Damian Lillard has not officially requested a trade yet. Apply all requisite caveats. This story might never matter. Lillard might retire as the most beloved Portland Trail Blazer in history. He might become the first superstar to stare the superteam era in the face and say “no thanks.”
San Antonio Spurs fans surely thought that would be Kawhi Leonard. How’d that turn out? Paul George held a massive party in Oklahoma City to announce he was staying… and then left a year later. LeBron James has ditched Cleveland twice. The list is practically endless. If the last decade of NBA history should have taught us anything, it’s that no team is safe. No matter how loyal your superstar purports to be, if your front office can’t give him championship contention, someone else’s will.
Make no mistake, as frustrated as Lillard might be with the backlash he’s received from Portland fans as a result of the team’s decision to hire Chauncey Billups as its next head coach, that is at the core of whatever frustration he is feeling right now. The Blazers have lost in the first round in four of the past five seasons. Lillard wouldn’t want to leave the Blazers if they were still playing basketball right now. Teams built like the Blazers rarely last this far into the postseason, though. It took some shameless bracket manipulation from the Nuggets to get them there in 2019, and once the Warriors escaped their second-round Mortal Kombat with the Rockets, they made quick work of the Blazers in a four-game sweep. Uncover all of the Gary Trents and Al Farouq Aminus in the rough that you want. In a world in which Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden are on the same team, it’s not going to matter.
That’s the sort of easy bake contender Lillard would surely push for in a deal. Portland has little reason to budge. Lillard has perhaps the least leverage of any superstar making a trade request in recent history. His contract comes with three years of team control. His reputation is built on the loyalty he would have to eschew to force his way out of Portland. Does anything Lillard has done in nine seasons as a pro suggest that he is willing to take the drastic steps Harden took to escape Houston a year ago? Of course not. Anthony Davis was willing to blow up the 2019 Pelicans to get to the Lakers and only the Lakers knowing that he could just sign there in 2020 if New Orleans didn’t comply.
Lillard probably doesn’t have such leverage, and that makes this situation unique. It’s unclear how much power he could wield in the process or how willing the Blazers would be to send him somewhere he doesn’t want to go. That makes his future home almost entirely unpredictable. If he asks out of Portland, he could land almost anywhere, so in the interest of covering our bases, let’s rank all 29 possible trade partners by their likelihood of acquiring Portland’s six-time All-Star
Tier 8: Lillard probably wouldn’t be interested
Lillard may not have much leverage, but if his goal is to contend, he’ll do everything in his power to avoid these teams, most of whom would likely rather rebuild in peace anyway.
29. Cleveland Cavaliers. Too many guards, too few veterans, limited cap flexibility and an unappealing market. Cleveland is about as poor a Lillard fit as exists in basketball.
28. Detroit Pistons. Sneaks ahead of Cleveland only because the roster makes more sense. If they swapped the No. 1 pick for Lillard, at least Jerami Grant and Saddiq Bey fit as two-way forwards next to him.
27. Sacramento Kings. As fun as a Lillard-De’Aaron Fox pairing could be, there’s just no way he’s entrusting his prime to a team with a 15-year playoff drought.
26. Orlando Magic. Warm weather, no state income taxes and a bunch of assets are appealing, but they just jettisoned all of their NBA talent.
25. Houston Rockets. Same deal as Orlando only with slightly more veterans. Check again in two years.
24. Washington Wizards. It would be so very Wizards to trade their expiring star in Bradley Beal for one with team control in Lillard, but something tells me he wouldn’t be particularly interested in joining a play-in team without its best player. Even if Beal stays… would such a partnership be that much better than the one Lillard already shares with C.J. McCollum?
22. San Antonio Spurs. Similar to Indiana, but the Spurs have so much cap space that they could least sell Lillard on potentially luring a partner in free agency.
21. Charlotte Hornets. Lillard and LaMelo Ball would be League Pass darlings, but their defense would be worse than Portland’s just was.
