It won't be long until the 2023-24 NBA season kicks off as September runs out of days. This offseason has been full of rumors and stories revolving around Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers after the seven-time All-Star requested a trade from the team early on in the summer. One of the most talented scorers in the league today, you would think Dame being available would create an instant buzz with teams lining up to pursue the superstar.
That has not been the case, mainly due to Lillard's obsession with wanting to be traded to the Miami Heat. Even with there being trade interest from some teams, the risk associated with trading for a player who doesn't want to be anywhere but Miami has pushed the Blazers into a corner. General manager Joe Cronin and Portland's front office know that the start of the preseason is right around the corner, which is why momentum to trade the superstar guard has intensified.
Heading into Media Day and training camp, the last thing the Blazers want to deal with are questions about Lillard's future and any drama that may ensue with him reporting, or not reporting, to the team. This has led to ongoing conversations in Portland to trade Lillard within the week, league sources told ClutchPoints.
The problem on this front right now is the fact that Cronin and the Trail Blazers have not made their overall price known. Lillard is available and the Blazers are not limiting a trade to just one team given he does not own a no-trade clause. Portland is prepared to do what it takes to get the best deal possible for one of the best players in the league. At the same time, their options have been limited, which is why there is a growing sense that the Heat will ultimately get what they want.
The Toronto Raptors may have something to say about that, especially with executive Masai Ujiri's aggressiveness when it comes to pursuing star players on the trade market. Ever since they went out and moved DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard in 2018, the Raptors have been eager to add another superstar to their roster in a blockbuster trade during the offseason. Toronto was involved in Kevin Durant trade chatter last summer, and sources said Lillard has been on their radar for quite some time.
In wake of Fred VanVleet's departure and the Raptors' quick decline in the Eastern Conference, the need for another established star is clear. The team does not want to trade two-time All-NBA performer Pascal Siakam at this time and has shown no willingness in any trade talks through the years to offer up former Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes. Ujiri and the Raptors have been in close contact with the Blazers over the last 48 hours, league sources confirmed to ClutchPoints.
As multiple outlets have alluded to, no deal is imminent and interest from the Blazers' perspective has been met with a sense of uncertainty. OG Anunoby, a player Portland has shown interest in previously, is Toronto's best asset outside of Siakam and Barnes, and the Raptors have a slew of draft picks they can utilize at their disposal for a player like Lillard. Recent first-round pick Gradey Dick is also a key player who would likely be moved in any scenario, with ESPN Andscape's Marc J. Spears recently reporting that the Blazers have interest in the rookie sharpshooter.
At this juncture, the Raptors are the team that has been in contact with the Blazers the most regarding Lillard, leading many to believe that a trade could occur in the coming days. The problem here is Dame has no interest in heading to Toronto, a stance that has been long known and multiple league executives recently reiterated to ClutchPoints. In this case, things could get messy quick, especially if Lillard stays true to his word and ends up holding out if he is not traded to Miami.
For Pat Riley and the Heat, they have not been willing to budge on where their talks ended with the Blazers in July. There has not been a constant line of communication between the two organizations, and Miami has yet to reach back out to Portland amid interest from other organizations existing. The Heat do want to add Lillard to their roster ahead of the start of the 2023-24 season, but they are wanting to do so on their terms and at the value they have placed on the star, sources said.
Miami has not felt pressured by the ongoing conversations Portland has held with any other team around the league, especially since it is known leaguewide that Lillard wants to play in South Beach. TSN's Josh Lewenberg recently reported on the belief of the Blazers feeling pressure with training camp around the corner, hence why they have been engaging in conversations with other teams such as the Raptors. League sources have since echoed this same belief, as Portland is looking to salvage any lost value they can at this point.
In attempts to get the best possible deal for Lillard, the Blazers have been looking to create a bidding war for their star. This has been met with hesitance and the Heat willing to call the organization's bluff. Miami has made an offer for the All-Star guard, but at least for the moment, they have not changed their stance. On the other side of things, Toronto is willing to negotiate a deal for Dame in the coming days with no real confirmation existing on whether or not he would actually play for them.
Cronin is the one who has the final say on a potential trade before training camps open up next week, a trade that could change the entire landscape of the Eastern Conference.
Are Celtics actually a Damian Lillard trade suitor?
Aside from the Raptors and Heat being linked to Lillard, the Boston Celtics have also been floated as a possible suitor for one of the league's best scorers. After trading for Kristaps Porzingis and agreeing to contract extensions with both Porzingis and All-NBA wing Jaylen Brown this offseason, team president Brad Stevens has remained eager to improve the Celtics in any way possible.
The idea of pursuing Lillard has come up at times in Boston during the offseason, yet their path to potentially trading for him is flawed. Brown cannot be traded and, like Jayson Tatum, the Celtics have no interest in giving him up. They could potentially look to flip Porzingis in a trade for Lillard, but the organization acquired the Latvian big man with the idea of him being the final piece in their championship puzzle.
This leaves Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick White, Robert Williams III and Al Horford as the only possible trade assets for Boston to build a proposal around, a scenario that looks very unlikely. Portland would have no interest in what the Celtics could offer up directly without getting other teams involved in said trade. It's also worth noting that the C's have only inquired about Lillard and have yet to build out a real proposal for the Blazers to contemplate, league sources told ClutchPoints.
