NBA Trade Rumors: Damian Lillard Intel, Bradley Beal Fever & Draft Positioning
Via Sam Forencich/Getty Images. Pictured: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers and Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards looks on before the game on February 14, 2023 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon.
The NBA Finals just ended, which means the rumor mill has been churning for weeks.
Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, Zion Williamson, Chris Paul, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and John Collins (again!) are the names that are already bouncing around league circles.
Not only that, but every team except the Spurs is open to offers for its top-10 pick, and every team outside the top 10 wants in. It's that time of year in the Association.
Here's the latest on how to read the market heading into the week before the draft.
The Damian Lillard Extrapolation
It's all about posture.
The Blazers have established two positions:
- They are not trading Damian Lillard unless Lillard asks out, which he has not done, and if they do, they will want a massive, unbelievable return on that to the point where almost no team would be able to offer it.
- They are looking to use the No.3 pick (and other players on contract, including Anfernee Simons) to improve the roster around Lillard.
Maintaining leverage is essential to the Blazers managing this situation. Effectively, Portland is posturing that they don't have to worry about Lillard damaging that leverage because of his loyalty and approach.
"Even if Lillard does ask to be traded—which, it must be stressed again, he has not done—he's under contract for four more years, and he's not wired to pull a James Harden and hold out of training camp any more than Durant is. He'd show up and do his job in that event, and probably would eventually come back around to staying long-term. The situation would be closer to Kobe Bryant's trade demand in 2007, which didn't come to fruition because he realized the Bulls and Mavericks would have to give up too much to get him. Any team Lillard went to would be in the same boat the Knicks were in after they traded everything for Carmelo Anthony in 2011."
This comes on the heels of podcast appearances by Lillard that indicated teams he was interested in (Miami), and him applying pressure to Portland to make the team into a contender.
Portland is stacked coming into the draft. The Trail Blazers have a young player with upside on a long-term contract in Simons, contract filler like Jusuf Nurkic, last year's No.7 pick, Shaedon Sharpe, if the offer is enticing enough, and the No.3 pick in this year's draft.
They can aggressively pursue putting a second real star next to Lillard for the first time since LaMarcus Aldridge (with apologies to CJ McCollum).
The question those around the league were asking is "What happens if that deal doesn't happen on draft night?"
Portland is posturing strongly that they feel confident Lillard won't go script and impact their leverage with a trade demand (which, heads up, would get leaked to Turner's Chris Haynes, who covered Dame in Portland and has a longstanding relationship with Lillard and his camp).
If they're wrong and are unable to get a deal done on draft night, and Lillard's frustration reaches a boiling point, things could change.
This isn't to say the Trail Blazers are wrong on this; they've built the in-roads with Lillard, and at his core, Lillard has asserted over and over again that he wants to retire with the Blazers. He has pretty much publicly asserted he's made his peace with the idea of staying there even if they can't contend.
But this is the NBA, and things change quickly. Highkin notes in the article linked above that no team that is in a position to contend immediately after a Lillard trade has the assets to entice the Blazers.
Miami's offer is effectively Tyler Herro and picks. Trading Bam Adebayo defeats the purpose of trading for Lillard to finally get a consistent superstar on the team to try and win a title, and the Heat lack dynamite young talent, no matter how well Caleb Martin played in the Boston series.
(This is why Miami has moved on to talks for Wizards star guard Bradley Beal.)
The Nets are the most hilarious situation, as Brooklyn would love to bring in Lillard as their marquee star next to Mikal Bridges, who is on the list of players Lillard wants to play with but doesn't have the assets, and the Blazers would love to trade for Bridges to pair with Lillard. Both teams love the idea of Dame and Bridges together but have different ideas about what uniform they should be wearing.
As to what Portland will look for, Bridges is the dream. The Nets have tried to make it as clear as possible he's not on the table.
I asked a longtime league executive for his thoughts on Brooklyn's dilemma with their picks owed to Houston.
"Bridges and Cam (Johnson) are their only 'for-sure guys.' If they can get the third pick from Portland, great, but if it were me, I'd hold off on dealing Bridges who you know is good, even if he doesn't have the same potential as Scoot (Henderson, who Brooklyn would target with the third pick)."
League sources suggest that Portland is already locked in on a new deal worth more than $120 million with forward Jerami Grant.
The Blazers have been focused on moving center Jusuf Nurkic, sources say, and this is the most crucial component in their situation. The Blazers can score, but they have to be able to defend. Lillard can't effectively get over screens, meaning you need a versatile defensive center next to him.
This all sets up the next five days of negotiations. If the Blazers walk away with no deal for the No.3, they'll continue to posture that they're thrilled with the pick and still looking to contend. Lillard doesn't tend to hide his displeasure; he'll make it known he's not happy that they took a 19-year-old for him to try and win with.
But until Lillard shows that he's willing to use all superstar options to apply pressure, until there's a real threat of him sitting out games if the Blazers don't actually build a contender around him, Thursday's deadline to find a deal to upgrade the roster is more about Dame's happiness than the future of the franchise.
Beal's Suitors, Zion's Future, Draft Notes
- The Bradley Beal era is predictably coming to a close with Washington (Editor's Note: It came to a close on Sunday when Washington and Phoenix agreed to a blockbuster trade). Everyone knew this was coming, not just for weeks or months, but years. When Beal was pursuing his max contract and choosing not to pursue a trade, everyone in the league knew it was because he wanted the money (which is totally understandable for any player) and that he would be traded sometime shortly thereafter. It won't be two years before he's in another uniform since signing that max extension.