Tier 7: Lillard probably wouldn’t be interested, but could maybe be convinced
Lillard probably wouldn’t want to play for these teams, but there are circumstances under which it becomes feasible.
20. Minnesota Timberwolves. Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell would surely intrigue Portland, and Karl-Anthony Towns is absolutely a viable co-star. If Towns recruited Lillard hard enough, there’s a shred of hope here, but Minnesota’s defense would be horrific, and Lillard can’t afford to wait for them to fix it.
19. Oklahoma City Thunder. Nobody can outbid the Thunder. They have 18 first-round picks in the next seven drafts. If Oklahoma City wants Lillard, they get him. In fact, if they want Lillard and a second star through a separate trade, they could probably pull that off too, and that would be their ticket to enticing Lillard. The Thunder just aren’t impatient enough to do that. Eventually, they’ll make their moves, but for now, they’re still in asset-accumulation mode.
Tier 6: Don’t have the assets to trade for Lillard
These teams couldn’t trade for Lillard if they tried… barring something unforeseen.
18. Brooklyn Nets. Brooklyn has one tradable first-round pick, Nic Claxton and Joe Harris to offer. That’s not cutting it. You could argue they should put Irving on the table to get Lillard for the sake of reliability, but that opens up an entirely unrealistic can of worms.
17. Utah Jazz. In 2017, Lillard was asked on Twitter which teams he would want to play for if he had to leave the Blazers. The Jazz were one of the two teams he listed (we’ll get to the second in a bit). Unfortunately, Utah just doesn’t have the assets to get this done without including Donovan Mitchell, which they have little reason to do. The Jazz owe their first-round pick to Memphis next season, but because of its protections, the Stepien Rule prevents them from trading a first-rounder until 2026. Unless they unprotect that pick, they can only deal a maximum of two first-rounders: 2026 and 2028. The Jazz have no other young players to speak of, so they’re out of the running here.
16. Chicago Bulls. The Bulls just gave up two first-round picks (including No. 8 overall this year) and Wendell Carter Jr. to get Nikola Vucevic. Lillard would be far more expensive, and the Bulls just don’t have the assets to acquire both unless they deal Zach LaVine. If they did, they’d be left with Lillard, Vucevic and… not much else.
Tier 5: Could probably make a Lillard trade, but don’t want to
These teams lack the motivation to trade for Lillard.
15. Phoenix Suns. Phoenix doesn’t have access to most of its first-round picks right now because of the protections on the pick sent to Oklahoma City for Chris Paul, but between Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Jalen Smith, they’d have more than enough young players to strike a deal if they wanted to. Of course, they already have Paul, and as tempting as it might be to give Devin Booker a younger backcourt mate, this current roster could easily win the championship in the next few weeks. Even if Paul leaves as a free agent, this group is young enough to remain competitive for years. The Suns aren’t trading for Lillard.
14. Atlanta Hawks. In a year or two, some the Hawks are going to sweep some rebuilding team off of its feet with a package built around De’Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter and/or Onyeka Okongwu, but the time for that isn’t now. The Hawks are in the Eastern Conference Finals despite injuries to Hunter, Cam Reddish and Bogdan Bogdanovic, and they have such a young team in general that they can afford to see where it goes organically before going all-in for a second star. If they do decide to push the chips in for a big name, it probably won’t be another small guard, and it probably won’t be a player in his 30s. Atlanta is still in the honeymoon period.
13. Denver Nuggets. You could make a credible argument in favor of trading the injured Jamal Murray for Lillard. Denver already lost one postseason run of Nikola Jokic‘s prime to Murray’s torn ACL. Are they willing to risk a second when a viable alternative may exist? Jokic has only two years left on his contract, and as unlikely as his departure might appear, I’d point to the mere existence of this story as proof of how quickly things can change for a superstar. There is real temptation here. Just don’t expect the Nuggets to cave into it. They looked like possible Western Conference favorites before Murray’s injury and have a chance at a decade of sustained contention if he returns at full strength. If they weren’t willing to trade that for Harden, they probably aren’t dealing it for Lillard either. They’ve resisted years of overtures for Murray, and until they give any indication that might change, we should expect that it won’t.
