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How The NBA Helped Damian Lillard And The Trail Blazers

How The NBA Helped Damian Lillard And The Trail Blazers
Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard against the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Center in Phoenix, AZ, USA on Dec 16, 2019. Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports.

On Friday, with things quiet in the basketball world, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver threw Damian Lillard an 8-by-11-inch life vest. The piece of paper, disseminated by the league office, condemned the conduct from all sides involved with the Lillard sweepstakes. Even just days old, the “Lillard Memo” is already one of those things that has fostered conspiratorial behavior. 


In what seemed like an instance of group-think, basketball historians and a large contingent of Los Angeles Lakers fans recalled a similar decision made nearly a decade earlier. But the nefariousness associated with the failed Chris Paul-Lakers trade has muddied the waters regarding interference from the executive office. Most sports fans would be quick to state their desire for the commissioner of sports leagues not to put their hands on the scales of transactions. In the most ideal conditions, sure. However, the nature of player movement has become so distorted in basketball that it might be time for a more reactionary commissioner. 


In The Best Interest of All

This isn’t a case for siding with the owners and punishing players because the current state of affairs already hurts players. If Damian Lillard has his way, two outcomes are likely. The seven-time All-Star will be moved for a package from the Miami Heat that would be less than the previous trades involving star players. Or the superstar will sit out weeks, even months, of games until the demand is honored. Both solutions sound bad for the Portland Trail Blazers.


In Lillard’s situation, the calculus is a little more complicated. His window to win is now. Eleven seasons in Portland have produced plenty of highs; however, those highs have been fleeting in recent campaigns. When the season ended, the brass in Portland seemed okay with ending their partnership with Lillard. Even more so after the Trail Blazers received the third overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft during the lottery. The Trail Blazers eyeing Scoot Henderson as a replacement made a divorce even more palatable. 


Perhaps more pertinent for Lillard would be potentially sacrificing another portion of his prime if he held out. Although many sympathize with the urgency to win, it has never entirely made sense why Lillard boxed himself into a corner by only requesting to be traded to one destination.


The Memo’s Intent

Adam Silver most likely hoped for the memo to have a muzzling effect on Lillard, his agent Aaron Goodwin, and the Heat from discussing this trade openly. 


The NBA league office may have reached a rubicon from the standpoint of having their greatest stars continuously asking for trades. Just in the last three years, the league has watched idly by as Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal, Donovan Mitchell, Ben Simmons, and James Harden (three times) demanded trades. Simmons and Harden deployed the most destructive tactic. They were refusing to play.


The league having enough of these shenanigans would explain their most forward action in curbing a transaction since the previously mentioned CP3 trade. But, the deal with Miami is still the most likely closing act in the saga. So the memo also served as a cover for Lillard, allowing the Trail Blazers to explore more before they ultimately send him to South Beach.


Optics-wise, Damian Lillard has a two-year $121 million extension kicking in during the 2025-2026 season that will give him the largest annual salary. His legacy stands to take a hit if he convinces himself to sit out. Additionally, living up to that contract is going to be hard on its own, let alone justifying it a year later by requesting a trade. Publicly, the Weber State University product has never hidden from the tough moments. His current behavior flies in the face of that. Muzzling Lillard might be the league’s best attempt to protect their stars from self-inflicting damaging wounds.


Damian Lillard is no Longer in Control

While the conclusion waits to unfold, it will be with less involvement from Lillard and his side. That will run contrary to how things have gone. His desires have been made clear, but the Trail Blazers were put back in control last week. 


Who knows what level of conviction Lillard has in his desire to leave? Will he continue to speak publicly and incur fines? Will he dawn a fat suit? Can he just sit out? The memo might have already served its intended effect. The latest information on the Lillard situation in the fallout of the memo comes from reporter Aaron Frentress of The Oregonian, which is that the disgruntled star could ultimately show up to the Trail Blazers training camp. So even the previously unthinkable outcome is possible. 



What’s been settled is that because the Blazers have another timeline they can tap into, the rush to trade Lillard to the lowest bidder is no longer the only option. The Trail Blazers front office, led by General Manager Joe Cronin, should continue to exercise patience and take their time to resolve the issue—no need to shoot themselves in the foot after receiving a chance at a do-over.



Matt Strout is a contributor to Back Sports Page. Matt studied Journalism and Sociology at Temple University for four years and graduated in May of 2022. While there, Matt wrote for multiple student and professional publications covering sports and the City of Philadelphia. Matt is originally from Maine and now resides in California. He has written content primarily for the NBA and PGA Tour. You can catch Matt frequently as a guest on the “Cut The Nets” podcast featured on the Back Sports Page network. When Matt is not writing, he enjoys cooking and playing golf. Follow Matt’s social media on Twitter @TheRealStrout or Instagram @matt_strout96 

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