ANALYSIS: Could Nets fit in a Damian Lillard deal? Maybe but not likely

It’s getting late in free agency. Three weeks into the NBA’s annual player bazaar, about half the teams have openings, which means half are full. In the case of the Nets, they have 13 fully guaranteed standard deals plus a non-guaranteed standard deal in Darius Bazley that was signed last week. They also have two players signed to two-way, so there is one opening there.

What are GMs like Sean Marks waiting for? Many things like who Oklahoma City, who has too many players, will cut; which of the last batch of free agents, likely vets’ minimum contracts all, are worth signing; what trade options are out there: and perhaps more than anything else, what happens to the two superstars, Damian Lillard and James Harden, who have both asked out, Lillard out of Portland, Harden out of Philadelphia.

GMs know about resources, just in case, until big trades are made. They may not want Lillard or Harden, may not have the resources to get either, but if recent superstar deals are any measure, expect both 33-year-old guards to be moved in a multi-team trade. In exchange for facilitating a big deal, a third or fourth team can pick up freebies, perhaps a second rounder or two, in exchange for smaller assets. The trade that brought Harden to Brooklyn was a four-team deal. Same with the deal that sent Kevin Durant to Phoenix. Even the deal that sent Spencer Dinwiddie to Washington involved five teams with players, picks, stashes and money considerations all flying around.

The latest on the Dame deal, as discussed by Shams Charania on Tuesday, is that Portland has told Miami to “make your best offer,” which sounds simple enough, but it’s not. Judging by pretty much every report out there, the Blazers will have multiple first-round picks, like the three or four that the Nets got for KD and the Jazz for Rudy Gobert, plus young players. Maybe some seconds will be wrapped as well. Miami has just two unprotected first-round picks available, one each in 2028 and 2030. And South Beach is reportedly the only destination Lillard wants.

So where do the extra choices come from. Initially, there were reports that Brooklyn might be interested in helping, but that assumption seems to be based primarily on how deep the Nets pool of trade assets is. They can give up to eight firsts – all but one unprotected – tomorrow if they want. They have trade exceptions of every size imaginable and a number of mid-sized contracts, multiple expirations, which are also coveted in large trades like this one. So they were the most likely of candidates to give up a pick or two, receiving Tyler Herro, the 23-year-old wing with the big new contract — four years and $120 million in return. The Blazers reportedly don’t want Herro, who is already firing in the backcourt with Anfernee Simons and Scoot Henderson.

As Kristian Winfield wrote on Wednesdayit is complicated.

No matter how many times you try the NBA Trade Machine, there is no outright deal that sends Lillard from Portland to Miami that results in an acceptable move for the Trail Blazers.

It’s not because Tyler Herro isn’t a talented basketball player. The former Sixth Man of the Year is coming off a respectable second straight season averaging 20 or more points per game.

It gets more complicated if you’re trying to make a deal with equal pay coming back into a Lillard deal. As Steve Lichtenstein, formerly of WFAN, wrote on its substack, also Wednesday, the only way that could work is if Ben Simmons goes out. Not likely.

How exactly would that work? Herro has a $27 million salary cap hit this season (not to mention $93 million due over the following three years). How do the Nets match salaries as I can’t imagine Portland (or anyone at this point) will [Ben] Simmons, at least until he puts something good on tape?

But all that just seems too simplistic and speculative. Consider these questions: Does Herro’s propensity to shoot at a breakneck pace — 17 a game — work in an offense where the Nets are building around two same-old wings in Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson? And IF, IF healthy, Simmons can provide a number of things Herro can’t, including defense, rebounding and distribution of the ball. He is also on a shorter contract. Jake Fischer of Yahoo! Sports reported that the Nets are “really intrigued” by Simmons, and that may be one reason Brooklyn has even less interest in Herro. Sean Marks & Co. are really intrigued by Simmons, but the other issues surrounding Herro, including his contract and fit, are bigger reasons for their lack of interest.

There are other teams that could be interested in taking on Herro in a gigantic event. Spurs have been mentioned as an option and they have options and young players. Maybe the Pacers who have been very aggressive this summer?

Is it possible the Nets could get something out of a multi-team deal? Longtime Heat coverer Ethan J. Skolnick reported in early July that Caleb Martin, the Heat’s 6’6″ forward who played so well in Miami’s run to the Finals, had drawn the Nets’ interest. He averaged 12.7 points and 5.4 rebounds while shooting 53/42/82 and playing good defense in 23 postseason games. He will make $6.8 million this season on an expiring deal. Skolnick did not suggest , that Martin could be a piece in a Lillard deal, and a first rounder could be too much to pay for Martin.. But then again, multi-team deals often have various iterations before finally being called into the commissioner’s office.

It should also be noted that GMs are not in constant contact and throw things out there in long phone calls. Both the Harden deals and the deals for KD and Kyrie Irving all came together in 48 hours. Expect the same in the deals for Lillard and Harden (which seems much, much less likely to include Brooklyn.) In the meantime, be patient. The Nets apparently are.

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