Stephen A. Smith: Damian Lillard Prefers Knicks over 76ers as Trade Destination

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIDecember 4, 2021

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) brings the ball up court in the first half during an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

If Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard looks for a trade out of town, the New York Knicks would be his prime destination, per ESPN's Stephen A. Smith.

On Friday's edition of NBA Countdown, Smith provided a report on Lillard's preferred destination (h/t Kyle Neubeck of the Philly Voice). He also noted that people close to Lillard want him to also consider the Philadelphia 76ers.

Kyle Neubeck @KyleNeubeck

Stephen A. Smith just said on NBA Countdown that New York is the one place Dame Lillard would angle for if he eventually wanted/asked out. Adds, “There are people in his camp who would like him to give Philadelphia stronger consideration.”

The 31-year-old Lillard is in his 10th NBA season. He has played his entire career with the Trail Blazers. The six-time All-Star is averaging 21.5 points and 7.8 assists this year. 

Lillard has repeatedly said that he does not want to leave the Trail Blazers despite plenty of rumors and speculation connecting the point guard elsewhere.

"Everybody is saying what they think I'm thinking and what they think I'm going to do, but like, I'm not leaving Portland, you know?" Lillard said in an interview with Jason Quick of The Athletic in October.

Lillard did admit to Quick that he was internally contemplating leaving Portland after a hard-fought playoff series loss to the Denver Nuggets last season, but he reiterated that he never said he wanted to leave.

"Yeah, I was upset," Lillard said.

"We lost to a team (Denver) I thought we should beat. I wanted us to show we really want to win. But I never said, 'Oh, I'm leaving.' I said, 'If that's what it comes to—if this is not what our real focus is—then maybe I will be forced to say all right, it's not going to work.'

"But I never said I was leaving. And I never said this is not where I want to be. I never said that."

This year's Blazers team is off to a rough start at 11-12. A shorthanded Blazers team just fell to the San Antonio Spurs 114-83. Lillard is also struggling, with his 39.7 percent shooting rate a career-worst mark. The team is also in flux with president of basketball operations Neil Olshey recently being fired for violating the club's code of conduct.

Now might be as good a time as any for Lillard to angle for a trade, as a fresh start for the player and the team could be best for both sides.

Lillard has three years left on a supermax deal (including this season), and he also has a player option for the 2024-25 season. A hypothetical trade involving his contract may not be easy, but Lillard is one of the game's greatest guards at his best, and he could help change the trajectory of any team that acquires his services.

On the flip side, Lillard has made his loyalty to Portland very clear, and its season still has 59 more games on the schedule. The Trail Blazers have the same amount of wins as the fourth-place Dallas Mavericks, so the landscape of the Western Conference is such that the ninth-place Blazers could turn quickly move up the rankings if they can build any momentum.

For now, Lillard is working on returning from lower abdominal tendinopathy, which will force him off the court through at least Dec. 11, per Shams Charania of Stadium and The Athletic. Portland will look to get back to .500 Saturday when it faces the Boston Celtics at home.