5 ways Damian Lillard’s trade request can play out

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Damian Lillard told the Portland Trail Blazers he wanted to be traded just 24 hours into free agency on July 1. Free agency is now all but finished, but Lillard remains with the Blazers. Lillard has been clear that he only wants to play for the Miami Heat, but Portland is resolved to make the best deal for the long-term future of the team.

The Blazers have reportedly urged Miami to make its best and final offer for Lillard. The Heat don’t want to bid against themselves with other potential suitors worried Lillard wouldn’t want to be there. This is a true stalemate, and there’s no apparent end in sight.

Lillard’s trade request might feel like a seismic event in the NBA landscape, but similar situations play out every year. Before Dame, it was Kevin Durant requesting a trade. Before KD, it was James Harden forcing his way out of Houston. Before Harden, it was Anthony Davis. The superstar trade request is as much a part of the NBA’s fabric as the pick-and-roll. Portland has been in this situation before, back when MVP center Bill Walton requested a trade in 1978.

Years of NBA superstar trade requests have informed us on how Lillard’s situation will eventually play out. There’s only five ways it can end.

1. Damian Lillard gets traded to Miami Heat before season

Lillard wants the Heat. The Heat want Lillard. There’s a pathway for a potential trade here, but it’s either going to require the Heat to pony up every asset they have, or the Blazers to accept a sub-standard offer.

Miami can offer its own unprotected first round picks in 2028 and 2030. It can add a third first round pick in 2026 if it amends the protections on a future pick owed to the Thunder. The Heat can also include Tyler Herro, but the Blazers don’t want him. The expiring salary of Kyle Lowry could also be in play. Expect rookie Jaime Jaquez and sophomore Nikola Jovic to also be rerouted to Portland if this deal goes down. The Blazers will probably want Miami to take on Jusuf Nurkic’s contract as well, which is considered a “player-friendly” deal to put it nicely.

The ability to flip Herro to a third team for another pick or two feels like the sticking point right now, but that would require another team to actually value Herro that highly. It feels unlikely. Instead, the inclusion of the unprotected 2026 pick feels like it will really be the determining factor. If Portland can land Jaquez, three unprotected first round picks, and get off Nurkic’s contract, that feels like a pretty good deal for the Blazers. Of course, Miami has to put it all on the table.

2. Damian Lillard returns to the Blazers and waits to be dealt

It’s widely believed that Lillard has played his last game as a Trail Blazer, but that isn’t a certainty quite yet. Top Blazers executive Joe Cronin has already said a Lillard trade could take months to complete. If it stretches into the season, there’s a scenario where Lillard returns to Portland and plays while waiting to be traded.

A year ago, Kevin Durant sat in the same limbo as Lillard when he requested a trade from the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets couldn’t find an acceptable trade package, and KD played 39 games for the team at an MVP level before finally being traded to Phoenix. The difference in that situation was an ownership change for the Suns, with Mat Ishbia spearheading the effort to add Durant once he took control of the team. A similar situation won’t happen to come in and rescue a potential Lillard trade.

Lillard is under contract in Portland until 2026, when he has a $63 million player option for the next season he’ll surely pick up. When the Blazers drafted Scoot Henderson with the No. 3 overall pick, the team said it hoped to play Henderson and Lillard together. At the same time, the organization knew Lillard wanted the pick to be traded for a veteran, so they weren’t too surprised when he put in his trade request. Can a few months heal the bad blood between the player and the team? We could be about to find out.

3. Damian Lillard rescinds his trade request

This is the most unlikely option, but still one to consider. Lillard could go back to Portland, realize that the team is better than anticipated with development from Scoot Henderson and Shaedon Sharpe, and decide to stick it out with the Blazers.

Maybe Henderson is already playing at a star level as a rookie. Maybe Nurkic has a bounce-back season, and Jerami Grant enjoys a career year. Maybe the Blazers can sell him on a big veteran addition coming soon.

I don’t see it happening, but it’s possible.

4. Damian Lillard holds out until a trade happens

Would Lillard really choose to sit out during training camp and into the season if he isn’t traded? It’s a measure that Durant did not take last year when he was waiting for Brooklyn to trade him, but there is recent precedent in the form of Ben Simmons. Simmons did not play as he waited a trade from the Philadelphia 76ers following his flameout in the 2021 playoffs.

It seems unlikely that Lillard would take his trade request this far. He would open himself up to being fined, and also ruin his reputation. Still, if Lillard is dead-set on being in Miami and nowhere else, he could try to force Portland’s hand by not playing.

5. Damian Lillard gets traded to a team that isn’t the Heat

This is the most fun scenario to think about. To this point, teams have reportedly been scared off from offering Portland competitive trade packages for Lillard given that he’s been so set on playing for the Heat. If Miami continues to refuse to put its best offer on the table, though, it will eventually become open season for other clubs to try to get in the Dame derby.

The Brooklyn Nets always made sense as a potential Lillard destination with the ability to include future first round picks from the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks brought in with the Durant and Kyrie Irving trades. I liked the suggestion from old friend Michael Pina, now at The Ringer, that the Toronto Raptors should get involved by offering Scottie Barnes. There have been whispers about the Boston Celtics building a trade package around Derrick White and Robert Williams. The Philadelphia 76ers would love to add Lillard next to Joel Embiid, but it’s hard to see a scenario where they could pull it off.

Either way, the longer this goes on, the more room there is for other teams to get involved. Lillard will be traded from Portland eventually — to where and for what remain unresolved as the offseason drags on.

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