Tier 4: They don’t fit in any other tier
Let’s call this team the most realistic long shot
12. Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies don’t have an obvious centerpiece to this deal. Jaren Jackson Jr. has the upside to fill that slot, but would Portland want him given his injury risks? He’s due a contract extension as well, and he’s far better suited to a secondary role. They’d likely prefer a safer option here, but Memphis is so deep in terms of assets that it could choose to blow Portland away with volume. The Grizzlies have all of their own picks, plus Utah’s next season and a very valuable 2024 Warriors selection, plus a rotation so deep they could afford to waive Gorgui Dieng at the deadline just to open up more minutes for younger players. Ja Morant is an interesting co-star for Lillard. He meets the talent requirements, but how valuable would he be off of the ball? Is there enough wing defense here, especially if Dillon Brooks is in the trade? Memphis shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. They’re good enough and young enough to possibly intrigue Lillard and they have the assets to get a star at some point, but considering the teams ahead of them here, they probably can’t justify a ranking any higher than this.
Tier 3: Would only have the assets if Lillard forced the issue
These are the teams that make the most sense for Lillard, but that he probably doesn’t have the leverage to get to.
11. Milwaukee Bucks. If Kevin Durant wore a size 16 sneaker instead of a size 18, we might be talking ourselves into Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday for Lillard right now. It wouldn’t have made much sense for the Blazers, who’d just be giving themselves a deeper No. 5 seed, and the Bucks are so thin that giving up two core players for one, even one as good as Lillard, would probably be too risky to be feasible. But thinking that way would apply too much logic to an inherently illogical situation. Superstar movement fundamentally works on the basis of recruitment. Two stars want to play together so they make it happen, consequences be damned.
If Giannis Antetokounmpo told the Bucks he wanted to play with Lillard, they would do everything in their power to make that happen for him. They’d figure out the depth later, and in fairness, they wouldn’t need much of it. There’s hardly a better-fitting teammate for Giannis in basketball than a shotmaker like Lillard. But would Donte DiVincenzo, P.J. Tucker and Brook Lopez and a non-existant bench be enough to make them favorites over the Nets next season? No, but with the Bucks favored to reach the Finals, we probably won’t find out. Milwaukee just isn’t desperate enough to take this sort of swing anymore.
10. Dallas Mavericks. The trick to gruntling two disgruntled superstars is usually to pair them up. Luka Doncic needs a second scorer to overcome the Clippers? Well, here comes the NBA’s third-leading scorer. Lillard needs a remotely competent defense to hold up in the postseason? Well, The Mavericks are nothing special on that end of the floor, but they just finished 21st. Portland was 29th. Jason Kidd was one of Lillard’s preferred candidates to fill Portland’s vacancy. He now coaches the Mavericks.
And he’ll have his work cut out for him in that job because Dallas has very little to trade. Dallas currently owes New York two first-round picks, and because of the protections on the second one, they can currently trade only one first-round pick: either their 2027 or 2028 selection. They don’t have much in the way of young talent either, unless Portland is interested in revitalizing Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis is at the center of many of Dallas’ problems. Few teams in all of basketball are equipped to make multiple superstar trades. Typically, that’s a card a team only gets to play once per era. Dallas played it and built with an eye on signing a third star in free agency with its max cap space this offseason. Well, Porzingis hasn’t turned into a second star, and there isn’t a third one available on the market. Add all of this up and the Mavericks just aren’t in position to acquire a player like Lillard.
