Damian Lillard's faith in the Portland Trail Blazers' ability to build a championship contender around him has finally reached a breaking point, as the seven-time All-Star point guard requested a trade from the franchise that selected him No. 6 overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, according to Yahoo Sports' Vince Goodwill.
Damian Lillard has requested a trade from the Portland Trailblazers. @ChrisBHaynes first
— Vincent Goodwill (@VinceGoodwill) July 1, 2023
Lillard is owed $216.2 million over the next four seasons, including $63.2 million in the 2026-27 campaign.
The Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets are the only teams on his list, per Goodwill, as the Philadelphia 76ers are not a preferred destination. The Athletic's Shams Charania reported the Blazers "have been informed" that Lillard's request is to be traded to the Heat.
On Friday, the Blazers and forward Jerami Grant reportedly agreed to a five-year, $160 million contract. Grant was the most recent piece the Portland front office brought in to support Lillard. The Blazers still plan to sign Grant to that deal when it can become official on July 6, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
The 32-year-old Lillard has long been one of the game's most prolific scorers, and his 2022-23 campaign was the best scoring season of his career. Lillard's 32.2 points per game and 64.5% true-shooting clip last season were both career highs. He added 7.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds in 36.3 minutes a night for a 33-win team.
Over 11 seasons in Portland, Lillard has averaged a 25-4-7 (on 44/37/90 shooting splits). He has exceeded each of those points-rebounds-assists figures in three of the past four years. Lillard was remarkably healthy for the first decade of his career, never missing more than nine games in any one season, and the Blazers made the playoffs every year from 2014-21, peaking with a Western Conference finals appearance in 2019.
In the past two years, Lillard has missed 77 total games (double the amount he missed in his previous 10 seasons), and Portland failed to make the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since drafting him. Lillard missed the final 47 games of the 2021-22 season with an abdominal injury that required surgery. He sat the final 10 games of last season with a calf strain that also cost him three weeks earlier in the season.
It is up for debate how much of Lillard's absence can be attributed to Portland's eagerness to tank into better lottery position. The Blazers drafted Shaedon Sharpe with the No. 7 pick in 2022, and they moved up to the No. 3 spot in this year's draft to select guard Scoot Henderson. The youth movement did not match Lillard's own timeline to contend.
Questions about Lillard's commitment to the Blazers have been asked every year since the first of their back-to-back opening-round playoff exits in 2020 — and probably even before then. Each season, Lillard reaffirmed his loyalty to Portland, even through separate 2021 controversies involving the firing of general manager Neil Olshey and the hiring of head coach Chauncey Billups. The February 2022 trade of Lillard's longtime backcourt partner, C.J. McCollum, still did not impact his faith in Portland's ability to build a winner.
Asked in September 2022 if he still envisioned himself spending his entire career in Portland, Lillard told The Dave Pasch Podcast, "I do." He called himself "naturally a loyal person" who has rebuffed repeated urges from people around him to request a trade, feeling a title chase elsewhere would be less rewarding.
"I feel like we'll have a chance to win," he added. "I feel like that moment is going to come. I feel like that opportunity is going to come, and that's that. As long as I feel that our organization is putting their best foot forward and we're on the same page about doing everything that we can do to win, then I'm willing to go out swinging. ... I want to win in Portland. It would mean something to me to do it here. There's some significance to that for me, and I don't say that with the expectation that they couldn't ever decide one day that, 'All right, we want to move on. What do you want to do?' This is me being loyal to who I am, and how I feel and what I want to see happen. I would love to finish my career here. That's my plan, and that's that."
The shift from McCollum to another, younger undersized shooting guard, Anfernee Simons, plus a pair of top-10 draft additions, signaled that the Blazers were no longer putting their best foot forward to win now.
It took Lillard seven years to win two playoff rounds in a single season, even though he entered the NBA as a four-year starter at Weber State and made the first of his seven All-NBA rosters in his second campaign with the Blazers. Sharpe, who turned 20 years old in May, graduated early from high school, redshirted his freshman year at Kentucky and entered the 2022 draft without ever playing a game at the collegiate level.
Our first indication that Lillard's faith in the Blazers may have been waning came earlier in June, when he entertained several trade scenarios on Showtime's "The Last Stand Podcast." Asked about hypothetical deals for four rumored destinations — the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat and New York Knicks — Lillard openly preferred the Heat and Nets, given respective relationships with Bam Adebayo and Mikal Bridges and both teams' roster construction. Those teams are now in the forefront after his trade request. Still, Lillard said on the podcast he expected to start the 2023-24 season in Portland.
With Simons, Sharpe, Henderson and future draft assets, Portland could pursue star-level players and continue restructuring the roster around Lillard. The idea that the franchise and arguably its greatest-ever talent both seem more comfortable turning the page should give suitors pause about paying Lillard $63.2 million when he is 36 years old. His championship window may be shorter than his current contract.
Yet, Lillard's ability is beyond enticing. He is a proven playoff commodity, averaging 34.3 points in his most recent series and twice ending an opponent's season on series-winning buzzer-beaters. He just has not had the horses to run with. Lillard has not played with an All-Star since LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015, when they won 51 games. McCollum was easily Lillard's best teammate in the eight years since, and they also won 50 games together — despite a rotating cast of wings and a series of injuries to center Jusuf Nurkić.
Nurkić is owed $54.4 million over the next three seasons, a contract that ranks among the league's most restrictive. So, this summer was bound to be one of big changes in Portland. The Blazers had their choice to reload or rebuild, and their decision made Lillard's a lot easier.