ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith stated on First Take Friday morning that the LA Clippers are interested in acquiring Portland Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard, who was knocked out of the postseason Thursday night by the Denver Nuggets.
“When Damian Lillard got eliminated last night, several calls have come [the Trail Blazers’] way,” said Smith, who, despite his performative qualities, has been known to be plugged into the NBA sphere. “About six or seven different teams believe they can get their hands on him. They think they’ve got a shot. One of them includes the Knicks, who’s scheduled to have about $75 million in cap space along with some picks. But also, the Clippers, the Miami Heat, and who knows what the Lakers may try to do. Stay tuned.”
It is unclear whether the Blazers, who have been bounced in the first round of the playoffs five times in the last seven seasons, have any interest in trading the 30-year-old All-Star. Lillard’s max contract extension will kick in next year, keeping him on Portland’s books until the end of the 2024-25 season. If anything, Portland might attempt to rebuild around Lillard, whether that means trading supporting players like C.J. McCollum or firing Head Coach Terry Stotts. After Thursday night’s loss, Lillard expressed to the media that changes are necessary if the organization hopes to compete for a title.
“I mean, we didn't win a championship, so obviously where we are now isn't good enough," Lillard said. "I don't know what a shakeup looks like or what changes will be made or could be made, but obviously as is, it wasn't good enough. We came up short against a team without their starting point guard and shooting guard ... Obviously, where we are isn't good enough to win a championship if it's not good enough to get out of a first-round series with two of their best three or four players not on the floor."
Whether the Clippers are aggressive in acquiring Lillard will largely depend on their own season outcome. As of writing this, they are currently on the brink of elimination themselves, with Game 6 of their First-Round series with the Dallas Mavericks set to tip off in about nine hours. If the Clippers are able to dig themselves out of this hole and go on a deep postseason run, they might elect to keep their core intact. However, if LA is eliminated in Round One just like the Blazers, the front office might be compelled to make a drastic move, especially when considering Kawhi Leonard’s looming free agency.
The obvious move would be a Paul-George-for-Lillard exchange. George signed the exact same extension Lillard did prior to this season, and he too will be locked in until 2024-25. The money works, and it would probably be an upgrade for LA (though the two have vastly different skill sets, and George is far and away the better defender), but it is unclear why Portland would want to trade one max contract for another. If they elect to deal Lillard, possibly the greatest Blazer in franchise history, they would be doing it for future assets with the goal of rebuilding. A George-McCollum tandem wouldn’t be likely to make much more headway than a Lillard-McCollum one.
There are also numerous multi-team trades to be explored, but nothing will be worth considering until the Clippers’ postseason fate is decided. Game 6 against the Mavericks tips off on ESPN at 6 p.m.