The Miami Heat’s hopes of landing superstar guard Damian Lillard were dashed on Wednesday, as the Portland Trail Blazers traded him to the Milwaukee Bucks in a three-team deal that also involved the Phoenix Suns. The Heat, who had been Lillard’s preferred destination, were unable to match the Bucks’ offer and lost out on a chance to pair him with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.
Lillard’s Trade Request and Miami’s Interest
Lillard, who turned 33 in July, had requested a trade from the Trail Blazers at the start of July, after spending his entire 11-year career in Portland. He had grown frustrated with the team’s lack of success, as they had failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs in four of the last five seasons. Lillard had listed the Heat as his top choice, along with the New York Knicks, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Golden State Warriors.
The Heat, who had reached the NBA Finals last season, were eager to add Lillard to their roster and form a formidable trio with Butler and Adebayo. Lillard was attracted by the Heat’s winning culture, the no state income tax in Florida, and the opportunity to play in a market like Miami. The Heat had also acquired veteran point guard Kyle Lowry in a sign-and-trade deal with the Toronto Raptors, giving them another All-Star caliber player to complement Lillard.
The Bucks’ Offer and the Trade Details
However, the Heat’s initial offer for Lillard, which reportedly included young guard Tyler Herro and multiple draft picks, was not enough to entice the Trail Blazers, who were looking for a massive haul in return for their franchise player. The Trail Blazers also did not engage in any serious discussions with the Heat, and instead focused on finding a trade partner that could offer them more assets and help them rebuild.
The Bucks, who had won the NBA championship last season, emerged as the surprise suitor for Lillard, and pulled off a stunning trade that sent shockwaves across the league. The Bucks offered the Trail Blazers a package that featured All-Star guard Jrue Holiday, a 2029 first-round pick and a pick swap. The Bucks also involved the Suns in the deal, who sent center Deandre Ayton and forward Toumani Camara to the Trail Blazers, and received center Jusuf Nurkic, forward Nassir Little and rookie guard Keon Johnson from the Trail Blazers, and guard Grayson Allen from the Bucks.
The trade gave the Bucks a star-studded big three of Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, while the Trail Blazers acquired a young cornerstone in Ayton, a solid defender in Holiday, and future draft picks. The Suns, meanwhile, added some depth and size to their roster, as they looked to contend for the title again.
The Heat’s Reaction and the Implications of the Trade
The Heat were left stunned and disappointed by the trade, as they missed out on their top target and saw one of their main rivals in the East get stronger. Butler, who had been vocal about his desire to play with Lillard, expressed his frustration on social media, and accused the Bucks of tampering with Lillard. He posted a video on Instagram, saying: “Yo, NBA, man, y’all need to look into the Bucks for tampering. You do. You didn’t hear it from me, I heard it from somebody.”
The trade also had major implications for the balance of power in the NBA, as the Bucks became the clear favorites to repeat as champions, while the Trail Blazers entered a rebuilding mode. The Heat, who had hoped to challenge the Bucks for the East crown, now faced an uphill battle to keep up with them, as well as other contenders like the Brooklyn Nets, the 76ers and the Boston Celtics. The Heat still had a talented and competitive roster, but they lacked the star power and firepower that the Bucks had.
The trade also marked the end of an era for Lillard and the Trail Blazers, who had been one of the most loyal and consistent duos in the league. Lillard had been the face of the franchise, and had led them to eight consecutive playoff appearances, including a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2019. He had also established himself as one of the best players and clutch performers in the league, averaging 25.2 points, 6.7 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game for his career, and making six All-Star teams and six All-NBA teams. He had also been named to the NBA’s 75th anniversary team, honoring the 76 best players in history.
However, Lillard had also faced criticism for his loyalty to the Trail Blazers, and his reluctance to join forces with other stars. He had often stated that he wanted to win a championship in Portland, and that he did not want to take the easy way out by forming a super team. He had also defended the Trail Blazers’ front office and coaching staff, and had tried to recruit other players to join him. However, after another disappointing season, Lillard had finally decided to seek a fresh start elsewhere, and had chosen the Heat as his ideal destination.
Unfortunately for him and the Heat, the Bucks had other plans, and had swooped in to snatch him away. The trade had created a new powerhouse in the NBA, and had left the Heat and the rest of the league wondering how to stop them.