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Trading Lillard

Heading into the National Basketball Association draft on June 30, seven-time All-Star Damian Lillard made no secret of his desire for the Blazers to leverage their position in pursuit of a more competitive roster. As far as he was concerned, the front office needed to go on win-now mode; he had given 11 years’ worth of loyal service to the black and red, and he felt he deserved to be backstopped by a cast that would allow him to get closer to winning his first title. He wasn’t getting any younger, never mind that he just came off a season in which he normed more than 30 points for the first time in his career.

As Blazers general manager Joe Cronin explained, however, there were no reasonable offers for the Number Three pick that would have supported Lillard’s aims. “Building around Dame has always been the goal all the way, even through the draft,” he noted in a news conference the other day. “The difficult things we ran into were finding the right deals.” And so he went about using the pick on Scoot Henderson, the best talent still available on the board. While it wasn’t a bad move in and of itself, it did signal to the 32-year-old franchise cornerstone that yet another difficult path to the hardware lay ahead.

Needless to say, Lillard wasn’t pleased, and subsequent events showed just how much. It wasn’t simply that he had to finally speak up and demand for a trade, in stark contrast to his assertions in previous seasons about him wanting to win, but with the Blazers. It was that he wanted to be traded only to the Heat. He still does, and is bent on seeing his plan through; he has even had agent Aaron Goodwin communicate to potential suitors that he would not be a happy camper should he be compelled to Don another jersey.

Why Lillard has done a 180-degree turn understandably gives franchise owners pause. He’s a marquee name who, in the immediate past, seemed content to stay with the Blazers until the end of his playing days, and who even signed a contract extension last year. Now, he’s going back on all his previous statements and attempting to railroad a path to the Heat despite the absence of any leverage, at least on paper. It’s the ugly side of empowerment no one thought him capable of displaying. In all likelihood, he came to the conclusion after Henderson’s arrival that his fidelity was not being reciprocated, and that it was time for him to leave.

At this point, where Lillard will begin his 2023-24 campaign is anybody’s guess. Cronin asserts that the Blazers will not pull the trigger on any swap unless they get equal value in return, which would theoretically disqualify the Heat. That said, they also need to comprehend the worth of addition by subtraction. Moreover, the 2018 All-NBA First Team selection’s determination to take his talents to South Beach figures to keep swaying decisions around the league. Make no mistake: The standoff will end. Who will be all smiles by then is another matter altogether.


Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.

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