- Five Reason Sports reported Saturday that the framework of a deal from the Heat side is Kyle Lowry along with either Duncan Robinson or Victor Oladipo, and the Wizards want both Nikola Jovic and Haywood Highsmith (which is a sticking point) and multiple first-rounders.
- Miami is not expected to call it good if they get Beal, and instead look for more deals potentially involving Herro or Robinson (if he's not included in the Beal deal). Washington, league sources have said, are making Duncan Robinson as close to a requirement as they reasonably can, though there is some feeling that's a leverage play to draw out more picks from the Heat.
- Meanwhile, Shams Charania reported the Suns are a Beal suitor as well. That deal would center around Deandre Ayton and Landry Shamet, along with the limited draft capital that Phoenix has left after the Kevin Durant trade.
- The Wizards' preferred target in Beal talks was the No.3 pick from Portland, but multiple league sources have indicated not just recently but consistently for months that Beal is not a player who would increase Lillard's satisfaction with the franchise.
- So Beal won't get the third pick; what will that pick get? The most likely option is on the Pelicans. The Pelicans front office is thought to think as highly of Scoot Henderson as any in the league, and with the Zion Williamson situation seemingly at least straining at running its course, this presents a narrow opportunity for the Pelicans to move off Williamson and reload behind another young star.
- There's a pre-existing relationship between the Blazers and Pelicans' front office after their deal two years ago sending CJ McCollum and Larry Nance to New Orleans. That helps grease wheels. Williamson is a big-swing, high-risk, high-reward play. This potential trade doesn't solve the defensive issues with Lillard, but if the options are a discount with the Pelicans for Zion or paying through the entire nose for OG Anunoby, Zion seems like great value.
- Speaking of Anunoby, there is a growing sense among executives who have called the Raptors (albeit with some caution) that Pascal Siakam may be easier to deal with than Anunoby currently. One savvy executive did mention that he felt that was a means to judge market value if and when the Raptors do decide to trade Anunoby. However, it's fair to say front offices are pretty worn out on the attempts by Toronto to get "blood from a stone" as one executive put it at the deadline in any deal. Multiple sources have described the Raptors as frustrating to deal with. So why keep calling? "There are only 29 teams to work with."
- If Anunoby is still, or put back, on the table, expect the Sacramento Kings to be at the front of the line in trying to make an offer for the defensive stalwart wing.
- Let's circle back to New Orleans. The Pelicans want Scoot Henderson by all accounts. It should be noted that if any team is moving into the top three, it's for Henderson, not for Brandon Miller.
- This puts Charlotte in a particularly interesting situation. As recently as two weeks ago, everyone I spoke with said Miller was a "lock" at No.2 to Charlotte. That's started to soften; the Hornets haven't made a decision and, until this week, had not had either player in for a workout-interview-dinner with the team and ownership.
- If you're the Pelicans, chasing Scoot, do you talk to Charlotte, who by all accounts is leaning towards Miller, given that GM Mitch Kupchak openly said they were looking for fit, and Henderson isn't one with LaMelo Ball, the franchise cornerstone? Do you dare the Hornets to not take the guy they reportedly want and risk not getting Henderson in a Williamson deal?
- If you're Charlotte, does Zion Williamson alongside LaMelo move you closer to contention than the No.2 pick would, regardless of whether it's Henderson or Miller?
- This is my own speculation entirely, but one has to wonder if there's a potential three-way trade that sees Henderson end up in New Orleans, Zion in Portland, and the No.3 pick with the Hornets alongside compensation for moving down so they can still take Miller.
- The only other team that seems genuinely interested in pursuing the No.2 pick is Toronto, but I'm expecting that list of teams to expand rapidly this week; again, a lot of teams have an interest in Scoot Henderson as a potential franchise cornerstone.
- (Henderson moved from a plus-number to go No.2 back to a minus at sportsbooks late last week.)
- Derrick Lively is the other player coveted by teams in terms of moving up in the draft. The Hawks and Warriors are two teams that I've heard from multiple sources are interested in pursuing a pick to take Lively, and it seems like it's going to need to be at least 10th to get there.
- The 10 players I expect to go top 10, as of now, in Thursday's draft: Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson, Brandon Miller, Cam Whitmore, Jarace Walker, Amen Thompson, Ausar Thompson, Anthony Black, Taylor Hendricks and Lively.
- Now, typically the week of the draft, one player starts to pick up an intense amount of steam. In 2021 it was Josh Giddey. In 2022 it was Keegan Murray. If that player is Lively, Kobe Bufkin (who has several suitors in the teens), or another name, that could disrupt that list.
- Let's circle back to free agency. After the Harden-back-to-Houston talk reached a fever pitch three weeks ago, there now seems to be a certain amount of skepticism coming from Houston. There's concern that they were being used to leverage the 76ers into something closer to a max deal either in money or years. If Harden does not return to Houston, the Rockets will shift to Kyrie Irving and Chris Paul.
- Houston is also considered to be a suitor for both Dillon Brooks and Brook Lopez.
- Something to keep in mind with the Suns in their Beal pursuit: there's been chatter in league circles about a separate potential three-way deal involving Boston's reigning 6th Man of the Year Malcolm Brogdon. I've gotten the sense those talks are now outdated (as is pretty common with a lot of league rumormongering), but it's an interesting element to keep an eye on.
- Perhaps equally notable is that Boston is said to be in the market for frontcourt additions, which Deandre Ayton would certainly qualify as. (That, however, is speculative on my part.)
- Tobias Harris for the Sixers and Tyus Jones for the Grizzlies are two players I am confident will be on new teams by the end of the summer.