Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Damian Lillard wanted to return to Blazers if Heat trade wasn’t possible, but request was denied, per report

The full picture of Damian Lillard’s separation from the Portland Trail Blazers is becoming clearer, and, frankly, it’s not pretty. A recent story from Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes details some acrimonious interactions between Lillard and the organization, particularly Blazers general manager Joe Cronin, leading up to the eventual deal that sent Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.

After issuing his trade request in July, Lillard made it clear both privately and publicly that his preferred destination was the Miami Heat. He and his agent, Aaron Goodwin, belabored the point so persistently that both were warned by the NBA that further similar behavior and rhetoric could result in “discipline.”

As Haynes reports, Cronin refused to engage with the Heat except for a single phone meeting during July’s Las Vegas Summer League, causing frustration from Lillard and Goodwin, who believed the Blazers were intentionally avoiding discussions with Miami to spite Lillard. After nearly two months of little-to-no communication, Portland agreed to meet with Lillard and Goodwin to hash things out on Sept. 5.

During the meeting, Lillard became convinced that Cronin had no intention of trading him to Miami. So, with training camp a month away, he decided on another course of action. Per Haynes:

Lillard then said if a deal couldn’t be worked out with the Heat, he would prefer to rescind his trade request and return to the Trail Blazers.

Cronin’s response to the seven-time All-Star was that there was no coming back.

Lillard was shocked, sources said. He said it was discouraging to hear he couldn’t return, but added that he didn’t want to be somewhere he wasn’t wanted, and he ended the meeting.

It may sting Blazers fans to hear that Lillard entertained the idea of coming back to the team, but was rebuffed by Cronin.

Ultimately, Lillard and Goodwin went back to Cronin and the Blazers with an additional two teams where he would like to be traded — the Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks. As we now know, Cronin was pleased with the three-team deal involving Milwaukee and the Phoenix Suns, and eventually pulled the trigger.

At the end of the day, both Lillard and the Blazers got what they wanted, for the most part, but it’s quite revealing that Lillard and his camp would be willing to go into such detail about their disappointment with the Portland organization — particularly after Lillard spent the first 11 seasons of his career there. Things are never clean and quiet when it comes to business transactions, but it seems like there is some extra animosity between Lillard and the Blazers that could continue to play out throughout the season.

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