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Is Milwaukee the Best Spot for Damian Lillard?

The top story around the NBA for months has been the imminent trade of Damian Lillard, with most “insiders” telling us he was destined to join Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo in Miami. The Miami Heat were so certain they could make it happen that they let several key free agents walk, and if you log in for a game of NBA2K involving the team, the pre-recorded commentary clearly assumed the Portland Trail Blazers had pulled the trigger on such a deal.

The Milwaukee Bucks had other plans.

With Miami’s paltry offer centering around Tyler Herro failing to gain traction in the Rose City, the Toronto Raptors were believed to be the new frontrunners prior to Wednesday’s surprise announcement by the Bucks. Milwaukee landed Lillard in a three-team deal with the Phoenix Suns and Blazers, which also involved the oft-rumored Deandre Ayton heading to Portland for Josef Nurkic. For the full details of the trade, link here.

While it’s true Lillard’s agent insisted he was only interested in playing in Miami and Portland’s move set Jimmy Butler off on a social media tirade, this move is actually really good for all teams involved, none more than the Bucks. Not only did Milwaukee get an immediate upgrade at point guard, they did it without giving up either of their stars in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. With a new “big three” in place, Milwaukee can once again be considered the team to beat in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.

First and foremost, Milwaukee gives Lillard a chance to play to his strengths without having to carry the weight of a franchise on his shoulders. His primary job will be to get the ball to Giannis, who can then either score or set up his teammates for open threes. Lillard’s prowess from behind the arc should be the perfect complement to a frontcourt that also features the re-signed Brook Lopez. It will be important for Lillard to spend a bit more time focused on the defensive end of the floor, where he has never been particularly effective. Since he won’t be shouldering the offensive load as singularly perhaps he will have some energy left to get between his man and the basket.

The second, and perhaps most important, factor for Milwaukee is that this move should silence the incessant talk about Giannis leaving town. Bucks GM Jon Horst went out and got the absolute best player available to improve the team, and if Lillard can stay healthy he might just help bring another championship to Milwaukee. Considering Giannis has only two years remaining on his contract (with a player option for a third), this move goes a long ways towards showing one of the best players in basketball that the grass is greenest right where he is.

The best trades benefit all teams involved, and this one does that. Phoenix gets a grittier big man in Nurkic and added depth, which they desperately needed after sending out quite a few assets in last year’s Kevin Durant trade. Portland lands a solid veteran point guard to help groom rookie Scoot Henderson as well as a bigger scoring threat at center with Ayton. The only real losers in the deal are the Heat, who now have just days to fill critical roster spots before camp, and they must do so after the free agent market has largely dried up.

Bill Ingram is Executive Editor for The Hardwood Huddle, a new website coming soon from the creators of Back Sports Page. Bill has covered the NBA for more than 20 years.

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