That speculation grew even louder Sunday after Bridges joined Lillard's Instagram Live session:
Mikal Bridges just slid on Dame IG Live just to troll him😭😭🤣 pic.twitter.com/3aNOc81vvd
— ⛈ (@ClassyDameFan) May 28, 2023
Lillard planted the seeds for a potential Bridges pairing over the last two years.
The seven-time All-Star has never been shy about his affinity for the Nets forward, calling Bridges his “favorite small forward in the league” during a 2021 interview with Yahoo Sports. Lillard also pointed to Bridges when asked which players he would want Portland to add ahead of this season. He then named Bridges and Devin Booker last month when asked which NBA players he is a fan of on ESPN.
Lillard and Bridges were seen leaving Barclays Center together following Game 3. When asked if he knew the Blazers guard was going to attend the matchup, Bridges offered a coy response:
“I know people,” he said with a smile.
When asked about the situation, Cam Johnson said Bridges and Lillard “are close.” The duo has been seen partying together in recent years:
Entreguen absolutamente todo lo necesario, pero Mikal Bridges debe ser un Blazer. pic.twitter.com/3XhCeyB8bZ
— BLAZERS ARGENTO (@BlazersArgento) April 15, 2023
After the Blazers landed the third pick in the draft, an interesting question emerged surrounding a potential pairing: Would it be in Brooklyn or Portland?
Trail Blazers general manager Joe Cronin has given all indications that he intends to build around Lillard this offseason:
“We’re a team that’s trying to win and trying to maximize Damian’s timeline,” he told Yahoo Sports after the lottery. “This was an important night for us.”
The Athletic reported Portland will look to build a package headlined by the third pick to snag “an elite small forward.” That news comes off the heels of Lillard saying he “doesn’t have much of an appetite for bringing in guys two and three years away.”
Bridges was quickly identified as a logical target. In 30 games with the Nets, the 26-year-old averaged 27.7 points on 47/38/89 shooting splits.
In addition to his blossoming scoring capabilities, Bridges' lockdown defense and high-level shooting make him a dream complement for a high-usage superstar. However, Brooklyn reportedly has no interest in trading the breakout forward:
“I have some terrible news for fans generating fake Mikal Bridges trades: The Nets don’t seem to have much incentive to play ball here,” The Athletic reported. “Brooklyn owes unprotected picks to Houston in 2024 and 2026 and unprotected swaps in 2025 and 2027. Thus, Brooklyn trading its good players and tanking would do a lot more for the Rockets than the Nets. Brooklyn’s likely best path forward is to muddle along with a Bridges-centric team, especially since he’s signed through 2026 to one of the league’s best contracts.”
Conversely, the Nets have legitimate interest in acquiring Lillard, according to several league sources.
Following the trades of James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn is armed with 11 first-round picks over the next seven years, the fourth-most draft capital in the league. General manager Sean Marks certainly left the door open for a star trade this summer:
“It goes back to how we build,” Marks said. “Do we build quick and expedite this thing? If a player comes around that we know, ‘Hey, this player or players would fit within a group and give us an opportunity to really get back in and be contenders again.’ That could happen.”
This is where Brooklyn and Portland stand heading into a pivotal offseason. Two stars who want to play together, two teams who want to make it happen, neither willing to budge on their stance.
With less than a month to the draft, it won't be long before both organizations are forced to make franchise-altering decisions.