Multiple reporters have linked the Raptors to Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard over the past handful of days. Sources confirm to Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca that Toronto is “very much in the mix” for the seven-time All-NBA guard.
Grange cautions that there’s still work to be done on completing a potential deal, but the two sides have made progress in negotiations.
In an appearance on the Five On The Floor podcast hosted by Ethan Skolnick and Greg Sylvander, Matt Moore of Action Network said the Raptors came close to trading for Lillard on Thursday, but downplayed their current interest.
“The Toronto stuff is just leveraging… I heard things were red hot on Thursday and again (Raptors vice chairman) Masai (Ujiri) walked away and then came back… I wouldn’t worry about the Raptors,” Moore said, per NBA Central (Twitter link).
However, Grange has heard differently, writing that from the information he has gathered, the Raptors are “very interested.”
As has been reported ad nauseam, Lillard hopes to land with the Heat, though Miami hadn’t been involved in trade talks with Portland as of a few days ago. The Magic are an under-the-radar team that could “make themselves heard” in the Lillard sweepstakes, sources tell Grange.
A Raptors deal centered around OG Anunoby, Gary Trent Jr., Thaddeus Young and draft picks would work from a financial standpoint, Grange observes. Toronto has also expressed interest in Blazers forward Nassir Little in the past, Grange notes.
That said, there are complications on a trade coming together. For starters, Lillard’s agent is Aaron Goodwin, who also represents DeMar DeRozan. Ujiri famously traded DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard in 2018, which led to Toronto’s first championship, but there was a fallout between Goodwin and Ujiri. Granges writes that the two men are believed to be on better terms now, but it’s still noteworthy.
Sam Amick of The Athletic also recently suggested Lillard might hold out if he were traded to the Raptors, writing that the 33-year-old “clearly doesn’t want to be” in Toronto. Raptors players tried to recruit Lillard a few years ago following Leonard’s departure, according to Grange, and were “instantly rebuffed.”
Still, Grange is skeptical Lillard would actually go the nuclear route, since it would tarnish his reputation and he would also lose a significant chunk of money. For example, when Ben Simmons held out for several months ahead of a trade in 2021/22, he lost about $20MM of his $33MM salary in the settlement with the Sixers, sources tell Grange. The NBA has also made clear with the player participation policy and awards tied to games played that it expects players to actually show up and perform, Grange notes.
While it’s easy to draw parallels between Toronto’s interest in Lillard and the team’s trade for Leonard, the situations are also markedly different. The Raptors had won 59 games in 2017/18 versus 41 last season — even with Lillard, the current group doesn’t seem like it’s close to contention. Lillard also has four years left on his contract and he’ll make a combined $121MM at ages 35 and 36, which carries far more risk than Leonard’s expiring deal did back in 2018.
The possible downside seems to outweigh the upside, which is why both Grange and Eric Koreen of The Athletic argue the Raptors should not trade for Lillard, even if they may have the assets to make it happen.