9. Los Angeles Clippers. Paul George has probably played himself off of the trading block by getting the Clippers into the Western Conference finals without Leonard, but even if he hadn’t, Portland would only be interested if it wanted to win after a Lillard trade rather than rebuild. That seems unlikely. The Clippers have a bit more in the way of rebuilding assets than it might appear. Terance Mann looks like a future starter. Ivica Zubac is still only 24. They can finally trade a first-round pick again, albeit not until 2028. Leonard will be 39 when that pick conveys. It has value… just not to a GM like Neil Olshey, whose seat is seemingly getting warmer.
The Clippers can package these things for an above-average starter if they want to, but there’s simply no way they’d win a bidding war for Lillard with that package unless the Blazers fall in love with Mann. If Lillard had a shorter contract and could threaten Portland with losing him for nothing, this might be another conversation, but for now, the Clippers just don’t have enough.
8. Los Angeles Lakers. Remember that 2017 tweet in which Lillard cited the Jazz as one non-Blazers team he’d be interested in playing for? The Lakers were the other. Lillard has been linked to the Lakers for years, and if his primary goal is winning a championship, they should be his first choice right now. The two things he’s always lacked in Portland have been a big scoring wing to take pressure off of him as a ball-handler and a two-way center to catch lobs and protect him defensively. The Lakers have LeBron James and Anthony Davis, literally the two best players in basketball of those specific archetypes. What they lack is shooting from the guard spots. Lillard provides it in spades. They’d fit together about as well as any trio of stars possibly could.
The Lakers can offer a deep package. Like the Clippers, they can deal their first-round pick this year (No. 22) as well as one other first-rounder (either 2027 or 2028). The Lakers valued Talen Horton-Tucker enough to hold him out of a Kyle Lowry trade, but they’d certainly change their tune for a talent like Lillard. Kyle Kuzma holds some degree of appeal to a rebuilding team. Perhaps they could reroute Dennis Schroder or even Montrezl Harrell if he opts in for more assets to send Portland.
These assets all have value. They don’t have “centerpiece of a Damian Lillard trade” value. That makes a deal unlikely, with Lillard’s intervention being the only feasible way of making it happen. Never say never when the Lakers and a superstar are involved. The basketball world said they couldn’t win the bidding war for Davis and look what happened. But their cupboard was fully stocked when that deal came. It’s not empty now, but it’s not far off, either. It would take an unprecedented degree of superstar meddling to make this happen.
Tier 2: Fringe contenders
If the top five teams pass, these teams are in the running.
7. Miami Heat. This is a courtesy listing. The Heat probably belong in the previous tier. But unlike the assets any of those teams can offer, Tyler Herro was at least formerly viewed as the realistic base of a superstar trade. The Heat might have held onto him too long, but there are certainly teams around the league that view what he did in the Orlando bubble as a better approximation of his long-term value than his sophomore season was. If the Blazers are one of them, the Heat might be able to scrape enough together to make something happen here.
That won’t be easy, though. The Heat have only one tradable first-round pick at the moment and it comes in 2028. Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn are both restricted free agents, and they will both command market-value salaries that make them less enticing as trade pieces. Precious Achiuwa and KZ Okpala are fine. They aren’t Lillard-worthy.
Would the Heat include Bam Adebayo in a Lillard package? The answer is probably no given his youth and how much the organization values internal culture-setting. Miami’s goal would be to pair Lillard with Adebayo and Jimmy Butler. They’d need all three to challenge Brooklyn. With only two, it’s hardly worth the trouble unless Pat Riley has something else up his sleeve. That is probably the only way for Adebayo’s inclusion to be feasible: turn him into Lillard, and then turn around and offer Herro with Robinson and/or Nunn to someone else for a different veteran star. That scenario is hardly realistic, though, so for now, the Heat are out of the inner circle with a Herro-based offer.
