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June 28, 2021

NBA trade rumors: Damian Lillard may want out of Portland. Could Sixers trade Ben Simmons for him?

Damian Lillard is a hell of a lot of fun to watch play basketball. But throughout his career, if you wanted to watch the Blazers guard rip the hearts out of his opponents, especially in the postseason, it required staying up late to watch the West Coast nightcap. 

But after Portland reportedly decided to hire Chauncey Billups as its next head coach, there's at least a chance that Lillard is playing in a different time slot next season. According to Yahoo! Sports' Chris Haynes, Lillard is unhappy with the current situation, in part because of the current direction of the franchise, but more specifically over the backlash he's receiving from fans who believe Lillard played a role in the team bringing in Billups, at least in part because of this quote... 

But according to Haynes' sources, Lillard was never consulted on the coaching search, is apparently unhappy with the result and is now facing backlash from fans over a decision he appears to have played no part in.

The enormous backlash from the Portland Trail Blazers' process to hire a new coach and his concerns on whether a championship contender can be built have become factors that may push the franchise player — Damian Lillard — out the door, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Lillard has remained loyal to Portland in large part due to the tremendous fan base. But over the last few days, he’s seen some of those same fans attacking him on social media for a pending coaching hire he played no part in consummating, sources said. [...]

The coaching search was conducted by Neil Olshey, the team’s president of basketball operations. None of the candidates who were interviewed were from suggestions from Lillard, sources said.  []

Obviously, that has led to every fanbase under the sun speculating that their team could be the ones to land Lillard should he demand a trade. And, with the Sixers having a bit of a star crisis of their own, there's a natural connection there. 

In that respect, sign me up. Like, right now.

For the Sixers, any major moves made this offseason, like trading away Ben Simmons, should be made with one goal in mind: maximizing Joel Embiid's championship window, which isn't going to be open forever given the big man's injury history and just the general understanding that bodies that large often have a limited shelf life in the NBA as it is, especially when they play as hard as Embiid does. 

That's why a deal for several middling pieces, younger project-type players or even a collection of high picks seems foolish. The Sixers are contenders — despite their early playoff exit, let's not forget they had the best record in the Eastern Conference during the regular season — and aren't that far away from putting together a championship roster. Embiid is an incredibly easy player to build around. He's a big man who can still spread the floor while also dominating in the post, a talented passer when the double-teams come and a dream partner on pick-and-roll sets because of his ability to keep defenses honest coming around the screens.

Now, add a player like Lillard, who can shoot from anywhere on the floor and who would command defensive attention that current opponents only really need to focus on Embiid, and things open up even more for the big man. From an on-court perspective, it couldn't make any more sense. 

The problem from a Sixers perspective is Simmons' current value, which took a massive hit this postseason. Once a deal that both sides might've looked at favorably suddenly looks much more one-sided, meaning the Blazers would want considerably more than just Simmons — if they're even entertaining moving Lillard at all. 

Then again, in the age of player empowerment, they might not have a choice if Lillard truly wants out. And the same can be said about the Sixers, who could theoretically have the best package to offer, but might not ultimately make a difference if Lillard doesn't want to play in Philly. Here's more from Kyle Neubeck's recent mailbag about the prospect of the Sixers landing Lillard in a Simmons-centric trade. 

I think it's hard to put a price on what Lillard means to Portland, and I think if he gets to the point where he wants out, where he wants to go matters as much as what you can offer. I don't think Simmons is necessarily the guy to lead a Lillard package right now, but that might ultimately be meaningless if Lillard has his eyes set on another team in another market. My suspicion is that Lillard is going to get where he wants to go one way or another.

Is that Philadelphia? Maybe. But he's a West Coast guy through and through, and if the Sixers don't start threatening more seriously than they have in recent years, I don't think the guy who takes pride in seeing things through on his own is going to change his mind in order to join another flawed contender. If (and perhaps when) he pivots to ring-chasing mode, he's going to give himself the best chance possible to win.  [MORE]

Of course, as Haynes mentioned in his reporting, part of Lillard's frustration is over concerns that Portland will be unable to build a championship contender around him. In Philadelphia, with an MVP runner-up in Embiid and several other promising pieces around him — not to mention a top executive like Daryl Morey making decisions — that shouldn't be as much of a concern. 

Sure, they lost to the Hawks in the second round, a team they were favored against in every game, but by adding Lillard in place of Simmons, the team would be addressing their biggest issue, and the Blazers guard would have to see that. 

Would Portland be willing to part ways with their franchise cornerstone? Do they still they highly enough of Simmons to believe they can remain competitive after such a trade? And, perhaps most importantly, what else would they want from Philly — and what would Morey be willing to give up to sweeten the deal? 

We don't currently know the answers to these questions, but we're likely going to find out as this offseason really gets underway. Stay tuned... 

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