By 750 THE GAME STAFF
“This is the trade of Joe Cronin’s NBA life,” wrote ESPN NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski Thursday morning.
Cronin, who assumed interim general manager duties from Neil Olshey after Olshey’s firing in Dec. 2021, was named the Trail Blazers full-time general manager five months later.
Now in just his second offseason at the helm, Cronin is tasked with trading his disgruntled superstar, Damian Lillard, who officially asked out of Portland on July 1st.
Wojnarowski detailed some key behind-the-scenes elements of what goes into orchestrating such a trade, made more complex by Lillard’s reported demand to only play for the Miami Heat, as well as the aging guard’s prohibitive supermax contract extension signed last summer.
At ages 35 and 36, the soon-to-be 33-year-old Lillard is due an average of $60 Million a year.
“In a perfect world, Portland would want to accommodate Lillard’s wishes to play for Miami,” writes Wojnarowski in a piece for ESPN Plus. “In a perfect world, too, Lillard wouldn’t have signed that extension and asked out a year later.”
Pat Riley, President of the Miami Heat, wants to get his hands on Lillard. The Heat have a strong core with big man Bam Adebayo and playoff sniper Jimmy Butler. Adding Lillard would place the reigning Eastern Conference champions among the favorites to return to the NBA Finals.
But Miami’s potential trade package in a direct deal with Portland is wanting. The Blazers do not want former NBA Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro and his 4 year $120 Million contract. Herro is Miami’s best trade asset, with guard Duncan Robinson likely being included in the package as well as former first-round pick Nikola Jovic and this year’s first-round pick Jamie Jacquez out of UCLA.
When it comes to draft picks to send Portland, though, Miami is limited to first-round selections in 2028 and 2030 and first-round swaps in the next five years.
“Everyone is motivated to move on,” Woj says, “but Cronin has a duty to get maximum value on a Lillard deal.
“If he can’t generate something better in the marketplace this summer, it’ll take some strength to stare at Miami’s pedestrian package, refuse to relinquish Damian Lillard and bring him back to start the season.”
Woj includes the note that Aaron Goodwin, Lillard’s agent, is calling non-Miami teams and telling them Lillard will be unhappy and may not even play if he is traded there. It sounds like most team executives don’t believe Goodwin’s pitch, but it is clear Camp Lillard is on the aggressive to land in Miami and nowhere else.
That means the trade of Portland’s greatest player ever could last for days, weeks, perhaps even months.
“It doesn’t have to go quickly,” Woj ends his piece, “but it does have to go right.”