Monday, March 4 2024
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Whoever is writing the NBA script has been watching too many M. Night Shyamalan movies. The stunning plot twists continued on Wednesday, when Damian Lillard was traded — not to his preferred destination of the Miami Heat, but instead to the Milwaukee Bucks, where he’ll team up with Giannis Antetokounmpo to form one of the most formidable superstar duos in recent memory.

There were plenty of players and assets involved in the three-team deal, so that means the fallout from the trade is considerable across the league. Here’s a quick look at the details of Wednesday’s reported deal.

As we continue to sort through what just happened, here are some winners and losers from the blockbuster trade that finally sees Lillard leave Portland.

Winner: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Amid extension talks three years ago, Antetokounmpo applied sufficient pressure to the Milwaukee front office that it forked over three first-round picks in exchange for Holiday. A month later, Antetokounmpo signed a five-year, supermax extension, and the Bucks wound up winning the championship the very next season.

Now, with Antetokounmpo mired in extension talks once more, he appears to have successfully lobbied the Bucks brass to swap Holiday for Damian Lillard. Antetokounmpo has consistently dropped not-so-subtle hints that he could be thinking about leaving Milwaukee, most recently saying, “if there’s a better situation for me to win the Larry O’Brien, I have to take that better situation.”

Add to the mix the fact that, according to TNT’s Chris Haynes, Antetokounmpo mentioned months ago that Lillard was his optimal choice for a teammate.

The Bucks fizzled out of last postseason in horrendous fashion, and Antetokounmpo clearly wasn’t about to watch them rest on their laurels. They’ve added one of the most dynamic offensive guards in league history, and have been vaulted to the top of championship odds for next season. Safe to say that, despite having to say goodbye to a tremendous teammate in Holiday, Giannis is a happy man.

Loser: Miami Heat

Welp. After months of speculation that it was a matter of when — not if — the Heat would land Lillard, they sit here on Wednesday emptyhanded. They lost key pieces in Max Strus and Gabe Vincent this offseason, and face the specter of further offensive struggles after finishing 25th in the league in efficiency last season. There are still pieces out there to grab — namely Holiday, who is now available — but none would have the immediate offensive impact that Lillard brings to the table.

It’s a rough day to be a Miami Heat fan, but history says Pat Riley and Co. will figure something out.

Winner: Phoenix Suns

Ayton is a walking double-double with plenty of remaining upside, but it was clear that his days with the Suns organization were numbered. Phoenix was able to swoop into the Lillard deal, sending Ayton to Portland in exchange for depth around its three stars — Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal.

The veteran Nurkic will likely replace Ayton as the starting center, while Allen is the type of knockdown shooter and secondary playmaker the Suns need. Meanwhile Little and Johnson are intriguing young players who could eventually earn rotation spots. Ultimately Phoenix exchanged one player for four, at least two of which will certainly be significant contributors, and eliminated the Ayton headache in the process.

Loser: Jrue Holiday

Holiday will likely end up on another contender sooner rather than later, as the rebuilding Blazers reportedly have no intention of keeping him, but this one has to sting. Just days before the Lillard trade was reported, Holiday told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that he wanted to retire as a Buck.

“I don’t want to play for any other team,” Holiday said. “I think we have a chance to continue to do great things as the Bucks team and organization so I want to be in Milwaukee.”

Look, Holiday will be fine. He’s owed $72 million over the next two seasons, is widely considered to be the best defensive guard in the NBA, and will probably soon find a home on a contending team. Still, getting traded mere hours after saying he wants to retire with the Bucks is just brutal.

Give the Blazers credit for sticking to their principles. They clearly didn’t like the offers that Miami presented over the course of the summer, and they refused to give into the pressure coming from Lillard and his agent. Joe Cronin and his staff found a deal that suited them, netting a 25-year-old former No. 1 overall pick in Ayton, an unprotected first-round pick, and Holiday — who will likely be flipped for further assets.

Reports indicated that the Blazers weren’t interested in Tyler Herro, which made the Heat’s potential offer considerably less appealing. If that’s the case, Portland did well by looking toward different suitors with Milwaukee and Phoenix.

Loser: Eastern Conference contenders

Not a great day for the Celtics, 76ers, Cavaliers, Knicks or any other team that fancies themselves contenders in the Eastern Conference. The addition of Lillard makes Milwaukee absolutely terrifying, and going up against him and Giannis on a nightly basis is the stuff of nightmares for a defense. Boston made some changes of its own, bringing in Kristaps Porzingis, but it appears that Milwaukee has won the offseason arms race … for now, at least.

Winner: Deandre Ayton

There’s nothing like a fresh start, and Ayton seems like a prime candidate to benefit from his new scenery. The big man clashed repeatedly with former Suns head coach Monty Williams, and there were reports that the organization as a whole had soured on him. Instead of fighting for a bigger role on a championship contender, Ayton will now be a lynchpin of the Blazers’ impending rebuild and will get as many touches as his heart desires as he explores his full potential.

We’ve seen a lot of young players benefit from trades early in their career, and Ayton will look to add his name to the list.



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