For almost 12 seasons now, Damian Lillard has been a premier player in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Averaging 32 points (PTS), five rebounds(REB), and seven assists (AST) last season, the seven-time all-star has defined himself as one of the greatest point guards in the modern NBA. Since joining the league in 2012, Lillard has carried the Portland Trail Blazers to the NBA playoffs eight times but has no finals appearances to show for his efforts. The team that he had been loyal to for the past 11 years made no effort to build around their star player, which took a toll on Portland’s and Lillard’s success. With his desire for a championship and his disappointment in the team at its peak, Lillard demanded a trade. On September 27, Lillard found himself on the Milwaukee Bucks through a blockbuster three-team trade that also sent Center Jusuf Nurkic, Small Forward Nassir Little, and Shooting Guards Keon Jonhson and Grayson Allen to the Phoenix Suns, heavily changing the power dynamic of the league as a whole.
In exchange for Damian Lillard, the Portland Trail Blazers received Jrue Holiday, Deandre Ayton, Toumani Camara, and an unprotected 2029 Bucks first-round pick. Putting up averages of 19 PTS, five REBs, and seven AST last season, Jrue Holiday is a solid contributor on the court but does not hold nearly the same value and impact that Damian Lillard has. Even with the unprotected 2029 first-round pick in their hands, the Trail Blazers still have a massive talent gap in their roster with the loss of Lillard. Deandre Ayton, who averaged 18 PTS, 10 REB, and two AST, is, again, a solid contributor on the court, but does not bring the significant value that would fill the hole in the Trail Blazer’s roster that Lillard left. Finally, Toumani Camara is a second-round draft pick who is yet to prove himself in the league, so unless he ends up being one of the best forwards in the NBA in his first year, Portland loses this trade in the long run.
On the Phoenix side of things, Jusuf Nurkic was underwhelming at best as the starting center for Portland last year, averaging 13 PTS, nine REB, and three AST per game last year. In terms of the exchange for Deandre Ayton, Nurkic’s trade value is well below Ayton’s trade value, even though both are role players at best. Nassir Little, a rotational player averaging seven PTS, three REB, and one AST per game, doesn’t add much value to the exchange with Ayton, and neither does Keon Johnson, who only averaged five PTS, one rebound, and two AST last year. Grayson Allen adds the most amount of value to the trade behind Nurkic, averaging 10 PTS, three REB, and two AST last year, but even with each of these combined prospects, Phoenix still failed to fill the hole left by Ayton, just like how the Trail Blazers failed to fill their talent gap.
Although they weren’t present in the trade, the Miami Heat also lost as a result of the three-way trade. Miami had had their eyes on Lillard for the past year, considering trading Tyler Herro and future unprotected first-round picks for the Portland guard. Lillard had been interested in the team as well, even taking multiple visits to Miami. The prospect of teaming up Lillard with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo would have most certainly, in Miami’s view, lead them to a championship. But, with Lillard in Milwaukee, Miami’s dream cannot be made into reality.
Finally, what does the addition of Damian Lillard mean to the future of the Bucks and the power balance in the NBA? The fact that Lillard, an all-time talent, is teaming up with one of the best forwards in NBA history, Giannis Antetokounmpo, brings immense optimism in regards to the Buck's future. Averaging 31 PTS, 12 REB, and six AST last year and leading Milwaukee to a nearly 60-win season, Antetokounmpo was one of the front runners in the MVP race. In the playoffs, however, the Bucks were unfortunately eliminated in the first round by the Miami Heat. But with Lillard on the team, this could change. Giannis’s power and strength, combined with Lillard’s innate skill and vision, make a recipe for success. Similar to how Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant dominated the NBA in the early 2000s, the skillful guard and strong big man combination can lead to success. With other great teams in the Eastern Conference, such as the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, success may not be as guaranteed as some may assume. But, if the combination of an unstoppable force and an incomparable skillset works out, these teams may have a tough time slowing down the Bucks offense. With Milwaukee’s new roster depth, I believe that there may as well be a new dynasty in the NBA; a future of greatness is most certainly ahead of them, and maybe even a championship.