The NBA offseason will really heat up once the NBA Finals end next week, and one of the most interesting teams to watch this summer will be the Portland Trail Blazers. Portland has finished well under .500 each of the past two seasons despite having a top-10 player and future Hall of Famer in All-Star guard Damian Lillard. Is Lillard's time with the Blazers at an end? A former teammate thinks so, and Lillard didn't exactly commit to Portland this week. SportsLine offers odds on his future.
Lillard has been incredibly loyal to the franchise that drafted him No. 6 overall in 2012 out of Weber State, but if Lillard wants to win a ring in the near future at age 32, he might finally have to demand a trade. Lillard's friend and former teammate, Pelicans guard CJ McCollum, said this week to Stephen A. Smith that that if he were a betting man, he believes Lillard has played his final game with Portland.
This season, Lillard averaged a career-high 32.2 points, the third-best mark in the NBA. He was limited to 58 games, both due to injury and the Blazers shutting him down so they could tank for draft lottery purposes. It actually worked. No, Portland didn't jump way up and win the lottery and the chance to draft Victor Wembanyama, but the Blazers did move up a couple of spots to No. 3. That's important in what is considered a three-player draft with Wembanyama on his own tier, and then Alabama forward Brandon Miller and G-League guard Scoot Henderson on the next one down.
Most believe Charlotte will take Miller at No. 2 because the Hornets already have a point guard in LaMelo Ball, so that should leave Henderson to Portland at No. 3. Do the Blazers take him and put him next to Lillard? Or do they trade the All-Star, keep the pick and fully commit to a rebuild? Lillard said back in April that he's "not interested" in having the Blazers draft another young player. He wants to win now.
"I want to have an opportunity to win in Portland," Lillard said. "We got an opportunity, asset-wise, to build a team that can compete. If we can't do that … then it's a separate conversation we would have to have. I want a chance to go for it. And if the route is to [draft youth], then that's not my route."
Lillard has four years left on his deal, with his salary starting at $45.6 million next season and only going up after that. The Blazers would do right by the franchise's all-time leading scorer and not send him where he wouldn't want to go, but note that Lillard doesn't have a no-trade clause. This week on Showtime, Lillard specifically singled out Miami and Brooklyn when asked which team he wouldn't mind being traded to if it came to that.
"Miami obviously," Lillard said on Showtime's The Last Stand with Brian Custer. "Miami is the obvious one. Bam [Adebayo] is my dog. Bam is my dog for real. But I mean I think Miami is the obvious one. Brooklyn is another obvious one because Mikal Bridges is my dog too. I mean, both have capable rosters."
The Nets do have a ton of first-round picks they could to the Blazers from the Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant trades, but Brooklyn is not close to title contention, either, so why would it do that? If anything, the Nets may want to get a bit younger. I will say that a trade of Ben Simmons and Patty Mills (plus draft picks) to Portland for Lillard works salary-wise.
Pretty much all NBA players playing in Miami because of the lifestyle and the lack of state income taxes in Florida. If the Heat come up short in this year's NBA Finals against Denver, they might try to piece together a package for one more run next year with Jimmy Butler and Lillard. Would Miami consider a package built around Tyler Herro? The Heat have done just fine without him in this postseason after Herro was hurt in Round 1.
The Knicks are on the precipice of title contention and also have a lot of future draft picks to dangle to Portland. Pretty much all NBA players love playing in New York. If the Knicks are a bit down on All-Star Julius Randle as some have said, Randle and Evan Fournier (and many draft picks) could work for Lillard.
All-Star Trae Young might be wearing out his welcome in Atlanta. Lillard for Young actually works straight up. Perhaps Young isn't quite the player Lillard is but he's close, and it might make sense for Portland because Young is only 24 and also locked up long term.
Lillard also mentioned Boston in the Showtime piece. There have been some rumors that Jaylen Brown isn't happy there and could leave in free agency after next season. The Celtics probably wouldn't do Brown for Lillard straight up, but Malcolm Brogdon, Marcus Smart and draft picks works in a trade salary-wise.
That Chris Paul is reportedly about to be released by Phoenix could affect Lillard's potential trade market a bit. For example, Boston can just add Paul for nothing but money.
Via SportsLine oddsmakers: Which team will Damian Lillard open the 2023-24 NBA season with if not Portland?
- Heat +300
- Nets +500
- Knicks +600
- Hawks +900
- Raptors +1000
- 76ers +1500
- Bulls +1800
- Celtics +2000
- Pelicans +2500
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