Heat Lose Lillard

With one swift swoop the Milwaukee Bucks shocked the basketball world around 2:25 PM Eastern Time on Wednesday. I was literally driving in my car after picking up my daughter from school and listening to Hochman and Crowder try to make sense of the Woj bomb that sent shockwaves around the world and knocked us all off of our feet. Now we have to deal with the fallout. I was sincerely okay with Damian going to Toronto or Philadelphia. Those teams with Dame would not have been major threats to the Heat making another deep NBA Finals run in my opinion, but Dame on the Milwaukee Bucks with Giannis? That’s a problem. A major problem! Milwaukee just put the whole league in check and moves need to be made to not end up in checkmate. Especially here in Miami.

The Backstory

So the $225 million dollar question is: what the heck happened here? Here’s what we know: at the end of June, Bradley Beal became available and his preferred destinations were the Miami Heat and Phoenix Suns. He had a no trade clause enshrined in his contract, and as a result was traded to the Phoenix Suns for virtually no compensation back to the Wizards except for cap space and Landry Shamet. Chris Paul has since been moved to the Golden State Warriors. The Heat, who had long coveted Beal, opted not to make a real offer for Beal as they were of the belief that an orca prime killer whale was about to become available. Their intel turned out to be accurate as Damian Lillard finally did the unthinkable and requested a trade from the Portland Trail Blazers. I personally never thought he would pull that trigger. Not only did he pull that trigger, he upped the stakes by saying he only wanted to come to Miami. As a Heat fan, I was absolutely stoked by this development.

For anyone who says that they are tired of players trying to empower themselves by requesting the destination they are traded to, I would submit that Damian Lillard is probably not the person you want to make an example of regarding that argument. Lillard was tremendously loyal to the Blazers to a fault. By his own admission on Cam’Ron’s podcast, Dame said that he was delusionally confident in the fact that the subpar teams that Portland’s management had built around him would be enough to compete with the other perennial powers around the league. Lillard truly believed the team would make an attempt to build a true winner around him and if they did not, they would trade him to his preferred destination. This was a promise made to him by the team before he signed his extension. Where I come from, when you shake hands on something like that, you keep your word. Our word and our balls are all we have, and we don’t break those for anybody. Because Lillard signed an extension while already being under contract, he was ineligible to request a formal no-trade clause. However, he was assured by the Trail Blazers that he would not need one. That was before the broken promises.

One factual constant is that the Blazers constantly and consistently lied to Damian Lillard. They promised him after sitting him down early in the 2021-2022 season that they would never tank for a high draft pick again and would go for a championship the next year. The next season came and Lillard put up historically great numbers on high efficiency and he sacrificed his ability to be considered for All NBA 2nd or 1st team because he was again shutdown early to tank for a high draft pick that he was promised would be traded to get a high quality player to pair him with to try to win moving forward. Lillard was asked to go out and recruit other star players to come to Portland. So he did and he returned with interest from Jaylen Brown of Boston. The Blazers never reached out to Boston to inquire about Jaylen Brown’s availability as Lillard was promised. The Blazers lied to Damian about doing so. At this point, Lillard knew that he was dealing with an organization that he could not trust and a front office that was manipulating him. Namely Joe Cronin.

So Damian Lillard quietly requested a trade from the team and gave Cronin three preferred destinations: Miami, Brooklyn, and a 3rd team mystery team that did not become clear until yesterday. Damian’s only stipulation was that Cronin stop telling Blazer fans that he was still actively trying to build a winner around Lillard when it was clear they were in tank and rebuild mode. You don’t tell your star player you’re going to trade a high draft pick to get him some help and then use that draft pick to draft a younger player that plays the same exact position of your star player. However, that’s exactly what the Blazers did. Cronin agreed that he would stop using that kind of language.

