Lillard was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday.
In a shockwave sent around the NBA Wednesday, guard Damian Lillard was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks in a three-team deal involving the Phoenix Suns. The deal sent Jrue Holiday, Deandre Ayton, Toumani Camara and a 2029 first-round pick (Bucks) plus two pick swaps in 2028 and 2030 (Bucks) to Portland with Jusuf Nurkic, Nassir Little, Keon Johnson and Grayson Allen.
Lillard, who spent 11 seasons in Portland as arguably its greatest player ever, and his agent, Aaron Goodwin, were more than public regarding his top trade destination: The Miami Heat.
According to NBA insider Shams Charania, in a story published on The Athletic Thursday, the Heat and Blazers never engaged in “substantive negotiations” with Portland showing “little to no interest” in engaging with the Heat front office regarding Lillard.
“The Heat came to believe that the Blazers had little to no interest in engaging in a deal with them, and as much as Lillard and Goodwin wished that the Blazers would attempt to satisfy the seven-time All-Star’s wish, Portland refused,” the report read. “As the summer progressed, Lillard wanted the Blazers to find a deal with Miami, but those wishes, in his mind, also went unfulfilled.
“For their part, the Heat, league sources say, were prepared in July and August to offer up to three first-round draft picks — with Tyler Herro going to a third team — and multiple second-rounders and swaps along with expiring contracts and 2022 first-round pick Nikola Jović. But the Blazers were disinterested with each side developing a level of contentiousness.”
Both sides failing to engage isn’t new, however. And Portland ultimately engaged with other teams, such as the Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls, Bucks and New Orleans Pelicans, among others, to find a better deal that wasn’t Miami’s.
They ultimately found that with Milwaukee, who only shipped 33-year-old Holiday with two years left on his deal, Allen plus one first-round pick, instead of the more enriched Heat package.
“But when Cronin stopped responding to all communication from Goodwin in mid-September — with the tension rising between both sides along the way — sources briefed on the discussions say it inspired the agent to explore other team options that would be to Lillard’s liking … Yet once Lillard was convinced that joining the Heat was virtually impossible, sources briefed on discussions say he became open to the prospect of playing for the Bucks and the Brooklyn Nets. The backchannel blessings commenced,” Charania wrote.
This transaction immediately makes the Bucks the favorites to not only make it out of the East, but perhaps to win the Finals. Lillard’s coming off a career season and is now flanked by superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez.
The Heat, meanwhile, brought in veterans Josh Richardson and Thomas Bryant plus rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr. while losing starters Max Strus and Gabe Vincent. They only have 13 players on their roster and they will need to add a 14th before the start of the regular season, per the CBA.
They could convert one of their two-way contracts — RJ Hampton, Jamal Cain or Dru Smith — to a standard contract or they could sign or trade for someone externally. But I guess the biggest question remains: Where should the Heat pivot next, and could they still compete for an NBA Title in the Jimmy Butler-Bam Adebayo window?
Let us know in the comments!