The latest report by Yahoo! Sports on Damian Lillard makes it seem more likely than ever he could be on his way out of Portland. If that ends up being the case, here are six teams that could make varying levels of sense as landing spots for the six-time All-NBA selection...
Let's start with the most obvious one. The Blazers have a disgruntled superstar, while the Sixers have a young star in Ben Simmons who might be ready for a fresh start after their highly-scrutinized playoff exit. They are very different players, but technically play the same position. And they both make a lot of money, so it wouldn't be hard to match salary.
Lillard would go to Philly and team up with Joel Embiid for one of the best one-two punches in the league, while Simmons would land in Portland with the stage set to become their franchise player. It wouldn't be a one-for-one deal, as the Sixers would have to add some pieces to line the money up and close the gap in player value. But it would make sense for both sides, as the Sixers could speed up their timeline to compete for a title, while the Blazers would get a head start on building another playoff roster.
Newly-appointed President of Basketball Ops Brad Stevens already made a big trade to kick off his tenure in the front office by shipping out Kemba Walker. That leaves them with a need at point guard as they enter an offseason destined for more changes. Maybe a trade package centered around Jaylen Brown could get Portland's attention.
The Blazers could move forward with a 24-year-old who just made his first All-Star team and brings value to both ends of the floor. That could make him a more attractive option than Simmons. Meanwhile, the Celtics would pair Lillard with Jayson Tatum and have two top-15 players. Those guys would be tough for opposing teams to keep up with, as both are elite of the elite scorers. They would be a nightmare to defend, especially late in games.
New York has been a commonly speculated landing spot because they have some momentum as a franchise and a good group of young players to deal from, highlighted by R.J Barrett. Given Lillard's value and salary, it would take a lot more than that. They would probably also have to include some collection of Obi Toppin, Mitchell Robinson and/or Immanuel Quickley, with draft picks on top of that. Whatever they keep from that mix would be a bonus.
If they did get Lillard, and kept Julius Randle, the Knicks would have a decent duo to lead the charge, but would probably need more to contend with the top teams in the East. They wouldn't have much left to offer in a trade. Though they would have cap room and the prospect of playing with Lillard (and in New York) to offer, free agency is a risky endeavor if you're counting on it, as they well know.
Any time a superstar player is available, the Miami Heat are going to take notice and probably at a minimum consider making an offer. That's Pat Riley's style and it has worked well for them over the years. Now, getting a deal done for Lillard may be easier said than done, as it all depends on what the Blazers want in return. If it's a package of players that allows them to continue competing for the playoffs, the Heat can help with that. If Portland wants high-level first round picks, Miami would be out of the mix.
The other problem would be that Miami's big contract is Jimmy Butler's and he's already been there, done that with the Sixers. So, maybe it would require a three-team deal. But if the Heat could somehow land Lillard and keep Bam Adebayo and a few others, they would have a good chance to be contenders.
This one is a little outside the box, but it could make some sense if the Wolves want to get more aggressive in their quest to contend with Karl-Anthony Towns. In a sense, there's no real rush since he's 25 and under contract for three more years. But given they haven't done much of anything since drafting him, those three years could be seen as an important window if they want to capitalize on the luck of landing such a talented player in the draft.
The key might be Anthony Edwards, last year's No. 1 pick who closed the season so strong he finished second in rookie of the year voting. Edwards is an intriguing talent, but if they don't feel he will reach his potential fast enough to line up with Towns, it could make sense to sell high and early to get a player like Lillard, who would instantly vault the Wolves back into the playoffs. Minnesota could look at what happened to them with Kevin Love as a precedent. The Cavs traded two first overall picks to the Wolves for Love and won a title, meanwhile the Wolves were so bad they picked first the next year and have only made the playoffs once since the trade.
The Wizards may not be the most realistic landing spot, but they will likely consider all possibilities this summer as they aim to improve their roster in a big way, most likely via trade. For a Lillard deal to happen, they would have to get the Blazers (or a third team) to take on Russell Westbrook's contract. Westbrook just had a season in which he averaged a triple-double and career-highs in multiple categories, but a supermax is a supermax and he's going on 33. The Wizards would theoretically have to trade Westbrook plus some valuable pieces like young players and draft picks to get a deal done and even then it's questionable whether they could beat out offers from other teams.
But let's say they did add Lillard and paired him with Bradley Beal, who happens to respect Lillard a ton, as he explained back in December. That would be a really good duo, two of the top-3 scorers in the NBA, and would likely make the Wizards better, if not very good. But they would also probably need another really good player if they want to compete for a title, as teams built around their backcourts don't often win them. The 2015 Warriors were an anomaly, as you would have to go back to the 80s Pistons to find the last example before that.