The Damian Lillard era in Portland might be coming to an end. After a nine-year run with the Portland Trail Blazers, the 31-year-old superstar is reportedly on the verge of requesting a trade. Although he has admitted that he wants to finish his career with the same franchise, consecutive first-round exits in the NBA playoffs with no title in sight might have changed his mind.
Naturally, Damian Lillard-related NBA trade rumors started flooding the league. One proposed trade is with the New York Knicks. Several analysts and fans have fancied the idea that Dame could play at Madison Square Garden.
What would be the trade package for Damian Lillard?
New York Knicks receive: Damian Lillard
Portland Trail Blazers receive: Obi Toppin, RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, two future first-round draft picks
The New York Knicks are one of the few teams in the league that have cap space capable of making big moves. They are following in the footsteps of the LA Clippers and Brooklyn Nets. The two teams in 2019 built a foundation for a potential championship roster and showed the league that they are a destination worthy of All-star free agents.
However, the main concern for a Damian Lillard trade is that he is leaving the Portland Trail Blazers primarily because he cannot win a championship there. Will the New York Knicks be giving up the very assets that make them a playoff team? Can Lillard win a championship with the remaining Knicks players?
The remainder of the team will be comprised of Julius Randle, Derrick Rose, Elfrid Payton, Reggie Bullock and Nerlens Noel. Unless Lillard gets another star to play with, the destination might not seem attractive to him.
Does it make sense for the teams?
The New York Knicks would do anything to get a talent like Damian Lillard to play for them. Lillard would sell more Knicks tickets as he is a must-watch player and it would improve the fan-following of the Knicks franchise.
Moreover, they made it to the first round of the 2021 NBA playoffs as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. Adding Lillard into that equation would make them a strong force in the East.
The Knicks have huge cap space and signing Lillard would open up the gates for other free agents interested in playing with him so the New York Knicks would likely expand their free agency targets.
However, the Portland Trail Blazers will likely blow up the remaining team and enter into a rebuilding phase. They wouldn't just be playoff contenders with CJ McCollum and co. and the players they would get in return for Lillard certainly wouldn't be enough.
The Trail Blazers are reportedly looking for a James Harden-type package if they are forced to part ways with Damian Lillard.
As reported by Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report, an NBA agent said:
"Portland has the leverage contractually, for sure, but Dame could pull a [James] Harden and make it messy to gain leverage"
A former Western Conference executive added:
"He's a star [and stars have a lot of power in the NBA]...I think [a trade] will be agreed to mutually, but Portland will direct it."
The Portland Trail Blazers might be forced to ask for a trade and they will be left with no choice but to accept the deal that Damian Lillard wants.
What does it mean for the players?
If the trade takes place, Damian Lillard would be donning a new jersey for the first time in the NBA. He will get an opportunity to compete in the easier Eastern Conference and improve his odds at the NBA title.
For the former Knicks players - RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin and possibly even Immanuel Quickley - their career path would completely change. Just like the Rockets after James Harden departed, the Trail Blazers will enter a rebuild.
Toppin and Quickley are rookies who would go from a playoff contending team to a lottery one. Immanuel Quickley was named to the 2021 All-Rookie Second Team and had turned into a fan-favorite at New York.
Moreover, RJ Barrett is a 20-year-old guard with high potential. He averaged 17.6 points, 3.0 assists and 5.8 rebounds per game on 44/40/74 shooting splits in the 2020-21 NBA season after starting all 72 games. He would be a great addition to a young team and his production is expected to improve in the coming years.