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Boston Herald
Boston Herald
1 Jul 2023
Tribune News Service

NextImg:Nets’ best trade offer for Damian Lillard includes four first-round draft picks

Four first-round picks, first-round pick swaps, second-round picks — and matching salary.

It’s the best trade package the Nets can put together in a potential deal for Damian Lillard.

The Portland Trail Blazers’ superstar guard ended a years-long charade when his official trade request became public on Saturday afternoon. The Nets are among the teams that have been linked to a potential deal with the Trail Blazers, alongside the defending Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat and a sudden Western Conference wild card: the San Antonio Spurs.

The soon to be 33-year-old Lillard has a strong relationship with Brooklyn’s franchise cornerstone, Mikal Bridges, and Portland’s perennial All-Star has been linked to the Nets ever since Bridges was dealt as part of the Kevin Durant deal.

Acquiring Lillard would immediately vault the Nets back into championship contention. Brooklyn would still have assets to strike subsequent deals to bolster the roster around a new trio of Lillard, Bridges and recently re-signed forward Cam Johnson.

But can the Nets put together a deal more compelling than the competition?

The Blazers have no choice but to do right by the All-World scorer whose loyalty has kept the organization relevant for over a decade.

The Miami Heat is Lillard’s reported top choice as a trade destination. The Heat are coming off an NBA Finals appearance and desperately need a scorer of Lillard’s caliber to alleviate the load from Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo’s shoulders. Miami has the advantage in tradeable talent: Former Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro has been more impactful than any player the Nets can offer in a deal.

The Heat can also offer first-round picks in 2028 and 2030, as well as a quality veteran in Kyle Lowry to serve as a mentor to Portland’s new franchise cornerstone, No. 3-overall pick Scoot Henderson.

The Nets can offer any four of their two first-round picks in 2025, their three first-rounders in 2027, and their three first-rounders in 2029. They can include Cam Thomas, who posted three straight 40-point games when Kyrie Irving forced a trade from Brooklyn, as a focal point of the deal. The Nets’ trade that sent Joe Harris to the Detroit Pistons is not yet official, so Harris and his $20 million expiring contract can also be included in the deal.

Lillard, however, makes mega-star money: He recently signed a contract extension that pays him a grand total of $176 million over the next four years.

The Nets are already above the $132 million salary cap after re-signing Cam Johnson to a four-year deal worth $108 million. To make a deal work, they would need to send outgoing salaries that total Lillard’s 2023-24 haul: $45.6 million.

The price tag naturally shifts the focus to two of the four-highest paid Nets on the roster: Assuming Bridges is untouchable in any deal, Ben Simmons and Spencer Dinwiddie could each be components of a deal with the Trail Blazers.

Simmons is owed $77 million over the next two seasons, and Dinwiddie is in the final year of his contract and is owed $18.8 million. Simmons could be the better investment for the Trail Blazers: His stock has taken a hit due to back injuries, but if he’s able to regain his previous All-Star form, Portland could either re-sign him long-term or trade him elsewhere for additional draft assets.

Other players the Nets could include in a Lillard deal are Royce O’Neale, Dorian Finney-Smith, Nic Claxton, Patty Mills, Day’Ron Sharpe and Edmond Sumner. The Trail Blazers, who are in rebuild mode, will likely want promising young players. The Nets can also include recently drafted rookies Noah Clowney and Dariq Whitehead in a deal this summer.

Four first-round picks, future first-round pick swaps and Portland’s pick of the litter of second-round picks, plus Simmons, Thomas and Clowney, the No. 21 overall pick in June’s NBA Draft, could be the best possible offer the Nets could put together. If Portland is uninterested in Simmons, the Nets could re-work the deal around Dinwiddie and Harris with both Clowney and Thomas included in the deal.

Would that offer be the most enticing on the table? The Lillard trade demand could have a domino effect as stars move across the league.