NBA

Damian Lillard trade grades: How Bucks, Suns and Blazers fared in deal involving Jrue Holiday, Deandre Ayton

The trade that everyone has been talking about all summer finally happened.

Damian Lillard is going to Milwaukee as part of an unexpected three-team trade involving the Bucks, Suns and Trail Blazers, according to multiple reports.

Did the Blazers get fair value back for their franchise star? Are the Bucks the prohibitive favorites in the East? And was the trade for depth worth it for the Suns?

Let’s evaluate the deal from all sides.

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Bucks-Suns-Trail Blazers trade details

Bucks receive:

Suns receive:

  • Jusuf Nurkic
  • Grayson Allen
  • Nassir Little
  • Keon Johnson

Trail Blazers receive:

  • Jrue Holiday
  • Deandre Ayton
  • Toumani Camara
  • 2029 unprotected first-round pick
  • 2028 and 2030 first-round pick swap rights

Bucks grade: A

Giannis Antetokounmpo was making noise about potentially leaving Milwaukee if the Bucks weren’t all-in on the pursuit of another championship. They certainly did all that they could to assuage him, making a big swing with Lillard.

Losing Holiday will sting. He has been one of the best perimeter defenders throughout his career. But the Bucks still have Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez to anchor that defense.

The Bucks’ bigger problems were in creating consistent offense. They ranked 15th in offensive rating last season. Lillard should be a massive difference-maker on that end of the floor. He just turned in his best season ever, averaging a career-high 32.2 points per game and drilling 37.1 percent of his 3-pointers.

Many all-in-one impact metrics such as Estimated Plus-Minus (EPM) and DARKO have him as the best offensive player in the league, ahead of even Nikola Jokic. That impact comes from his ability to hit deep 3-pointers, drive the ball against even the most aggressive of defensive coverages and create for others at a level much higher than he’s given credit for — he’s routinely been a top-10 player in assists per game.

The Bucks are also going to massively increase their free throw attempts after ranking 23rd last season. Lillard’s 9.6 free throws per game and Antetokounmpo’s 12.3 last season ranked fifth and first in the league, respectively. Those two should combine to get into the bonus earlier in quarters and generate some ultra-efficient offense.

The Bucks should be the favorites to come out of the East after this move.

Trail Blazers grade: B+

The Blazers did not have a lot of leverage to get a good Lillard trade done. He had effectively killed much of it by very publicly insisting that he go only to the Heat.

Lillard’s contract is also a concern. While he’s still a terrific player as of now, his $63.2 million player option in 2026-27 at the age of 36 will likely be a significant overpay, particularly for a team without championship aspirations.

Despite those factors working against them, the Blazers found a win-now team and played hardball to get the best deal possible. This gives them some good assets and opens the door for No. 3 pick Scoot Henderson to show what he can really do.

Getting only one unprotected first-round pick doesn’t sound great at first glance, but with the Bucks going all-in, there is a decent chance that they are a lottery team by 2029. Those 2028 and 2030 first-round swaps could be very valuable for the same reason.

Holiday doesn’t make much sense on this team, but he will probably be flipped for more picks down the line.

Ayton is a definite upgrade from Nurkic, both in terms of youth and skill. This is a good buy-low opportunity on a talented center who needed a change of scenery. A more motivated Ayton could turn into a very nice get for the Blazers.

Suns grade: B-

The Suns badly needed depth around Bradley Beal, Devin Booker and Kevin Durant. Ayton was the most logical piece to ship out, and getting multiple rotation players back was a good idea. But was this the best that they could do? They have no cards left to play — this is their team now, for better or worse.

Nurkic is a definite downgrade from Ayton. He’s a good rim protector, but he can’t move well in space, limiting the type of defenses that the team can play. For the role that he will probably fill next to the team’s three big stars, he should be fine. He looked like he was experiencing the start of a rapid decline in Portland, but perhaps this trade will reinvigorate him.

Allen is a great 3-point shooter who should fit in well with the Suns’ stars. His defense is suspect, but he has held up well enough to play rotational minutes in the playoffs. And Little and Johnson give the Suns some young upside.

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