One hour after the meeting, Dame Dollar checked his phone and saw that Cronin had already made another public statement about him being fully committed to building a winner around Lillard. That’s when Damian knew that it was Dame time. He was dealing with a pathological liar that he could not trust. So he went nuclear and publicly requested a trade and listed Miami as his only destination. Signals were sent out around the league that Dame would only play for Miami. This was not a player unhappy because of a lack of winning and trying to get out of his contractual obligations to his team. This was a player unhappy because of broken promises and being lied to and he was simply asking the Blazers to keep their end of the bargain and trade him to his desired destination as they promised him they would before he signed the extension contract. Dame only signed the extension he signed based on promises that were made. Promises that were subsequently broken.

Miami’s Opportunity

This was the moment that Miami had been waiting for! The offensive powerhouse upgrade at point guard that the Heat desperately needed considering the loss of talent in losing Gabe Vincent to the Lakers at the beginning of free agency in July. Miami did not need a massive overhaul considering their ability to scout and develop young talent and the fact that they just came off a dramatic run to the NBA finals a few months ago. The Miami Heat have the most playoff wins in the entire league since Jimmy Butler joined the franchise four years ago. The Heat have been to the NBA Finals twice and to the conference finals three times, but due to injuries and offensive lulls, have not been able to get over the line and hoist the Larry O’B. They have the bones of a champion and the addition of Damian Lillard could have changed all of that and taken Miami from an underdog championship contender to a prohibitive favorite.

I am not going to cover this in crystalized honey and try to convince you that this dried cactus is candy. It’s not. It’s more bitter than sour grapes and covered in thorns. The Miami Heat took a major loss on Wednesday because not only did they not get a top 75 player of all-time in Damian Lillard, but their archrival, the hated Milwaukee Bucks did. To make matters worse, they did not have to give up much to get him. Jrue Holiday, Grayson Allen, and a 1st round pick in 2029? Highway robbery! I mean if that’s the whole cost to be the boss, then I am sure the Bucks would have paid it twice. Frankly, the Bucks did not have a lot of compensation to give up anyways because it cost them three first round picks to get Jrue Holiday via trade a few years ago. They did not have the assets that Portland was looking for. Miami potentially did. Now it will be Portland’s pleasure of having to find proper compensation for Holiday via trade to finish up this deal and reveal just how badly they were finessed in the Dame trade, giving up the best player in their franchise’s history for peanuts. The hilarious part of this is that Jrue Holiday has already named six teams as his preferred destinations to be traded to and of course Miami is on the list. Is Miami on everyone’s list? It sure feels that way.

Who is to blame?

In a vacuum I don’t blame the Miami Heat or Pat Riley for not getting Damian Lillard. It is clear that Portland took a lesser trade package simply to spite Damian Lillard and not trade him to where he requested to go. Lillard privately told Portland that if they couldn’t come to a deal with Miami that he would be fine with staying in Portland. Miami or Portland. That was Dame’s updated list.

Last Thursday (September 21st), Damian Lillard received a call from the Trail Blazers telling him that he was getting traded to Miami. Damian and his family spent the day celebrating. Which is why so many reports came out that a trade last week was imminent and that Dame was going to Miami. Phoenix Suns’ insider John Gambadoro reported the trade would happen within 24 hours because he knew that the Suns would be involved as the third team and would be unloading DeAndre Ayton. Then immediately after these reports came out you had Joe Cronin releasing a statement via ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that there was no trade imminent at all. The Trail Blazers took the framework that Miami had worked on with Phoenix included as the third team and started shopping it to other teams. That’s when Damian realized that the rug was probably being pulled from under his feet and that he was being played by Cronin again. The Heat were locked out and powerless to stop what happened next.

I don’t blame the Heat or Pat Riley for not getting Damian Lillard because Aaron Goodwin, Lillard’s longtime agent said the Heat exhausted all options and tried everything they could to get this deal done and in the end, Portland just did not want to trade him to Miami. This was a small market team revolt. Small market owners who complained about being treated Ike the farm system for large market teams did not want to see Lillard go to Miami. Cronin played the victim and then victimized himself and the Heat in the process. Damian Lillard’s cousin Brookfield Deuce, who has been with Damian everyday this summer as they have worked on music videos for Dame’s rap album, went on a Twitter rampage shortly after the trade and said in Tweets that have since been deleted: “This is why players don’t come to Portland! Players begged Dame to dip for years. Took significantly less assets to play with this man. I love all the Blazers fans I’ve grown with. But that front office is shady and disrespectful and I don’t have grace for none of them.” Deuce also continued on to say, “If you’re a Miami fan. Understand y’all had a better package. Far better. This is a Blazers front office thing.”

