Following months of speculation about where the Portland Trail Blazers would deal the all-time leading scorer of their franchise following his much-publicized request to be traded to the Miami Heat, Damian Lillard was dealt to the Milwaukee Bucks as part of a three-team deal that also included the Phoenix Suns.
The deal, which sends Jrue Holiday, Deandre Ayton, Toumani Camara, Milwaukee’s 2029 unprotected first-round draft pick and future swap rights to the Blazers, puts Lillard alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo on a Milwaukee roster that still boasts most of the key pieces that helped the team win a championship just two seasons ago.
Losers in the first round of the playoffs last season, the Bucks are now the favorites to win the NBA championship thanks to the addition of Lillard. Whether or not that will happen is a great unknown, but attaching Lillard to a championship-caliber team like Milwaukee was clearly a move that signals the title-or-bust mindset of all involved.
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It was that same type of mindset that led Kevin Durant, who was drafted by the Thunder (Seattle Supersonics at the time) and played in Oklahoma City for nine seasons before leaving to join the Golden State Warriors. Durant, who won two titles with the Warriors and won NBA Finals MVP both times, was roundly ripped for his choice because the perception was he was leaving a longshot to join a sure thing. He couldn’t beat ’em, so he joined ’em.
Why isn’t Lillard, who was drafted by the Blazers and played in Portland for 11 seasons, getting the same criticism?
Maybe it’s because the Bucks are not as glitzy as the Warriors. Maybe it’s because Lillard is not nearly as polarizing a player as Durant. Or maybe it’s because Lillard stuck it out a bit longer in Portland than Durant did in OKC.
For whatever reason, the fact that Lillard helped orchestrate a deal that a team that still has players from its championship squad, including Pat Connaughton, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis, Thanasis Antetokounmpo and his big brother Giannis, has not been called a ring-chasing move. It totally is — and it’s fine.
Lillard was in Portland for more than a decade and was the face of a franchise that desperately needed a star player to attract talent to a team that has traditionally struggled to land free agents. The Blazers got their share while Lillard was in town, but were never really close to getting over the hump and contending for a title. Already 33, Lillard needed to make a move for a shot at a title. That’s what this trade to the Bucks is, so let’s call it that. It’s nothing better, or worse, than what Durant did when he went to the Warriors to get himself a ring or two.
What is a bit worse is Lillard having a pre-recorded rap song ready to go once the ink was finalized on the trade: