After months of speculating about whether the Miami Heat would unleash all their assets on the Portland Trail Blazers in a Damian Lillard trade (and a couple of days of wondering if the Toronto Raptors might actually end up poaching him from under the Heat’s noses), the seven-time All-Star point guard has a new home.
And guess what? It isn’t South Beach or our friends from the North.
After a shocking three-team deal, Lillard is now a member of the Milwaukee Bucks (the specifics are included in the social media post below). So, to celebrate the conclusion of this saga, we’ve decided to grade this trade from the perspective of all five teams involved.
- In: Damian Lillard
- Out: Jrue Holiday, Grayson Allen, 2029 first-round pick, pick swaps in 2028 and 2030
- Grade: A+
Analysis: This isn’t hard. The Bucks aren’t a perfect team now. They’re certainly a playoff team, but they aren’t a lock to win the NBA title next season. They still have serious question marks (namely age and two-way depth). But guess what? They had all those problems before getting the best player in this deal. Now, they also have Lillard, who averaged a career-high 32.2 points, 7.3 assists and was a third-team All-NBA selection last year. Holiday is an incredible two-way guard and All-Star caliber player, but he still isn’t Lillard. If Lillard keeps the same pace he was at last year (fifth in the league in our DRIP metric), he’ll give two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo the best running co-star he’s ever had. Oh, and by the way, they also still have 15-point-per-game scorers Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez. I bet Giannis isn’t questioning the direction of the franchise now.
Portland Trail Blazers
- In: Jrue Holiday, Deandre Ayton, Toumani Camara, 2029 first-round Bucks pick, pick swaps in 2028 and 2030
- Out: Damian Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic, Nassir Little, Keon Johnson
- Grade: B+
Analysis: A couple of housekeeping pieces we need to mention here. First off, kudos to Blazers general manager Joe Cronin for not placating to Lillard and the Heat’s demands and finding a package that they liked. Second, keep in mind when thinking about this trade that with third-overall pick Scoot Henderson in the fold, Portland will probably move Holiday for more assets. So you need to factor that into your internal calculus. Anyway, it is always hard to gauge the value of return packages for superstar players. The best example we can find in recent memory to compare this trade to is the Donovan Mitchell deal that took place before the start of last season. The Cleveland Cavaliers sacrificed three young players, three first-round picks, and two draft-pick swaps to outbid the New York Knicks and acquire Mitchell. If the Trail Blazers can get at least two or three legitimate assets for Holiday, they will have secured a fairly comparable package when you don’t factor in hindsight (no one could have foreseen Lauri Markkanen turning into an All-Star). As long as they don’t give away Holiday for pennies, they deserve at least a B+ for pulling this deal off with all the outside variables going against them. The factor limiting them from a higher grade is the questions around Ayton. As a rebuilding team, Portland can afford to eat the years/money on his contract. The issue here is that he may not be the building block Portland has appraised him to be. He’s not the offensive hub that guys like Nikola Jokic of the Nuggets and Domantas Sabonis of the Kings are. And he’s not the defensive anchor that guys like Brook Lopez, Rudy Gobert and Myles Turner are. It’s hard to see the pathway where becomes a high-end center in this league. And because of that, it’s hard to justify him as the centerpiece in a deal where they give away their franchise icon.
- In: Jusuf Nurkic, Nassir Little, Keon Johnson, Grayson Allen
- Out: Deandre Ayton, Toumani Camara
- Grade: B
Analysis: The Suns must have a case of FOMO. After being involved in the first blockbuster trade of the offseason, they just had to find their way into the second one. Allen gives them a deadeye marksman (career 39.5% 3-point shooter) who can capitalize on all the space Kevin Durant (acquired from the Brooklyn Nets in February), Devin Booker and newcomer Bradley Beal create out on the court. Nassir Little and Keon Johnson are regular-season innings eaters who have the chance of developing into legit rotational guys if the cards break right for them. That’s all good and well, but the main event of this three-team trade involves the Suns swapping out Ayton for Nurkic. Nurkic is cheaper (an average annual salary of 17.5 million compared to Ayton’s 33.2 million), a better passer, and less disgruntled with the organization. But Ayton is still younger (Ayton is 25, Nurkic is 29) and a better overall player, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. That last part is especially important because this Suns team is already pretty offensively slanted, and it could really use all the defense it could get at the center position. We give the Suns, who should be a serious contender in the Western Conference, a B because they unloaded an expensive player who didn’t want to be there, and they added some depth in the process. But we won’t go any higher because they may have lowered their ceiling just to improve their floor.
- In: Sadness
- Out: N/A
- Grade: D
Analysis: Ever since Lillard first made his wishes to be traded known, the Heat have been the frontrunners to land him. Lillard stated that the only team he would play for was Miami. So, all summer long, the Heat operated from a position of power, believing that Lillard was all theirs – regardless of the package they offered the Blazers. The Godfather Pat Riley refused to empty out the entirety of his (admittedly barren) treasure chest. And at the end of the day, his stinginess may have just cost his organization an NBA title. The reason they don’t get a full-on “F” grade here is because, as we said, Holiday is still available to acquire for far less of a price than Lillard. Adding him to their current core gives them a chance to compete with the Bucks and Boston Celtics for the Eastern Conference throne. But the problem is, after all this low-balling, are the Blazers really willing to do business with Riley and the Heat?
- In: More Sadness
- Out: N/A
- Grade: F
Analysis: What the Raptors have done here should not go unrecognized. You’d think, after all that we outlined with the Heat, that it would be hard to top the level of despair they are feeling right now. Yet somehow, the Raptors have managed to do just that. Like the Heat, the Raptors could also seek to bounce back from this debacle by trading for Holiday, but there are three reasons why their situation is worse than Miami’s. First, the Heat are closer to being a contender than the Raptors. So acquiring Holiday gives the Raptors less of a chance of being title contenders than it does for the Heat. Second, the Heat have their stars (Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo) under contract for the next couple of years. Meanwhile, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam have the option to become free agents in the offseason of 2024. Miami has time to regroup. Toronto does not. The Raptors need to make decisions now. And last, while one could argue that the Heat just didn’t have the assets to compete with Milwaukee, you can’t say the same for Toronto. Anunoby and Barnes are both better centerpieces than Ayton and if the Raptors had been willing to part ways with one of them, Lillard may be on his way to Canada right now. So yeah, the “F” grade feels warranted here.