Latest on Damian Lillard, Miami Heat’s efforts to build multi-team deal

Dec 17, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) during the first quarter against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 17, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) during the first quarter against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports /

The buzz around a Damian Lillard trade is picking up, but where do the Miami Heat stand in trade talks with the Trail Blazers? Here’s the latest.

The Portland Trail Blazers have ramped up Damian Lillard trade talks with multiple teams and league insiders and personnel anticipate a trade could happen within the coming days, before training camps open across the league next week.

But among the teams to have conversations with Portland, as of Tuesday, does not include the Miami Heat. The Toronto Raptors, meanwhile, have emerged as a serious candidate to trade for Lillard despite Lillard’s stated wishes to land in Miami, sources told ESPN’s Marc Spears.

Conversations between Portland and Toronto picked up Thursday night and continued off and on through the weekend, league sources confirmed to AllUCanHeat/Locked On Heat. As Spears first reported, no deal is imminent.

The Raptors must decide if they want to go all-in on the present and trade valuable assets for the 33-year-old Lillard or keep together a young core and maintain flexibility for the future. If the Raptors do decide to make a serious offer, they can likely beat Miami’s best offer by including widely sought-after wing OG Anunoby and multiple picks (once they lift protections on a 2024 first-round pick owed to San Antonio). The Raptors are not expected to make 22-year-old forward Scottie Barnes available.

Sportsnet’s Michael Grange reported Monday that Toronto is “very much in the mix” for Lillard and is “confident they can maneuver their way to the front of the line, past the Miami Heat.” TSN’s Josh Lewenberg reported Monday that Toronto’s interest in Lillard is “real” but “a bit overstated at this point,” adding that Portland could be looking to build up Lillard’s market and gain leverage over the Heat in potential negotiations.

It should be noted that the Raptors are also a team often mentioned as a future suitor for Giannis Antetokounmpo or Joel Embiid, should either become available. Raptors president Masai Ujiri may decide it better to keep those options open rather than spend valuable assets to acquire Lillard.

Interestingly enough, despite the buzz surrounding the Raptors, it was the Celtics that one sportsbook pegged as the betting favorites to acquire Lillard if he doesn’t end up staying in Portland or getting traded to Miami. That was enough to raise some eyebrows across the league and fuel speculation.

But acquiring Lillard, who is owed $216 million over the remaining four seasons of his contract, would come at a substantial cost of depth and bump the Celtics towards the punitive second luxury tax apron. For a team already considered the favorites in the East by most sportsbooks, is acquiring Lillard worth the sizeable investment? That’s the calculus facing Boston’s front office.

As CLNS Media’s Bobby Manning wrote, “While it’s unlikely [that Boston would trade for Lillard] this late in the summer given his demands, the [Kyrie] Irving trade showed nothing’s impossible. Brad Stevens has aggressively utilized draft picks.”

A potential Celtics deal could include up to four first-round picks, including a top-four protected, 2024 first from Golden State, center Robert Williams III, Malcolm Brogdon and additional players to match Lillard’s incoming salary.

Other teams that have logged interest in Lillard include the Chicago Bulls, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks. While it seems unlikely that Chicago or Philadelphia have what it takes to get a Lillard deal done, the Bucks should at least be considered a motivated suitor in the wake of Antetokounmpo’s public demands that his front office build a contender. Any deal that sends Lillard to Milwaukee would have to include a third team that takes on Jrue Holiday and sends assets to Portland.

All of this brings us back to the Heat. Dan Le Batard echoed an earlier report by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst on Tuesday and said that the Heat won’t act like a team desperate to acquire Lillard and “overpay for someone who is 33 years old.”

A source that spoke with Portland’s front office went a step further, telling the Miami Herald that Lillard getting traded to Miami is “unlikely.”

But this Lillard situation is as baffling to league insiders as it is to fans consuming the barrage of reports. Part of the confusion stems from why it is that Portland waited this long to begin seriously engaging with teams about trading Lillard in the first place. Had the Blazers tried to honor Lillard’s trade demand when he made it on July 1, they likely would have had an easier time finding a deal when more roster spots were open and teams had more cap flexibility.

The Heat made an offer in July that included Tyler Herro and two future first-round picks. That deal would have also included one of Kyle Lowry or Duncan Robinson for salary-matching purposes. The Blazers rebuffed the offer and talks have been limited since.

But the Heat are believed to be having conversations with teams outside of Portland as they try to put a framework together to present the Blazers front office. Those talks have included the Utah Jazz, Brooklyn Nets, Indiana Pacers and Phoenix Suns, league sources told AllUCanHeat/Locked On Heat. The Suns front office is led by former Heat player James Jones. Utah and Brooklyn’s involvement was first reported by Action Sports’ Matt Moore.

Although it’s uncertain where Lillard ends up, it’s clear talks are happening after months of inaction. Portland’s talks could bring them back to the table with Miami, or they could result in a deal that sends Lillard elsewhere if a team like the Raptors decides to make a serious offer. There’s still a week until training camp begins. Don’t expect the noise to go away just yet.