Aaron Goodwin

More Details On The Three-Team Lillard Blockbuster

The Bucks were interested in acquiring Damian Lillard immediately after he made his trade request on July 1, but the deal didn’t start to come together until this past Sunday.

As Adrian Wojnarowski writes in an in-depth story for ESPN (Insider link), Bucks general manager Jon Horst told Trail Blazers GM Joe Cronin from the outset that their talks had to remain a secret or Milwaukee would withdraw from negotiations.

According to Wojnarowski, Horst didn’t want Jrue Holiday to be involved in any trade rumors, or used as leverage by Cronin with other teams to increase offers for Lillard. The Bucks didn’t want to disrupt their chemistry and hold Holiday in very high regard. That meant Cronin was unable to gauge Holiday’s market value before agreeing to the trade.

As Wojnarowski details, Horst told Cronin that the only way a deal would work is if the Blazers took their time fielding offers and eventually circled back to Milwaukee for one-on-one talks. That started Sunday evening, with both sides feeling like they had reached a breakthrough.

Cronin was determined to say patient and accept the best possible offer, per Woj, and kept details of Lillard negotiations hidden from prying eyes. Lillard’s agent, Aaron Goodwin, was determined to steer him to Miami, but Lillard didn’t have much leverage. Wojnarowski strongly suggests Cronin felt the need to keep things private from Goodwin in case he tried to tank trade talks with non-Heat teams.

One of the most fascinating and “delicate” parts of the deal was Phoenix’s involvement. According to Wojnarowski, the Blazers and Suns had the outline of a trade together for months — Deandre Ayton to Portland for Jusuf Nurkic. Cronin wanted to tie that agreement into any Lillard trade, so throughout the offseason he kept circling back to the Suns.

However, as Wojnarowski writes, due to Milwaukee’s insistence on secrecy, Cronin was unable to tell Suns CEO Josh Bartelstein the final details until the last minute. According to Woj, Phoenix knew it was getting Nurkic, Nassir Little and Keon Johnson from the Blazers in a three-team deal, but the Suns wanted another asset in return.

Cronin was unable to tell the Suns who that player was — or who he played for. Cronin did tell the Suns the mystery player’s position and gave an approximation of his salary, and Phoenix was able to deduce it was either Thunder guard Victor Oladipo or Bucks guard Grayson Allen.

Only on Wednesday afternoon — just before the trade was made public — did Cronin confirm that it was Allen, whom the Suns had reportedly been interested in for several months. According to Wojnarowski, Bartelstein, GM James Jones and owner Mat Ishbia quickly discussed and then agreed to the deal.

The Blazers were happy and relieved to have completed the deal, per Woj, and believed they did right by Lillard by sending him to a contender, even if it wasn’t his preferred destination. Shortly thereafter, Cronin was bombarded by calls inquiring about Holiday, who is now the hottest name on the trade block.

Wojnarowki’s full story is definitely worth reading in full if you subscribe to ESPN+.

Inside The Damian Lillard Trade

Damian Lillard had become more involved with the Trail Blazers over the past two weeks and was preparing to attend training camp with the team if he didn’t get the trade he requested, according to Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic.

After nearly three months of waiting, that deal came together on Wednesday, sending Lillard to the Bucks in a three-way trade that also involved the Suns. Lillard hadn’t been reconciling with Portland, the authors add, but he was working out at the team facility and interacting with coaches and teammates to show that he was willing to remain patient as the Blazers’ front office tried to find a trade.

Lillard’s agent, Aaron Goodwin, informed general manager Joe Cronin early in September that Lillard was open to participating in camp if a deal didn’t happen before then, sources tell Charania and Amick, and Lillard told team officials that he would be “fully present” for the start of the season while trade talks continued.

However, the authors’ sources say Cronin didn’t want the distraction of having Lillard on the roster when camp began and preferred to get a deal out of the way before Monday’s media day. He viewed the Lillard situation as “a cloud over the organization” and wanted the team to be able to focus on the season ahead without having to worry about Lillard’s future.

Charania and Amick provide more inside information about Wednesday’s blockbuster:

  • When Lillard made his trade request on July 1, he told team officials he only wanted to go to Miami and was expecting to be rewarded for his years of loyalty to the organization. Charania and Amick confirm the Blazers and Heat talked several times in July, but the negotiations never became “substantive,” according to the authors’ sources. Portland asked for Jimmy Butler or Bam Adebayo in its first call, and Miami eventually decided that Cronin wasn’t serious about working out a deal with them.
  • Sources tell Charania and Amick that in July and August, the Heat were willing to part with three first-round picks, multiple second-rounders and pick swaps, along with Nikola Jovic in a proposal that would have sent Tyler Herro to a third team. However, the Blazers weren’t interested and the relationship between Portland and Miami started to become contentious. It’s worth noting that Miami didn’t technically have three tradable first-round picks available due to an obligation to the Thunder and the Stepien rule.
  • Cronin began serious trade discussions around the league on September 18 and found interest from the Bucks, Celtics, Pelicans, Raptors, Timberwolves and Bulls. All those teams wanted to acquire Lillard, but they were concerned about Portland’s asking price and whether they would have enough talent left on their roster after a deal to compete for a title.
  • Tensions reached a point where Cronin stopped responding to Goodwin in mid-September, sources tell Charania and Amick, and Goodwin began to explore other options that might appeal to Lillard. He was willing to consider the Bucks and Nets, and Goodwin communicated his interest to both those teams. The Raptors also had serious interest, but Lillard’s reluctance to play there was an obstacle until the end, the authors note.
  • The authors’ sources say the Suns started discussing the framework of a Deandre AytonJusuf Nurkic trade in mid-July, but the Blazers wanted to make sure they could avoid the luxury tax when Lillard was eventually dealt. Phoenix would likely have been part of any deal with the Bucks, Nets or Heat, Charania and Amick add.

