Remember the trade request Damian Lillard made to the Portland Trail Blazers roughly on July 1st? It's bascically been crickets on the Lillard trade front ever since.

Everyone knows the seven-time All-Star's preferred destination is the Miami Heat. That's fine and all, and it certainly is Lillard's prerogative to try to basketball for the team he desires. But that becomes more complicated to accomplish when a player like Lillard is signed to a massive contract extension, one set to pay him a whopping $63 million in his age-36 season.

Naturally, that is going to make Portland's trade negotiations tricky to navigate. And though the Heat are the favorites to acquire Lillard, a trade hasn't happened yet, and theoretically any team could pull the trigger and pay what Portland wants to acquire him. But unlike Bradley Beal, Lillard doesn't have a no-trade clause, the singular factor that allowed the Phoenix Suns to swoop in out of nowhere and acquire the former Washington Wizards star on the cheap.,

Is there a dark horse trade partner for Lillard and the Blazers? Unlikely, but it is fun to speculate, like ESPN did on Thursday by suggesting some fun fake trades involving Lillard. Let's dive into the proposed blockbuster deal built around Zion Williamson, doling out grades for Portland and the New Orleans Pelicans.

Pelicans acquire: Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic

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It's hard to see how this trade makes much sense for the Pelicans. Yes, they do have a deep team. They also have wings Portland has dreamed about surrounding Lillard with in the forms of Brandon Ingram, Trey Murphy III and Herb Jones. But this theoretical Pelicans roster construction would almost be a mirror of Lillard's past teams in Rip City.

Lillard and CJ McCollum were a great backcourt tandem, and both would thrive playing off a proven scorer like Ingram. But New Orleans would be stretched very thin defensively in the backcourt, just like the Blazers when Lillard and McCollum were teammates.

Since McCollum became a full-time player back in the 2015-16 season, here are Portland's ranks in defensive rating with the Lillard-McCollum pairing: 19th, 22nd, 6th, 16th, 27th, 29th and 29th. The Blazers simply weren't able to conjure a consistently competent defense by prioritizing two small guards.

That's not to say a team featuring Lillard and McCollum couldn't manage a solid defense, but doing so would prove a very difficult task, one New Orleans probably couldn't pull off. Ingram's defense has never fully clicked. Neither Jonas Valanciunas nor Jusuf Nurkic, the starting center for the majority of those Portland teams described above, have ever proven themselves to be defensive anchors. The Pels would also be giving up three of their most versatile defensive players in this deal in Dyson Daniels, Larry Nance Jr. and Naji Marshall.

The general idea of swapping Damian Lillard and Zion Williamson is sound. New Orleans shouldn't bother giving giving up pivotal pieces of its talented young core in this particular trade, though.

Grade: C-

Blazers acquire: Zion Williamson, Dyson Daniels, Kira Lewis Jr., Larry Nance Jr. and Naji Marshall

Daniels is a nice piece, but doesn't project to be a primary creator in the immediate future. Kira Lewis Jr. hasn't shown much in his NBA career, especially after tearing his ACL in 2021. Marshall and Nance are plus role players, but does a rebuilding team like the Blazers really need veterans like them right now?

The belle of this ball is Williamson, an All-NBA caliber player when healthy. He's already made two All-Star teams and averages 25.8 points, seven rebounds and 3.6 assists per game for his career while shooting 60.5% from the field. Williamson plays like a hybrid of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Shaquille O'Neal. He's at least one of the 10 best offensive players in basketball.

Williamson can create as a primary ballhandler in ball-screen actions and might be the league's most devastating roll man. Case in point: Zion generated 1.03 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ballhandler last season. In his last full-ish season (2020-21), he excelled as dribbler and screener.

The question, of course, is whether Williamson can stay healthy. He's played in only 114 games over his first four seasons, missing 2021-22 entirely while playing 29 games last season and 24 as a rookie. Would it really be prudent for Portland to make a health risk like Williamson the center of its rebuild?

Considering the trove of picks and young players the Blazers can get elsewhere, even from the Heat, this deal with New Orleans seems like an unnecessary gamble. And considering the injury luck (or lack thereof) that's dogged the franchise for decades, no one would blame Portland for looking elsewhere.

Grade: B-