The clock continues to tick for Damian Lillard.
One of the best players in the entire league, Lillard continues to prove he has what it takes to contend for a championship. The same cannot be said for the Portland Trail Blazers as an organization. From switching head coaches to completely revamping their roster though the years, the Blazers continue to waste valuable years of Lillard's career.
Through all of their struggles, the seven-time All-Star has remained loyal to the franchise he has spent all 11 years of his career with. This loyalty remains heading into yet another offseason, yet trade rumors involving the seven-time All-Star remain. Should he request a trade, Portland would likely work with Lillard to get him what he wants, but will he actually request a trade?
If Lillard does want to leave the Blazers, there will be a line of teams waiting for him. Perhaps the organization at the front of the line would be the Miami Heat. About to begin their play in the 2023 NBA Finals, the Heat have had a magical season that has been full of struggles.
Outside of Jimmy Butler, it is hard to predict where production will come from on this roster. They certainly have talent, as they would not be in the Finals without productivity from others outside of Butler, but there is no denying that Miami will be looking to make improvements to their team regardless if they win a title or not.
Pat Riley is never afraid to put his championship rings on the table to lure big names to South Beach, so pursuing Lillard would almost certainly be an option. The scenario of Lillard to Miami is also on the mind of ESPN's Brian Windhorst, as he recently stated that the Heat “make a lot of sense” as suitors for the Trail Blazers star despite them being in the NBA Finals.
Let's pump the brakes a little bit because this is not an active trade discussion between the Blazers and Heat. In fact, there are no indications that the Heat want to change their roster, nor has Lillard come out and requested a trade from Portland! Everything here is hypothetical, but it is not as crazy as you may think.
Breaking down a Damian Lillard trade to Heat
Lillard teaming up with Butler and Adebayo in Miami would surely make one of the best trios in the league. Despite the league's new financial rules that will come into effect soon from the newest CBA agreement, the Heat have the assets to make a real run at Dame.
Entering the offseason, Miami will have an active payroll of roughly $173 million, about $11 million over the tax line for the 2023-24 season. This includes a $9.4 million player option for Victor Oladipo and Haywood Highsmith's $1.9 million non-guaranteed contract. Oladipo recently suffered a major leg injury in the playoffs and will very likely be opting into the final year of his contract as he hits the road to recovery once again.
No matter what, the Heat will be a taxpaying team next season. In a potential trade for Lillard, they would need to match his $45.6 million incoming salary. With Jimmy and Bam making a combined $77.7 million next season, bringing in another max contract is near impossible.
Notice how I said near impossible, because believe it or not, Miami has options here.
Veteran point guard Kyle Lowry is set to make $29.6 million in the final year of his contract, Tyler Herro is going to make $27 million with plenty of years left on his deal and sharpshooter Duncan Robinson will be making $18.1 million next season.
The Heat have ways to come up with $40-45 million in matching salaries and also have some draft capital to play around with. Miami owns the 18th overall selection in the 2023 NBA Draft, plus their own first-round picks in 2024, 2026, 2027, 2028 and 2029.
They cannot trade their first-round picks in 2024 and 2026 outright due to an obligation they already have to send their 2025 first-round pick (lottery-protected) to the Oklahoma City Thunder, but the Heat can deal their 18th overall selection and two unprotected first-round picks in 2027 and 2029 to Portland in a potential Lillard trade. Miami can also send a pick swap in 2028 as well.
That takes care of the draft picks part of the trade. As far as salaries and players go, Herro would most likely be the player going to Portland, though the Blazers could demand Adebayo. The Heat likely wouldn't go for that, so let's stick with Herro. He's only 23 years old and coming off back-to-back seasons averaging at least 20.0 points per game while shooting at least 37.8 percent from three-point range. Herro is certainly a valuable asset and is under contact through the 2026-27 season, meaning any team could build around him for years to come.
If Miami could then convince Portland to take on the final year of Lowry's deal by adding 2023 first-round pick Nikola Jovic to the trade, all of a sudden, Miami has a somewhat interesting offer out there.
The Heat would save themselves $13.3 million by acquiring Lillard in this trade, which would then allow them to focus on Gabe Vincent and Max Strus, their two key free agents this offseason. As stated before, Miami is going to be a taxpaying team regardless of who is on their roster next season, so why not be a taxpaying team with a top-10 player in their backcourt?
They would still have Butler and Adebayo to pair with Lillard, Robinson would still be a sharpshooter on the perimeter, Vincent and Strus could both be back, and the Heat still have Caleb Martin under contract for another year. The rest of this roster could be filled out by players willing to take a minimum contract. With a trio of Butler, Adebayo and Lillard, there will be plenty of players wanting to come to South Beach. Winning a title wouldn't hurt their case for bringing in free agents on minimum deals either.
There are other trade scenarios the Heat could try to work with if Lillard became available, but the fact of the matter is that Miami does have a path to acquiring Portland's star this offseason should he want out of his current situation.