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It final happened. Essentially three months after Damian Lillard asked the Portland Trail Blazers for a trade, a deal was reached. And, somewhat surprisingly, Lillard was not sent to his preferred destination of the Miami Heat. Instead, Lillard is joining another Eastern Conference title contenders. The trade details are:


Eight players and up to three draft picks in a three-team trade. And there’s always a chance this deal expands (or is followed up with a subsequent trade) if/when Jrue Holiday is rerouted to another team.

Milwaukee Bucks

Incoming Salary ($45.6M in 2023-24)

  • Damian Lillard (PG, 3 years, $152.8M + $63.2M player option, $45.6M in 2023-24)

Outgoing Salary ($45.7M in 2023-24)

The Milwaukee Bucks landed the star here in Damian Lillard. They saved a little bit of salary in the deal for this year, but that’s so negligible that it doesn’t really matter. Milwaukee functionally added three years and $162.5 million for the next three seasons, as Jrue Holiday was a near-lock to decline his player option for the 2024-25 season.

But as many have said: That’s the cost of doing business in the NBA.The Bucks were under pressure to prove Giannis Antetokounmpo that they were committed to winning now and, crucially, for years to come. Antetokounmpo himself said that Milwaukee’s commitment to winning titles would be the difference in him staying with the only franchise he’s ever known or signing elsewhere.

Mission accomplished…maybe?

Lillard is an incredible talent. He’s one of the best scoring guards in the NBA. He’s repeatedly come up big in clutch moments. He should fit in perfectly with Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez as the Bucks veteran core. Lillard has also been somewhat injury-prone over the last few seasons. Lillard is also 33 years old. And he’s nowhere near the defender that Milwaukee has been accustomed to having in Holiday. But he’s Damian freaking Lillard. And that should be enough.

The Bucks will be a different sort of team now. They traded defense for offense. But Antetokounmpo and Lopez should be able to clean up most messes caused by that downgrade on defense. The point of attack defense won’t be the same, but Adrian Griffin and his staff should be able to scheme around that fairly effectively.

As for offense, the Bucks are going to be lethal. Holiday wasn’t a bad offensive player, but he’s not Lillard. In his age-32 season last year, Lillard averaged a career-high 32.2 points on 46/37/91 shooting splits with a whopping 11.3 three-point attempts per game.

Now, Lillard will have the best offensive talent to work with that he’s ever had. Instead of a hard hedge or direct double-team when he comes off an on-ball screen, Lillard is probably getting a straight switch, or a defender trying to avoid a mismatch trailing over late. He should see cleaner looks than he’s seen in years.

In addition, the overall threat of Lillard, combined with his deep range, should open up the floor even more for Antetokounmpo’s driving game, and also Middleton, who thrives in the space in the middle. Brook Lopez will continue to see open looks, and Milwaukee can also put shooters like Pat Connaughton, Malik Beasley and A.J. Green on the floor too. That’s going to be a very spread offense with one of the games most terrifying drivers in Antetokounmpo looking down driving lanes.

It’s worth noting that Milwaukee traded their most-used starting backcourt in this deal, as Grayson Allen was sent to the Phoenix Suns. That means someone needs to be elevated to the starting lineup alongside Lillard. The Bucks could go with Pat Connaughton, who has started a decent amount. He’s a viable replacement for Allen’s shooting ability, while adding some better rebounding and similar defense.

Other options include Jae Crowder, if the Bucks want to go bigger and better defensively by moving Middleton back to the two. That one seems less likely, as Middleton and Crowder have both slowed somewhat as perimeter defenders. And then the Bucks need to find a backup four, which is Crowder’s current role, as Bobby Portis projects to play a lot at the five.

Malik Beasley was signed as a free agent, and he’d be a good fit in the starting group, if Griffin wants to leave others in roles that they are comfortable in. And don’t rule out A.J. Green as a surprise option. Green is a knockdown shooter and a developing playmaker. He’d be a passable fit for what Allen brought to the Bucks.

As for Giannis Antetokounmpo and extension possibilities, we covered that in depth here. Only Antetokounmpo, and probably time, will tell if acquiring Lillard was enough to get him thinking about reupping in Milwaukee. But all of the details for potential next contracts for Antetokounmpo are laid out in that piece.

