Superstar guard Damian Lillard requested a trade to the Miami Heat at the start of July. Instead, Lillard has been traded to another one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams.
The Portland Trail Blazers traded Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday as part of a blockbuster three-team deal also involving the Phoenix Suns less than a week before the start of training camp, a league source confirmed to the Miami Herald.
While the Bucks landed Lillard to pair with two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Trail Blazers acquired Jrue Holiday, a 2029 first-round and a pick swap from the Bucks and Deandre Ayton and Toumani Camara from the Suns. But reports indicate the Trail Blazers will now look to trade Holiday elsewhere for more assets to fast track their rebuild.
The Suns received Jusuf Nurkic, Nassir Little and Keon Johnson from the Trail Blazers and Grayson Allen from the Bucks in the deal.
Lillard listed the Heat as his preferred trade destination when he put in his trade request on July 1, but the Trail Blazers never expressed much interest in what the Heat was willing to offer, league sources told the Miami Herald. The Heat’s initial offer for Lillard was believed to be built around guard Tyler Herro and multiple draft picks.
The Heat and Trail Blazers spoke about a deal shortly after Lillard made his trade request in July, but communication between the two sides was very limited since then, according to league sources. The Trail Blazers never re-engaged the Heat before accepting the Bucks’ offer on Wednesday.
When asked about the Heat’s pursuit of his client, Lillard’s agent Aaron Goodwin said to the Miami Herald: “They did everything they could to acquire Dame. It takes two to get a deal done. I appreciate all that Pat [Riley], Andy [Elisburg] and Micky [Arison] did to try and make this happen.”
Lillard wanted to be dealt to the Heat for various reasons. He was intrigued by the possibility of playing alongside Heat stars Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler, he saw an opportunity to be the missing piece on a championship roster, and no state income tax in Florida with the opportunity to play in an appealing market like Miami was attractive to him.
But in the end, the Heat and Trail Blazers never made much progress in their limited trade discussions. And evidently, Lillard does not have a problem with being sent to Milwaukee to team up with All-Star talent like Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton in hopes of winning his first NBA title.
“Excited for my next chapter! @Bucks” Lillard tweeted shortly after news of the trade broke.
Lillard, who turned 33 in July and is owed $216 million over the remaining four seasons of his contract, averaged a career-high 32.2 points per game while shooting 46.3 percent from the field and 37.1 percent from three-point range in 58 games for the Trail Blazers last season. He ranked third in the league in scoring and 10th in assists at 7.3 per game.
A member of the NBA’s 75th anniversary team (honoring the 76 best players in history), Lillard has been selected for the All-NBA First Team once (2018), All-NBA Second Team four times (2016 and 2019, 2020 and 2021) and All-NBA Third Team twice (2014 and 2023).
The Heat, which upset the top-seeded Bucks in the first round of the playoffs last season, now moves forward with a roster for this upcoming season that currently includes 13 players on standard contracts: Adebayo, Thomas Bryant, Butler, Herro, Haywood Highsmith, Jaime Jaquez Jr., Nikola Jovic, Kevin Love, Kyle Lowry, Caleb Martin, Josh Richardson, Duncan Robinson and Orlando Robinson.
But the Heat made some moves to the back end of its roster in the wake of Lillard’s trade to the Bucks.
The Heat announced on Wednesday it waived Jamaree Bouyea from his two-way deal and Caleb Daniels from his Exhibit 10 contract and signed Jon Elmore and Cheick Diallo to Exhibit 10 deals. Following those roster moves, the Heat waived Elmore and signed RJ Hampton to a two-way contract.
The Heat’s three players signed to two-way deals are now Hampton, Jamal Cain and Dru Smith. In addition, the Heat has five players signed to Exhibit 10 contracts, which essentially represent an invite to training camp: Diallo, Justin Champagnie, Drew Peterson, Cole Swider and Alondes Williams.
The Elmore sign-and-waive move on Wednesday was made by the Heat with the intention of funneling him to its G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
As for the two additions the Heat made on Wednesday, Hampton was drafted in the first round (24th overall) by the Bucks in 2020 and Diallo was drafted in the second round (33rd overall) by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2016.
Hampton, a 6-foot-4 guard, has appeared in 162 career NBA games (18 starts) between the Denver Nuggets, Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons, averaging 7.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 18.8 minutes per game while shooting 41 percent from the field and 34.2 percent from three-point range. He appeared in eight regular-season G League games with the Lakeland Magic last season and averaged 22.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 27.3 minutes per game while shooting 46.3 percent from the field, 28.1 percent on threes and 85.3 percent from the foul line.
Diallo, a 6-foot-8 forward, split last season overseas between Kyoto Hannaryz of the Japanese Basketball League and Cangrejeros de Santurce of the Puerto Rican BSN. He appeared in 63 games (62 starts), averaging 16.4 points, 10 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 29.1 minutes per game while shooting 63.5 percent from the field.
While the Heat’s roster is already currently at the offseason/preseason roster limit of 21 players, the Heat needs to add at least one more player to a standard contract because the new CBA makes it tough for teams to consistently carry fewer than 14 players under standard contracts.
Starting this season, teams can have fewer than 14 standard contract players for no more than 28 total days during the regular season and 14 consecutive days at a time.
Among the notable free agents still available are familiar faces in guards Goran Dragic and Kendrick Nunn. The Heat could also promote one of its two-way contract players or Exhibit 10 players to a standard deal.
Because of Miami’s salary-cap situation and the new collective bargaining agreement’s punitive rules, the Heat only has minimum contracts to offer outside free agents.
The Heat has made three Eastern Conference finals appearances and two NBA Finals appearances in the past four seasons with Adebayo and Butler leading the way, but has not won a championship since 2013 during the Big 3 era. The Heat became just the second No. 8 playoff seed in NBA history to advance to the NBA Finals last season, but lost to the Denver Nuggets in the championship series.
In response to a tweet questioning Butler’s happiness with the Heat after the team missed out on Lillard, Butler’s agent Bernie Lee tweeted Wednesday: “He has more than enough, always has and always will. The only other place he plays is PSG if they ever call me back on the offer to be a social media manager/3rd string goalkeeper.”
Heat guard Josh Richardson joked on Twitter after the Lillard trade: “Well… i think we all know what my number will be now lol.” Richardson, who has worn No. 0 throughout his NBA career, has not been assigned a number yet by the Heat after signing with Miami as a free agent this summer because Lillard also wears No. 0.
The Heat holds its annual media day at Kaseya Center on Monday before opening training camp at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton on Tuesday.