Damian Lillard is now a member of the Milwaukee Bucks after a three-team blockbuster saw the Portland Trail Blazers finally move the star nearly three months after his July trade request, but they did not meet his demands to be sent to the Miami Heat.
By all accounts that have come out in the day since the trade got completed, Portland cut off dialogue with Miami after their initial conversations in July. On Thursday night, Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes, who is particularly close with Lillard, presented Dame’s side of the negotiation process and his frustrations with how Portland handled it. Much of it is similar to what others have reported about Portland not speaking with Miami and how Lillard eventually had his agent Aaron Goodwin speak with the Nets and Bucks quietly to inform them he would accept a trade there, but it does provide more specifics and details about the process.
The most interesting parts are the note about the league intervening with a meeting between Blazers GM Joe Cronin and Damian Lillard after things had grown so fractured behind the scenes the two sides weren’t speaking, as well as what came of the ensuing sitdown between the Blazers executive and Lillard. In that meeting, Cronin made it clear he’d ask of a lot from the Heat — there was a report recently they asked for one of Bam Adebayo or Jimmy Butler, at one point — and Lillard replied that if the Heat weren’t going to be an option, he’d rather just return to the Blazers.
Cronin’s response was no, which left Lillard “shocked.”
In the Sept. 5 meeting, Cronin conveyed that if he was forced to do a deal with Miami, he had every intention of going after every attractable asset. Lillard knew then he was unlikely to end up in Miami.
Lillard then said if a deal couldn’t be worked out with the Heat, he would prefer to rescind his trade request and return to the Trail Blazers.
Cronin’s response to the seven-time All-Star was that there was no coming back.
Lillard was shocked, sources said. He said it was discouraging to hear he couldn’t return, but added that he didn’t want to be somewhere he wasn’t wanted, and he ended the meeting.
It certainly feels like this was two sides attempting to exert as much leverage as they could on one another, with Cronin ultimately winning that battle as Lillard and Goodwin went back to the drawing board to identify teams beyond Miami he’d go to. Overall, once Lillard made his trade request, the team seemed pretty comfortable moving on, and I would venture to go as far as say the Blazers, once they made the decision to draft Scoot Henderson, were probably fairly happy Lillard was the one who issued the trade request so they could hit the reset button in full without being the ones making the decision to trade one of the franchise’s all-time greats against his wishes — they just also didn’t want to be boxed in to dealing with just one suitor.
As such, Cronin wasn’t willing to try and put the genie back in the bottle, and Lillard was either not willing to or didn’t feel he could make things so uncomfortable they’d be forced to trade him to Miami only. The result is the “sour taste” Lillard noted in his first comments to Haynes after the trade. Even so, you won’t find too many people that feel bad for Lillard, as he got dealt to a situation that is extremely good for him in terms of the basketball fit and chance to win a title. The Bucks are title favorites with Lillard and his fit with Giannis is, on paper, about as good as you could hope for (as it would’ve been with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo). That gives Cronin and the Blazers plenty of cover for making the deal they did, even if it was about more than just seeking out the best package and spite played a role.
Eventually, Lillard will get his due in Portland as a franchise legend and fences will be mended, but it’s extremely rare for a star to ask out and for it to end without hurt feelings on one side or the other. In this case, Lillard was the one who didn’t get everything he wanted and his last gasp push to just return to the Blazers was rejected as a plan.