Goldberg: It’s time for Blazers GM Joe Cronin to face reality, work with Heat on Damian Lillard trade

Oct 28, 2022; Portland, Oregon, USA; Portland Trail Blazers general manager Joe Cronin looks ion before the game against the Houston Rockets at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 28, 2022; Portland, Oregon, USA; Portland Trail Blazers general manager Joe Cronin looks ion before the game against the Houston Rockets at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports /

Blazers GM Joe Cronin’s latest comments suggest that he’s being unrealistic when it comes to finding a non-Miami Heat trade partner for Damian Lillard.

When it comes to negotiating a superstar trade, there’s posturing and then there’s being delusional.

Since Damian Lillard’s trade demand at the beginning of the month, Trail Blazers GM Joe Cronin has responded as expected. Straight out of the superstar trade playbook: Star requests trade and leaks said trade request to certain reporters, organization leaks that they will take phone calls from any team not on the list of preferred destinations and are willing to wait for the ideal offer. This is posturing, and Cronin is right to do it. He wouldn’t be doing his job if he did anything less.

But Cronin’s latest comments suggest that he’s veered away from strategic posturing and is now being unrealistic when it comes to finding a non-Miami Heat trade partner for Lillard.

During a press conference in Las Vegas on Monday, Cronin said that, even though he plans to honor Lillard’s trade request, finding the right deal could take “months.”

“So I think that’s how my approach has been with this and will be with this,” Cronin said. “We’re going to be patient. We’re going to do what’s best for our team. We’re going to see how this lands. And if it takes months, it takes months.”

Cronin said he hasn’t talked with Lillard since Lillard’s trade request on July 1. Not long after the request was made public, Lillard and his agent Aaron Goodwin made it clear that the only team he wants to be traded to is the Heat, where he could team up with Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Erik Spoelstra and compete for a championship.

To this point, Cronin hasn’t found Miami’s offer suitable — a package built around Tyler Herro, either Duncan Robinson or Kyle Lowry, and at least two first-round picks. This package has been lambasted by Blazers fans and media members and has made Twitter even more uninhabitable than it already is in the Elon Musk-era.

And this is where reality must set in: Like it or not, Miami’s offer is the only offer on the table for Lillard.

Despite Portland’s best attempts to kick up a market, there isn’t one. There’s no doubt that Lillard is still one of the league’s 10-to-15 best players, but he will be 33 in a few days and is owed more than $215 million over the next four years. In a league already deep with point guards, there’s just not that many teams that make sense in terms of need or available assets. But don’t take my word for it, just take the fact that there have been exactly zero other reported offers.

The Clippers don’t have the goods. The Celtics aren’t interested. The 76ers are preoccupied with James Harden. The Spurs and Jazz, despite being floated as possibilities, haven’t made an offer.

Like it or not, it’s the Heat — and only the Heat — that make up Dame’s trade market, and they aren’t going to negotiate against themselves. So that package is the package.

Does the return meet the standards of what past stars have garnered in a trade? Of course not. But every trade is negotiated in its own context. The Blazers aren’t getting what Utah got for Rudy Gobert. As great as Lillard is, he won’t yield the same package that Brooklyn received in February for Kevin Durant.

The argument from Portland is this: Well, then we’ll just wait.

What’s going to change in the next couple of months? The draft is over. Free agency, mostly over. A Harden trade could happen, but then what? Philadelphia is able to offer Tobias Harris, Tyrese Maxey and three first-round picks? Is that really that much better than what Miami can offer right now? (Not to mention that the Sixers are reportedly unwilling to include Maxey in a trade.)

Well, Dame is under contract for four years. We have no incentive to trade him now. We’ll just keep waiting.

And then what? I don’t see a scenario where a team suddenly has a need for Lillard when he’s (a.) older and (b.) more expensive.

So let’s get real, Portland. Your only partner is the Heat. Cross your arms and turn away as much as you want, but the choo-choo train is coming. Best you can do now is accept it and work to make the most of a lousy situation.

(A lousy situation that — excuse me one moment while I clear my throat — you got yourself into! A quick rundown of how we really got here: You traded away CJ McCollum and got younger, then traded away Josh Hart at the deadline for a draft pick, then chose Scoot Henderson with the third-overall pick instead of trading it for a player Lillard’s age. All of these decisions were the right thing to do at the time but, despite claiming to be trying to build a contender around Lillard, the Blazers’ actions speak of a team rebuilding. Make no mistake, the Blazers want to trade Lillard.)

How do you do that? You swallow your pride and work with the Heat. According to the Miami Herald, despite everyone being in Las Vegas for Summer League, Portland’s decision-makers have yet to get together with Pat Riley, Andy Elisburg and Adam Simon to try to find a trade that works for both sides.

The Blazers want a “package of desirable draft picks and high-level young players” in return, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. They aren’t interested in Herro. Several teams, according to Woj, would be willing to give up at least one future first-round pick for Herro. The Heat have been working the phones, trying to concoct a multi-team trade that could include up to five teams, says ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.

One could imagine how much easier that would be with Cronin’s engagement.

“We have to do what’s best for us and we’ve got to find the right deal and find the right makeup of the team that we’re going to go forward with,” Cronin said. “You hope that you can find that perfect situation where that lines up and [Lillard] goes to a place that he wants to and you get the best return possible. It’s complicated, and usually it doesn’t work out just like that.”

To find the right deal, you have to look in places where a deal may actually exist. That hasn’t been Utah. It hasn’t been San Antonio. It hasn’t been Philadelphia, Boston or Brooklyn. It’s Miami. It’s only Miami.

For everyone to get what they want, the Blazers need to face reality and work with the Heat, not against them.

Next. Burning Qs: When will Lillard get traded?. dark