Tim BontempsESPN6 minute reading
LAS VEGAS — Portland Trail Blazers general manager Joe Cronin said Monday that a Damian Lillard trade could take “months” to complete to meet the goal of leaving the franchise in the best possible position if he ends up trading one of its top players away who has ever worn the team’s uniform.
“I think what I’ve learned more than anything is patience is key,” Lillard said in a press conference at the Thomas & Mack Center on Monday afternoon. “Don’t be reactive. Don’t jump on things just to seemingly solve a problem. I think the teams that have ended up in the most positive situations after trades have been the ones that have been really diligent about taking time and not been impulsive, or the teams that really kept their rush under control.
“So I think that’s how my approach has been with this and will be with this. We’re going to be patient; we’re going to do what’s best for our team. We’re going to see how this lands. And if it takes months, it takes months.”
Cronin said he hasn’t spoken to Lillard since July 1, when the player asked to be traded, a request that came after an 18-month stretch in which Portland completed back-to-back draft picks in the top half of lottery — picks Cronin spent on a pair of high-upside teenagers in Shaedon Sharpe last year and Scoot Henderson last month.
And while Cronin said throughout the process he tried to find win-now upgrades to put a winner around Lillard, who has spent his entire 11-year career in Portland, he said the answer to the question of “What is best”. for the Trail Blazers?” was to draft the young players instead of turning them into veteran talent.
“Building around Dame has always been the goal all the way through, even through the draft,” Cronin said. “The tough stuff we ran into was finding the right deals. The previous two years we’d draft at seven, then we’d draft at three. In between, we scoured the market looking for more win-now players, and what kept happening was those players just weren’t available so every time we just tried to weigh it.
“In Shaedon’s draft, pick seven, how does that look compared to what’s available on the market. And the answer was obvious: Shaedon is better. And the same thing happened this time. How does pick three look versus going back to the market? It wasn’t close Had to go [making the pick].
“So it wasn’t necessarily on purpose, it was just doing what’s best for this team and we kept doing it and I could see why Dame would look at it and say.” like, or this isn’t as much of a win-now opportunity as some other places. So from that connection, I think I understand his position and I respect it and it makes sense to me why he would look to go elsewhere.”
And as he looks to go elsewhere, Lillard — who has four years and more than $200 million left on his contract after signing a two-year extension with the franchise last summer — has made it clear he has only one destination in mind : the Miami Heat, where the combination of Lillard, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo would immediately make the franchise a favorite to at least repeat as Eastern Conference champions.
So far, however, Cronin has not found a deal to his liking for the future Hall of Fame point guard, who is Portland’s all-time leading scorer and is coming off arguably the best season of his career. But he added that while he cares about Lillard and wants him to be in the best possible position going forward — citing past deals involving CJ McCollum and Josh Hart as examples of seeking the best outcome for both sides — he admitted he having more than one team involved in negotiations tends to lead to better results and that such agreements are not easy to implement.
“What the rest of his career looks like matters to us and we care about that,” Cronin said. “At the same time, we have to do what’s best for us and we have to find the right deal and find the right composition of the team to move forward with.
“So you hope you can find the perfect situation where it lines up and he goes somewhere he wants to go and you get the best possible return. It’s complicated and usually it doesn’t just work out that way .”
While Cronin said he was pleased to have retained the services of both Jerami Grant and Matisse Thybulle, both of whom were also introduced on Monday after agreeing to new deals with the franchise, the aim was always to try to upgrade the squad further through trades. And while he hoped to have more time to look for deals before Lillard asked to be traded on July 1, he said he understood why Lillard chose to make the decision he did.
As a result, Cronin admitted that he felt he had failed Lillard, from the standpoint that he couldn’t get the roster to a place where Lillard could feel it would be competitive quickly enough for him to win— despite Cronin stating his belief that the team’s young core of Henderson, Sharpe and Anfernee Simons will be win-now players “very soon.”
“I don’t feel like I did everything because I wasn’t able to get done what we had hoped to get done,” Cronin said. “The effort that’s there as it was, that’s one thing. But to actually follow through and get the result is a lot, and to that extent I feel like I let Dame down.
“Our goal was always to build around him and be as high as possible, as fast as possible. And if even internally, if we thought, ‘Well hey, we’re going in the right direction here, we can get there pretty quickly , “If he didn’t feel it, it was still a failure on my part because I just didn’t find the right deal.”
And while Cronin has repeatedly both said he wants to do right by Lillard and won’t rush into a bad deal, he also said the goal has always been for Lillard to end his career where it started – and that he still has hope that it could happen.
“I haven’t lost hope just because I understand this league is complicated and things change very quickly,” Cronin said. “Sometimes we get more information. Sometimes things aren’t what we thought they were and it’s just something that in this league we have to constantly stay nimble and adapt to changing circumstances and I see it that way.
“I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know what will end up happening here. I just know that I won’t be surprised if something different happens than we originally expected.”