Rockets among Damian Lillard’s most aggressive business contenders
The Houston Rockets are among five NBA teams that have recently expressed interest in a trade for Portland Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard, according to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor. Lillard averaged 28.8 points (39.1% on 3 points) and 7.5 assists per game last season.
Now 31, rumors have circulated in recent weeks that Lillard intends to request a trade. At a press conference with USA Basketball last Friday, the 6-foot-2 goaltender denied making a request at the time, but he was elusive beyond that. “I haven’t made any firm decisions on what my future will be like,” said the six-time All-Star.
In an article published Tuesday morning, O’Connor provided information on Lillard’s potential trading market. He writes:
Few team leaders expect a deal with Dame to happen this offseason. But several front office sources say the Heat, Kings, Knicks, Rockets and Sixers have been the most aggressive contenders recently.
New @alarm story about Damian Lillard’s future in Portland, which teams want it most, and whether the Blazers can make enough improvements. https://t.co/wITnJxuonq
– Kevin O’Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) July 20, 2021
Even with Lillard at 31 and the Rockets in an apparent rebuilding cycle after finishing 2020-21 with the worst NBA record, the appeal is evident. He is consistently among the league’s most dominant playmakers and scorers. And thanks in large part to James Harden’s successful business, Houston CEO Rafael Stone has a significant amount of future project capital to facilitate a deal.
It’s worth remembering that although Harden is also 31, Houston didn’t want to trade him. The Rockets preferred to continue building around Harden because they know how difficult it is to acquire a top player in the league. This could explain their interest in Lillard, who has signed until 2023-24 and has a player option for 2024-25.
Then again, the Harden saga was a clear reminder that contracts in the modern NBA aren’t particularly important. Even though Harden was signed for at least two more seasons at the time, his clear unhappiness and the ramifications of keeping a star player against his will forced the Rockets to a trade. In order for the Rockets to give up the kind of draft assets Portland is likely to need, they would likely need to have confidence that Lillard really wants to be in Houston and that he’s unlikely to change his mind. after a few months. In other words, a deal isn’t worth the Rockets if Lillard is likely to do what Harden did.
So the question becomes: Can Houston offer Lillard a better path to a championship than the current supporting cast in Portland? The answer depends on Lillard’s preferences, as well as the potential terms of a trade. For example, if the Rockets could keep Christian Wood, Jae’Sean Tate, Kelly Olynyk, Kevin Porter Jr., Eric Gordon and No. 2 pick (Jalen Green?) In the 2021 Draft, an argument can be made for this group having more advantages than the current supporting cast in Portland led by CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington. (With Lillard earning nearly $ 44 million next season, John Wall would likely have to leave Houston in any hypothetical trade for salary matching purposes.)
There is also a hypothetical world in which the No. 2 pick could be treated as the centerpiece of a separate trade, which would potentially put a second veteran star around Lillard with the Rockets.
But, even though this group is superior to Portland, is that enough to satisfy Lillard’s desire to run a title? It’s also not clear whether the Rockets could hit Portland’s asking price in a trade without involving any of the aforementioned assets. For example, if the Trail Blazers demanded this year’s No.2 pick as part of a Houston proposal, that could limit the Rockets’ appeal to Lillard – as it diminishes the support potential around him. It’s a delicate balance.
In short, all the dominoes should line up perfectly for a exchange from Lillard to Houston to make sense. This is unlikely to happen. But given his dominance as a player, Stone at least has an interest in exploring it.