It finally happened. After an offseason filled with posturing from both sides, Damian Lillard is finally on his way out of Portland to a destination no one saw coming. Lillard was traded by the Portland Trail Blazers to the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday morning in a three-team trade involving the Phoenix Suns. With the trade finally done, who comes out ahead?
Winner: Damian Lillard. No, he did not get sent to Miami per his original trade request. However, you would be hard-pressed to find a better running mate than Giannis Anteokounmpo. He is one of the top five players in the NBA, and the pairing will likely have Milwaukee hosting a trophy, if not several, by the time they are finished. They will provide must-see basketball every time they are on the court together. While it may not be his preferred destination, it’s hard to think of a better landing spot for a player who desperately wants to win.
Loser: Miami Heat. The Heat played chicken with the Blazers, daring them to find a better offer. The Blazers did—sad trombone noises for the Heat. Not only did the Blazers find a better deal, they found a better deal with a team that is now likely to stomp the Heat.
Winner: Giannis and the Bucks. Not only did Milwaukee land a generational talent, but they also did it by convincing another team to give up the most assets of immediate consequence. The Bucks essentially gave up Jrue Holiday, a solid defensive player but one that you trade for Damian Lillard every single time, Grayson Allen, and three future first-round picks/pick swap rights. Those picks may come back to haunt them in five years if they decline after Giannis and Dame retire or move on, but I’m sure multiple titles before then would soothe the pain.
Loser: Phoenix Suns. I’m not even sure what the Suns were doing here. They moved the prize acquisition for the Blazers, young seven-footer Deandre Ayton, and in return, they got a player with a similar skillset in Josef Nurkic-who is older, slower, more expensive, and possesses the same ability to disappear that Ayton does occasionally, and some bench fodder. Maybe new (and famously hard-nosed) coach Frank Vogel wanted a more veteran presence to team up with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker.
Otherwise, this trade makes very little sense for Phoenix.
Winner: Portland Trail Blazers. No, this deal does not bring back a pile of immediate first-round picks for Lillard. However, considering the team likely did not want a cloud hanging over them all season of if/when they would trade their star, this is a pretty good deal. Ayton is the immediate jewel of the trade, allowing them to add a young seven-footer with all-star potential to play with Scoot Henderson. It brought in Jrue Holiday, a perennial All-NBA defender from the Bucks. Depending on the Blazers’ direction, Holiday’s stay in Portland figures to range between short and “don’t bother showing up.” Holiday is likely to draw immediate trade attention, and whether the Blazers keep him around as a veteran presence until the trade deadline or flip him immediately remains to be seen. Either way, the return for Holiday will be a nice bonus on top of an already solid deal. While probably not the premium draft haul they would have liked, an unprotected 2029 first round and the right to pick swaps in 2028 and 2030 is a pretty good return. If everything goes the Blazers’ way, by the time those picks cash in, the Bucks will be on the decline from the Giannis-Dame years and in their own rebuild.
Mixed emotions: Portland Trail Blazers fans. On one hand, it’s tough to see Dame go. The man is hands down the greatest player in franchise history and has so many highlight moments from his time with the team. On the other hand, it was clear that time was ending. The team had multiple opportunities to rebuild around him and passed at all of them, preferring to start a rebuild. It was time for both parties to move on. For Blazers fans, they’ll get to see a young team grow around first-round draft pick Scoot Henderson and Ayton. They’ll also get to see Dame chase a ring he richly deserves while thankfully doing it in another conference so he can’t wreck the Blazers regularly.
Surely, the best-case scenario would have been to see him earn that ring with the team he carried for much of his career, but Blazer fans have learned to live with seeing franchise icons move on over the years, and now it’s time to add one more to that list. It is time for a new era of Blazers basketball and time for a new era in the NBA, as the Bucks are likely the team to watch this season.
Those two eras will come together on January 31 when the Bucks visit Portland for the first and only time this season in what should be a must-see game packed with fans with reasons to cheer on both teams.