Damian Lillard finally decided on Saturday that he was running out of time in Portland. The Trail Blazers star asked for a trade after 11 years of giving his all to the organization, but the franchise doesn’t always fully return the favor.
The Oakland native has made it clear where he wants to go next, and it’s hard to fault him for his preferred destination. Lillard wants to go to the Miami Heat, the defending Eastern Conference champions who reached the NBA Finals as the No. 8 seed, to fight for a title alongside Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo . Unlike Bradley Beal, however, Lillard doesn’t have a no-trade clause. He doesn’t exactly control his own destiny.
Do the Blazers owe Lillard to give him a new home he wants? Emotionally, yes. Of course. Lillard would leave as the best Blazer ever. Never. And this list has strong candidates.
He’s a seven-time All-NBA player and seven-time NBA All-Star in 11 seasons, earned an NBA 75 nod, and established himself as one of the greatest shooters in history. But he will also turn 33 in two weeks and still owe $204 million over the next four years. Lillard will earn $63 million at age 36. The Blazers are an exciting young core led by Scoot Henderson and Shaedon Sharpe.
They have to do what’s right for them, and the Heat aren’t offering the best package. A Western team that could look to give the Blazers a deal that fits Portland’s timeline and helps in other ways would also be a bigger worry for the Warriors.
Danny Ainge isn’t afraid to take major swings, and the Utah Jazz would be interested in adding Lillard. The Jazz have nearly $40 million in expiring contracts on their roster and have a ton of future draft picks and young assets to lose. Utah is coming off a quietly excellent draft, adding Taylor Hendricks, Keyontae George and Brice Sensabaugh.
Plus, Lillard already knows Utah. He played college ball at Weber State in Ogden, about an hour north of Salt Lake City.
The Jazz were supposed to be at rock bottom last season after trading All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. They also won gold in every trade, with Mitchell going to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Every move brought back a player who could now form a versatile Big Three with someone like Lillard.
Lauri Markkanen (Mitchell trade) burst into his 25-year-old season after being given a bigger role, averaging 25.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and shooting 39.1% on a range of 3 points. He made the All-Star Game for the first time last season, is in his prime at 26, and is a 7-foot forward who would stretch the floor alongside Lillard.
Walker Kessler (Gobert trade) is a 7-foot-1 center who turns 22 in July and looks like a dynamic future Defensive Player of the Year on a rookie contract. Utah found him 26th overall in last year’s draft thanks to his participation in a five-man giveaway and five draft picks from the Timberwolves. Kessler averaged 2.3 blocks per game as a rookie in just 23 minutes per game.
Gobert, the three-time former Defensive Player of the Year, averaged 1.4 blocks in 30.7 minutes.
But the Jazz also traded for John Collins this offseason and brings back former Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson on a three-year contract. Clarkson scored a career-high 20.8 points last season, and while Collins’ 13.8 points per game was a career low, he averaged over 15 points four times and averaged 21 .6 points and 10.1 double-double rebounds in 2019-20.
The optimism to call up the jazz favorites in the Western Conference if they land Lillard would likely still be relatively low. Adding it makes suitors. It’s hard to argue that. Lillard’s decline will eventually come, but I wouldn’t bet on him being around the corner after a season where he hit a career-high 32.2 points, along with 7.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds, shooting 37.1% from beyond the arc and matching his career. top of a field goal percentage of 46.3.
This list would give Lillard the most versatile talent he has ever played with, and probably the most secondary goalscorers. Running across the West with Lillard in a Jazz jersey makes it all the more of a battle for the Warriors and everyone else. Lillard wants South Beach, and the Warriors should hope his reality isn’t Salt Lake.
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