6. Boston Celtics. If Boston is willing to offer Jaylen Brown, they’re among the favorites. For now, that appears unlikely. So what can Boston offer without including Brown? They’d have to bank on the sort of deal that got Harden to Brooklyn. The Celtics have all of their own picks, so they could try to overwhelm Portland with four first-rounders and three swaps along with youngsters like Payton Pritchard, Aaron Nesmith and Robert Williams.
The problem from Portland’s perspective is that Boston’s picks aren’t nearly as valuable as Brooklyn’s because of how young Brown and Jayson Tatum are. The Rockets essentially bet that Brooklyn’s stars are so old that their later picks will be in the high lottery, but Tatum will only be 30 in 2028. Any picks attached to his team probably aren’t going to be valuable.
So that takes us back to Brown. Should Boston offer him for Lillard? The answer is probably no. Tatum and Lillard just aren’t enough on their own to credibly unseat a healthy Nets team. That doesn’t need to be Boston’s goal anyway. Brown is only 24, and if Boston manages its roster correctly, it can build a sustainable contender around him and Tatum without selling out for a short-term window. If the Celtics wanted to use all of their picks for a third core piece, it would make more sense to offer them for someone a bit younger. With that in mind, watch for them to throw the kitchen sink at Washington if and when Bradley Beal becomes available. He is only 28 and he and Tatum have a relationship from having attended the same high school in St. Louis. That is the likelier play for Boston. Lillard isn’t quite the risk Kemba Walker was from a health standpoint, but after seeing the risks of going all-in on an aging point guard, the Celtics are likely going to be cautious with their next major move.
Tier 1: Genuine favorites
If Lillard is traded, these are the likeliest destinations.
5. Toronto Raptors. If you’re looking for a dark horse in the Lillard sweepstakes, it’s Toronto. Masai Ujiri made a far riskier trade when he acquired Kawhi Leonard on an expiring contract. Now he has far more capital to work with. Theoretically, Toronto could build a deal without sacrificing any of its three core players: Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby. The No. 4 pick is a premium asset, something the Blazers could legitimately build around. Toronto owns all of its own first-round picks moving forward, so they could give Portland a huge picks-based offer. Matching salary is the real challenge, but the Raptors could get there by signing-and-trading Kyle Lowry to a third team while sending its mid-tier salaries (Aron Baynes, Chris Boucher and Rodney Hood) to the Blazers. If Portland wants youngsters like Malachi Flynn and Yuta Watanabe? They can have them as well.
This would be an untraditional setup for Lillard. He wouldn’t have a typical co-star, but he’d have a nearly perfect setup beyond that. VanVleet, Siakam and Anunoby are all fringe All-Stars, but more importantly, they all defend at a very high level. Lillard knows Gary Trent Jr. well from their time in Portland, and small-ball units featuring those five players would likely thrive on both ends of the floor. The Raptors could use their mid-level exception to sign a big man and from there, they’d just have to fill out the bench with reasonable depth.
Is that team beating the Nets? Probably not, but the Raptors know firsthand how precarious super teams can be. They won their own championship with Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson sidelined. If you can bring yourself within one sprained ankle of the title, you do it. If this is on the table for the Raptors, they should go for it.
4. New York Knicks. Constructing a package here isn’t hard. The Knicks own all of their own first-round picks, plus two extras from Dallas. RJ Barrett is a possible star still playing out a rookie deal, and the Knicks have enough cap space to absorb Lillard outright, so this deal could have the added benefit of saving Portland cash. With Immanuel Quickley, Mitchell Robinson and Obi Toppin as possible throw-ins, the Knicks certainly have enough to make a deal… if they want to.
Whether or not they want to is the more interesting question here. Say the Knicks sell the farm for Lillard. Then what? What does a Lillard-Julius Randle tandem really accomplish without a dominant supporting cast? Probably not much. They could feasibly acquire Lillard on the hope that someone else follows given the appeal of the New York market, but there isn’t an obvious third guy coming. Kawhi Leonard is the only superstar free agent this offseason, and he’s expected to remain in Los Angeles.
