In a blockbuster three-team trade, Damian Lillard, the All-NBA guard and one of the greatest point guards of all time, has been traded to the Milwaukee Bucks, Thus pairing him with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Setting up one of the most frightening duos seen on a Basketball court since Shaq and Kobe or Lebron and Wade. Any team acquiring Lillard wins the deal. However, the Portland Trailblazers can feel pretty good about their return with the inclusion of the Phoenix Suns in the trade.
Let’s break down my Damian Lillard trade grades.
Deal in Full:
Milwaukee Bucks Receive: Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard Trade Grade
Damian Lillard: A
‘Dame Time’ is taking his talents to Milwaukee. Miami may have been his first choice. But arguably this is a better option. Lillard is coming off a career year averaging 32 points and 7 assists. That includes a 71-point game last season. Pairing him with likely the best or second-best player in the NBA in Giannis Antetokounmpo is huge for Lillard in his quest to win a ring to top off his hall-of-fame career.
Milwaukee Bucks: Grade A
This has fascinating ramifications for the league, and to the future of Giannis who has a player option after 2025. Reportedly, the Knicks were keeping a keen eye on the hope that Giannis may make himself available. However, this deal extinguishes that and helps the Bucks chances of tying him down to an extension exponentially. Adding Lillard gives the Bucks a massive chance to win their second ring with Giannis leading the way.
This also has ramifications for the Miami Heat, Lillard’s original desired choice. Miami had an offer recently rejected and Portland didn’t seriously engage in talks with Miami according to Adrian Wojnarowski. Milwaukee did fantastically well to pull this one off. It likely making themselves favorites for coming out of the East ahead of the Heat.
Milwaukee has likely extended its championship window. Giannis heavily desired to play with Lillard, so this is an ideal fit. Their styles should mesh perfectly in terms of spacing. Giannis can continue to dominate in the paint like no one else, with Dame providing ideal spacing on the floor for Giannis to slash to the rim. This also adds further spacing for former All-Star Khris Middleton and the excellent stretch-5 Brook Lopez.
In turn, with Lillard’s limitless range and scoring ability, it will be a case of picking your poison for opposition defenses. Packing the paint to limit Giannis, leaving the perimeter open for Lillard’s limitless range. Or do teams close the perimeter, leaving Giannis to torch teams inside? I don’t envy any team facing this choice.
The only question with the Bucks is age and injury history. This is very much a veteran team. Lillard is 33, Lopez is 35, Middleton is 32, and played in just 33 games last year. Furthermore, they’ve lost valuable depth by trading Jrue Holiday and Grayson Allen. Losing Holiday’s elite perimeter defense particularly may hurt. Depth can always be found though, and this duo makes the Bucks massive favorites to go to the finals.
Portland Trailblazers: Grade A-
I like this deal for Portland. It was time to move on from Lillard, to allow him to win elsewhere in a better situation. For a few years now, Portland has failed to put any kind of team around Lillard, which is one of the great disappointments in the league. Lillard was loyal to a fault due to his love for the organization and especially the fanbase. Undoubtedly he leaves as the franchise’s greatest ever player. Even still, it was time for both sides to part. Portland for their end of the trade should be exceedingly happy with their haul. Acquiring Deandre Ayton is both a younger and a significant upgrade to Nurkic at Center. Ayton at 25 has scope to improve. Perhaps a change of scenery can help him reach the All-Star potential, he once threatened to reach.
Acquiring the All-NBA defense of Holiday, the veteran guard will still command a strong return in a further trade; watch for the Blazers to pivot and acquire more assets for him by trading him to a contending team in need of a point guard.
Not only have they also cleared off the massive contracts of Lillard and Nurkic, but they’ve now cleared the decks for Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe, and Scoot Henderson to be the exciting future of the team.
Another win for the Blazers is the picks they received. With the unprotected 2028 swaps and 2029 pick- this is the Blazers smartly banking on the fact in 6 years, the Bucks veteran team will have moved on or retired, and Giannis will be 34. Making it a potentially valuable pick. Helping them in future trades, or as a draft asset.
Phoenix Suns: Grade C+
Phoenix trading Ayton was an obvious move, made even more obvious once Bradley Beal moved to Phoenix in the offseason to pair with Devin Booker and Kevin Durant. It wouldn’t have been a good use of resources having four max players and too many mouths to feed, and no depth. Phoenix has addressed this by acquiring some depth in return. My favorite aspect of this deal for Phoenix is acquiring Grayson Allen. He was an underrated player in Milwaukee. He doesn’t need the ball to be effective, and he’s comfortable as a role player. As a career 39.5% 3-point shooter. Plus 40% over the past two seasons from range, Phoenix have added a solid player with excellent range.
Phoenix have also added veteran center Nurkic. He’s a scoring upgrade in the post and a much better passer than Ayton. He’s a solid rebounder too, averaging over 9 rebounds per game.
However, at his age and injury history, he’s a defensive liability. This could be an area of concern to a Phoenix team that looks short of defense in their starting lineup despite being supremely star-studded offensively. Nurkic has struggled to protect the rim over the last few years. Allowing a defensive field goal percentage of 58% last year with 0.8 blocks per game. Phoenix will be excited by the scoring potential of their entire starting lineup, however. The scoring in this lineup will steamroll many teams for sure.
Phoenix also added depth in Keon Johnson and Nassir Little. I don’t foresee much of a role for Johnson this year but at 21 there’s plenty of time to develop. Nassir Little has a higher upside, and is 23 years old. Little has a better chance of carving a role.
Damian Lillard Trade Grades: All parties should be happy
Particularly Portland, who’ve gotten younger and acquired a nice haul. As for the Bucks they’ve instantly made themselves the best team in Eastern Conference, by a distance. It promises to be a lot of fun watching Damian Lillard play with Giannis.