Based on what Josh Richardson had to say about Damian Lillard, there would be an added benefit to the Miami Heat acquiring the guard from the Portland Trail Blazers: They wouldn’t have to play against the seven-time All-Star, who Richardson said is the best player he’s ever faced.
Richardson was attending a youth basketball camp when one of the attendees asked the current Heat guard, “Who’s the best player you’ve played against?”
“It’s funny you asked me that,” Richardson said, according to the Sun Sentinel. “Damian Lillard.”
In his eight NBA seasons, Richardson has competed against Lillard multiple times. The 29-year-old debuted with four seasons for the Heat, followed by shorter stints with five other teams, including the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs and New Orleans Pelicans in the Western Conference, where the Trail Blazers also reside.
Richardson finished last season with the Pelicans after being traded by the Spurs. He rejoined the Heat as a free agent this offseason, reportedly getting a two-year contract worth $6 million.
It is one of the few moves Miami has made since the start of free agency, which came right before Lillard requested a trade from the Trail Blazers, where he has played all of his 11 NBA seasons. He averaged a career-high 32.2 points per game in the 2022-23 campaign.
“It’s the truth,” Richardson said privately later of his candor. “I’m not going to lie about it.”
In addition to asking out of Portland, the 33-year-old has made it clear that his intended destination is Miami. Despite a warning of possible discipline from the league about Lillard honoring his contract if traded elsewhere, the Heat reportedly won’t have to worry about NBA commissioner Adam Silver stepping in to nix any possible deal.
With no other team reported to be actively pursuing Lillard, a trade between Miami and Portland might seem inevitable and in the best interests of both sides.
But the Trail Blazers do not seem at all inclined to accept the trade package the Heat are preparing, which The Athletic has reported includes expiring contracts, multiple first-round picks and one younger player, with Miami guard Tyler Herro going to a third team. It also may involve second-round selections and pick swaps.
Richardson will be looking to return the form he once showed with Miami, which included career-high averages of 16.6 points, 4.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game in the 2018-19 season, his last in his first stint with the Heat.
A trade for Lillard likely would dictate Richardson’s role on the Heat this season, but he would get the advantage of playing with his toughest opponent instead of competing against him.