Damian Lillard Rumors: Blazers PG Was on List of Stars Kawhi Leonard Targeted in 2019

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVJuly 1, 2021

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard runs upcourt after scoring against the Utah Jazz during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

As he was lining up a move to the Los Angeles Clippers, Kawhi Leonard had Damian Lillard on his "list of stars he wanted to team up with," according to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor.

Lillard's future with the Portland Trail Blazers has become a topic of discussion following the team's first-round exit in this year's NBA playoffs. Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported "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 ... out the door."

The acquisition of Paul George coincided with Leonard's arrival on the Clippers. According to then-head coach Doc Rivers, Leonard zeroed in on George upon seeing a list of possible trade targets.

"We showed him everybody else and he didn't want to hear it," Rivers said in September 2019. "He just stayed on Paul George, so after the meeting we sat down and I said, 'We got to get Paul George. I don't know how we are going to do it, but we have to do it.' We did know that Oklahoma City wanted to break their team up, so that helped, but we didn't know if we could get him."

That doesn't necessarily contradict O'Connor's report because Lillard could just as easily have been on that list, too. Rivers couldn't exactly publicly declare Leonard's desire to line up alongside a player on another team, either.

The idea of landing the six-time All-Star was likely nothing more than a pipe dream at that time anyway. Portland reached the 2019 Western Conference Finals, so it wasn't in a position to jettison its best player, who was also signed for two more years.

Were the Clippers to pursue Lillard now, pulling off a trade might be difficult.

His departure would almost certainly signal a rebuild in Portland—or at least a partial teardown—much like the George trade did for the Oklahoma City Thunder. In that case, it wouldn't make much sense for the Blazers to swap Lillard for George.

Los Angeles, meanwhile, exhausted a lot of its trade capital in order to get the 6'8" swingman. Most of the team's draft picks belong to the Thunder, and a package centered around Terance Mann and Ivica Zubac probably isn't all that attractive to the Blazers.