Damian Lillard’s future on the Portland Trail Blazers becomes a point of speculation every offseason. The story usually plays out like this: fans and media members beg Dame to request a trade from the only team he’s ever played for, Lillard appears to toy with the idea early in the summer before eventually coming to the same conclusion: he’s not “running from the grind.”
Could the story have a different ending this offseason? The Blazers are coming off a 33-49 season, and own the No. 3 overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. Lillard, who turns 33 years old this summer, is coming off arguably the best season of his career. Lillard is under contract for the next four years at a whopping $216 million. Can Portland turn into a contender while Dame is still playing at his peak?
Lillard joined The Last Stand podcast with Brian Custer this week, and one of his answers is sure to spark a new round of hypothesizing about his future. Custer asked Dame about trade scenarios to four Eastern Conference teams: the New York Knicks, Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, and Brooklyn Nets. Here’s what Lillard said about his preferred destination.
“Miami, obviously,” Lillard said. “Miami is the obvious one. Bam (Adebayo) is my dog for real.”
The Heat are currently tied 1-1 in the 2023 NBA Finals with a historic run as a No. 8 seed. Now imagine how dangerous they would be after adding Lillard — as long as the trade package doesn’t include Adebayo.
Damian Lillard’s future could be determined by 2023 NBA Draft
Lillard made his intentions clear in his exit interview after the season:
Damian Lillard: “I don’t have much of an appetite for building with guys 2 and 3 years away and not really go after it.”
— Sean Highkin (@highkin) April 9, 2023
If Lillard had it his way, the Blazers won’t be picking another 19- or 20-year-old with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft. They would trade that pick for an established star like Mikal Bridges, Jaylen Brown, Zach LaVine, or Pascal Siakam.
Are Dame and the Portland front office on the same page? The Blazers drafted an 18-year-old in Shaedon Sharpe last season, who had an impressive rookie year and is bursting with long-term upside, but is likely still a few years away from being able to contribute meaningfully to winning basketball. Many people thought Portland would trade that pick for a veteran last year, and it didn’t happen.
The big issue with the Blazers right now is that they are not one move away from being a contender. Even if Portland trades the No. 3 pick for Bridges or Brown, it feels like the team would still need a better big man than Jusuf Nurkic to really compete in the West. Does it really make sense to pass up on a tremendous young prospect like Scoot Henderson or Amen Thompson to appease a 33-year-old point guard?
If the Blazers keep the pick and selection Henderson or Thompson — both point guards — it isn’t hard to envision a scenario where Lillard asks for a trade late in this offseason. Personally, it doesn’t seem like Miami has the assets to pull off a trade like that unless Adebayo is included, but I’d never count out Pat Riley. One thing is for sure: this is going to be another wild NBA summer.