The Raptors Are In On The Half-Assed Hunt For Damian Lillard

The antistory of the NBA offseason is the standoff between the Blazers and Damian Lillard. But there’s finally some new juice. To catch you up on the non-events to date: Portland set themselves up to rebuild around the newly selected No. 3 pick Scoot Henderson, but the 33-year-old, 11-year Blazer veteran Lillard wanted out to pursue a title, and he said on July 1 that he intended to go the Heat in particular. Miami made its advance. ESPN recently reported that their package “included” Tyler Herro and two first-round picks. That offer has been sitting on the table for three months, congealing, as the teams reportedly cut off trade talks. Eventually the league chastised Lillard and his agent for suggesting that the point guard wouldn’t suit up if traded to a non-Miami team. More nothing happened.

Finally, on Monday, with the regular season just a month away, there were abrupt signs of life. Marc J. Spears of ESPN reported that the Toronto Raptors had become “front-runners” in pursuit of Lillard. You might be wondering, Does that mean that a pact is close to being imminent? Fortunately Spears answered that extremely common question with some high-level Shamsism: “While the Raptors have had recent conversations with the Blazers about Lillard, no pact was close to being imminent as of Monday morning, according to a source.”

But a hypothetical trade to the Raptors can’t be all that far away. Spears said that NBA executives expect Lillard to be traded before media day, which is Oct. 2 for most teams, the day before practices begin. If Miami intends to beat Toronto’s offer, they won’t have much time to dawdle. Spears listed the Bucks, Celtics, Sixers, and Bulls as other potential suitors.

There’s a heavy “Gift of the Magi” aura around this hypothetical Lillard trade to the Raptors. For the majority of Lillard’s tenure, Portland was built around its skilled little backcourt. Lillard labored with sidekick C.J. McCollum for over six years of arduous bucket-getting, and while they saw some decent bigs along the way—pre-injury Jusuf Nurkic chief among them—they never had much supporting talent at the wings. Their struggles coincided with the heyday of apex wing killers—the era of Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James—making the Blazers’ contrast with postseason foes that much starker. I often wondered how good Lillard would look with a larger co-star sharing some of the scoring burden.

Now, suddenly, he might see himself traded to a Toronto squad that has elected to build the whole airplane out of wings. Raptors’ president Masai Ujiri’s roster construction has been nicknamed “Project 6’9″,” with varying proportions of love and derision, depending on who’s talking and when. A scan at their active roster does in fact reveal twelve players between 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-9. Toronto could offer Portland some combination of Pascal Siakam (excellent scoring wing), Scottie Barnes (mystery-box “versatile” wing who might not end up being that good at anything), O.G. Anunoby (jacked three-and-D wing), and 2023 first-round pick Gradey Dick (sharpshooting wing). That’s a lot of interesting wing to choose from! The trick for the Raptors, however, is holding onto enough of them to justify bringing Lillard on at all.

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