Damian Lillard has said repeatedly that he wants to contend for a championship. After 11 years in Portland, he has decided he needs to move elsewhere to make that happen.
Lillard asked the Trail Blazers for a trade, a move that will end the seven-time All-Star's tenure with that team, two people familiar with the matter said Saturday. The team later confirmed that Lillard had made the request.
Lillard is generating interest from the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets, among others, according to the people who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because no details were announced publicly. One of the people told the AP that Lillard's preference is Miami — the reigning Eastern Conference champion — though that hardly guarantees the Trail Blazers will work to facilitate that specific move.
"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," Blazers general manager Joe Cronin said in a statement distributed by the team. "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 is coming off a season in which he averaged 32.2 points for the Trail Blazers. He is a seven-time All-NBA selection and was selected to the NBA's 75th anniversary team — but he has never been close to a title in his 11 seasons in the league.
He has met with Portland multiple times in recent weeks, asking for the roster to be upgraded to the point where he can compete for a championship. But those efforts, evidently, have not gone to Lillard's liking and led to him asking to be moved elsewhere.
Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors and Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers greet each other before the game at Moda Center on April 09, 2023 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
His decision was revealed on the second day of NBA free agency, after Portland made a huge splash on the first night by retaining Jerami Grant with a $160 million, five-year deal.
For as great as his resume is, Lillard hasn't enjoyed much in the way of postseason success. The Blazers have won only four playoff series in his 11 seasons, making the Western Conference finals once during that span. The team went 33-49 this past season, the second consecutive year of finishing well outside the playoff picture.
But Lillard is, by any measure, a dynamic player. He has averaged at least 24 points per game in each of the last eight seasons, and his career average of 25.2 points ranks fourth among active players (with at least 375 games) behind Kevin Durant, Joel Embiid and LeBron James. If that list was expanded to all players with no game minimums, Luka Doncic, Zion Williamson and Trae Young would also be ahead of Lillard.
He had a 71-point game this past season against Houston, has 17 games of at least 50 points in his career — two of them in the playoffs — and is a past rookie of the year, teammate of the year and winner of the NBA’s citizenship award. He’s even an Olympic gold medalist, winning one alongside Miami’s Bam Adebayo at the Tokyo Games and raving at times about how much he enjoyed playing with the Heat center.
Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers celebrates after making a three-point basket against the Toronto Raptors during the fourth quarter at Moda Center on November 15, 2021 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
The only glaring omission on Lillard’s resume: a championship. And now he’ll seek a move to change that.
"I would say I want to be remembered for who I was, not as a player, but the principle that I stood on regardless of how successful I was, how major the failure was, the criticism, what people thought I should have did, what people think of me ... no matter what was happening, I want to be remembered for who I was," Lillard said in an interview with former teammate Evan Turner for the "Point Forward" podcast earlier this year. "I stood tall. I've stood tall in every situation and I want to be remembered for that."
It will take some team — whether it's Miami, Brooklyn or anyone else — a massive haul of probably both players and draft picks to persuade Portland to trade Lillard. He will make almost $46 million this coming season and could make as much as $216 million over the next four years if he exercises his option for the 2026-27 season.
While Lillard was beloved in Portland, there was speculation about his future with the team when the Blazers took point guard Scoot Henderson with the No. 3 overall pick in the recent draft rather than package the pick for a proven star.
At the time, Cronin said he intended to play both Lillard and Henderson.
"I would love to see Dame retire a Trail Blazer. I have zero desire to trade him. I really hopes this works out here," Cronin said on draft night. "And I think you can tell how excited I am about Scoot Henderson. He has a chance to be a special player in this league."
The Blazers signed Henderson to a rookie contract on Saturday. The 6-foot-2 teenager who has been compared to Russell Westbrook spent the past two seasons with the G League Ignite.
Last season with Ignite, Henderson averaged 17.6 points and a team-high 6.5 assists. He graduated early from high school in Marietta, Georgia, to become the youngest player ever in the G League.