Figuring out where Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard lands in a trade is a two-part exercise.
Who should the Blazers trade him for?
Which team will he actually play for in 2023-24?
The answer is not – or at least does not need to be – identical. But it can also be the same.
Lillard has a specific destination in mind, but the Blazers are looking for the best return in a trade. The two are not right now. The Blazers — at least at this point — don’t want to trade Lillard to his preferred team if it’s not the best deal for them.
But Portland has to consider that the most ideal move might not pan out if another team isn’t willing to acquire a player unhappy with a trade. Blazers general manager Joe Cronin is in a precarious position and needs premium value in return for a player of Lillard’s caliber. On Monday at the NBA’s Summer League in Las Vegas, Cronin said he will take his time looking for the right deal.
“If it takes months, it takes months,” he said.
Let’s take a look at potential landing spots for Lillard, the seven-time All-NBA selection:
Lillard wants to play for the Heat (and only the Heat, it seems), along with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo and for team president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra.
Lillard would give Miami the scoring and playmaking it desperately needed at certain times in the playoffs, especially against Denver in the NBA Finals.
The Heat have reached the Finals twice in the past four seasons – in the 2020 Orlando bubble and this past season. They have one of the best coaches in Spoelstra and one of the best front offices led by Riley, Andy Elisburg and Adam Simon.
Not only does Lillard want this trade to happen, the Heat do too.
Not so simple. What the Heat have to offer doesn’t impress the Blazers today. Due to NBA rules, the Heat do not have first-round picks available for trade until 2028 and 2030. The deal is built around those picks and Miami’s Tyler Herro. Without a third or fourth team getting involved — and that’s a possibility — Portland has nothing but apathetic shrugs.
And yet, the Heat’s offer might just be the best when it comes time to trade Lillard.
On a Showtime podcast in June, Lillard said Brooklyn was a potential spot for him when he played alongside Mikal Bridges. It doesn’t appear to be the case today, but the Nets have a far more attractive trade package for the Blazers than the Heat.
The Nets acquired four first-round picks (2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029) from the Phoenix Suns when they traded Kevin Durant to Phoenix in February.
After just trading Durant and Kyrie Irving because they wanted out, the Nets aren’t looking for a repeat situation with Lillard. Even if they have attractive assets, that doesn’t mean they’ll use them in a Lillard trade, and that’s a dilemma several teams face.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers don’t have many years left with the Kawhi Leonard-Paul George pairing, and if they wanted to give it one last shot with another All-Star addition, Lillard is a good option. But if they want to keep Leonard and/or George, the Clippers’ trade options are limited because they can’t put together a trade package that includes a first-round pick before 2028. And Leonard and George aren’t exactly the players Portland wants for a youthful rebuild, though The Clippers were willing to trade one of those players.
Like Brooklyn, the Jazz have appealing draft picks, and like the Oklahoma City Thunder, it’s hard to keep up with all the first-round draft picks the Jazz have stockpiled. They just had three first-round picks in the June draft and have multiple future first-round picks from Minnesota, Cleveland and the Los Angeles Lakers, including three first-rounders in 2025, four in 2027 and two in 2028.
Whether it’s a deal with Portland or another team, the Jazz are capable of making trades that speed up their rebuild.
The Celtics have draft picks and are a team that is always looking to improve. But with two All-NBA perimeter players in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown who appear to be headed for a massive extension with Boston, Lillard doesn’t make much sense.
The Sixers are in an odd spot with James Harden, who opted into the final year of his 2023-2024 contract with the expectation that the Sixers will trade him. But Philadelphia doesn’t have to and might not. Keeping Harden for one more season with Joel Embiid might be the best option. The Sixers are also missing the first round picks that are getting the Blazers’ attention.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans have their own first-round picks for the next seven drafts (through 2030) and first-round picks from the Los Angeles Lakers in 2024 or 2025 and at least one first-round pick from Milwaukee.
Reunite Lillard with CJ McCollum?
The Raptors can’t trade one of their first-round picks until 2027, and while they have valuable players that teams covet (Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby), a Lillard trade doesn’t align with either team’s ambitions.
Given the remaining teams’ rosters, timelines and situations, there aren’t many other spots for Lillard. But a third or fourth team could be involved to facilitate a trade that helps Lillard and the Blazers get what they want.
Follow NBA reporter Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt