Guess which mysterious Eastern Conference team is trying to trade for Damian Lillard
We’re approaching three months (seriously) since Damian Lillard’s trade request was announced on July 1, and as of this writing, he’s still a Portland Trail Blazer.
However, in recent days, chatter about his potential move to the Miami Heat seems to have reignited. ESPN’s Mark Spears added a wild card to the discussion on Monday.
So, who is this mysterious team that looks set to throw its hat in the ring less than two weeks before training camp begins?
After examining the Eastern Conference and examining how close each team is to competing, you’ll find our best guesses below.
But first! Let’s get some contenders (or potential contenders) out of the way who might not be in the mix.
Boston’s best trade assets are Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The former appears to be one of the few players in the league who may actually be untouchable. The latter just signed an extension and is ineligible to be traded until July. Additionally, the Celtics unloaded a lot of trade capital they had in the Kristaps Porzinis trade this summer.
All of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ most important players are in their early to mid-20s. And perhaps the highest rising man on the entire list, Darius Garland, happens to be playing in Damian Lillard’s position. There’s little reason to bring in a player in his mid-30s, who handles the ball like Lillard and potentially hinders Garland’s development.
The Atlanta Hawks’ situation is similar to Cleveland’s. They have a young guard in Trae Young who will likely make several All-Star teams. He plays next to a combo guard in Dejounte Murray and is actually smaller than Donovan Mitchell. Even with a completely mediocre last season, it’s hard to see Atlanta stopping the Trae era.
Brooklyn Nets Just They extricated themselves from their last attempt to reach the tournament, led by the Stars. They traded James Harden for a struggling asset (Ben Simmons) during the 2021-22 season, and moved Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving a year later. Brooklyn has already come out of this stretch in very good shape, with an interesting and versatile young core led by Mikal Bridges. Will the Nets really take advantage of this for another dalliance with a former star?
Portland would certainly be interested in acquiring as many draft picks and as many young talents as possible for Lillard.
The Toronto Raptors owe a first-round berth to the San Antonio Spurs in 2024, but otherwise, they have control over the rest of their No. 1 playoffs going forward. They can check this box.
The other is a little trickier, unless they want a Scotty Barnes show (they shouldn’t).
But perhaps the Raptors can make up for the lack of outgoing young talent by offering some flexibility. Lillard is under contract with the team through 2026-27, when he has a $63.2 million player option. Pascal Siakam’s contract expires after this season. Plugging him in for Lillard brings a lot of long-term savings for Portland.
And while the situation isn’t exactly the same as it was in 2018 when they acquired Kawhi Leonard upon the expiration of his contract, the Raptors have recently shown a willingness to call up a player (or his camp) for the bluff.
Before the Kawhi trade, there was a list of his favorite destinations. The Raptors weren’t on the roster, but they changed the deal anyway and won the title.
Some pretty strong signals have been sent regarding Lillard’s preference to go to Miami, but the Raptors may have some confidence in their ability to convince him to stay after he’s drafted into the organization. They couldn’t do that with Kawhi, who left after one season, but winning this championship might justify a change.
Lillard may be the main character of the NBA summer this summer, but it’s likely that James Harden’s name will be next to his on the marquee.
Harden declined his own trade request in July, and has already outdone Lillard by calling Daryl Morey, the Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations, a “liar“In a public appearance.
Wouldn’t the ending of both sagas make sense if they ended up in the same deal?
Lillard will get the chance to play with an all-time great center in Joel Embiid and could make Philadelphia a legitimate contender for the first time since Jimmy Butler has been there.
Portland would receive an expiring contract that would provide the same flexibility as Siakam. And although Philadelphia has its first out in 2025 and 2027, it could send some draft considerations to the Blazers as well.
There are some issues that almost put the Sixers in the “maybe not these teams” bracket.
First, another team will almost certainly be able to come out on top with more draft picks than Philadelphia can offer. And second, Tyrese Maxey is likely in the same camp as Garland and Young.
Maxey is one of the most exciting slicers and outside shooters in the game. He’s 22 years old, and if Portland insists on signing him, the 76ers should hang up the phone.
In terms of draft picks, the Milwaukee Bucks have been exploited more than any other team detailed here. They don’t control their first-round pick until 2028. That alone could rule them out of this chase.
But with Giannis Antetokounmpo putting some pressure on the front office on more than one occasion this summer, the Bucks may be feeling desperate.
Their best offer would likely include Jrue Holiday, MarJon Beauchamp, swaps for first-round picks in 2028 and 2030 and a first-round pick in 2029, which isn’t terrible. And the idea of Giannis and Lillard being in the same lineup would be absolutely terrifying.
But many teams, including the Heat, could beat that offer.
Your first reaction to seeing the New York Knicks here might read something like: “Wait, didn’t having good young guards rule out the Cavaliers and Hawks?”
Yes. But this is the Knicks, and they might be your best bet if anyone outside of Miami wins the Mrs. sweepstakes.
They seem to be looking for every available star. And unlike Cleveland and Atlanta, New York may have the assets to acquire Lillard without giving up any of its current potential faces to the franchise.
With a treasure trove of future draft picks and several intriguing young talents (including RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley and Quentin Grimes), the Knicks could emerge from a Lillard trade with a starting lineup that includes him, Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson.
Now, such a team would face a lot of the same problems the Blazers did when they had Lillard and CJ McCollum, but Robinson is more capable of holding down the defensive backfield than Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic.
They’ll almost certainly give up a lot of points (even with Robinson), but an offense with Lillard, Brunson, and Randle will rack up points on three offensive rebounds.