The NBA offseason has become just as much of a talking point as the action on the court itself in recent years.
It all started just over a decade ago with LeBron James’ infamous ‘The Decision’, seemingly from which there has been a significant power shift in favour of the NBA’s top stars who want to have their destiny in their own hands.
This summer looks set to be another active one in terms of player transactions with Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan all free agents. Elsewhere, Bradley Beal, Russell Westbrook and Ben Simmons have all been involved in trade rumours, while the biggest potential domino to fall could be the Damian Lillard saga.
Lillard is currently away with Team USA at the Olympics but with the NBA draft taking place this Thursday there is the feeling that trade talks could intensify this week.
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The 31-year-old produced an outstanding individual performance but was unable to prevent his Portland Trail Blazers from losing 4-2 to the Jamal Murray-less Denver Nuggets in the first round of the Playoffs.
Lillard is a top 10 talent in the NBA and will undoubtedly attract a number of potential suitors should he come available via trade. He is just starting a new four-year $176m max contract in the 2021/22 season.
Below, we have ranked the three most preferable trade destinations that we would like to see Lillard in should he leave Portland.
3. New York Knicks
Lillard has long spoken of his disregard for super teams and has always wanted to team up with other stars in Portland. Unfortunately, that’s just not possible with it not being a free agent destination but the same certainly can’t be said of New York.
The Knicks look to be on their way to becoming a destination for marquee players once again after making a return to the Playoffs last season. They have a huge amount of cap space and would be able to absorb Lillard’s contract within it whilst still having space to sign a second marquee free agent.
Seeing Lillard lighting up Madison Square Garden as a Knick in the Mecca of basketball would be a special sight and in doing so he could finally attract a fellow all-star teammate to join him.
2. Miami Heat
For all of the jest that often surrounds Heat culture from those outside of South Beach, there is no doubting that it is a real thing. Lillard fits the dog mentality that has been instilled into the franchise by Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra and could be the missing piece to their puzzle.
Riley loves to go big fish hunting in pursuit of star players and the Heat are expected to be ‘aggressive’ in negotiations for the point guard. Miami reached the NBA Finals in 2020 but looked to be one player short as they lost to the Lakers in six games.
The effects of the bubble clearly took its toll on the Heat and Lakers last season as both struggled with injuries throughout the season and both will be keen to retool this summer. Lillard could certainly close the gap between the Heat and the top teams in the league and a potential big three of he, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo would arguably be the best in the NBA outside of the Brooklyn Nets’ trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.
It would also give the Heat two of the league’s most clutch Playoff performers in recent years in Lillard and Butler, while Lillard’s scoring prowess would see Miami boast that consistent 25+ ppg scorer that they have been missing.
1. Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia fans have historically been difficult to please but there is no doubt that they would adore Lillard if he came to the Wells Fargo Center. A potential pairing of Lillard and Joel Embiid is a tantalising prospect that would put the league on high alert.
The fit between Embiid and Ben Simmons has been a concern for some time and the latter’s performance in the postseason will surely be too much for him to come back from in Philadelphia. Simmons would be the centrepiece of any trade for Lillard from the 76ers, likely alongside Tyrese Maxey and/or Matisse Thybulle, as well as draft compensation.
Embiid and Lillard were both MVP contenders at stages of last season and both put up impressive numbers during the Playoffs. Expect the 76ers’ half court offense to improve exponentially with Lillard running the show over Simmons, even if they may take a step back defensively from losing a Defensive Player of the Year finalist.
However, the 76ers would still have Embiid anchoring their defense and the addition of one of the most clutch players in the NBA would undoubtedly make them a better team overall. Lillard and Embiid would be one of the most dynamic duos in the NBA and arguably the best pairing outside of the Nets and Lakers’ top two players.