Lillard Trade Is A Win For Small Markets

Sep 27, 2023, 1:59 PM

Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers drives against Jevon Carter #5 of the Milwaukee Buc...

Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers drives against Jevon Carter #5 of the Milwaukee Bucks (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – Damian Lillard is one of the best things to happen to small markets in recent NBA memory, and his trade to the Milwaukee Bucks is another win for the league’s less celebrated franchises.

After 11 seasons in Portland, Lillard is finally on the move. The guard is the top prize in a three-team trade between the Trail Blazers, the Bucks, and the Phoenix Suns that will reroute Jrue Holiday and DeAndre Ayton to Portland, and Jusuf Nurkic, Grayson Allen, and Nassir Little to Phoenix.

Lillard has been the NBA’s most loyal athlete over the last decade, swearing his allegiance to Portland while the rest of the league’s superstars participated in a game of musical chairs, looking to land in only the top TV markets in the country.

After Lillard finally asked to be traded in early July, it seemed the All-Star guard had thrown his hat into the big-market circus, setting his sights on joining the Eastern Conference Champion Miami Heat, and quietly threatening to boycott any other team that considered trading for him.

However, after news of Wednesday’s blockbuster trade broke, Lillard made no such threats against Milwaukee and expressed his excitement about the move to Milwaukee.

In truth, Miami isn’t one of the league’s top markets, it ranks 17th in size among the 30 NBA franchises. However, its warm weather, tax benefits, and celebrity culture have long made it a destination for NBA players, including LeBron James who left his hometown of Cleveland for South Beach in 2010.

Had Lillard landed in Miami, it would have felt like a setback to the recent provisions in the CBA that made it more difficult for major markets to amass superstars and a blow to teams that hoped to make their own championship runs like Denver and Milwaukee in recent years.

Now, Lillard will migrate from Portland, the 20th-ranked market in the NBA to Milwaukee, the league’s 25th-ranked market, and seems happy to do it.

It’s not easy to replicate what either Milwaukee or Denver has done to win tiles in smaller market, cold weather cities. Finding superstars like Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo, arguably the league’s top two players, is no simple task.

But, both Denver and Milwaukee have proven that with a keen eye for talent, even outside of the draft lottery, paired with the right culture and development, small-market teams can become championship contenders.

Better yet, when the league superstars do ask to change teams, an inevitability in today’s NBA, those smaller markets can find a seat at the table alongside the Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, and Miami Heat franchises.

The Lillard trade is unquestionably a setback for the city of Portland, but it’s not a crushing blow for small-market teams across the league, especially if he wins his first title with the Bucks.

Download the new & improved KSL Sports app from Utah’s sports leader. You can stream live radio, video and stay up to date on all of your favorite teams.

Ben Anderson is the Utah Jazz insider for KSL Sports and the co-host of Jake and Ben from 10-12p with Jake Scott on 97.5 The KSL Sports Zone. Find Ben on Twitter at @BensHoops or on Instagram @BensHoops.


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Lillard Trade Is A Win For Small Markets