Damian Lillard Rumors: Raptors, Little, Magic, Simmons

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.

NBA Sends Memo Regarding Damian Lillard’s Trade Request

The NBA sent out a memo on Friday to all of the league’s 30 teams regarding Damian Lillard‘s trade request, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter video link via The Rally).

According to Charania, the NBA interviewed the Trail Blazers star and his agent, Aaron Goodwin, about the narrow scope of his trade request and said Lillard may face punishment if further public comments are made about only wanting to end up with the Heat.

Goodwin told two different reporters earlier this month that he had been telling rival teams it would be “futile” to engage in trade talks about his client, given Lillard’s singular focus on playing for Miami.

Chris Haynes of TNT and Bleacher Report has a full copy of the league’s memo (Twitter link). The two most noteworthy sections are as follows:

Goodwin denied stating or indicating to any team that Lillard would refuse to play for them. Goodwin and Lillard affirmed to us that Lillard would fully perform the services called for under his player contract in any trade scenario. The relevant teams provided descriptions of their communications with Goodwin that were mostly, though not entirely, consistent with Goodwin’s statements to us.

We have advised Goodwin and Lillard that any future comments, made privately to teams or publicly, suggesting Lillard will not fully perform the services called for under his player contract in the event of a trade will subject Lillard to discipline by the NBA. We also have advised the Players Association that any similar comments by players or their agents will be subject to discipline going forward.”

As Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald notes (via Twitter), it’s a little odd that the NBA has taken a harder stance on Lillard’s request given that plenty of other stars have desired to be traded to specific teams over the past handful of years, including Anthony Davis (Lakers), Paul George (Clippers) and Kevin Durant (Suns), among others. Though in fairness, I don’t recall any of those players’ agents discussing the matter publicly.

The NBA could fine Lillard up to $150K if he were to publicly say he wants to be traded to the Heat, tweets Jackson — obviously the veteran has done no such thing to this point.

John Hollinger of The Athletic believes the league is attempting to address its “oversight” of a player requesting a trade to one specific team (Twitter link). The NBA could have negotiated something about it in the new CBA, Hollinger notes, but did not.

Lillard, 33, has spent his entire 11-year career with Portland, the franchise that drafted him sixth overall in 2012. The star guard is coming off arguably his best individual season, averaging a career-high 32.2 points per game on a career-best .645 true shooting percentage.

However, the Blazers went into tank mode down the stretch of 2022/23, going 2-15 over their final 17 games to finish 33-49. Lillard had called upon the front office to build out the roster around him this offseason, but the team was unable to find any suitable deals with the third overall pick (or its young players), ultimately selecting G League Ignite guard Scoot Henderson.

Cronin: Blazers Remain Committed To Building Around Lillard

Trail Blazers general manager Joe Cronin expressed optimism after meeting with Damian Lillard on Monday, indicating that the front office is still “committed” to building around its franchise player, Bill Oram of The Oregonian tweets.

After meeting with Lillard and his agent, Aaron Goodwin, Cronin released a short statement that read, “We had a great dialogue. We remain committed to building a winner around Dame.”

While that alone won’t end the speculation about Lillard’s future, it does indicate that the veteran guard is willing to see what the front office will do this summer to improve the roster. That could impact what teams like Miami, regarded as the most likely landing spot for Lillard, will do with free agency approaching.

There was increasing chatter that Lillard might finally asked to be traded after the Blazers drafted another point guard, Scoot Henderson, in the lottery. Portland will now look for upgrades on the free agent market and via trades.

The Blazers have a key free agent in Jerami Grant and could look to move Jusuf Nurkic or Anfernee Simons via trade in order to upgrade the roster.

Cavaliers Notes: Thomas, Jefferson, Crowder, James

Isaiah Thomas has hired a new agent in preparation for next summer’s free agency, relays Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com. Aaron Goodwin will represent the 28-year-old point guard, who is expected to be out of action until January with an injured right hip. Goodwin served as the first agent for LeBron James and has other high-profile clients such as DeMar DeRozan and Damian Lillard. Thomas, an All-Star last season, has been open about his desire for a maximum contract. The Cavs own Thomas’ Bird rights because he came to the team in a trade.

There’s more today out of Cleveland:

  • The battle for the final roster spot may come down to veterans Richard Jefferson and Jose Calderon, writes Terry Pluto of Cleveland.com. The Cavaliers may not want to part with Calderon after signing him in July, so that could signal the end for the 37-year-old Jefferson, who has spent the past two seasons in Cleveland. Pluto notes that Jefferson’s salary is only $2.5MM, and 11 teams could accommodate him with trade exceptions, so the Cavs may try to make a deal rather than waiving him. Trading Jefferson could save the team roughly $10MM in luxury tax payments.
  • Former GM David Griffin tried for years to acquire Jae Crowder, whom the Cavs picked up in the Kyrie Irving deal, Pluto adds in the same story. James likes Crowder’s propensity to cut to the basket and score, and only Orlando’s Aaron Gordon ranked ahead of him in that category last season.
  • James will see his first preseason action Tuesday, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN. The Cavs have been careful with their star since he sprained his ankle on the second day of training camp, and coach Tyronn Lue wants to give his rotation players two games to get used to playing together. “If it was the season or the playoffs, he would have definitely been back by now, but it’s just being cautious,” Lue said of James’ status. “To start the season, you don’t want something like this to linger throughout the whole course of the season. So it was just smart for him to take some time off, get healthy and now he feels pretty good and we’ll try to give it a go on Tuesday.”