The news broke Wednesday morning that after more than a decade in the Rose City, Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard had been traded to the Milwaukee Bucks in a three-team deal.
And just like that, Dame Time was officially over in Portland. From his first game on October 31, 2012, until his final game on March 22, 2023, he was a star on and off the court.
In his time in Portland, Lillard set out to be one of the best players in franchise history – and he, without question, accomplished that and more.
He won Rookie of the Year in 2013 and made his first all-star game in 2014 while being named to his first all-NBA team. 2014 was also the year he helped the Trail Blazers get into the second round of the playoffs, the first time the team had made it out of the first round since 2000. This was all in just his second year in the NBA. A few years later, he led the team back to the Western Conference Finals – also a first since 2000.
Lillard never got the chance to step on the NBA Finals court in a Portland uniform, but plenty of greats in team history have had the same luck regarding the postseason. Portland only has three finals appearances in its 53-year history, so it would have to be an all-time great team that finally made it back, and that was not the kind of team Lillard was given to work with.
It’s nearly impossible to decide between Lillard and former Blazers great Clyde Drexler, although that seems to be a very popular topic lately. It’s about the same as asking someone who they prefer as Batman between Michael Keaton and Christian Bale – there’s really no wrong answer. They were both great at what they were asked to do, and the situation differed for each of them. You cannot compare eras, and I’m not sure what we accomplish by tearing down great players just to see who is the best.
You can find Lillard’s and Drexler’s names all over the franchise record book. Lillard holds the record for points, three-point field goals, free throws, points per game, efficiency rating, and offensive plus/minus. Drexler has the team records for games, minutes, field goals, offensive rebounds, steals, triple-doubles, and win shares.
They were both once-in-a-generation players doing amazing things on a basketball court, and we will cherish memories of watching them play until our eyes close for the final time. That’s what matters.
Lillard took to social media to offer his sentiments to the city of Portland and the fans, uploading a track dedicated to his time in Portland titled simply “Farewell.” His lyrics mention that his departure is not typical, that fans will not be distracted by the narrative, and that he hopes to reunite one day with hugs and kisses.
He also alludes to the parting of the ways not being his idea but rather one he went along with. If you have thought of Lillard as a smart, kind, noble, and respectful individual, which is definitely how I see him, it’s not difficult to imagine the team telling him they want to go with a youth movement rather than building to win now. And if that’s the message the front office delivered to him, I have no problem with him asking for or even demanding a trade to a contender.
In going to the “other” Milwaukee, Lillard gets a chance to play alongside another legitimate superstar, something he only had in Portland for three seasons when LaMarcus Aldridge was still on the roster. Lillard now gets to share the court with Giannis Antetokounmpo, one of the best players in the league today. In addition, Lillard reunites with former Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, an assistant coach with the Bucks. This is the best possible situation I could have asked for if I was picking a destination for Lillard. He joins a team that is just two years removed from winning an NBA championship, and Milwaukie didn’t have to give up any assets they needed to compete to acquire Lillard.
This is the send-off Drexler received when Portland traded him to Houston, where he was reunited with college teammate Hakeem Olajuwon – and they won one title together and competed for another. I didn’t see that kind of trade happening again, but Portland pulled it off, and I’m very glad for Lillard that this could occur. Hopefully, he’s happy with the trade as well as his new surroundings.
As part of the deal, Portland sends Jusuf Nurkic, Nassir Little, and Keon Johnson to Phoenix in exchange for Deandre Ayton, Toumani Camara, and a 2029 draft pick. Jrue Holiday was also included in the trade, but Portland is not expected to keep him on the roster.
Milwaukee gets to team up Dame and Giannis, while Portland gets a dominant center to team with their very young core they can ideally build into a contender in a couple of years. It’s a win-win, and I honestly didn’t think that kind of trade was out there.
I’m incredibly grateful for the time Lillard spent here, the highlights and memories he created, and I wish him the best in his quest for a well-deserved championship. Lillard is a winner, and he absolutely deserves to be a winner on the biggest stage the NBA has to offer. Portland knew they couldn’t get him there, but they made sure he was sent to a team that had that ability.
Thank you for everything, Mr. Lillard; watching you play basketball has been a privilege. Thank you for giving your very best to this team, this city, and the fans. We may not get to root for you as a Portland Trail Blazer anymore, but we’ll never root against you.