So I don’t blame the Heat or Riley for Damian specifically, however, this is a troubling trend. This is a problematic pattern now. After LeBron left the Heat in 2014, the Heat went through a drought where only Goran Dragic requested to come to Miami. Outside of that, the Heat struck out on free agency pursuits of Gordon Hayward, Kevin Durant, and LaMarcus Aldridge despite the fact that all of those players admitted to being hypnotized by Pat’s pitches. We became a middling team who couldn’t even keep our all-time best legend Dwyane Wade from leaving. Then the revelation that Jimmy Butler wanted to be a Heat player came to fruition and completely changed our future trajectory and our fortunes.

Yet, when you look back on it, the Heat allowed Butler to be traded to Minnesota and Philadelphia because we did not want to part with young assets like Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson. Jimmy Butler has since admitted that he would have signed the extension and stayed in Philadelphia had they offered the max extension to him immediately. They didn’t. They hesitated and by the time the 76ers circled back to offer it to Butler a couple of days later, his mind was made up that he was going to Miami. So the Heat very nearly did not get Jimmy Butler either. Then when you think about players like Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal, Donovan Mitchell, and now Damian Lillard all listing Miami as preferred destinations, the fact that Miami landed none of these major talents, the fact that Phoenix got two of them, and now our hated rivals swooped in and stole the biggest one of them all from us; it really makes missing out on Damian Lillard sting a lot more. This is a pattern that Pat needs to end. Either teams still hate us for the Big 3 and refuse to work with us or we are being too arrogant and playing hardball poker a bit too much in these trade negotiations. Either way, at least one of those guys should be a Heat player right now. Especially Spida Mitchell or Bradly Beal considering how little was given up to get them.

Looking forward

With that said I believe the Heat still have a quality team capable of making another run to the Finals. Josh Richardson was basically Gabe Vincent when we traded him to Philadelphia for Jimmy. Nikola Jovic has shown some great development with his play over the summer in the FIBA World Cup. Cain and Highsmith could make an expected leap along with Orlando Robinson. Jaime Jaquez looks like a Heat culture guy that can bring some much needed additional defense on the perimeter along with perimeter shot making. Kyle Lowry still has some value as a point of attack defender off the bench and expiring contracts have value around the trade deadline. Tyler Herro (who now has to be considered the G.O.A.T. because even Jordan never went 8-0 against trade rumors), definitely has something to prove after the whole NBA media narrative this summer turned him into a bum player instead of the young blue chip prospect that he actually is. The Heat still have some moves to make. Namely, I have been saying for years that they need to target Buddy Hield and/or Myles Turner from the Pacers. Both of those players would fit Miami’s scheme perfectly and would not require crazy trade compensation.

The people saying the Heat should trade for Jrue Holiday are living in Lala land smoking an ice blue bong. While Jrue would be a great addition to the Heat, I doubt there is much of an appetite for the Heat to re-engage Portland in yet another trade negotiation. Reports are that Damian Lillard is sad because he really wanted to come to Miami and Milwaukee was not really a desired destination of his even though he and Giannis are quite close and he looks forward to playing with him. Dame wanted to stay in Portland if he couldn’t find his way to Miami, but can’t complain publicly because he was sent to a real contender with a top 3 player in the league. So he can’t make a fuss without looking like the bad guy but he is not happy about how this went down. We as Heat fans have to deal with the disappointment of missing out on maybe the best big 3 Miami would have had since the LeBron, Bosh, and Wade Avenger’s Endgame teamup. We will let the shock and pain hangover us for a few days and then brush ourselves off and try again like we always do. Fall down 9 times, get up 10. Because like Kung Fu Kenny said, “we gon’ be alright.”

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