How Nets, Suns, Jazz are linked to Damian Lillard trade talks
The Brooklyn Nets, Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz are three teams not directly involved in trade talks for Lillard, but they are organizations who could potentially look to help facilitate a multi-team deal. Should the Heat and Blazers come to an agreement on a Lillard trade, Tyler Herro is likely to be included in said package. However, Portland has not shown much interest in the former Sixth Man of the Year, which is why he was initially linked to the Nets.
A key scoring weapon who can play with or without the ball in his hands, Herro is still just 23 years old and continuing to grow as an all-around offensive weapon. Brooklyn traded away Patty Mills and Joe Harris this offseason, plus they lost Seth Curry in free agency. It appeared as if the Heat guard could possibly be in the Nets' plans, but the team did sign Dennis Smith Jr. and Lonnie Walker IV in free agency.
General manager Sean Marks and the Nets are content with the roster they have assembled, which is why they are comfortable sitting back and letting things play out rather than trying to spearhead multi-team trade discussions. If the right opportunity comes their way, Brooklyn will be interested is hearing their options.
The Jazz and Suns are two teams to keep an eye on as third and fourth teams to help facilitate any trade involving a star this offseason. Phoenix is limited in their abilities to add talent, especially with Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal making a combined $130 million this season. Deandre Ayton remains a question mark, though, and there is real traction that exists regarding the Suns looking at Blazers big man Jusuf Nurkic. There are some within the Blazers' front office who are big fans of Ayton, sources said, which is where the idea of Phoenix being involved in a Lillard trade has come from.
Utah is a team with cap flexibility and the means to make all parties in a trade at peace. Collin Sexton is an intriguing player to keep an eye on, especially since his role may decline with the Jazz this upcoming year. Keyonte George is expected to see a lot of minutes during his rookie season and Jordan Clarkson is the lead guard for the Jazz, so Sexton may wind up being the odd man out. Still just 24 years old, the former eighth overall pick can present a lot of value to any team searching for backcourt talent.
Kelly Olynyk and Talen Horton-Tucker are also viable trade candidates on Utah's roster entering training camp, sources said.
Hawks' Pascal Siakam chase grounded
The Raptors have been in the news quite a bit this offseason. Not only have they been linked to talks surrounding Lillard and the Blazers, but they were also at the center of discussions during Las Vegas Summer League. With Siakam entering the final year of his contract and the future of the organization uncertain, rival teams inquired about the Raptors' willingness to discuss trade scenarios involving the All-Star big man.
Among teams interested in Siakam, the Atlanta Hawks emerged as a serious suitor for him and even proposed multiple scenarios to Toronto. According to The Athletic's Shams Charania, the Hawks offered De'Andre Hunter, AJ Griffin and draft compensation to the Raptors in attempts to former a star-studded trio in Atlanta. As HoopsHype's Michael Scotto reported a couple of weeks back, the Raptors were wanting more value in the form of rookie guard Kobe Bufkin, a player the Hawks were unwilling to include in discussions.
The Raptors and Hawks have not held any meaningful conversations regarding Siakam in over a month, and Toronto is prepared to hold onto him entering the 2023-24 season. For Atlanta, their focus is on being the best version of themselves.
Head coach Quin Snyder took over the Hawks' sideline in the middle of last season, posting a 10-11 record over the team's final 21 games. With Trae Young and Dejounte Murray leading the charge in their backcourt, the Hawks are confident in their abilities to not only make the playoffs, but once again prove to be a real threat in the conference like they were during the 2020-21 season when they advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. Even though the addition of Siakam would have boosted this franchise, the Hawks are high on the potential that exists on their current roster.
“This is a group that is very tight with one another and many of them have been together for years now,” a team source who was granted anonymity to speak freely told ClutchPoints. “There is opportunity for growth amongst some of the new guys and unlike other teams, we know what to expect from our veterans like Trae, Dejounte and Bogi [Bojan Bogdanovic] every game. Depth is our biggest strength right now and our overall talent is only going to get better as the season progresses.”
Finishing last season with a 41-41 record, the Hawks are motivated and ready to prove that they can be a real threat in the East during the 2023-24 season.
Other news and intel from around the NBA
- The Indiana Pacers are seeking a first-round pick in a trade for sharpshooter Buddy Hield. However, NBA insider Marc Stein recently claimed that there are some around the league who think Indiana won't get this kind of value. Set to become a free agent in 2024, Hield has yet to attract a ton of interest on the open market ahead of training camp. There is a belief that he will be one of the better names available as a midseason acquisition around the trade deadline.
- With Trey Murphy III sidelined due to a meniscus injury, the New Orleans Pelicans are expected to give recent first-round pick Dyson Daniels more minutes to begin the 2023-24 season. Daniels averaged 3.8 points and 3.2 rebounds per game during his rookie campaign.
- Teams are interested to see what transpires with the Chicago Bulls over the first month of the regular season. All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine remain on Chicago's roster, with DeRozan entering the final year of his contract. The Bulls seem to be more willing to discuss trade scenarios involving LaVine rather than DeRozan, but they still remain hesitant to give up on their core.
- Houston Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. is not expected to attend the start of training camp next week with his domestic violence case still ongoing. A few teams had been in contact with the Rockets on a potential trade involving Porter. Houston is still interested in moving his contract in order to bring in one or two players who can contribute right away.