In what’s been an unpredictable year and a half to say the least, that same theme has persisted in 2021, and on that list of unpredictable events is 6x All-Star, Damian Lillard reportedly being set to request a trade to leave the Portland Trailblazers.
Not many saw this coming because Lillard has gone on the record multiple times saying that he doesn’t believe in taking the easy route by going to a super team to win a championship, and instead prefers being loyal to one organization and grinding to win it all with them. Due to this stance he’s taken time and time again, he’s literally what you think of when you see the word loyal in the dictionary.
However, after first-round playoff exits in four of the last five years and getting swept in the Western Conference Finals in that other year, Lillard has changed his tune (understandably). From his last game this season (June 3 when the Nuggets defeated the Blazers 126-115 to win the series 4-2) until now the Portland guard has maintained that he doesn’t know if he sees himself staying in Portland long term.
The problem with that though is that not too long ago he signed a contract extension with the Blazers, which he still has four years left of (with a player option the final year). In this contract he is averaging $48 million per year.
So, needless to say a lot of teams want Lillard’s services, but only two destinations make sense for both Dame and the Blazers. You hear a lot of talk about the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks, but those aren’t it. The Brooklyn Nets or the Denver Nuggets would make a whole lot more sense.
Brooklyn, despite enduring a disappointing second-round playoff exit against the Bucks in this year’s playoffs, this team is right on the cusp of a championship. Kyrie was injured, and Harden was not 100% healthy, which led to Durant having to do just about everything himself when this team got eliminated. Therefore, if injuries didn’t hold this team back, we all know this roster was more than equipped to go deeper in the playoffs.
Schematically this move would make sense too. The Nets and Blazers could do an even swap for Lillard and Kyrie Irving. Financially it might be a risk though because Irving has two years left on his contract (with a player option the final year) and is owed $35 million this upcoming season and $36 million the following season. Lillard is owed $39 million this upcoming season and $42 million the following season. Then $45 million and $48 million the last two. However, it’s a safe assumption to make that just about any team would be willing to pay more to land Lillard because he’s proven time and time again that he comes through big in clutch moments. He’s also durable. In nine seasons, he’s only played under 70 games twice.
The Nuggets, despite getting swept in the second round by the Phoenix Suns, also are right there in terms of title contention. Jokic had to battle in the playoffs pretty much by himself because his running mate Jamal Murray tore his ACL right at the latter end of the regular season.
With that being said, Murray could be swapped for Lillard in an even 1-for-1 trade. Murray also has four years left on this contract. However, it’s for significantly less money though. He is owed $29 million this upcoming season, then $31 million, then $33 million and $36 million. So, in order to take this kind of financial hit the Nuggets would have to believe that they can win it all with Lillard, which likely they would.
As stated, any team in the league will most likely do whatever they have to in order to land Dame. He’s proven year in and year out that he’s one of the league’s best players, he’s durable and lastly, he just won his first NBA Teammate of the Year award this season.
Who’s going to make the move though? That we have to wait and see.
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