There are a couple of ways to look at ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe report that the Trail Blazers are unwilling to discuss the trade of Damian Lillard, “a prime target of the Sixers” in a potential deal with Ben Simmons.
One possibility is that the Trail Blazers really intend to keep Lillard, the six-time All-Star who played his entire career in Portland and signed through 2025.
Perhaps, though, it’s the case that interim general manager Joe Cronin wants to swap Lillard, and he knows that saying he’s untouchable will prompt Philadelphia or suitors to sweeten their offers as we approach December 15, when players who have signed as free agents over the summer become eligible to be traded – something that doesn’t affect Ben Simmons’ situation with the 76ers, but makes it much easier to put together trades than work according to the rules of the league.
There is another scenario where the Blazers are making it clear that Lillard is untouchable because everyone is looking at $ 48.7 million that will be paid in the final year of his contract, so looking at the fact that Lillard is 31 now, and quickly lose interest. The ESPN report only says that “the Sixers have been targeting Lillard for a long time,” not that they are actively pursuing him now. In fact, they say, “Philadelphia has been aggressively trying to assemble two- and three-team deal structures to get a package that includes a level 25 player, the sources said.”
It’s probably not the last, because for a tough season like the one Lillard has had so far, pulling only 30% three-pointers and dropping to 21.5 points per game from his average of 28.8 last season, it was however an All-Star of the last four years and still an average of 7.8 assists per game. If you think Lillard is the guy who makes you a league team this year, don’t worry about the bill due in another three years.
The Blazers are not a league side this year with Lillard, they probably won’t be for the duration of their contract, and this season represents the best opportunity Portland will ever have to trade him. When else will there be more players – Simmons, Kyrie Irving – possibly available to make your franchise player exchange something better than the usual pack of caps and picks that will end up being a dime on the dollar’s return?
It is because such exchanges are so rarely good for the team that dumps his star that Cronin would normally be fine to say that Lillard is untouchable. There is also something admirable about having a player, signing them for the long term, and really keeping them. It’s definitely more fun (as fun as it is) to be a Blazers fan and see your team lose to Lillard than to see your team lose to a bunch of shirts.
This situation is different. CJ McCollum is not Lillard, but he is a damn good player who is one year younger and signed for one year less at a slightly lower price. There is no reason why with a stellar level player in place of Lillard and other pieces of a Lillard exchange, Portland couldn’t be competitive again.
The Blazers would be better off swapping Lillard and keeping McCollum, another guy who has played his entire career in Portland. At least they act as if they want to do the exact opposite. Whether it’s just attitude or honesty, it will say a lot about whether Cronin is the right man for GM’s job.