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Rumor: Knicks watching Damian Lillard situation, would offer multiple first-round picks

Portland Trail Blazers v New York Knicks

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 6: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers shoots a free throw during the game against the New York Knicks on February 6, 2021 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

Damian Lillard has said he wants to retire a Portland Trail Blazer. The league’s most low-maintenance superstar, he has said he wants to bring a title to Portland, not chase one elsewhere. Lillard is a Portland icon and likely the greatest player in franchise history.

However, with Portland stumbling into the end of this season and looking headed for another first-round playoff exit, the buzz around the league has been growing that Portland needs to make bold changes, or Lillard may not be so low maintenance. A recent story by Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports — someone who has a good relationship with Lillard — saying more needs to be done in Portland could be interpreted as Lillard’s camp sending a message.

The Knicks are watching all this and waiting, willing to bring Lillard in to be their superstar with Julius Randle, reports Marc Berman of the New York Post.

If the Blazers make Lillard available, the Knicks will be ready to pounce.

It’s almost a perfect match. The Knicks have a trove of first-round picks, young prospects and a league-high $60 million in cap space to absorb his contact, which is worth $176.3 million over the next four years, according to Spotrac. They also have assistant coach Johnnie Bryant, a fellow Oakland, Calif., product with whom Lillard shares a close bond...

According to one league executive, the Knicks likely would be willing to trade three or four of their first-rounders in a deal for Lillard if that means they can hold onto Barrett and Obi Toppin.

A few thoughts here.

First, Lillard distanced himself from Haynes’ Yahoo story, saying he knew he would be linked to it when he read it, but it doesn’t represent his thinking. Lillard said he has open and candid conversations with Portland GM Neil Olshey about team building and he has felt heard.

Second, and more importantly, Portland is not going to trade Lillard unless he demands it. And, as noted before, that’s not Lillard’s style.

Much more likely is Portland looking to trade CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, and anyone else it would take to bring in a different star to pair with Lillard. There could be a roster shakeup (and maybe a coaching change, although Terry Stotts has been good for them) in an effort to turn the Trail Blazers into more of a playoff threat.

Trading Lillard would enrage the fan base and be the move of last resort in Portland.

From the Knicks perspective, it’s worth watching the situation even if nothing pans out. To be realistic, however, there is zero chance the Blazers would consider that trade without Barrett being part of the deal.

Another question for New York: Is Lillard the star the Knicks should want to chase? His talent is unquestioned — he will end up on some voters’ MVP ballots this season — and Lillard remains one of the most entertaining and underrated players in the game. However, he is an undersized 30-year-old guard with a lot of miles, a lot of wear on his body. It’s fair to ask how much longer Lillard can continue to play at this level and if he matches up well with the timelines of Randle, RJ Barrett, and the rest of the Knicks.

The resurgence of the Knicks this season has turned them into a major free agent destination again — they will get meetings with superstar free agents, and some stars pushing for a trade may say they want to be sent to New York. That is a huge step forward from where the Knicks were a few years back. However, it doesn’t mean the Knicks should jump at the first big free agent chance that presents itself — they will have options. Current team president Leon Rose has been patient in team building; he needs to continue to be when looking at superstars.

Lillard would make the Knicks better, maybe dramatically better. It just feels like an incredible longshot he ends up at Madison Square Garden, even with the Knicks on the rise again.