The NBA world was significantly surprised that Damian Lillard did not land with the Miami Heat, but teams across the league reportedly are relieved and applauding the Portland Trail Blazers for trading him to the Milwaukee Bucks instead.
“So with all that shock came another sentiment from other team execs: relief,” wrote Howard Beck of The Ringer. “Superstar empowerment, it would appear, still has some limits.
“‘Teams are taking back control,’ said an Eastern Conference executive, a stance echoed by several others last week. ‘It is a significant event that [Lillard] didn’t land where he wanted,’ said another longtime GM.”
The deal ended months of speculation about Lillard’s future after the 33-year-old requested a trade from the Trail Blazers in July with Miami reported to be his preferred destination.
In a three-team deal that included the Phoenix Suns, Portland received Deandre Ayton, Toumani Camara, Jrue Holiday, Milwaukee’s first-round pick in the 2029 NBA Draft and unprotected future swap rights.
The Trail Blazers then traded Holiday to the Boston Celtics and received Malcolm Brogdon, Robert Williams III, a first-round pick in the 2024 NBA Draft (via the Golden State Warriors) and another first-round pick in the 2029 draft (from the Celtics).
“It’s a far better outcome than anything the Heat could have offered, which is why rival executives are almost uniformly praising Portland’s approach,” wrote Beck.
Lillard was a major focus during the entire offseason with a request to be traded from a Portland team where he was its franchise player and had played his entire 11-season NBA career. The idea that he would only play for the Heat also drew attention from the NBA and was thought to be limiting the Trail Blazers’ options.
“Many rival execs are quietly applauding,” wrote Beck. “It’s not that they begrudge players the option to choose their own path; no one is arguing against free agency or player autonomy. But superstar trade demands are now so rampant, so routine, that it’s become almost destabilizing. There have been 14 in the last five years, including three by [James] Harden.”
However, Portland was able to make a deal for a significant return of assets, primarily draft picks and young talent. In fact, the Trail Blazers believe the 25-year-old Ayton could be one of the best centers in the league.
Miami reportedly was looking to possibly pivot to Holiday, but he also landed with an Eastern Conference rival. Though Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra is confident that they remain contenders for the championship during the 2023-24 NBA season, they did not make any significant acquisitions this offseason while losing Gabe Vincent and parting with Max Strus.
They still do have the services of Tyler Herro, who might have been the centerpiece of a Lillard trade had they been able to make one with the Trail Blazers. The 23-year-old is a former NBA Sixth Man of the Year and will likely have to take on a bigger role this season if Miami has any hopes of remaining a contender in a now very different NBA landscape.