Damian Lillard finally decided on Saturday that his time in Portland was over. The Trail Blazers star asked for a trade after 11 years of giving everything to the organization, but the franchise hasn’t always fully returned the favor.
The Auckland native is very clear about where he wants to go next, and it’s hard to blame his preferred destination. Lillard hopes to go to the reigning Eastern Conference champions, the Miami Heat, who advanced to the NBA Finals as the No. 8 seed, and challenge the likes of Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo for the title. However, unlike Bradley Beal, Lillard has no no-trade clause. He doesn’t exactly control his destiny.
Do the Blazers owe Lillard the new home he wants? Emotionally yes. of course. Lillard will go out as the greatest Blazer of all time. ever. And that list includes some strong candidates.
In 11 seasons, he was named a 7-time All-NBA Player and a 7-time NBA All-Star, earning the NBA 75 title and becoming one of the greatest shooters of all time. But he’ll be 33 in two weeks, and he’s still $204 million in debt over the next four years. Lillard will make $63 million at age 36. The Blazers are developing an exciting young core led by Scoot Henderson and Shadon Sharp.
They have to do their thing right, but the Heat don’t offer the best package. A team in the West trying to give the Blazers a contract that fits into Portland’s timeline and serves them in other ways would be a big concern for the Warriors as well.
Danny Ainge isn’t afraid of big changes, and the Utah Jazz are said to be interested in signing Lillard. The Jazz roster has nearly $40 million in expiring deals, future draft picks and a ton of young assets to sell. Utah just quietly entered a great draft with Taylor Hendricks, Kiyonte George and Bryce Sensabo.
Plus, Lillard is already familiar with Utah. He played college ball at Weber State University in Ogden, about an hour north of Salt Lake City.
The Jazz should have been bottom last season after trading All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. They also won gold medals in each trade, with Mitchell going to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Each move brought back a player like Lillard and one who could form a versatile big three.
Lauri Markkanen (Mitchell Trade) broke out in his 25-year-old season after being given a bigger scoring role, averaging 25.6 points, 8.6 rebounds and a 39.1 percent 3-point shooting percentage. He made his first All-Star Game last season, is in his prime at 26, and ranks with Lillard as a 7-foot forward.
Walker Kessler (traded to Gobert) is a 7-foot-1 center who turns 22 in July and looks set to become a future dynamic Defensive Player of the Year on a rookie deal. Utah found him 26th overall in last year’s draft as part of a gift of five players and five draft picks from the Timberwolves. As a rookie, Kessler averaged 2.3 blocks per game in just 23 minutes.
Gobert, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year, averaged 1.4 blocks in 30.7 minutes.
But the Jazz also traded John Collins this offseason, bringing back former Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson on a three-year deal. Clarkson averaged a career-high 20.8 points last season and Collins averaged a career-low 13.8 points per game, but in 2019 he averaged 15 or more points four times, averaging 21.6 points and 10.1 rebounds. Achieved a double-double. 20.
Optimism about calling Lillard a Western Conference favorite if the Jazz wins is still relatively low. Add him and they become candidates. It’s hard to argue with that. Lillard’s decline will come eventually, but it’s just around the corner after a career-tying season in which he averaged a career-high 32.2 points, 7.3 assists, 4.8 rebounds and a 37.1 percent shooting percentage. I wouldn’t bet. He has a record 46.3 field goal percentage.
With this roster, Lillard will have the most versatile talent he’s ever played with, and perhaps the most underscorers. Lillard’s run through the West in the Jazz jersey makes it an even tougher fight for the Warriors, and everyone else. Lillard wants South Beach, and the Warriors hope his reality isn’t Salt Lake.
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