How the Damian Lillard trade impacts the Western Conference

Sep 27, 2023, 5:59 PM

Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers looks on before the start of a game against the Orl...

ORLANDO, FLORIDA - MARCH 05: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers looks on before the start of a game against the Orlando Magic at the Amway Center on March 05, 2023 in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

(Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

A superstar is finally leaving the Western Conference rather than joining it.

Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal were traded to the Phoenix Suns. Kyrie Irving joined the Dallas Mavericks. Now, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Damian Lillard has been traded to the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Portland Trail Blazers are receiving Jrue Holiday, Deandre Ayton, Toumani Camara, Milwaukee’s 2029 1st round pick, and the rights to swap first-round picks with the Bucks in 2028 and 2030 in the reported three-team deal involving the Phoenix Suns.

Phoenix will receive Jusuf Nurkic, Grayson Allen, Nassir Little, and Keon Johnson. Milwaukee’s entire return is Damian Lillard.

Milwaukee’s perspective seems fairly straightforward. They went from Holiday to Lillard and lost a rotational shooter, Allen, in the process. Let’s look at how the two Western Conference teams involved in the Damian Lillard trade could be impacted.

Does the Damian Lillard trade help or hurt Phoenix?

The big swap they made was going from former number-one overall pick Deandre Ayton for Jusuf Nurkic. Ayton (25) is four years younger than Nurkic (29), but Nurkic has played more than 55 games in just one of the last four seasons. Ayton is seen as more talented all-around, with the potential to continue improving, but the Suns may have preferred a better fit.

Nurkic has seemed to embrace his role throughout the years. That’s probably an appealing trait with Bradley Beal, Devin Booker, and Kevin Durant on the roster.

Both centers have three years remaining on their deals, but Nurkic will make roughly $47 million more than Ayton throughout their contracts.

After their stars, the Suns’ bench had some sizeable question marks. They’ll add a player who started 70 games for the first seed in the East and shot 39.9 percent from three on 5.1 attempts per game in Grayson Allen. The Duke alum, who is on an expiring deal, could prove useful for them.

The final pieces of the deal are Toumani Camara, who the Suns selected 52nd in the 2023 NBA Draft, headed to Portland, while Nassir Little and Keon Johnson are en route alongside Nurkic to Phoenix.

Camara (6’8″) played his final two college seasons at Dayton and contributed solid numbers in the Las Vegas Summer League. Coming into his rookie season, he was unlikely to be a regular in the rotation.

Little (23) and Johnson (21) are both young but have not shown much up to this point. Johnson played 416 minutes last year, and Little logged 976 on a team that finished 13th in the Western Conference. They may get an opportunity in Phoenix as the team attempts to solidify their rotation.

Is Portland finally in rebuild mode?

No surprise here. They got worse, or you could say are embracing the youth. They’ve traded away their longtime franchise superstar at his request but are left with more moves to make.

Holiday is now a member of the Trail Blazers due to the Damian Lillard trade. The two-time All-Star and five-time All-Defensive player is making just under $35 million this year and has a player option worth roughly $37 million for next season. At 33 years old, it would be shocking if he did not pick up that option.

Youth fills Portland’s roster with Scoot Henderson, Anfernee Simons, Deandre Ayton, Shaedon Sharpe, Kris Murray, and others. Holiday does not fit their timeline. So, where could he be re-routed?

Could a three-team deal emerge that allows Holiday to return to the Philadelphia 76ers while James Harden goes elsewhere? Maybe the Miami Heat will pivot into targeting the veteran guard. What about the Toronto Raptors? Young, up-and-coming teams in search of veteran leadership and stability could appear. Maybe the Orlando Magic?

It could happen any day but a Holiday trade does not have to occur before the season. The Trail Blazers could be patient and wait to see what his market is by the trade deadline.

With Ayton, the 6’11” Arizona alum possesses an apparent upside, and the new-look Blazers can provide him with a low-pressure environment where he can attempt to expand his game. The additional salary should not impact them much, given they project to be a few years away from competing.

Three Milwaukee draft picks will now be in Portland’s chest of assets. They can swap first-rounders in 2028 and 2030 and own the Bucks unprotected first-round pick in 2029.

The picks being years down the line makes their value intriguing. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s last season under contract is 2025-26. Lillard’s contract ends one year later. Not a single member of the current Milwaukee Bucks is under contract when the first-pick swap becomes available. The state of any franchise that far down the line is nearly impossible. An enormous upside exists with those draft assets.

After the Damian Lillard trade, Portland’s future seems bright, while their present should be entertaining.

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