Projected Starting 5: Damian Lillard, Malik Beasley, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez

Related: Bucks 2023-24 Salary Cap Table

Portland Trail Blazers

Incoming Salary ($70.3M in 2023-24)

Outgoing salary ($71.5M in 2023-24)

The Portland Trail Blazers side of this deal is a little incomplete. ESPN has already reported that Portland is trying to find a home for Jrue Holiday. That makes sense, as the Trail Blazers have little need for Holiday on their rebuilding team. Portland is also going to give the young guard group of Scoot Henderson, Shaedon Sharpe and Anfernee Simons as many minutes as they can handle.

That means we’ll eventually have an additional component to evaluate here for the Blazers. Whatever they get for Holiday, either in an expanded deal or a separate one, will have to be a part of the overall analysis. Because of that, we aren’t going to spend any time on Holiday’s fit in Portland.

Instead, we’ll pivot to the big man in Deandre Ayton. Has Ayton failed to live up to his number one overall pick status? That’s probably fair to say. Is he a complete bust and a terrible player? Not even close. Ayton has averaged a double-double in each of his five NBA seasons. For reference, only eleven players (ten if you remove Anthony Davis as a non-qualifier due to games played) averaged a double-double last season. Ayton has done it for five straight years. That’s not nothing.

The outside shot has never become a thing, and Ayton likes his midrange and turnaround fallaway jumpers a bit too much, but he’s still an effective scorer around the rim. He’s also one of the better offensive rebounders in the league, which belies a lot of the lack-of-effort stuff he’s often accused of.

On defense, Ayton is far from a game-changer. But there’s untapped ability there. It’ll probably never get unlocked, but if it does, Ayton becomes a solid two-way player.

Contractually, Ayton’s deal isn’t bad, even if it is a max. He’s making under 24% of the cap in each of his remaining three seasons. Given the Trail Blazers only other sizable salaries are for Jerami Grant and Simons, they should be fine with Ayton in the mix. It’ll be a few years before paying anyone else is a thing in Portland.

Also, and this is probably the most important factor, Ayton fits in with the age timeline in Portland. He just turned 25. The rest of the Blazers core is between 19 and 26. Even if you include Jerami Grant, he’s only 29 years old. The team can grow this group together and figure out what they have over the next few seasons.

In the end, Portland acquired a talented center who can be a big part of the team’s new core. And they’ve been linked to Ayton for a while, which also helps things too. They’ve likely had some sort of plans in place, if they could acquire him.

Toumani Camara is a nice flyer, especially for a team that is now fully rebuilding. Camara stuffed the stat sheet for Dayton as a senior and then put together a really nice Summer League showing too. The Blazers aren’t overflowing with forward talent, so adding a 6-foot-8 guy that can do a little bit of everything is a nice extra piece in this trade.

Before we get to the final incoming pieces to Portland, it’s fair to note that the Blazers got off of $54.4 in salary owed to Jusuf Nurkic in this deal. Nurkic had aged out of the team’s timeline, and his health issues made keeping him around even less appealing. Getting off of that contract is helpful, even if it possibly lessened the return.

The other two players, Nassir Little and Keon Johnson, are kind of caught up in the salary-matching swirl here. Little is a good player, but his role was going to be lessened with where Portland is heading. Johnson had a few flashes, but he was never going to crack the Blazers stacked guard group.

And now we get to the draft compensation. It feels a little light, considering this is Damian Lillard. One first-round pick and two swaps is probably less than the Blazers and Joe Cronin were thinking when this whole ordeal began. But swaps are the kind of things that are meaningless until they aren’t. And a pick that won’t deliver until six years from now could be anything. Maybe the Bucks implode and this all falls apart. Maybe they are incredibly successful and everyone retires happy. Those are picks and swaps with upside for Portland, given that they are several years and contract cycles away.

For now, Portland did well in this trade. The team trading away a superstar often comes up short in their return. If/when the Trail Blazers flip Jrue Holiday for additional players/picks, they’ll have done really well. We’ll re-evaluate when that happens.

