Damian Lillard wants out.
The All-Star point guard requested a trade from the Portland Trail Blazers over the weekend. This comes after 11 seasons as one of the best players in the league, and in a franchise that feels a long way from contention.
Lillard has met with the team multiple times in recent weeks, asking to improve the roster so he can compete for a championship. But those efforts haven’t gone to Lillard’s liking. Now, Lillard reportedly says he wants to take his talents to South Beach, with a preference to join the Miami Heat.
With ‘Dame Time’ apparently over in Portland, NBA fans in the Northwest are mourning Lillard’s departure — and wondering what’s next for the Trail Blazers.
Sean Highkin covers the Portland Trail Blazers for The Rose Garden Report. He spoke with OPB “All Things Considered” host Tiffany Camhi about Lillard’s future, and where the Blazers go from here. You can listen to their full conversation using the audio player at the top of this story.
Tiffany Camhi: So let’s start by helping people who don’t follow the NBA understand why so many Northwest basketball fans are heartbroken today. Why is Damian Lillard so important to the Trail Blazers?
Sean Highkin: Well, he’s the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. And for the last 11 years — since he was drafted in 2012 — he’s been the face of the franchise. He has been about as low maintenance and ideal of a face of a franchise that you can have, especially for a small market team. There hasn’t ever been any kind of off-court drama with him. He’s consistently played at an extremely high level; they’ve been in the playoffs more years than not. He has talked time and time again about how he wants to play his whole career in Portland. He really, really values his connection with the city, and he’s done a lot in the community.
Because of the way that things have gone this offseason, as far as the direction that the team’s going in — as far as building the roster, and maybe going younger and going in a little bit of a different direction than trying to go all in to build around him — I think he’s now just decided that it’s time for a change.
Camhi: Lillard, it seems like he’s been really patient with the Trail Blazers until now. What do you think was the tipping point for him to demand a trade?
Highkin: I think there was a thought that after the season ended the way it did, where they lost a lot of games down the stretch, he sat out a lot of games — which he probably could have played in. But they basically were trying to improve their draft pick.
I think there was a thought that that would lead to the draft pick being improved, which would then make it more valuable as a trade chip — which they would then be able to use to go get a veteran, or a star or somebody more on his timeline.
I think what ended up happening was the pick in the lottery, back in the middle of May, the pick moved up to number three. They had the fifth-best odds for the number one pick, and the pick moved up to #3 from #5.
Once the pick moved up that high, it became too valuable to trade because then you can’t trade that pick for — there’s maybe two or three guys in the league you can trade that pick for. And you’re not gonna make an irresponsible deal.
So once they decided to use the pick — and especially once they used the pick to draft Scoot Henderson, who they took last week with the third pick, who’s also a point guard — Dame, I think, felt like, ‘Okay, not only did they not use the pick [to] trade, but they drafted somebody who played the same position as me. They basically drafted my replacement.’ So that’s kind of why he now feels the way he feels about it.
Camhi: Are the Trail Blazers obligated to trade Lillard, and if so, would they trade him to one of the places that he’s said that he prefers, like Miami?
Highkin: Well as of right now, the messaging out of Dame’s camp is that there’s only one place he wants to go, and that’s Miami. The problem with that is that Portland is not really interested in anything Miami has to offer.
You’re looking at a package of like Tyler Herro who is a good young guard, but he’s on a big contract, plays the same position as a lot of Portland’s other young players. They don’t really have that much in the way of draft picks that they can trade.
Portland is not under any obligation to do anything. I think they would like to, now that he has said he wants to trade, I think they would like to trade him. But they’re under no obligation to trade him to Miami. He has four years left on his contract. They’re gonna make the best deal that they can. At least that’s what they’re signaling right now. They’re not just going to say, ‘Hey, you want to go to Miami, we’ll just take whatever we can get for you.’
They’re gonna try to — whether it’s getting a third team involved to get more assets to still get him to Miami, so Portland gets more stuff back or just trading him somewhere else — I think that’s kind of the way that they’re approaching it right now, is they want to make the best deal for themselves.
Camhi: Blazers fans already seem to be in mourning. Is there any reason for fans to feel optimistic right now?
Highkin: Well, people are really, really excited about Scoot Henderson, who they just drafted at #3 overall, and we’re gonna get to see his debut this weekend at Summer League in Las Vegas. So I think that’s something, if you want something to look forward to, I would say that’s it.
Camhi: I think we need that right now. Sean, thank you so much.