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Are Raptors real threat to land Damian Lillard? And where Heat’s pursuit stands as camp nears

Soobum Im/Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

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The Miami Heat is Damian Lillard’s preferred trade destination, but the Heat isn’t the team the Portland Trail Blazers have been engaged with recently in trade discussions.

The Heat and Trail Blazers have an understanding on where each other stands, but there remains a fundamental disagreement between the two sides on what constitutes sufficient trade compensation for Lillard, according to multiple league sources.

As of Monday night, there had only been limited communication in recent weeks between Miami and Portland.

Instead, ESPN and Andscape’s Marc Spears reported Monday that the Toronto Raptors “enter this week as the front-runners” to trade for Lillard but added that a deal was not close to being imminent.

How serious are the Raptors about trading for a player who wants to be elsewhere, turned 33 in July and is owed $216 million through the remaining four seasons of his contract? That’s still unclear, but multiple reports suggest the Raptors are legitimate contenders to land Lillard.

Michael Grange, who covers the Raptors for Sportsnet, reported Monday that Toronto is “very much in the mix” for Lillard and “at least reasonably confident they can maneuver their way to the front of the line, past the Miami Heat.”

Josh Lewenberg, who covers the Raptors for TSN, reported Monday that Toronto’s interest in Lillard “is real, albeit ‘a bit overstated at this point’” as the Trail Blazers possibly look to build a market and gain some leverage over the Heat in negotiations.

According to Spears, the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Chicago Bulls have also shown interest in Lillard since his trade request on July 1.

But what about the Heat?

The reality is the Trail Blazers don’t love what the Heat has been willing to offer and hope other teams step up to put in their own bids for Lillard. That was true three months ago immediately after Lillard put in his trade request and is still true a week before the start of training camp.

What’s behind the lack of contact between the Heat and Trail Blazers? It’s a product of both teams understanding where the other stands, enough to realize that a deal isn’t possible unless one side is prepared to do something different that it initially planned.

One league source who spoke to Portland’s front office last week was told by the Trail Blazers that a trade that sends Lillard to the Heat is “unlikely.”

But those involved understand what may seem like the state of negotiations one day might be completely different the next day. All it takes is one phone call between the Heat and Trail Blazers to re-ignite trade talks.

With Heat stars Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler considered off the table in trade discussions for Lillard, the list of players on Miami’s roster currently eligible to be dealt includes Tyler Herro, Kyle Lowry, Duncan Robinson, Jaime Jaquez Jr., Nikola Jovic, Haywood Highsmith and Caleb Martin.

The Heat can’t trade recent free agent signees Josh Richardson, Thomas Bryant, Kevin Love and Orlando Robinson until Dec. 15.

One of the challenges for the Heat in acquiring Lillard is putting together a trade package that’s appealing to the Trail Blazers while also not depleting the supporting cast surrounding a potential leading trio of Adebayo, Butler and Lillard. With Butler turning 34 earlier this month and Lillard also approaching his mid-30s, the Heat knows it must field a roster that’s ready to win a championship this season to justify a trade for the seven-time All-Star.

The Heat’s initial offer for Lillard was believed to be built around Herro and multiple draft picks.

The Heat has made three Eastern Conference finals appearances and two NBA Finals appearances in the past four seasons with Adebayo and Butler leading the way, but has not won a championship since 2013 during the Big 3 era. The Heat became just the second No. 8 playoff seed in NBA history to advance to the NBA Finals last season, but lost to the Denver Nuggets in the championship series.

Lillard averaged a career-high 32.2 points per game while shooting 46.3 percent from the field and 37.1 percent from three-point range in 58 games for the Trail Blazers last season. He ranked third in the league in scoring and 10th in assists at 7.3 per game.

A member of the NBA’s 75th anniversary team (honoring the 76 best players in league history), Lillard has been selected for the All-NBA First Team once (2018), All-NBA Second Team four times (2016 and 2019, 2020 and 2021) and All-NBA Third Team two times (2014 and 2023).

The Heat and Trail Blazers will both hold media day Monday before opening training camp the next day.