Trade Packages and Landing Spots for Portland Trail Blazers Star Damian Lillard
The NBA's offseason rumor mill couldn't even wait for the offseason to start churning this year.
Just over a week after a Kemba Walker was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and before the Finals have even started, Yahoo's Chris Haynes dropped a bomb:
"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—Damian Lillard—out the door, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
"Lillard has remained loyal to Portland in large part due to the tremendous fan base. But over the last few days, he’s seen some of those same fans attacking him on social media for a pending coaching hire he played no part in consummating, sources said."
The hire Haynes is referring to, of course, is that of Chauncey Billups, whose selection was followed by the aforementioned backlash regarding sexual assault allegations from 1997.
If that does indeed lead to a trade request, Lillard will instantly become the hottest name on the market.
He's seventh in NBA history in offensive box plus/minus (BPM "...is a basketball box score-based metric that estimates a basketball player’s contribution to the team when that player is on the court," according to Basketball Reference). He has six All-Star and six All-NBA selections. And over the past two seasons, he's averaged 29.4 points, 7.8 assists and 4.1 threes with a 39.6 three-point percentage.
If he's available, multiple bidding wars will likely ensue.
Of course, stars of this caliber can have some say in the outcome of a trade. If Lillard's representatives make it clear he doesn't want to go to a certain market, the team there might be hesitant to offer a trove of assets. Being under contract through 2024-25 may mitigate that, though.
The bottom line is that the Blazers can get a customized start-your-own-rebuild kit in exchange for Lillard. If he's traded, multiple picks, matching salary and perhaps some young talent would head back to Portland.
The front office could try to ride this out, though. Again, he's under contract for four more seasons. There's plenty of history between this team and player. And maybe an aggressive push for someone like Ben Simmons could show Lillard that the organization is serious about shaking things up.
If the relationship is beyond repair, though, expect to see countless hypothetical trade packages. The Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and Miami Heat figure to be common among those ideas, but realistic deals are hard to come by for all three (unless Paul George or Bam Adebayo are available).
The Oklahoma City Thunder, with their seemingly bottomless treasure chest of future draft picks, will surely be talked about too, but they're in a market that may struggle to retain stars.
"You are not a franchise who says, 'We're saving these picks to trade for the next disgruntled star...'" ESPN's Zach Lowe said on The Lowe Post (50:10 mark). "You're not in a market where you can take a disgruntled star, for the most part, on an expiring, or two years left, and be confident, unless they've indicated to you that they're going to stay."
Lillard has more than a year or two left, but the chance of taking a disgruntled star who stays disgruntled has to at least be mildly concerning for the Thunder, especially since Lillard and whatever is left in OKC isn't going to compete for a title any time soon.
So instead, let's look at some teams that may have the necessary combination of young talent, outgoing salary (or cap space), picks and remaining talent to make both Portland and Lillard think.
New York Knicks
The Trade: Damian Lillard for RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Immanuel Quickley, a 2021 first-round pick, a 2022 first-round pick swap and a 2023 first-round pick
Expect to hear a lot about the New York Knicks over the coming weeks and months. With loads of potential cap space, some intriguing young talent and all of their future first-round picks in hand, the Knicks can put together some tempting trade packages.
This potential deal leverages all of the above.
Barrett is coming off a strong sophomore campaign in which he averaged 17.6 points and shot 40.1 percent from three. His defense improved immensely under Tom Thibodeau, and he's still just 21 years old.
Combining him with Immanuel Quickley's sparkplug scoring and Mitchell Robinson's rim running and backline defense would give the Blazers a strong young core around which to start a rebuild.
The picks here may not be terribly valuable, though. If New York has Lillard and Julius Randle, it's likely to make the playoffs in the weaker Eastern Conference for the foreseeable future. Having Lillard could attract top-tier free agents in future offseasons, too.
