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Some notes from ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski on the Damian Lillard saga: 

  • The Portland Trail Blazers are willing to accommodate Lillard's request to be traded, but they are not willing to accommodate his request to be traded specifically to the Miami Heat ... unless Miami presents the best trade offer, featuring a combination of young talent and valuable draft picks. 
  • Lillard's agent has been telling teams that might be interested in trading for Lillard that they would be acquiring an unhappy player, since he is fully determined to go to the Heat. 
  • Despite those warnings, the prevailing belief among NBA executives is that Lillard, whose contract includes a $63.2 million player option in 2026-27, will play hard wherever he lands.
  • Portland general manager Joe Cronin plans to do what's best for the franchise, and that might mean dragging this out for the next couple of months (or even longer) -- at summer league in Las Vegas, he'll try to determine which potential trade partners are serious about making a deal. 
  • The Blazers don't want to take back Miami's Tyler Herro, whose four-year, $120 million extension kicks in next season, but teams have told ESPN that they'd send a good first-round pick (or more) Portland's way to acquire Herro in a three-team trade.

What do the Blazers owe Lillard? He is their all-time scoring leader and arguably the best player in franchise history. During his 11 seasons in Portland, he has signed three contract extensions and consistently maintained that he wanted to lead the team to its first championship since 1977.

To Lillard, in order to keep him in the fold, they owed him some win-now moves this offseason. Lillard turns 33 this month, and said in April that he wanted "a chance to go for it." He and the franchise appeared to be on the same page at that point, but when Portland moved up to No. 3 in the draft and the team didn't get the kind of trade offers that the front office deemed acceptable, it selected 19-year-old point guard Scoot Henderson. The Blazers could not make any significant roster updates at the immediate onset of free agency, either, so he asked to be traded to the Heat.

To Portland, Lillard is not owed a lopsided trade to the destination of his preference. If Cronin is "devoid of sentiment," as ESPN described him, citing executives who have talked to him, then he is merely doing his job. Even if he would like to send Lillard to Miami, it is his responsibility to make decisions that are in the long-term interest of the franchise. In order to get the best possible trade package from the Heat, the Blazers need to leverage offers from other teams. If Miami has not yet offered everything it possibly can, then the Heat-or-nowhere strategy from Lillard's side could be backfiring. 

About that: ESPN notes that Miami can offer its 2028 and 2030 first-round picks, plus five pick swaps, 2022 pick Nikola Jovic and 2023 pick Jaime Jaquez Jr., provided that they wait until July 31 to execute the deal. Some additional context:

  • The Heat can offer three first-rounders, not two, if the Oklahoma City Thunder agree to remove the protections on the 2025 pick Miami owes them. The pick is protected 1-14 in 2015 and is then unprotected in 2026. 
  • The amount of pick swaps that can be included depends on the parameters of the trade and the pick that is going to Oklahoma City. If the Heat amend the pick so it's simply an unprotected 2026 first-rounder -- OKC should be happy to do this --  then they can offer their unprotected 2024, 2028 and 2030 picks, plus three swaps (2025, 2027, 2029).
  • Miami can also trade its 2029 and 2030 second-round picks, and a 2026 second-rounder (the least favorable of Oklahoma City, Dallas and Philadelphia's picks). 
  • There could be haggling over what else is in the deal, even if Herro is included and rerouted to a third team. Are the Heat willing to give up Caleb Martin? Would they take back Jusuf Nurkic from Portland? Could Kyle Lowry or Duncan Robinson be involved?  

In a best-case scenario for the Blazers, a Heat trade would get them a couple of rotation players on rookie contracts, three first-round picks, three pick swaps, three second-round picks, a veteran on a team-friendly but effectively expiring contract (Martin), salary-cap relief and whatever a third team will give up for Herro. That could be enough, given that A) there are only so many teams that are interested in paying Lillard more than $60 million when he's 36, and B) Portland would not be completely starting from scratch in its rebuild, as it has Henderson, Shaedon Sharpe and Anfernee Simons on the roster.

That is not, however, a home-run deal, like the one that the Minnesota Timberwolves got for Rudy Gobert last summer. It is well within the realm of possibility that the Blazers can find a better package elsewhere.

The day that the Houston Rockets fulfilled James Harden's trade request, owner Tilman Fertitta asked him whether he'd prefer to go to the Brooklyn Nets or Philadelphia 76ers, according to Fox Sports' Yaron Weitzman. If and when the Blazers are weighing two equally acceptable offers for Lillard, it makes sense to ask him the same question. There is no guarantee that they will be in that position, though, nor that one of the two teams will be the Heat. It is worth remembering that, as strong as Harden's relationship was with the Rockets organization, they didn't get a trade done until they were a few weeks into the season and an already awkward situation had turned untenable. Even when everybody involved wants to move on quickly and cleanly, it doesn't always work out that way.

In 2017, then-Cavs GM David Griffin compared having LeBron James on his team to being responsible for Babe Ruth's legacy. "It's almost like a sacred trust that the kid gives you," Griffin told Michael Lee, then of Yahoo Sports. "He's so good, in his own right, by himself, that he sort of mandates you have to be a title contender just by his presence alone ... and if you don't capitalize on the years he has left, then shame on us." It has proven more difficult to build around Lillard, but the dynamics are the same: He put his trust in Portland's front office, and it has not been able to put together a contender on his timeline.

James, however, repeatedly signed short-term deals in order to put pressure on Cleveland management. If the roster wasn't strong enough, he was never far away from free agency. Lillard, on the other hand, signed a two-year, $122 million extension last summer, instead of simply playing out the rest of his contract, which would have allowed him to hit free agency at the end of the 2023-24 season. By signing that extension, Lillard simultaneously quieted the noise about his future with the Blazers and gave up some control in terms of picking his destination in the event that he eventually did want to leave.

Until Lillard asked for a trade, Portland owed it to him to try to construct a championship-caliber team with him at the center of it. That does not, however, mean seeking immediate upgrades at any cost (i.e. trading away potential stars for non-star veterans), although it's totally understandable why Lillard would be dissatisfied with how this offseason has played out.

Now that Lillard has made his request, the Blazers owe it to him to try to find a trade that gives him a chance to win a title and sets them up as well as possible for the post-Lillard era. But that doesn't mean they must trade him on his terms. They only have one opportunity to make this deal, so if Miami makes the second-best trade offer, they owe it to themselves to take the better one.