen the trade offers from other teams who are interested in acquiring him.

The Sixers, sources say, are operating under that same "Lillard wants Miami" belief that everyone else is working under. It is why their likelihood of acquiring him was characterized as low, as we reported on Friday, but no one was comfortable completely ruling them out. It's just a difficult move to pull off under the circumstances for multiple reasons.

Lillard's $45.6 million salary in 2023-24 would require significant outgoing salary to offset for salary matching, independent of the value they'd have to offer in order to make a deal happen. The Sixers are under the belief that they would likely have to put together a three or four-team deal in order to make everyone happy and CBA-compliant, and that would probably end up being too significant of a challenge to pull off.

With the Clippers emerging as one of the earliest suitors for James Harden, some have tried to turn that into speculation for a three-team deal involving the Blazers, Sixers, and Clippers, sending Harden to L.A., Lillard to Philly, and a role players plus picks package to Portland. There is some logic to that sort of arrangement, but it gets flimsier as more information comes out regarding Lillard's preferences. That package, it's assumed, would need to feature someone like Tyrese Maxey to juice up Philadelphia's offer.

To this point, Maxey has not been made available in trade talks, according to multiple sources. While this could always change based on how Portland handles these trade negotiations, Philadelphia would seem to have little incentive to dangle a valuable young player for a trade that is unlikely to happen or appease the star in question. Though we reported Friday that the team is not planning to extend him this offseason, Maxey remains a critical piece of Philadelphia's long-term plans and the extension situation is connected to Philadelphia preserving flexibility for the summer of 2024. 

(And even if Maxey were made available, his inclusion in any deal would appear to have similar complications as Herro would for Portland. Adding another small guard to that backcourt would not accomplish much of anything, as good as Maxey is. So they would likely be under the same pressure as Miami to find another team to re-route players and/or picks in order to please the Blazers.)

If we were handicapping this as it stands right now, Lillard will be in South Beach and the Sixers will see exactly what the market brings them in a James Harden deal, as Daryl Morey tries to wait out a best offer for the mercurial guard. If Lillard had asked out two summers ago, we could be living in a world where the Sixers were coming off of a second season of the Dame and Embiid show, but that's a section of the multiverse I'd guess we'll never see.

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