By Shams Charania, Eric Nehm, Doug Haller, Jason Quick, William Guillory
The Portland Trail Blazers traded All-NBA guard Damian Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks in a three-team deal involving the Phoenix Suns, the teams announced Wednesday.
The full trade involves the Blazers receiving Jrue Holiday, Deandre Ayton, Toumani Camara, the Bucks’ 2029 first-round pick and Bucks draft swaps in 2028 and 2030. The Suns are receiving Jusuf Nurkic, Nassir Little, Keon Johnson and Grayson Allen.
Full trade, per sources:
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) September 27, 2023
In a statement on behalf of the organization, Trail Blazers general manager Joe Cronin said he wanted to “express (his) gratitude to Damian for 11 storied years with this franchise and for his loyalty to the Portland community.” Cronin added: “From becoming the all-time leading points scorer in franchise history to his dedicated commitment to youth across Oregon and the entire Pacific Northwest, Damian is and will remain a titan and a true trailblazer to this city.”
The blockbuster deal has ripple effects that will be felt around the entire league, including by other teams who had been seen as possible destinations for Lillard. The Miami Heat had long been believed to be the most likely destination for Lillard, with the NBA superstar letting it be known that it was his preferred destination. In recent days, reports had emerged that the Toronto Raptors could wind up with Lillard.
A timeline of the saga that led to Damian Lillard’s trade to the Bucks
In Milwaukee, Lillard will join forces with one of the top players in the league in Giannis Antetokounmpo, making the Bucks an instant title favorite. For Portland, it is the end of an era that began in 2012 when Lillard was selected with the sixth pick in that summer’s draft.
Lillard was the 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year, a six-time NBA All-Star, an All-NBA selection seven times and was picked as a member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary team over his time with the Blazers.
The casuals won’t be addressed but the trailblazers fans and city of Portland that I love truly will be … and they will be addressed truthfully. Stay tuned
Excited for my next chapter! @Bucks 🎟️
— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) September 27, 2023
End of an era in Portland
It will be a day that lives in infamy for the Trail Blazers franchise, as perhaps its greatest player has been traded, but this is a good haul for Portland and sets a promising direction for the future. The Blazers’ core is young and dynamic, with key pieces Scoot Henderson (19 years old), Shaedon Sharpe (20), Anfernee Simons (24) and Ayton (25) still in their formative years, with Matisse Thybulle (26) and Jerami Grant (29) as veteran leaders.
With an all-out commitment to Henderson at point guard, it is likely the Blazers attempt to flip Holiday for an asset, enhancing the depth and quality of the roster. This will always be a bitter day for Blazers fans, as Lillard was beloved, but a new and definitive course has finally been set in Portland. — Quick
How Lillard boosts the Bucks
For the Bucks, Lillard represents a major swing for the fences. The seven-time All-NBA guard will immediately become the best player that two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo has shared the floor with and immediately form the Eastern Conference’s most dangerous duo. Lillard just put together an All-NBA Third Team season, where he proved that he can still perform at an elite level with 32.2 points and 7.3 assists per game.
The Bucks now have two of the six players leaguewide who scored at least 30 points per game last season. Add in three-time All-Star Khris Middleton and Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Brook Lopez, and the Bucks just put themselves in position to be the favorites in the East. — Nehm
How Lillard will adjust in Milwaukee
As far as how this will work on the floor, things should be pretty seamless. The Bucks traded their starting point guard to get Lillard, so he just needs to slot into Holiday’s spot in the starting lineup. His addition will immediately add a new dimension to everything the Bucks do offensively.
While teams have long dared Bucks point guards to score in the pick-and-roll with Antetokounmpo, Lillard cannot be afforded such opportunities. Despite never playing together, Antetokounmpo and Lillard could end up becoming the league’s most dangerous pick-and-roll duo overnight. — Nehm
Why the Suns moved on from Ayton
Ayton has been the most discussed athlete in Phoenix for most of his time in the desert. The big man’s talent has always been obvious. He has size, athletic ability, and shooting touch. What he lacked was a strong, consistent motor. Some nights Ayton’s skill set was intoxicating but too often he left everyone wanting more.
Upon introduction, new coach Frank Vogel said he looked forward to “restoring” Ayton to an All-Star level. While it would’ve been nice to see how Vogel’s defensive-minded approach impacted Ayton, it’s not a surprise that the organization was ready to move on. Entering his sixth season, Ayton, set to make $32 million this season, is who he is. Nurkic may not be as talented — and at 29, he’s also four years older than Ayton — but he might be a better (and cheaper) fit alongside Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal. — Haller
Raptors didn’t get Damian Lillard, but rumours show status quo isn’t an option
What now for the Heat?
It felt like the Heat were all-in on adding Lillard this offseason, and losing out on him has left them in a precarious position. While Miami was able to summon all the strength of Heat Culture and pull off a historic run to the NBA Finals last season, this Heat roster in its current state doesn’t look like it is built to repeat as Eastern Conference champs.
While Tyler Herro is back after missing most of last year’s playoff run, Max Strus and Gabe Vincent both left in free agency this summer. Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry are also a year older. With Dame, the Heat would’ve been one of the favorites to win an NBA title. Without him, the future looks very uncertain. — Guillory
How do the Heat recover from losing out on Damian Lillard? They can’t just stand pat
Lillard issued his trade request in early July after the Blazers failed to make the postseason for the second consecutive season. The timing of his request aligned with the team’s decision to keep its No. 3 draft pick and select Henderson rather than trade the pick for proven veteran help.
In late July, the NBA issued a memo to all 30 teams in response to comments from Lillard and his agent Aaron Goodwin about Lillard’s stance that he only wanted to play for the Heat. The league advised Lillard and Goodwin that any future comments “suggesting Lillard will not fully perform the services called for under his player contract in the event of a trade” will be subject to discipline, as will be any similar comments by players or agents moving forward.
Since being drafted by Portland in 2012, Lillard has led the team to eight playoff appearances, but the Blazers have only advanced past the second round once. He averaged at least 30 points per game twice in that span.
He leaves the Blazers with the most points scored in franchise history.
(Photo: Sam Forencich / NBAE via Getty Images)