What Would A Damian Lillard Trade Look Like?
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A report has surfaced from True Hoop’s Henry Abbott that former Weber State guard and Portland Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard could request a trade to a new team in the coming days.
Lillard has been a staple with the Trail Blazers for the last nine years, but the team has failed to reach the type of success the All-NBA guard expects from the franchise.
On Friday, Lillard told Yahoo Sports Chris Haynes “I feel like I’ve earned the right to say we must do better. We must do better if we want to win on that level.”
Having signed a super-max contract with Portland in 2019, and having four years remaining on the deal, what would a Lillard trade look like if the relationship is deemed irreparable inside the Trail Blazers front office?
Traditionally, when superstars ask for a trade, it comes near the end of their second contract with the team that drafted them. The player is usually just entering or are in the midst of the primes of their career, and want to sign their third contract with a team ready to compete for a championship.
Portland is in the tough spot of being good, but not good enough, and isn’t a traditional draw for star free agents. However, with Lillard having already signed his third contract, they are in the advantageous spot of having both control over the guard’s future and time to field offers from fellow NBA teams.
Unlike other franchises that have had to trade a player at the trade deadline before the hit free agency the following summer, there is no ticking clock on the Blazers’ decision.
To better understand what a Lillard trade might look like, it’s important to look back at what recent blockbuster trades have yielded for the teams involved.
Recent Blockbuster Trades
James Harden to Brooklyn
Most recently, Houston Rockets MVP James Harden was traded to the Brooklyn Nets in January initiating a rebuild in Houston, and a push for a title in Brooklyn.
Unlike Lillard, Harden had just a season and a half left on his contract (plus a player option for a second season) and his time with the Rockets had clearly run its course. Harden had become a distraction off the floor and Houston had to make a move for the good of the franchise.
Ultimately, Houston shipped Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for three unprotected first-round draft picks, an additional first-round pick from Milwaukee, four options to swap first-round picks, Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum, and Rodions Kurucs.
Jrue Holiday To Milwaukee
Jrue Holiday isn’t a superstar on par with Lillard or Harden but fetched what seemed like a significant sum when traded in the winter of 2020.
The Bucks sent two unprotected first-round picks, two first-round pick swaps, Steven Adams, and Eric Bledsoe for Holiday.
Ultimately, Adams and Bledsoe have proved to mostly be dead weight in New Orleans, and the future picks look less promising since Milwaukee will likely be contending for a championship for the next half-decade, resulting in draft choices near the end of the first round.
Paul George To Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers sent a record haul of draft picks to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Paul George in 2019, plus Danilo Gallinari and budding star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
In total, Oklahoma City received five first-round picks and two solid players in exchange for Paul who like Lillard, was one year into a max extension with the Thunder.
Anthony Davis To Los Angeles Lakers
In July of 2019, the Pelicans traded Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart. The Lakers also sent four first-round draft picks to New Orleans.
Ingram has turned into an All-Star, and the Pelicans have only used one of the four first-round picks in the deal so far, but have built up a steady cache of young players and picks to maintain future flexibility.
What Would A Lillard Trade Look Like?
With those transactions in mind, what would the Trail Blazers look to get back in a trade for Lillard?
Unless the Blazers were looking to initiate a full rebuild as the Thunder did when trading George, they’d likely prefer to have a player coming back to Portland who is already an All-Star caliber performer, plus an additional young piece with significant potential.
Additionally, considering Houston, New Orleans, and Oklahoma City all got between four and five first-round picks, and in some cases, options to swap picks down the line, the Blazers would want a haul of first-round selections in any Lillard trade.
Lillard isn’t the same caliber player as Davis or Harden but hasn’t become the distraction that either player had been for their rosters before being traded.
His situation most closely resembles that of the Thunder who traded George one year into his max contract extension, though Portland may not be looking to initiate the same dramatic rebuild that Oklahoma City began immediately following the trade.
So who can make a trade similar to the one the Clippers pieced together for George?
Blazers Trade Options
The team most commonly mentioned as a trade partner for Lillard is the Philadelphia 76ers who have a roster full of talent, and some semblance of future draft picks they could send to Portland.
