Every year, a superstar in the NBA is unsatisfied with their situation and requests a trade and, every year, Lakers fans attempt to lay down the framework for a trade that would send said player to Los Angeles. This year, that player could be Damian Lillard.
On Sunday, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported that Lillard was unhappy with his current situation in Portland, and that if the situation doesn’t improve, he could try and force his way away from the Trail Blazers. That’s not a trade request, but it certainly feels like the preamble to one.
If things worsen to the point where Lillard asks out of Portland, the Lakers will likely be one of many teams to reach out to the Trail Blazers about their asking price. The question is: will they be able to meet it? The short answer is: Probably not.
The long answer is this:
- Lillard signed a four-year, $196 million supermax contract extension with the Trail Blazers last year, and it will kick in this summer.
- The first year of that contract is worth $39.4 million, so the Lakers would have to send at least $35 million in outgoing salary to the Blazers.
- Not including LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers have $33.7 million in guaranteed salary on their books next season, which includes Luol Deng’s dead salary. Without Deng’s salary, that number drops to $28.7 million.
- The Lakers can easily get to that number if Montrezl Harrell exercises his $9.72 million option, but in the unlikely event that happens, they’d almost certainly have to include multiple first-round picks to sweeten the deal, which they can’t do because they sent most of theirs out in the Anthony Davis trade.
- The same logic can be applied to a scenario in which the Lakers sign and trade Talen Horton-Tucker, but trading for Horton-Tucker would hard cap the Trail Blazers. Even if they view Horton-Tucker as a real asset, that’s a tough position for a team to put themselves in, as we saw with the Lakers this past season.
- The only other sign-and-trade scenario that makes some sense involves Dennis Schröder. However, the party it makes sense for is the Lakers, not Schröder, who can sign with any team he’d like as an unrestricted free agent.
So, is it possible for the Lakers to trade for Lillard? Sure, but unless Lillard’s camp forces a trade to Los Angeles a la James Harden and the Brooklyn Nets, it’s probably not going to happen. Even then, Lillard has at least three years left on his contract — he has zero leverage in this situation aside from his perceived good standing with the front office as a result of his years of service.
Maybe I’m wrong and Lillard will be in a Lakers uniform by opening night, but I don’t think I will be — there are plenty of teams that can and will outbid the Lakers if Lillard becomes available. If that leads to him leaving as a free agent in 2024 or 2025, then so be it — he’ll be in his mid-30s, and the team that traded for him will have maximized their window.
If Lillard has leverage, it’s hard to see from the outside looking in. That’s why a deal with the Lakers feels incredibly unlikely, even if it is technically possible.