Lillard has reached his limit of “fighting the good fight”. Eventually, they all do. The only other current superstar who has stuck so loyal to a single franchise for as long as Lillard is Stephen Curry, and he has three championships to show for that. Lillard, rightly so, just wants a realistic one shot. The Blazers, as they’re currently built, can’t give him that.
So we can talk about how we got here or who’s to blame until we’re blue, but in the end it doesn’t matter. We’re here, and it’s business from now on. The Blazers are either going to improve dramatically or they will lose Lillard. And given that they don’t have ceiling space, future draft picks or young players who move anyone’s needle, there’s only one way to take a final round. with Lillard on board: Trade CJ McCollum.
I pushed for a McCollum / Ben Simmons trade. It answers what both equally desperate teams need. The Blazers have a defense and a player who can punish the trap defenses commanded by Lillard. The Sixers are putting their half-court creator next to Joel Embiid, who will soon become the next single star in the franchise to stop banging his head against the wall and demanding to get out.
Unless something like that, the Blazers can only make moves in the sidelines. And that’s not going to cut it. Not in this Western Conference, which is about as easy to pass as a wood chipper. So it’s time to start planning for life after Lillard. Olshey, if he’s still the man in charge when the time comes, will have plenty of options for Lillard, who is a Level 1 superstar in his prime locked up for the next four years. But I would say one is better than all the others.
The Warriors of the Golden State.
This, of course, assumes the Warriors would empty the closet to get Lillard. I don’t know if they would. Perhaps they would be afraid of the defensive issues associating Curry and Lillard with a potentially diminished Klay Thompson. There are plenty of ways for them to bundle their two 2021 lottery picks, future picks, and overall pick # 2 2020 James Wiseman looking for their own championship level upgrade (s) .
But if the Warriors weren’t able to deny the intrigue of a Curry / Lillard / Thompson flamethrower trio, and they did offer the No.7 and No.14 picks in this year’s draft, Wiseman , a future first round or two and Andrew Wiggins to make the money work, it would be extremely difficult for Portland to find a better package to start its rebuilding.
You might be wondering: what if the Blazers don’t want to rebuild? What if they want to stay competitive? It would be crazy. If they lose Lillard, this race is over. Olshey is stubborn, but he’s not that stubborn. Demolish him is the game, and where will you acquire, essentially, three lottery picks over a two-year span (Wiseman is essentially a new pick; his 39-game rookie year, on the back of a three-game college career, only revealed potential, like any rookie).
Lillard has been reported to have the Warriors on her list of favorite destinations. They may not be at the top. Who knows if he would eventually want to play second fiddle to Curry. The Knicks and 76ers have been pitched. We talked about the Sixers. If the Blazers want Simmons, it should be for McCollum. If they replace Lillard with Simmons, they’re just a worse team with the same challenges to improve.
The Knicks could include RJ Barrett and picks, and they would have the cap space to absorb all or part of Lillard’s contract, which would give the Blazers a huge business exception. But what are they going to use this trade exception on over the next year or so to start the rebuild?
What if Barrett is in the deal, unless the Knicks land a second superstar to play alongside Lillard (which would consume their ceiling space and therefore their ability to absorb the Lillard deal and dismiss the exception? in Portland), how would Lillard see the Knicks as a title contender with Julius Randle and a bunch of spare parts? Oklahoma City and Houston have a million draft picks, but why would they trade all their capital just to have Lillard as a lone star on a team worse than Portland?
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The Nuggets are somewhat interesting. Michael Porter Jr. would be the price of any Lillard contract, but Jamal Murray would have to make the money work. The Nuggets have all of their first-round picks to trade over the next five years, but those picks won’t be in the lottery, and neither will the OKC 2023 pick they own, which is protected among the top 14. You could argue that Murray and Porter total more than Lillard on their own (I wouldn’t say that, but you can try) if the Blazers wanted to keep trying to win, but then why would Denver make that deal?
Pelicans are also interesting. They have a cargo of picks, including the No.10 in this year’s draft, and Steven Adams’ expiring contract could make a deal work. Lonzo Ball is a candidate for signing and trading. If the Blazers agreed to a deal that didn’t include Brandon Ingram, is a trio of Lillard, Ingram and Zion Williamson intriguing, but more intriguing than Curry, Lillard, Thompson and Draymond Green? No chance.
Of course, the Blazers don’t have to send Lillard where he wants to go. They shouldn’t, in fact. Like I said, sentimentality has no place in today’s NBA. They paid him a lot of money and they have fielded some good teams throughout his career. If Lillard wants to be on a awesome team is his choice. But he’s under contract in Portland until 2025. He signed it. If he wants to go out, he might not be able to define all of the terms.
Ultimately, if there’s a trade-off, with Lillard getting what he wants and the Blazers getting what they want, it’s hard not to go back to the Warriors. You won’t get two lottery picks in this year’s draft, plus a young asset like Wiseman, nowhere else. Add one or two more picks in the first round, and that would be an almost impossible goal to beat.
It’s a huge offer, but Lillard is a huge player. And the Warriors just might operate just enough of their own urgency to throw it all on the table. Curry, Thompson and Green are not getting any younger. If they want to take this thing one more run, Lillard is worth it. It might be the most logical match if it is indeed Portland marketing Lillard. Which seems more likely every day.