Ben Simmons would be the key cog in the deal after his run in Philly seems to have plateaued. The 76ers also have talented youngsters in Matisse Thybulle and Tyrese Maxey who have untapped potential, and the option to trade some combination of two first-round draft picks in the next four years.
That trade would check the boxes of adding proven talent in Simmons, future potential in Thybule and Maxey while bringing back additional picks, though those selections would likely fall to the end of the first round.
New York Knicks
The New York Knicks have also been mentioned as a potential landing spot for Lillard. New York doesn’t have the proven young star power that Philly brings, but could send back more tantalizing picks in the trade.
Any trade with New York would be centered around second-year guard RJ Barrett, rookie Obi Toppin, and as many as six first-round picks from the Knicks over the next six seasons who have extra selections due to the Kristaps Porzingis trade with Dallas.
Barrett isn’t a guaranteed star but showed good potential in his second season. Toppin is mostly unknown but showed some flashes as a rookie. The Knicks’ potentially enormous haul of draft picks that they could send to Portland would give the Blazers a healthy dose of young talent and future trade assets to continue to build around their already competitive core.
Danny Ainge’s run with the Boston Celtics ended without ever capturing the white whale superstar he was so often tied to in trade rumors. Brad Stevens could change that by making an aggressive push for Lillard this summer.
Though Boston doesn’t have the treasure chest of draft picks it once had, they still control all of their own picks beginning in 2023-2027.
Any trade would likely be centered around forward Jaylen Brown who made his first All-Star team this season and still has room to grow as the top option on a playoff team, and Marcus Smart who has been involved in trade rumors for years in Boston.
The Celtics could then add anywhere between two and three first-round picks in the trade to sweeten the pot.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors have been on the receiving end of a few surprise trades in the last half-decade, including trading for, and trading away Kevin Durant.
They could again get involved with Lillard by sending a package based around last year’s third overall pick James Wiseman, Andrew Wiggins (for salary purposes), two lottery picks this season, and a future draft pick way down the line if needed.
Wiseman struggled in his first season in Golden State but has considerable untapped potential. Wiggins has evolved into an overpriced but solid role player that would help the Blazers win games next season, while the immediate value of the seventh and 14th picks in this year’s lottery could add significant future talent to the roster.
The Blazers wouldn’t get the immediate help in return from Golden State that they would from Boston or Philadelphia, but the draft capital is significantly more promising.
Lillard to the Jazz has long been the hope of fans in the state of Utah since the guard made a name for himself at Weber State.
The Jazz would have two potential avenues for acquiring Lillard, starting with a sign and trade with Mike Conley. Depending on Conley’s next contract, the Jazz could send the veteran guard along with one of the team’s top rotation players not named Rudy Gobert or Donovan Mitchell, plus whatever young players the Blazers wanted, with as many as three future first-round draft picks through the year 2027.
That would give Portland a win-now option in Conley coming off his first All-Star appearance, an above-average role player in any one of the Jazz additional pieces, and reasonable draft capital down the line.
The main hold-up for Portland would be Conley’s low-end long-term potential, and solid but unspectacular draft position they’d find themselves in with the Jazz picks.
Furthermore, Conley likely wouldn’t agree to a sign and trade to a Portland team on the verge of a rebuild.
If the Jazz were deadset on acquiring Lillard at all costs, they could create a deal centered around Gobert and future picks. However, Gobert was arguably the Jazz best player during the regular season and led the roster to the best record in the NBA while Lillard’s Blazers finished sixth in the overall standings.
Without Gobert on the roster, the Jazz would have a roster heavily weighted towards the backcourt with no real options to balance it out with a lack of future draft picks. There’s a significant risk that both rosters would be worse in a Lillard for Gobert trade.
Ultimately, with the advantage of time on their side and a new coaching staff, the Blazers should explore all other options in making move around Lillard before trading arguably the best player in franchise history.
If Lillard is deadset on starting the second half of his career with a new team, Philadelphia, New York, and Golden State should be considered the front runners, though other surprise teams may come out of the woodwork with significant offers for the superstar guard.