Why Damian Lillard Finally Quit and Sparked an All-Out Blitz Around the NBA to Take Down the Heat

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Damian Lillard finally left Portland Saturday morning, along with his agent, Aaron Goodwin, to tell Trail Blazers general manager Joe Cronin over the phone six days after the three met in person in his office. The seven-time All-Star misunderstood what to expect next.

As I reported hours before the meeting, it was Miami-or-bust.

But a funny thing happens inside NBA front offices, when a player of Lillard’s caliber suddenly becomes available. Executives committed to one plan begin to consider another. Star players who want nothing more than to bring “damn time” to their arena decide to recruit. They’re dreaming big, in other words, scrambling to figure out what it takes to bring one of the game’s greatest players to their city and their team. If there was any chance of changing his mind, they were going to try.

And with good reason.

According to a source briefed on the situation, that’s what happened in those hours when Lillard’s desires were clarified. While the Heat are still considered the only team Lillard is truly willing to play for, if the Blazers struggle to find a middle ground with Miami, a process is unfolding that will eventually lead to other plausible scenarios.

Enter Cronin, in a statement released Saturday afternoon, made it clear that he plans to put the team’s priorities above all others.

“We are clear that we want Dame here, but he informed us today that he wants to leave and that he wants to play elsewhere,” Cronin said in a statement. “What hasn’t changed for us is that we’re committed to winning and we’re going to do what’s best for the team to pursue that goal.”

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The list of teams interested in Lillard is predictably long, and includes Philadelphia, the Clippers and Utah. Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report reported, a third team might be necessary in a deal with the Heat. Miami could send guard Tyler Hero to Portland in the Lillard deal, but he doesn’t make much sense on a Blazers roster loaded with guards and may have to be traded again to another team.

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While Lillard doesn’t have a no-trade clause like the one that helped Bradley Beal move from Washington to Phoenix recently, there’s an element of common sense to his massive contract: It’s not smart to trade against a player. Congratulations when he still owes $216 million. He wants to compete with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, and thrive in that legendary ‘Heat culture’ system under Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra. But in the early stages of this latest superstar saga, there are strong indications that Cronin will not be committed to a Heat contract.

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While the Lillard deal may not come to fruition as soon as the parties involved hope, it’s worth taking some (damn) time to better understand the days leading up to his decision. More specifically, what prompted him to finally ask?

Truth be told, Lillard was willing to ask for a trade on Monday. After those good times in Portland, the kid from Oakland, Calif. spent the better part of 11 seasons thriving and thrilling in the Pacific Northwest, he was finally ready to say goodbye to the Trail Blazers and say hello to the late career. episode with the actual title contender. There was nothing acrimonious or unpleasant about their split, but Cronin made it clear at every turn that their priorities were no longer aligned. Not by his words, but by his actions.

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Taking Lillard’s final trade on Scoot Henderson, the Blazers took the No. 3 pick in the draft four days ago, ignoring the message he sent about his desire to use the asset as a way to move to another high level. Senior player. According to a source involved in the situation, Lillard was still optimistic the Blazers would find the kind of deal that would make him want to stay. But nothing material came out.

As the GM, Lillard and Goodwin spent more than two hours trying to find a way that made sense for both sides, after their meeting inside Cronin’s office, Lillard decided to wait a little longer. At Cronin’s request, he will give Lillard a few more days to add to the roster in a meaningful way that will convince him the Blazers can compete at a high level again.

Although Lillard never publicly acknowledged the meeting in any way, Cronin released a statement shortly after.

“I met with Dam and Aaron Goodwin this afternoon,” it read. “We had a great conversation. We’re committed to building a winner around the dam.

But as the week progressed, there were no announcements of any significant deals from the Blazers. From Lillard’s point of view, the lack of new information on potential trades or updates on ongoing talks certainly lacks the roster momentum to restore his confidence. The Blazers had a quiet first night of free agency, re-signing Jeremy Grant to a five-year, $160 million contract but failing to add any new players, making it an unofficial deal. Then after a late-night phone conversation with Blazers coach Chauncey Billups to discuss the unfortunate situation, Lillard made up his mind: It was time to move from Portland to Miami.

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Or so he believes.


(Photo: Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

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