Lillard traded to Milwaukee in 3-team deal

Published 9:25 pm Wednesday, September 27, 2023

The Associated Press

Damian Lillard was once asked to pick a player he’d want as a teammate, and Giannis Antetokounmpo was his answer.

It’s about to happen.

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Lillard was traded by Portland to play alongside Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee on Wednesday, a deal that ends his 11-year run with the Trail Blazers and a three-month saga surrounding his wish to be moved elsewhere in hopes of winning an NBA title.

The seven-time All-Star — a player so elite that he was selected to the NBA’s 75th anniversary team — goes from the Trail Blazers to the Bucks in a three-team deal that sends Jrue Holiday from the Bucks to Portland, Deandre Ayton from Phoenix to Portland and Jusuf Nurkic from the Blazers to the Suns. The trade was finalized Wednesday night after NBA attorneys, as is always the case with trades, reviewed the terms and approved the deal.

“The casuals won’t be addressed but the trailblazers fans and city of Portland that I love truly will be … and they will be addressed truthfully. Stay tuned,” Lillard wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “Excited for my next chapter!”

It became known on July 1 that Lillard asked the Trail Blazers for a trade, which he was long speculated to be considering given his desire to play for a contender and Portland not seeming to have much of a chance with its current roster.

He wanted to go to Miami and made that clear. Portland decided not to accommodate that request, and instead, it’s the Bucks who now have an incredibly strong 1-2 punch of Lillard and Antetokounmpo heading into the new season.

“Damian Lillard is an elite player in our league and someone we’ve long been fans of,” Bucks general manager Jon Horst said. “These opportunities are rare and hard to measure and execute.”

Lillard was asked on Twitter in May 2022 to pick one current player he’d want to help him reach the playoffs. He gave a one-word answer: “Giannis.”

Also included in the deal: Nassir Little, Keon Johnson and Grayson Allen are headed to Phoenix, and Toumani Camara goes to Portland. Portland receives a 2029 first-round pick and the right to swap first round picks in 2028 and 2030 from Milwaukee, and trading Ayton means that Devin Booker is now the lone player from the Phoenix team that played Milwaukee in the 2021 NBA Finals still on the Suns’ roster.

The trade continues the Bucks’ dramatic offseason makeover in response to their surprising first-round playoff loss to Miami.

They followed that by firing coach Mike Budenholzer and replacing him with Adrian Griffin, who spent the last five seasons as a Toronto Raptors assistant. Now they’ve traded away the two-time All-Star Holiday to acquire Lillard, a seven-time All-NBA selection.

The acquisition of Lillard comes after Antetokounmpo, a two-time MVP, told The New York Times over the summer that he wanted to see how committed the Bucks are toward winning another championship before deciding whether to sign a long-term deal to stay in Milwaukee.

Antetokounmpo’s contract runs through the 2024-25 season, with a player option for 2025-26.

Bringing Lillard to Milwaukee certainly suggests the commitment is there. It also keeps the high-scoring guard away from Miami, one of the Bucks’ biggest Eastern Conference challengers.

“Yo, NBA, man, y’all need to look into the Bucks for tampering,” Heat star Jimmy Butler said in a video posted to Instagram shortly after details of the trade became known. “Y’all do. I’m just gonna put that out there.”

When Lillard’s request was made public by the Blazers, general manager Joe Cronin said he would do “what’s best for the team” while grudgingly seeking to facilitate his wishes. One of the assistants on Griffin’s staff in Milwaukee is Terry Stotts, who was Lillard’s head coach in Portland from 2012-21.

In the end, the deal with the Bucks is what Cronin and the Blazers deemed best for all involved. It took a massive package to make the trade happen, especially because Lillard is owed a ransom over the next four years. He will make almost $46 million this season and could make as much as $216 million over the next four years if he exercises his option for the 2026-27 season.

It will be a large, and possibly very worthwhile, investment because acquiring Lillard figures to make the Bucks even more of a title contender. He averaged 32.2 points this past season, has averaged at least 24 in each of the last eight seasons and has an offensive ignitability that few players in the NBA possess.

“I want to express my gratitude to Damian for 11 storied years with this franchise and for his loyalty to the Portland community,” Cronin said. ”From becoming the all-time leading points scorer in franchise history to his dedicated commitment to youth across Oregon and the entire Pacific Northwest, Damian is and will remain a titan and a true trailblazer to this city.”

Lillard became just the seventh player in NBA history to score more than 70 points in a game when he finished with 71 against the Houston Rockets on Feb. 26. The other names on that list are Wilt Chamberlain (who did it five times), Kobe Bryant, David Thompson, David Robinson, Elgin Baylor and Donovan Mitchell.

All six of the other players on that list were between 23 and 28 when they had their games of 71 points or more; Lillard was 32, a clear indicator that — even after 11 NBA seasons — he’s far from past his prime.

He has been great. The Blazers have not. And evidently, he didn’t see that changing anytime soon.

Lillard was beloved in Portland, but the speculation about his future with the team only intensified when the Blazers took point guard Scoot Henderson with the No. 3 overall pick in the June draft rather than package the pick for a proven commodity that could immediately help transform the team into a contender.

Portland won only four playoff series in Lillard’s 11 seasons, getting to the Western Conference Finals once. The team went 33-49 this past season, the second consecutive year of finishing well outside the playoff picture.

That’s not Lillard’s fault. His career average of 25.2 points per game ranks 11th among all players in NBA history who have appeared in at least 500 games. He’s had 17 games of at least 50 points in his career — two of them in the playoffs — and is a past rookie of the year, teammate of the year and winner of the NBA’s citizenship award.

He’s been an Olympic gold medalist, was the unanimous selection as MVP of the seeding games when the “bubble” season resumed at Walt Disney World during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and even won the 3-point contest at All-Star weekend in February.

And he has an absolute flair for drama. His series-winning shot to eliminate Oklahoma City from the 2019 NBA playoffs — a stepback 3-pointer over Paul George from nearly 40 feet as time expired — is one of the iconic postseason moments in not just Portland history but NBA history as well.

“His character, competitiveness, talent and experience complement our group and gives us the best chance to win at the very highest level as we create new memories together,” Horst said.