In that sense, it might make more sense for the Knicks to hold off and wait until they have a clearer plan for building around a star addition. If, for instance, Leonard were to tell them “trade for Lillard and I’ll sign here,” then it would make sense to go all out for Lillard. Otherwise? The Knicks don’t have to rush. They have a good thing going here. This is the Knicks we’re talking about, though. History says that when they think they have a chance to add a star, they do it and ask questions later.
3. New Orleans Pelicans. The Thunder can outbid anyone for the superstar du jour, but the Pelicans aren’t far behind, and with Zion Williamson already looking like a star, they don’t have to be patient if they don’t want to. A Lillard-Williamson pick-and-roll would instantly become the most dangerous two-man game in basketball. Lillard uses screens so far from the basket that blitzing him would effectively become impossible. Williamson with a head of steam in a 4-on-3 would be un-guardable out of the short roll.
Portland could receive any sort of package it wants from the Pelicans. Want young players? Take some combination of Brandon Ingram, Jaxson Hayes, Kira Lewis, Nickeil Alexander-Walker or their restricted free agents (Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart). Picks more your speed? The Pelicans have 11 of them in the next seven drafts. Assuming Oklahoma City doesn’t get involved, the Pelicans will start the bidding with the most to offer. The question is how much they’re willing to give to pair their 20-year-old superstar with a teammate a decade older than him. If the Pelicans are concerned with keeping a coherent timeline, take them out of the hunt. If not? They’re right in the thick of this.
2. Philadelphia 76ers. Does Portland want Ben Simmons? If the answer is yes, there’s a deal here. It might involve Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle and more picks, but there is a workable framework if Portland believes Simmons makes sense as their franchise player.
Houston preferred picks to Simmons. They were criticized for it at the time, but now? They’ve come out of the Harden deal looking very, very smart. Simmons might be a franchise player in the right framework, but does Portland want to overhaul its franchise to give it to him? That remains to be seen.
The Philly side of the equation is cleaner: if they can pair Lillard with Joel Embiid, they should do it. Having two of the best 11 players in basketball makes you an instant title contender, and while they’d be less talented than the Nets, they’d have one of the few players in basketball that poses real matchup issues for them in Embiid. None of this matters if Portland doesn’t want Simmons, though, so if he’s not their cup of tea, the 76ers tumble down this list immediately.
1. Golden State Warriors. Who cares if Lillard and Stephen Curry would struggle defensively in the same backcourt? Irving and Harden are on the same team. The modern NBA has shifted so aggressively toward offense that a team with Lillard and Curry would need hardly anything on the other end of the floor to survive. That they’d have Draymond Green, a far better defender than anyone Brooklyn has or can reasonably acquire, would just be a bonus. Klay Thompson might be the third-best shooter on this team. Good luck tracking him, Curry and Lillard off of the ball at once while Green stands at the top of the key, just waiting for one of them to make it around a screen for yet another easy bucket.
James Wiseman isn’t quite as valuable as he was a year ago, but he’s still a former No. 2 overall pick. The No. 7 and 14 picks this year hold a fair bit of value to a rebuilding team, and Golden State can offer its own picks in 2026 and 2028 to the Blazers as well. If Golden State is built around four stars in their 30s, those picks suddenly look incredibly valuable.
Lillard is an Oakland native, but he’s taken a backseat to Curry in the Bay Area for obvious reasons. There could be no more fitting end to his career than returning home and winning a title that would not only cement his legacy, but Curry’s as well. There are teams that can offer Lillard a chance to win and there are teams that can offer Portland a worthwhile rebuilding package, but the Warriors are the team best-positioned to do both, and given his background, they are likely the realistic suitor Lillard is most likely to push for. This is an offensive match made in heaven, so to hell with any defensive concerns. If the Warriors can get Lillard, they should do everything possible to do so.