Joe Cronin looks back on Damian Lillard trade saga with no filter

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Though it certainly won’t make Miami Heat fans feel any better, Portland Trail Blazers general manager Joe Cronin is explaining in more detail how Damian Lillard left the franchise and wound up with the Milwaukee Bucks.

“[Lillard] and I went through it this summer,” Cronin said. “It wasn’t always amicable and perfect. To be omitted from that [letter], I didn’t take as anything more than it being a hard summer that we had both gone through. I wasn’t one to be thanked at that moment. … Our directions didn’t line up. Things didn’t work out. We had pure intentions in our desire to build a winner around him. We were just unable to pull it off. I don’t think that was a lie. We just couldn’t get it done.”

The 33-year-old posted a long farewell letter to social media after the trade that did not mention Cronin. Lillard requested a trade in July with a desire to play for the Heat. But after almost three months of waiting, he wound up elsewhere.


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The outcome was sure a bit disappointing to Lillard but even more jarring to the Heat, who made no secret of their desire to add the All-Star to a team led by Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. The fact that he landed with another Eastern Conference contender in the Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the domino effect that put Jrue Holiday on the Boston Celtics hurt Miami’s fortunes even more.

The Heat and Trail Blazers never seemed to be on the same page in their talks about a possible Lillard trade, with some harsh takes reportedly coming out of Portland, including the idea that the Trail Blazers were basically telling the Heat to “eat s—.”

That seems a harsh way to talk about trade negotiations between NBA teams, and Portland may have gotten exactly what it wanted in the end: draft picks and young players.

In a three-team trade that included the Phoenix Suns, the Trail Blazers received Holiday, Deandre Ayton, Toumani Camara, a 2029 first-round draft pick and future swap rights. They then flipped Holiday to the Celtics for Malcolm Brogdon, Robert Williams III and two more first-round picks.

Those transactions left the Heat empty-handed and scrambling in their effort to keep up with NBA title hopefuls around the league. Despite that, they reportedly have no interest in trying to acquire disgruntled James Harden from the Philadelphia 76ers. That could be because Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra is confident that they will remain contenders in the 2023-24 NBA season.

With training camps open and the regular season about to start later this month, all sides will eventually put the Lillard saga behind them and be able to concentrate on the games at hand.

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Mike is a veteran journalist who has covered the NBA for almost three decades. His introduction to the business included the legendary Heat-Knicks rivalry from the 1990s.