The Portland Trail Blazers were a team to watch once the NBA offseason tipped off a few months ago. Damian Lillard is a homegrown superstar, still playing at his peak a full decade into his career. But his team has gone a combined 60-104 over the last two seasons, making moves that suggest the front office sees the bigger picture and writing on the wall.
The Blazers didn't trade their lottery pick in 2022 for win-now help, selecting Shaedon Sharpe—whose highest level of previous competition was on the prep AAU circuit—at No. 7 overall. They traded Josh Hart to the New York Knicks for a 2023 first-round pick that eventually became Kris Murray. And, most notably, Portland confirmed obvious plans to focus on the long-term future by selecting Scoot Henderson third overall in the 2023 NBA Draft.
Lillard wants a championship, and at 33, doesn't have time for a rebuild. It was hardly surprising when he rocked the basketball world on July 1st by requesting a trade from the Blazers, a wish they'd be best off honoring before the 2023-24 season tips off in just over a month. It just doesn't make much sense for either side to continue forward together.
Lillard's time to win a ring is running out, and he shouldn't have to risk the possibility of a devastating injury while waiting to be traded. The Blazers aren't trying to win, so retaining Lillard into the regular season only for him to take valuable reps from young guards like Henderson, Sharpe and Simons does't make sense, either.
What's a trade the Blazers could make? It's no secret Lillard wants to play for the Miami Heat, and it's just as well known by now that Pat Riley and company are driving a hard bargain in trade talks. Before homing in on Miami, Lillard reportedly listed the Brooklyn Nets as his other preferred trade destination. Could there be a trade framework between the Blazers and Nets that gets Lillard to a desired winner and Portland likes more than the Heat's best offer?
The non-heat Damian Lillard trade Blazers must pull off before 2023-24
Brooklyn acquires: Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic
Portland acquires: Spencer Dinwiddie, Ben Simmons, Dariq Whitehead, Noah Clowney, 2027 first-round pick (via PHI), 2029 first-round pick (via PHX) and 2030 first-round pick (via BKN)
This trade is a no-doubter for Brooklyn. Bringing in Lillard while retaining both Mikal Bridges and Nic Claxton is the Nets' dream scenario.
But the Blazers should also be very happy to get this deal done for a myriad of reasons. For one, they save a ton of money. Portland owes Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic a combined $270.5 million over the next four seasons. Meanwhile, over that same time period, the Blazers take on a total of $98,588,695, saving $170 million. That's huge for a team still in the early stages of rebuilding, wanting as much cap flexibility as possible.
Another reason would be the Blazers are getting back two good, young, exciting prospect in Dariq Whitehead and Noah Clowney. Neither rookie first-rounder looks like a perennial All-Star, but things change fast in this league all the time. What could work in the Nets' favor, however, are the positions Whitehead and Clowney play.
Packages involving players like Tyler Herro or Tyrese Maxey are interesting because they are proven young players, but their skillsets overlap with what Portland already has. Though Henderson, Sharpe and Simons can play off the ball, too, they don't need another offense-first, shot-creating guard.
Those problems aren't really an issue with Whitehead and Clowney. Whitehead is a 6'7, 220-pound wing who can space the floor and holds his own defensively. Clowney could be a great fit as a rim-protecting stretch four or five in the Blazers' frontcourt of the future.
Ben Simmons could still be an interest reclamation project, too. There's always the chance some team desperate for proven perimeter help ahead of the playoffs sends Portland draft compensation in exchange for Spencer Dinwiddie, especially considering his contract expires after this season.
Lastly, Portland is getting a valuable collection of first-round picks. Three first-round picks is a good haul, especially coming from different teams. That gives the Blazers plenty of chances to add a potential difference-maker.
The Blazers wouldn't be getting a star player in this trade, but they'd be getting everything else. It's tough to say goodbye to a franchise icon like Lillard, but it time to move on. Portland should get this trade done before training camp and the regular season, turning the page to a new chapter of basketball in Rip City.