Damian Lillard Trade Rumors: Knicks, 76ers, Heat, Among 'Most Aggressive Suitors'

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVJuly 20, 2021

LAS VEGAS, NV -  JULY 18: Damian Lillard #6 of the USA Men's National Team looks on during the game against the Spain Men's National Team on July 18, 2021 at Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Houston Rockets, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings have reportedly been the "most aggressive suitors" in pursuit of a trade for Portland Trail Blazers superstar point guard Damian Lillard.

Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer reported Tuesday that "few team executives" expect a blockbuster trade involving Lillard this offseason, but there's intense interest in part because of his four-year, $176.3 million pact, which keeps him under contract through at least the 2023-24 season.

Amid speculation Lillard was close to requesting a trade out of Portland, the six-time All-Star said Friday that wouldn't be the case in the immediate future, but he made it clear the Blazers must be "more urgent" about trying to assemble a roster that can win an NBA championship.

"Right now I'm not sure what I'm going to do. What I can say is my intentions and my heart has always been set on being in a Trail Blazers uniform for my entire career," Lillard told reporters. "But I think over time, you want to win it all. And I want to win it all in a Trail Blazers uniform. But we all have to be making strides toward that."

If the Blazers make him available, he'd be alongside Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard, who can both become unrestricted free agents via player options, as the most coveted players on the summer market.

Lillard averaged 28.8 points, which ranked third in the NBA, along with 7.5 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 4.1 threes across 67 appearances during the 2020-21 season. He finished seventh in MVP voting.

Yet, despite his high-level play and continued strong production from backcourt mate CJ McCollum, the Blazers finished sixth in the Western Conference with a 42-30 record and were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by the Denver Nuggets.

Portland has reached the postseason in eight consecutive years but only advanced to the conference finals once in the span, when it was swept by the Golden State Warriors in 2019.

All five of the teams with serious interest O'Connor listed are obvious fits, especially the Knicks, who've finally turned a corner in their extended rebuild but are still searching for a franchise point guard—a hunt that's lasted over a decade.

The Heat and Sixers may present the best chance to chase down a title and, like the Knicks, would allow the Blazers to move him outside the Western Conference. The Rockets and Kings would make him their cornerstone as they attempt to climb back up the standings.

That said, it's hard to imagine Portland moving him at this stage. He's under contract for at least three years, and the team's championship window, which appeared wide open a couple of years ago, would likely be closed if he's traded for future assets.

In the short term, Lillard is heading to the Tokyo Olympics with Team USA in pursuit of the country's fourth consecutive gold medal in men's basketball.