After starting the season off hot, the Portland Trail Blazers stumbled out of the playoffs and into the draft lottery this year. Damian Lillard was an absolute beast, averaging a career-high 32.2 points per game and leading one of the best offenses in the league. The only problem is that Portland’s defense was atrocious, finishing near last in most categories. When asked about rebuilding, Dame said, “That’s not what I’m interested in. That’s what the frustrating part of it is—talking about what’s gonna happen next season. And us ‘building.’ That’s not what I’m here to do, especially at this stage of my career.” While Lillard would unlikely want to be traded, let’s look at what those potential deals would be.
To start, we have to keep in mind his current contract. Dame is owed $93 mil over the next two years. This puts him as the 6th highest-paid player, behind Bradley Beal, Paul George, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and LeBron James. While that is lofty company (minus Beal), we can all agree that Lillard belongs with that group. Next year, he may settle down to the 9th or 10th highest-paid players, with Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, and Kawhi set to restructure or increase pay. In terms of his position, Dame is the second highest-paid point guard in the league, behind Steph Curry. Again, we can agree that’s where he belongs.
Considering his contract and stats, it’s obvious Lillard would be an instant-impact player wherever he lands. On the flip side, the Blazers don’t have a bad team. Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe headline a capable scoring backcourt, while defensive-minded Thybulle and Nurkic help on the opposite end of the floor. When looking at possible trades for any player, I like to go back and check out similar trades. In this instance, finding a top-ten player traded away from a decent team for a superstar in return was hard. However, two trades have happened that I would think is a similar return for what Lillard would garner:
Russell Westbrook (OKC) and picks for Chris Paul (HOU) and picks
At the time of the trade, Russell Westbrook was in the conversation as one of the best point guards in the league. He was on his third season in a row of averaging a triple-double for the season, which wasn’t done before in the history of the NBA. Chris Paul was on the downturn of his career but was still an All-Star point guard. The trade ended with both players bouncing around after, and Westbrook has yet to regain his All-Star status.
Deron Williams (UTA) for Devon Harris (NJN), Derrick Favors (NJN), and picks
I had to go back for this one. Deron Williams was once in the conversation as the best point guard in the league. He would contend with Steve Nash nightly, seeing who would dish out the most assists. Williams had mentioned his want to be traded away from the Jazz, who weren’t a bad team during his career there. Regardless, the Jazz shipped him to the New Jersey Nets, and in return, the Jazz received a promising All-Star point guard in Devon Harris and a starting forward in Derrick Favors. Unfortunately, Harris and Favors never materialized after the trade, and Williams’ career went downhill after the transaction.
The closest trades that the Blazers could make to get a similar haul (albeit not the same results) involve the Thunder and the Cavaliers.
Damian Lillard and Cam Reddish for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort
Putting myself in the shoes of the Thunder, they have Chet Holmgren coming back from injury while budding star Josh Giddey is leading the backcourt as a facilitator. Acquiring Damian Lillard would be a great addition, not only because of his play but because of his veteran leadership. With such a young team, one of the ways to untap their potential is to put influential veterans on the team. For the Blazers, it gives them a budding, electrifying player in SGA and another solid wing defender in Lu Dort. Does it happen? It depends on what the Thunder think they can accomplish without that savvy veteran.
Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic for Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, and Darius Garland
This trade would immediately put Portland back in the playoffs. Swapping Jarret Allen and Jusuf Nurkic would be an immediate upgrade defensively for the Blazers. Allen is always in the top 5 for blocks per game, and his ability to guard smaller players catapults him into one of the best defensive big men in the league. Caris LeVert isn’t back to his 20 points-per-game scoring efforts yet; due to recovery from a heart condition found while being traded to Indiana in 2020, he is still a threat from downtown. The crown jewel here is Darius Garland. The point guard moved over to a hybrid role once the Cavs acquired Donovan Mitchell, and it’s worked well for the team as Garlands’ numbers did not suffer. Adding these players to the Blazers would be the fastest way back to contention. Does it happen? No, Cleveland is on the precipice of a perennial top-seeded playoff run. They feature a fantastic defensive frontcourt in Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, which has made them the best defensive team in the league.
Evaluating what a top-five NBA player would get in a trade is challenging, as they’re not traded often. Sure, you can throw in multiple picks, but the valuation of those picks changes every year. To go back and find impact players at the height of their career that were traded is unheard of, especially in the modern NBA. As Dame has mentioned, he’s done with rebuilding and wants to compete for the playoffs. After the promising start this year, it’s time for ownership to get crafty, or the best player in Blazers’ history is gone.