Projected Starting 5: Jrue Holiday, Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe, Jerami Grant, Deandre Ayton

Related: Trail Blazers 2023-24 Salary Cap Table

Phoenix Suns

Incoming Salary ($34.85M in 2023-24)

Outgoing Salary ($33.5M in 2023-24)

The Suns inclusion in this deal at first seems a little odd. Deandre Ayton seemed a good fit for what Frank Vogel hoped to build defensively. But the Suns seem to want to lean more into more of a sure thing offensively, while breaking Ayton’s contract into smaller, more tradable pieces.

On the former, Jusuf Nurkic should be that for Phoenix. He’s a terrific screener, a pretty good passer and he’s got a better outside shot than Ayton. He’ll rebound on the defensive boards at roughly the same rate as Ayton did. But Nurkic doesn’t have the defensive potential Ayton did, even if Ayton’s is largely unrealized.

Nurkic is also a pretty good bet to miss some time with injuries. Ayton had been pretty reliable over the past five years, while Nurkic has played 153 games total over the last four seasons. That’s at least a little worrisome for a team with title aspirations.

As for the latter, Grayson Allen and Nassir Little were nice depth gets for the Suns in this deal. Allen gives them another guard option. That’s important in case any of Bradley Beal, Devin Booker or Eric Gordon has a reoccurrence of the injuries that have plagued them in recent years.

Little gives Phoenix another athletic forward option. He might not beat out Keita Bates-Diop or Yuta Watanabe for minutes, but Little is a nice option to have around. And if that 37% three-point shooting is real, then Little becomes a really nice option to have off the bench.

The real value Allen and Little may have to Phoenix is that they are very easily movable players in a future deal. They make a combined $15.2 million, which could get the Suns a player down the line. That’s a lot easier to make happen than a trade that had to include Ayton’s $32.5 million salary for any sort of meaningful return.

Phoenix is currently at 17 players on standard NBA deals, which is two over the NBA’s regular season maximum. Ishmail Wainright is probably one of the cuts coming, as his contract is non-guaranteed. Jordan Goodwin is on a partially guaranteed deal, but he’s sticking around. That means the Suns will most likely have to eat a fully guaranteed contract on their books. But, hey, in for a penny, in for a pound, right?

Are the Suns really better after this deal? That’s hard to say. Nurkic is an offensive upgrade over Ayton, but how much more offense do you need when you have Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal? We’ll say Phoenix is better, but probably not appreciably so. At least not until they do whatever is coming next, which seems likely to happen at some point.

Projected Starting 5: Bradley Beal, Devin Booker, Josh Okogie, Kevin Durant, Jusuf Nurkic

Related: Suns 2023-24 Salary Cap Table

Miami Heat

We aren’t going to spend a lot of time here, because the Heat ended up not being a part of a deal for Damian Lillard. In the rare case where a superstar wasn’t able to name his destination, Miami was on the short end of the stick.

The Heat roster felt unfinished in hopes of a Lillard trade. Now, Miami has to pick up some of the pieces. They still have a lot of talent, but lost two key starters in Gabe Vincent and Max Strus. Josh Richardson was a nice addition, but that’s if he was your second- or third-best pickup, not your key signing.

All of that said, someone will emerge for Miami and have us all asking “How do they keep doing this?” Last year’s first-round pick Nikola Jovic appears poised for a bigger role too. The Heat will still end up being good, because that’s just sort of what they do.

Projected Starting 5: Tyler Herro, Josh Richardson, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Love, Bam Adebayo

Related: Heat 2023-24 Salary Cap Table 

Toronto Raptors

We’ll spend even less time here, because we only know that Toronto was engaged on trading for Damian Lillard. We have no real sense of how close anything really got. But that’s sort of the point.

We’ve all been waiting for the Raptors to do something big for a few years now. And they just kind of keep staying the same. Except in recent years, they’ve bled talent from a roster that was once one of the deepest in the NBA. Now, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby are on expiring deals (Anunoby has a player option he’s likely to decline) and Toronto’s future seems no less certain than it was before.

A Lillard trade would have been a risky homerun swing, but Masai Ujiri won that way when he traded for Kawhi Leonard. It seems like Toronto is set up to take a similar cut again, but they seem content to move the runners along, playing station-to-station ball. That can win in the NBA, but it often results in a team that’s just kind of stuck in the middle. And that’s where the Raptors currently find themselves.

Projected Starting 5: Denis Schroder, O.G. Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl

Related: Raptors 2023-24 Salary Cap Table