Opinion: One observer’s solution to the Damian Lillard trade request

Photo courtesy Damian Lillard/Twitter

Clark County Today Editor Ken Vance reaches into his vast NBA experiences to offer his insight and perspective on the Trail Blazers’ current conundrum with its star player

Ken Vance, editor
Clark County Today

I find it a tad ironic that I spent a great deal of time on the Fourth of July diving deeply down a rabbit hole analyzing how the Portland Trail Blazers can get maximum value out of Damian Lillard’s request for his own version of basketball independence.

Editor Ken Vance
Editor Ken Vance

For those of you who only know me in this space to pontificate about Clark County politics and community news, I was once a full-time sportswriter. I cut my teeth covering sports for most of the first half of the 36 years since I first became a journalist. And, most of those years were spent covering the Portland Trail Blazers and the National Basketball Association. 

I’m not going to suddenly devote a great deal of time and energy to bring you my ongoing thoughts on the Blazers’ happenings. However, this is one of the biggest news stories in the franchise’s history and while I no longer cover the team on a regular basis, I am still firmly engaged as a fan and observer, and many who know me reach out to gauge my thoughts on the subject. So, rather than limit my response to those inquiries to social media, I thought I would use the bandwidth I have access to in order to share my insight and perspective here.

For those of you who aren’t rabid Blazer fans, Lillard is the most accomplished player in the history of the organization, which dates back to 1970 when the Blazers were first granted an NBA franchise. (I was a 7-year-old, and I was an immediate fan, pouring over the Oregon Journal sports pages for Blazers’ news each afternoon after it was delivered to our home in Skamania County.)

Lillard was the 6th pick by Portland in the 2012 NBA Draft. Since then, he has been named to the NBA All-Star Game seven times and to the All-NBA Team seven times. He’s the only Blazer player ever to do so. He was named to the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team as one of the league’s all-time top 75 players. Lillard has also shown tremendous character and integrity throughout his 11 seasons as a Blazer. He’s the best leader, builder of culture and teammate ever to play for the organization.

The problem is, in his 11 seasons with the Blazers, Lillard and the Blazers have never won an NBA championship. The closest they got was getting swept 4-0 by the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 Western Conference Finals. In each of the last two seasons, the Blazers didn’t even make the playoffs.

The crux of the problem

Lillard has said many times in recent years that he wanted to play his entire career in Portland. The Blazers have paid him like the All-Star he is; he is scheduled to make about $216 million over the remaining four years of his contract. But, like any driven athlete, he wants to win. He wants the chance to compete for a championship, and he doesn’t feel like Portland provides him that opportunity. So, on Friday (June 30) evening, Lillard officially asked the Blazers to trade him so he can pursue those dreams elsewhere.

Clark County Today Editor Ken Vance reaches into his vast NBA experiences to offer his insight and perspective on the Trail Blazers’ current conundrum with its star player.
Joe Cronin, Blazers general manager

Portland’s General Manager is Joe Cronin, who I have known throughout the past 17 years since he joined the franchise (I even played in a fantasy football league with Joe for about a decade). He is the person charged with navigating this difficult and delicate situation. It’s not an exaggeration to say the future of the franchise is in his hands. He issued a statement Saturday: 

“We have been clear that we want Dame here but he notified us today he wants out and he’d prefer to play someplace else,” the statement read. “What has not changed for us is that we’re committed to winning, and we are going to do what’s best for the team in pursuit of that goal.”

Lillard has let it be known that he wants to be traded to the Miami Heat (losers to Denver in the recently completed 2023 NBA Finals) to be paired with NBA All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. Lillard and Adebayo were teammates on the USA gold-medal winning team in the 2021 Olympic Games. But, the Heat reportedly don’t have a trade package that Cronin and his staff find to be an acceptable return for a player of Lillard’s worth. So, most NBA pundits believe the teams are trying to be creative by including one or two other teams to make a monster 3- or 4-team trade that would serve the goals of each while also giving Lillard what he wants.

I buried the lede

Like many Blazer and NBA fans, I have spent an inordinate amount of time in recent days trying to do Cronin’s work for him. It’s why many of us are sports fans. Most of us don’t dream of being professional athletes, that’s ridiculously far-fetched. But, we do feel it less ridiculous to dream of being the general manager, the one who tries to put the pieces together to create the perfect championship puzzle.

It’s complicated. Player values aren’t the only thing to consider. Finances drive most deals. NBA teams have very brilliant and educated individuals who work full-time trying to interpret the league’s salary cap guidelines and procedures. Getting a number of players, and multiple teams, to agree on a trade that meets those standards is a very complicated process. Because of that, many sports websites have created a tool that helps amateur general managers like myself piece together these complicated deals. I couldn’t help myself. I spent far more of my Independence Day playing with one such trade machine until I engineered a Lillard trade that would work. At least, it would be approved by the NBA after July 31, when one of the rookie players involved in my deal would have been under contract for a month.

Here is my proposed trade:

Clark County Today Editor Ken Vance reaches into his vast NBA experiences to offer his insight and perspective on the Trail Blazers’ current conundrum with its star player.

And here is the message I shared with that graphic on my Facebook page:

First, I’m not mad at Dame. I want to see him play meaningful postseason games and I will be cheering for him. Second, I’m on board for a Blazers retooling. I think they could be competitive very soon with tremendous upside for the future.

Here are the “bones” of a 3-team trade I would like to see happen. It will work after July 31. It’s not perfect, the perfect deal doesn’t exist. Portland only gets two first-round draft picks, we would all like more. But, the Blazers would get four guys drafted in the first round in the last two drafts, those two future first rounders and two serviceable rotation players.

Miami gets Dame.

Brooklyn gets Tyler Herro and two second rounders.

Portland gets Dorian Finney-Smith, Noah Clowney, Dariq Whitehead, Duncan Robinson, Jaime Jacquez, Nicola Jovic and two first rounders from Miami.

I know this will get picked apart. It might be asking too much. Some may think there’s no single player or pick for the Blazers to hang their hat on. I like rolling the dice and trying to build a future with young players, like OKC has done.

The Blazers recently drafted three promising players in the NBA Draft – point guard Scoot Henderson, forward Kris Murray and Rayan Rupert, a promising young player from France. Many NBA pundits said Cronin and his staff had the best draft among the NBA teams. Those young players, along with the young players and assets acquired in my trade scenario, gives the Blazers an abundance of hope for returning to a level where they can compete with the top teams in the NBA in the near future.


Feel free to play amateur general manager and provide your own dream trade scenario for the Blazers or comment on mine.

For those of you who are still reading while shaking your head as to why I spent my holiday nerding out on this, thanks for tolerating this indulgence. I will return to being a community news editor today.

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