NBA

Damian Lillard trade destinations, ranked: Where do Raptors, Heat, Bulls, Nets land for Trail Blazers star?

The teams in the running for Damian Lillard are becoming clearer.

It’s been nearly three months since Lillard requested a trade from the Trail Blazers. The Heat and the Nets were the first teams linked to him, with Miami being Lillard’s clear preference. As the 2023-24 season approaches, the Raptors and Bulls have also entered the mix.

The Raptors are said to have a “genuine” interest in Lillard (though that interest seems to be very one-sided.) The Bulls, meanwhile, are viewed as another possible destination for the seven-time All-Star.

Which of those teams would be the best fit for Lillard? 

MORE: The latest rumors surrounding Damian Lillard’s trade request

Ranking Damian Lillard trade destinations

4. Chicago Bulls

The Bulls have been mentioned by league figures as a potential destination for Lillard, per Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports.

Fischer added that the Bulls aren’t a natural trade partner with the Trail Blazers. While the franchise is said to have explored Zach LaVine trade scenarios, Portland “does not appear keen on acquiring the All-Star guard.” Landing Lillard might therefore require trading LaVine elsewhere for a package more appealing to the Trail Blazers.

Even if the Bulls were able to add Lillard, I’m not convinced of the fit. Lillard, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic would make for a talented core offensively, but they’re each limited defenders. That would put even more pressure on the likes of Alex Caruso and Patrick Williams to do the heavy lifting on that end of the court — assuming, of course, that the Bulls wouldn’t have to part ways with one of them to get Lillard.

The Bulls are already an older team with a tremendous amount of pressure to win now. Lillard would make them better, but probably not to the point where they’re competing with the Bucks, Celtics and 76ers at the top of the Eastern Conference.

3. Brooklyn Nets

In addition to the Heat, the Nets were mentioned as being among the “leading suitors” for Lillard when the news of his trade request first broke.

Brooklyn being an option for Lillard didn’t come as a huge surprise. Not only are the Nets in a big market but they’re currently led by Mikal Bridges, who averaged 26.1 points in the 27 games he played with the franchise after being traded last season.

Earlier in the offseason, Lillard said himself on Showtime’s “The Last Stand” that the Nets are an “obvious” destination because of his relationship with Bridges. He also said that Brooklyn has a “capable” roster.

The Nets do face a few roadblocks in trading for Lillard. Constructing a deal around Ben Simmons would be the easiest way to match Lillard’s salary, but Simmons is coming off of the worst season of his career, making him an unlikely centerpiece. Spencer Dinwiddie and Cameron Johnson get the Nets to Lillard’s number, but Johnson can’t be traded until Dec. 15 because of his recently signed extension.

There is a world in which the Nets trade for Lillard and still have a team capable of making some noise in the Eastern Conference, but if the Trail Blazers weren’t interested in Simmons and asked for three or more rotational players — Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith and Nic Claxton, for example — the juice might not be worth the squeeze.

2. Toronto Raptors

The Raptors would be taking a big risk if they were to trade for Lillard, but there’s no denying they’d make for an interesting destination.

The Raptors have an obvious need for a point guard following Fred VanVleet’s departure in free agency. VanVleet is a far superior defender, but Lillard is still one of the best offensive players in the NBA. He’s coming off of a season in which he averaged a career-best 32.2 points per game to go along with 7.3 assists.

If the plan was to pair Lillard with Pascal Siakam, who had a career year himself in 2022-23, they’d form one of the better one-two punches in the Eastern Conference.

As TSN’s Steph Noh recently noted, Lillard’s biggest problem throughout his career is that he’s been on bad defensive teams. Even if the Raptors had to give up O.G. Anunoby or Scottie Barnes to get him, they’d still be able to surround Lillard with versatile defenders, from Siakam to the likes of Precious Achiuwa, Chris Boucher, Jalen McDaniels and Otto Porter Jr.

“Just as the Raptors are a good fit to hide Lillard’s defensive flaws, Lillard is a great fit to solve the Raptors’ offensive issues,” Noh wrote. “His offensive creation and shooting hit the two areas that they absolutely need to improve upon.”

The Raptors face a similar problem that the Bulls do in that adding Lillard might not elevate them to the top of the Eastern Conference, but being in second place on this list is a bet on Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster pulling the strings needed to get them to that level, much like they did when they acquired Kawhi Leonard.

MORE: What a Damian Lillard trade would look like for Raptors

1. Miami Heat

What else were you expecting?

The Heat are coming off of a trip to the Finals where they came up short to the Nuggets. They’ve since lost two starters in Gabe Vincent and Max Strus, but pairing Lillard with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo would give them the firepower to make it out of the Eastern Conference again.

Lillard would be a seamless fit with Butler and Adebayo offensively. He’s a good enough shooter to play off of Butler and his playmaking would take pressure off of Butler to create as much as he did in last year’s Finals run. Those same skills would help him complement Adebayo similar to how Tyler Herro has.

Defensively, Butler and Adebayo could cover for Lillard’s weaknesses. Butler remains one of the most versatile and disruptive wing defenders in the league while Adebayo is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

With Erik Spoelstra pulling the strings, the Heat are a perfect match.

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