The 2023-24 NBA season is, shockingly, less than a month away. And while the league’s 30 rosters are mostly set, there’s still some pieces to be sorted out. Training camp will iron out the final roster spots for a lot of teams. Some veterans will be signed — hey, Dwight Howard’s available!
And, it seems, at least one big name will be traded.
After pivoting away from the “embrace the grind” mindset that he had previously doubled down on, Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard kicked off the offseason by requesting a trade from the only NBA team he’s ever played for.
But Lillard didn’t quite play the player empowerment hand correctly. After already signing the type of contract that would keep most teams from wanting to acquire him, Lillard tried to dictate the direction of a deal, and end up with the Miami Heat. That remains in play, but it seems Miami doesn’t have the pieces that Portland wants — it turns out asking someone to deal your contract that will pay you in excess of $63 million in your age-36 season isn’t quite as simple as pointing to where you want to go.
Less mid-tier competition
The Blazers haven’t been very good lately, finishing 13th in the West in each of the last two years, and just sixth the year prior. But, when healthy, a team with Lillard and a cast of quality role players can always go places. After all, it was Portland that squared off with the Dubs in the 2019 Western Conference Finals.
Still, if the Blazers with Lillard are competing with the Warriors for playoff positioning, it likely means something has gone poorly for Golden State. So it probably doesn’t change much for them.
More All-Star openings
Lillard is a seven-time All-Star, and has made the team in five of the last six years — with the only odd year being when he was injured and missed most of 2021-22.
If Lillard is, indeed, traded to an Eastern Conference team, it means that we can eliminate two near-locks from the Western Conference All-Star guard rotation: Lillard, and Ja Morant, who is highly unlikely to be selected since he’s set to miss the first 20 games of the season due to a suspension.
Suddenly there’s room on the All-Star team for guards, and that’s great news for Klay Thompson and Chris Paul, two players who have All-Star pedigree and talent, but may have been snubbed due to the sheer number of quality guards out West.
A potential long-term threat emerging
The Blazers have some really intriguing young players, and they’d presumably add to that with a Lillard trade. It’s unclear who Toronto would be willing to part with, but between Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Scottie Barnes, there’s no shortage of potential franchise players for Portland to try and get in return.
Would it be enough for them to build a perennial winner within the next few years? Probably not. But it would be worth keeping an eye on.
A repeat of 2019?
It seems clear that Lillard doesn’t want to go to Toronto. It was also clear that Kawhi Leonard didn’t want to go to Toronto ahead of the 2018-19 season.
Masai Ujiri swung the trade anyway, the Raptors dramatically conquered the Eastern Conference, and met the Dubs in the Finals. We all know what happened next.
Might another disgruntled star get sent to Canada to lead the Raptors to the Finals against the Dubs? If so, may we all hope for fewer injuries and a different end result this time around.