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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Blazers agree to trade Damian Lillard to Bucks in blockbuster three-team deal

Guard Damian Lillard is headed from Portland to Milwaukee.  (Tribune News Service)
By Ben Golliver Washington Post

The Portland Trail Blazers have agreed to send Damian Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks in a three-team blockbuster deal with the Phoenix Suns that ends a lengthy stalemate that began when the seven-time all-star guard requested a trade July 1, multiple people with knowledge of the trade confirmed Wednesday.

In exchange for Lillard, Portland will receive guard Jrue Holiday, an unprotected 2029 first-round draft pick and first-round pick swaps in 2028 and 2030 from Milwaukee along with center Deandre Ayton and forward Toumani Camara from Phoenix. The Suns, in turn, will receive center Jusuf Nurkic and forwards Nassir Little and Keon Johnson from the Blazers along with guard Grayson Allen from the Bucks. The deal’s terms were first reported by ESPN.

The long-awaited deal, which comes after months of rumors linking Lillard with interest in the Miami Heat, was agreed to just five days before Portland and Milwaukee were set to hold their respective media days. However, it provides some late-breaking clarity for both sides.

The Bucks will surround two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo with Lillard, forward Khris Middleton and center Brook Lopez as they gear up for another championship chase after winning the 2021 title. Meanwhile, the Blazers will enter a youth movement built around Ayton, 2023 No. 3 pick Scoot Henderson, 2022 lottery pick Shaedon Sharpe and scoring guard Anfernee Simons, with Holiday as a possible trade piece or a veteran mentor for their stable of young guards.

Milwaukee has faced public pressure from Antetokounmpo to go all in multiple times this summer. Swapping Holiday for Lillard will give the Bucks, who were bounced by the Heat in the first round of the playoffs, a proven late-game scorer and shot-maker to address late-game offensive woes that have plagued them in postseasons past.

Lillard, 33, spent the first 11 seasons of his career in Portland, where he became the franchise’s all-time leading scorer and a seven-time all-NBA selection. Taken with the sixth pick in the 2012 draft out of Weber State, Lillard quickly established himself as the 2013 rookie of the year and ascended to franchise player status when LaMarcus Aldridge left for the San Antonio Spurs in 2015.

An elite scorer known for his deep shooting range and clutch heroics, Lillard led Portland to the playoffs eight times, famously hitting series-clinching shots against the Houston Rockets in 2014 and the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2019. Though Lillard led the Blazers to the 2019 Western Conference finals, their first appearance in the NBA’s final four since 2000, Portland missed the postseason in each of the past two seasons as it entered a rebuilding cycle.

After winning a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, Lillard played just 29 games in the 2021-22 season because of an abdominal injury that required surgery, and Portland traded several veterans before slipping in the standings. He returned last season to average a career-high 32.2 points along with 4.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game, but the Blazers shut him down in March and lost 16 of their last 17 games in preparation for the NBA draft lottery.

While Lillard hoped the Blazers would pursue veteran talent via trade so they could return to the playoffs, Portland instead selected Henderson, a 19-year-old point guard who seemed destined to eventually become Lillard’s heir apparent. That decision prioritized the franchise’s future over its present, setting the stage for Lillard’s trade request, which included the desire to be sent to the Heat.

Portland made no other additions of consequence this summer as General Manager Joe Cronin pledged during Las Vegas Summer League in July to be patient exploring the trade market. More than two months later, he found a deal that will free the Blazers from the pressure to build an immediate winner and set up what will probably be a multiyear rebuilding effort. Lillard’s 11-year run in Portland was tied for the third longest of any active player with the same franchise, trailing only Golden State Warriors stars Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

By trading for Lillard, Milwaukee will assume the four years and $216 million remaining on his contract. With Antetokounmpo, Lillard, Middleton and Lopez, the Bucks will hope this trade helps extend their championship contention window for another two seasons and convinces Antetokounmpo, who can become a free agent in 2025, to remain in Milwaukee. The Bucks made a similar trade for Holiday in 2019 that kept Antetokounmpo in town and aided their 2021 title run, which was the franchise’s first championship in 50 years.