Dave shares his thoughts on the Damian Lillard trade drama, how Blazer’s fans are handling the ambiguity, the current state of the NBA and more
It’s been about two months since Damian Lillard shocked the world by making a trade request to the Eastern Conference champion, Miami Heat, and well…nothing has happened. Instead, we’ve faced a summer filled with speculation, rumors, and nothing to show for it as media day fast approaches. From a Miami Heat perspective, the fans are all in – the chance to add another whale puts the Heat right back in contention and fighting for a fourth championship.
However, from a Portland perspective, things are a little bit more complicated. Losing your franchise’s top player is never easy, Heat fans faced a similar reality in 2016 when Dwyane Wade departed for Chicago. I spoke with Dave Deckard, Editor of SB Nation’s Blazer’s Edge to dive a little bit deeper into the Portland perspective and what the reality looks like from the lens of Blazers’ fans.
Following the way last season ended for the Blazers, did Dame’s request come at all as a surprise?
It was always going to be something of a surprise, as both he and the Trail Blazers had been deflecting trade talk for most of the past three seasons.
Throughout, Lillard has evoked “loyalty” as a core virtue. Even when he was holding that placard high, he never said definitively that he was staying in Portland for the remainder of his career. He couched it in terms of “wanting” to win in Portland and “hoping” he could finish his career here. He lifted competitiveness and championships as strong desires alongside loyalty.
Two years ago, and even last summer, the “wanting Portland” side of the scale weighed heavier in his public statements than “runs and titles”.
As the Summer of 2022 changed into fall, though, a new strain emerged. Lillard trumpeted Portland’s potential advancement in the year to come, swearing up and down that they would not repeat the dive that took them into the 2022 NBA Lottery.
When the Blazers began tanking for the second straight year despite Lillard’s assurances, uncertainty arose. After the season he didn’t talk about hopes and dreams. He relayed that the Blazers had promised to upgrade their roster and he was waiting to see what happened. At that point, his views were pretty clear.
When Portland did nothing in trades and free agency, the trade request was bound to come. When it finally hit, the surprise was mild. It was still shocking to hear, though. After 11 years, envisioning a franchise without Dame isn’t easy. It’s like a jar of Jif without peanuts. No matter how you describe it, it’s going to be weird.
How are you feeling personally about the way things have been handled by both Dame as well as the Trail Blazers front office? And what’s your pulse as to the way Blazers’ fans are feeling right now?
Each side is doing what they need to. The front office is doing the only thing they can: protect their prerogatives amid a storm of negative publicity. Dame is certainly within his rights to demand a trade to one team, as inconvenient as it is. It’s hard to find serious fault with either, at least from their own perspectives.
If Lillard and Aaron Goodwin did anything wrong, it was overestimating Dame’s stroke. He’s popular, but he’s not LeBron James. Goodwin played superstar cards in buffaloing other teams away from his client in favor of Miami. That brought the wrath of the NBA and debuffed Dame’s image a little. More discretion and a little less Paris Hiltoning would have helped.
I don’t know about the casual fan, but among informed devotees, Lillard fatigue is real. Nobody expects him back. If he does come back, nobody expects him to stay. Fans want to know what’s next, and what deal will get done. When that comes, they’ll be excited again. Absent that news, everybody has heard enough by now. We don’t need any more “Blazers Aren’t Budging” stories.
Do you think the trade request and the way it has been handled will impact Dame’s legacy in Portland?
No. His number will be retired. He’ll be greeted with a standing ovation the first time he returns and huge cheers ever after. Everybody knows why Dame is leaving. It’s his choice for sure, but it’s not entirely his fault.
If no deal is reached, how do you think things play out in Portland? Are we seeing Vince Carter leaving TO 2.0, or something more reserved?
Dame and the team both have an image to uphold. They’ll find a way to do that. Maybe Lillard will be sidelined with an injury until he’s traded. Maybe he’ll play and score 30 per game. I don’t see any chance he sits out, nor that the Blazers drag him through the mud. Those options would be costly. Much easier just to say little as they play out the string.
If a deal is reached who from the Miami Heat would you like to see as a Blazer?
No wait. Erik Spoelstra.
I don’t think I’ve personally seen things handled this way by a player and agent before – and while less than explosive than James Harden’s demands this speaks to a new reality in the player empowerment era.
What are your thoughts on that?
Maybe, but the effect is still limited. You have to have clout to pull off this kind of move. Only a few players have that credit. It’s like saying, “There’s a new era of billionaires buying private islands.” True, but that doesn’t mean that a million private islands will be bought.
If a deal is reached and Dame becomes a member of the Miami Heat, where does that move the Heat with respect to the current landscape of the East?
The East is so fuzzy, it’s hard to say. We don’t know what’s happening in Philadelphia. The Bucks still exist. The Celtics too. I’m not sure the Heat are clearly better than those teams, even with Dame. They’re certainly in the mix, though.
If Dame is no longer a member of the Blazers, what should we expect from the team in the short term?
What do Sherman, Gas, and Shark have in common?
I know many were confused by the Grant contract, and then drafting Scoot. Are you confident in the direction of the team right now?
The team won’t have a direction until they’ve traded Lillard and taken a step or two onward. It’s like planning a road trip but needing to drop off Grandma’s Giant Wardrobe from the back of the van first. As long as that thing is in there, nobody’s packing and loading, let alone driving anywhere else. We don’t know what direction they’re headed, or what they need to take along the journey until we see a bunch of games in the post-Lillard world.
Drafting Scoot Henderson was a simple call if they were afraid Lillard was going to leave. Even if they felt he was on the fence, Scoot freed them from their bondage to Dame’s Decision.
Had the Blazers let Jerami Grant walk in free agency, they would have generated zero usable cap space and received zero extra talent. They re-signed him to preserve him as a potential trade asset in the future. If he works out in Portland, so much the better. But letting him go would have been silly.