You never know what can happen with those picks, though. If Lillard is hurt for a significant portion of 2022-23, maybe that one makes its way into the lottery. Still, Portland might want to insist on including one more first. And if it did, the Knicks would probably be wise to ante up.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Trade: Damian Lillard and Robert Covington for Brandon Ingram, Eric Bledsoe, a 2021 first-round pick, a 2022 first-round pick (via LAL), a 2023 first-round pick and a 2025 first-round pick
Fresh off a report from The Athletic that certain members of Zion Williamson's family "want Williamson on another team," the New Orleans Pelicans may need to consider an aggressive approach to the offseason.
Pairing Lillard with Zion would certainly qualify.
This deal would put the Blazers a bit further down the rebuild path than the Knicks package. Brandon Ingram is already an All-Star, and his two seasons with the Pelicans suggest he can be a bona fide No. 1 point forward.
Since the start of the 2019-20 campaign, he's averaged 23.8 points, 4.5 assists and 2.4 threes with a 38.6 three-point percentage.
Eric Bledsoe, meanwhile, didn't help his trade value in his lone season in New Orleans, but he's a competent veteran point guard who can help Ingram, Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum keep the Blazers competitive while they wait for those picks to convey.
For the Pelicans, the idea of a two-man game with Lillard and Williamson would be terrifying for opponents. With all due respect to LaMarcus Aldridge and McCollum, Zion's ceiling is higher than any teammate Lillard has ever had. And their games mesh so well in theory.
With Lillard's ability to stretch defenses to several feet beyond the three-point line, Zion would have more room in driving lanes inside. And with Zion dragging defenders with him to the paint, Lillard would get precious extra space on his catch-and-shoot attempts.
Regardless of who else would be on the roster, that's a top two that can make New Orleans dangerous.
The Trade: Damian Lillard for Ben Simmons, Tyrese Maxey, a 2021 first-round pick, a 2022 first-round pick swap and a 2024 first-round pick swap
The McCollum-Ben Simmons swap has been the trade du jour around the internet several times since the Atlanta Hawks eliminated Simmons' Sixers from the playoffs. If it turns out that Lillard is available, Philadelphia would almost certainly set its sights higher.
After a disastrous Eastern Conference Semifinals in which he attempted just three shots in seven fourth quarters and was 33.3 percent from the line, Simmons' trade value has never been lower. If forced into a rebuild, though, Portland could do far worse for a starting point.
Whatever psychological block is ailing Simmons and his shot hasn't prevented him from being uniquely dominant in the regular season.
Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson are the only players in league history with at least as many rebounds and assists in their first 275 games. And Simmons' size and athleticism make him one of the game's most versatile perimeter players.
If someone in Portland can crack the case of his jumper, Simmons could be a perennial All-NBA player.
Having Tyrese Maxey in the deal would give the Blazers a little more potential in the backcourt. And all those picks might just be a baseline in terms of draft compensation.
For Philly, swapping Lillard for Simmons would be a massive short-term ceiling raiser. Lillard is better right now, and likely will be for a few more years. But more importantly, he is a far better fit next to franchise center Joel Embiid, who has a troubling injury history and is creeping toward 30.
If there's a title window with Embiid, there's no guarantee it'll stay open long.
With Lillard up top, defenses would be hesitant to double Embiid inside. The attention he commands there would make things easier for Lillard, too. It would be a similar symbiosis to that of a Lillard-Zion pairing.
The Trade: Damian Lillard for Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, a 2023 first-round pick and a 2025 first-round pick
This might be the toughest sell of the list. Every team in the NBA is after wings who can hit threes, defend and do a little playmaking. The Boston Celtics have two of the best such wings in the league. And theirs are young.
Breaking those two up just four years into their partnership would require an incredible player in return. Lillard, of course, is that, but he also turns 31 in July. Brown is 24, and he just averaged 24.7 points with a 39.7 three-point percentage.
Lineups with Lillard, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford would have an absurd offensive ceiling. The former two can score on just about anyone, and the latter's ability to quarterback from the perimeter would keep the lane free of bigs.
For Portland, this package doesn't yield as many first-rounders as some of the others detailed here, but it would set up a nice two-track rebuild.
With a lineup of Smart, McCollum, Brown, Covington and Nurkic, the Blazers would still be plenty competitive. And those incoming picks would offer some light on the horizon.