Right off the bat, let’s be clear: There has been no indication that former Weber State star Damian Lillard has asked to be traded by the Portland Trail Blazers, or that the Blazers would even ever look to make such a move this offseason.
Lillard has publicly said for years that he feels a loyalty to Portland, perhaps to the point of playing his entire career there. As far as the team is concerned, it fired head coach Terry Stotts on Friday, and Lillard told both Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes and The Athletic’s Shams Charania on the record that he wants the Blazers to hire Jason Kidd as Stotts’ replacement, adding Chauncey Billups in his comments to The Athletic (on Sunday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Kidd has removed his name from consideration for the job).
That said, the team’s decision on who it hires will have a big impact on the direction the franchise wants to go. Hiring someone with a more proven track record would likely signal the team wants to try to remain good now, meaning it would almost certainly prefer to keep Lillard. If it hires more of a developmentally-minded coach, the franchise may want to hit the reset button.
But if Lillard does ask out or Portland decides it wants to completely rebuild, how much interest would the Utah Jazz have in pursuing a deal for Lillard, and is there any way they could get a deal done if they wanted to? Would there be any interest on the Blazers’ part in moving him to the Beehive State?
It probably goes without saying that Utah doesn’t have the best reputation around the NBA as far as being a place stars want to go to. That said, Lillard spent a few years living in the city of Ogden during school, and he regularly speaks with fondness for the place (he’s got “Ogden” tattooed on his arm and wears No. 0 to represent Oakland, his hometown, Ogden and Oregon).
In other words, Jazz management wouldn’t have to worry about how Lillard felt about being traded to Utah on the same level as they might about other stars if they were to in fact work to make a move for him.
The two scenarios
There are two basic trade frameworks the Jazz could most realistically use under the NBA’s salary cap rules if they really wanted to try to make a run at Lillard without getting too complicated by involving a bunch of teams.
Lillard signed a four-year, $196 million supermax contract extension in 2019 that will kick in next season, which will see him make $39.3 million next season, per Spotrac. The least drastic of the two frameworks would be trading a combination of rotation players such as Bojan Bogdanovic and two of Royce O’Neale, Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles or Derrick Favors plus perhaps another player who doesn’t make very much money (Mike Conley will be a free agent and thus cannot be traded this offseason).
Bogdanovic will make $18.5 million, and the others will all make between $8.8 and $11.5 million. The thinking for Utah with this would be if management feels it needs another top-end star to compete for a championship. This could be influenced by how far the team goes in the postseason this year (the Jazz would have to fill their roster with players on cheap deals, but that’s the tradeoff for teams that get top-end talent that wins in the playoffs).
For Portland, the thinking would be that it may want/need to move on from Lillard, but want to remain competitive by getting good players for him instead of bottoming out by trading him to a team for draft assets. A core of CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, and two of the above-listed Jazz players might not have real star power, but could probably contend for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Warning: What you are about to read may surprise, shock, maybe even anger you, but perhaps it’s the best illustration of how tough it probably would be for Utah to land Lillard. It’s one of the very few avenues by which the Jazz could acquire him in a trade.
As team broadcaster Craig Bolerjack often says, “Buckle up.”
If Utah management has the thought that the window to win a title is very small, could it be willing to part with Donovan Mitchell or Rudy Gobert in exchange for Lillard?
Truthfully, if it came down to this, it’s probably fair to think Portland would want Mitchell over Gobert, so let’s focus this on Mitchell. Other players who don’t make a whole lot of money would have to be included to make the math all work (Mitchell is set to make $28.1 million next season, although that could go up a few million if he gets named to an All-NBA team, which is unlikely), but Lillard for Mitchell would be the focal point.
The thought process: As excellent as Mitchell is right now at age 24, Lillard is more proven as a star in the playoffs at age 30 (he’ll be 31 next month). The Jazz could bring the 33-year-old Conley back in free agency this summer and have the Conley-Lillard backcourt play alongside the 32-year-old Bogdanovic, 28-year-old O’Neale (birthday was on Saturday) and 28-year-old Gobert (will be 29 on June 26).
Reserves Clarkson and Ingles are 28 (Clarkson’s birthday is on Monday) and 33, respectively.
Additionally, Lillard and Mitchell can both become free agents after the 2024-2025 season (Mitchell has a player option for the 2025-2026 season), so Lillard would by no means be a rental. Yes, Utah would be conceding that it wouldn’t think it could sign Mitchell to his third contract, but you’d be facing the free agency of either player at the exact same time regardless.
One thing to be aware of: With Lillard’s supermax, he will make nearly $48.8 million in the final year of the deal.
For Portland, getting an already established young star like Mitchell as the next cornerstone of your franchise would not be bad at all if you get in a position where you need to move Lillard.
There aren’t many avenues by which the Jazz could acquire Lillard. More specifically, they don’t have draft assets to help make more creative deals than the ones listed above.
Additionally, the Jazz are generally a pretty conservative organization. Even when management makes bigger moves like acquiring Conley, they’re safe (Utah gave up Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, Grayson Allen and a couple of draft picks it figured would be late first rounders to get him).
Trading for Lillard would be a departure from that. Does management have the stomach to even consider it for very long? They wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t at least pick up the phone and talk about it with Portland if Lillard becomes available, but discussions probably wouldn’t go very far. So many more trades get talked about at least a bit than actually happen, and this almost surely would fall into such a category.
That said, the Jazz do have a few avenues to potentially make an interesting deal for Lillard happen, bringing Dame Time back to the “Wasatch Front.”
“The Jazz up the road I wanna play for Jerry Sloan.” — Dame D.O.L.L.A.