(Photo courtesy Milwaukee Bucks) “Damian Lillard trade finalized and welcomed to Milwaukee.”
After nearly three months since his trade request, the Damian Lillard saga has finally concluded. On Sept. 27, 2023, the NBA world exploded when the Milwaukee Bucks, Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns agreed to a three-team trade that sent star point guard Lillard to Milwaukee.
Per Shams Charania of The Athletic, Portland acquired point guard Jrue Holiday, center Deandre Ayton, power forward Toumani Camara and a 2029 first-round draft pick to the Blazers, while Phoenix acquired shooting guard Grayson Allen, center Jusuf Nurkic, small forward Nassir Little and shooting guard Keon Johnson. The Blazers also got to swap first-round draft picks with Milwaukee in 2028 and 2030.
Back in July, Lillard requested a trade to the Miami Heat. Per Charania, Lillard only wanted to be traded to Miami. While it initially seemed a deal with Miami was inevitable, Blazers General Manager Joe Cronin had no intention of doing business with Miami due to a lack of assets. As the situation transpired, it became clear that Lillard didn’t have any leverage since he was already under contract for four more years.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported late in September that there weren’t any ongoing trade talks between Portland and Miami, derailing hopes that Miami could get Lillard. Other teams like Chicago, Toronto and Boston showed some interest, but trade talks never got serious. Ultimately, Portland liked Milwaukee’s offer the most.
After getting embarrassed by the Miami Heat in the first round of the 2023 NBA Playoffs, Milwaukee wanted to upgrade the roster by surrounding franchise player power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo with another superstar in Lillard. With Antetokoumpo remaining uncommitted to his future in Milwaukee, the Bucks paired him up with Lillard to improve their championship odds. Antetokounmpo can become an unrestricted free agent in 2025 if he declines his player option.
Coming off a career year, the 33-year-old Lillard provides Milwaukee with elite scoring and floor spacing. With averages of 32.2 points on 46.3 percent field goal shooting and 37.1 percent from 3-point plays, Milwaukee’s offense significantly improves.
However, Milwaukee’s perimeter defense gets significantly worse with the loss of Holiday. Holiday has made the All-Defensive First Team in the past two seasons while being an above-average scorer and facilitator. While Lillard is a better overall player, Milwaukee’s perimeter defense now has some holes. Nonetheless, this trade still makes them a better team.
From Portland’s side, they appear to be fully committing to a rebuild around the No. 3 pick shooting guard Scoot Henderson, point guard Afernee Simons, small forward Shaedon Sharpe and power forward Jerami Grant, who they inked to a five-year $160 million contract. With the addition of former No. 1 pick Ayton, Portland adds a high-upside player who can score, rebound and protect the paint. Expect Holiday to get traded to a contender for assets, as he doesn’t fit the timeline of this young core.
On the other hand, Phoenix dumps Ayton’s contract in exchange for much-needed depth. In return, they get above-average role players in Nurkic, Allen and Little. While Nurkic may not be as talented as Ayton, he’s still an above-average starting-caliber center. Dumping Ayton’s contract for valuable depth is a money-saving move for Phoenix.
Overall, all three parties benefited from this trade, and it will be interesting to see what the trajectory for these teams is moving forward.