The Portland Trail Blazers are trekking into potentially problematic territory with star guard Damian Lillard. As a result, the Blazers may see Lillard playing elsewhere to compete for an NBA title. The Los Angeles Lakers could emerge as a landing spot, but that scenario may solely depend on his actions behind the scenes.
Damian Lillard may force his way out of Portland
The Trail Blazers are coming off their fourth first-round playoff exit in the last five years, shifting the focus toward Lillard’s future.
The 30-year-old remains steadfast in his unwavering commitment to Portland despite the team’s inability to contend for an NBA title. However, as he’s set to embark into the first year of his lucrative extension, rumors have begun to sprout concerning a possible fracturing relationship with the Blazers.
It has created dialogue concerning trades, with the Lakers as a potential landing spot.
Lakers’ hopes of landing Damian Lillard rest on him pulling strings
The developing situation in Portland pushes the Lakers into the picture as a potential trade destination.
Los Angeles’ interest in the 30-year-old would likely stem from pairing him alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. However, the Lakers hold several hurdles in the way of making that scenario even feasible.
As Christian Rivas of Silver Screen and Roll points out, the front office has several issues that could flare up with formulating a legitimate trade offer. Lillard will begin his four-year, $176.2 million extension next season will pay him $39.4 million for the 2021-22 season. The Lakers will have to move at least $35 million in salary to match the financial requirements.
Outside of James ($41.1 million) and Davis ($35.3 million), the Lakers are projected to have roughly $33.7 million in guaranteed salary next year. That figure includes Loul Deng’s $5 million dead salary, dropping the number down to $28.7 million without it.
The Lakers could exceed the $35 million if Montrezl Harrell exercises his $9.72 million player option next season. However, that scenario appears unlikely given how his role progressively diminished this past year.
The only other realistic option is Dennis Schroder agreeing to a sign-and-trade to Portland, which he holds complete control over his free agency fate. A third team could also become involved to help facilitate the financial impact.
With all those factors not favoring the Lakers, the only scenario left is Lillard making a personal push. The star guard would need to voice that he wants out, with Los Angeles being his only desired landing spot. He certainly holds a strong enough standing with the organization that should give any request serious consideration.
Until Lillard heads that route, any chance of him donning a Purple and Gold uniform remains slim.
Kyle Lowry may be a more viable option
Although there is mass appeal for the Lakers and the fan base to acquire one of the game’s best players, other feasible options could emerge.
Early reports indicate Los Angeles may again explore acquiring All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry. The franchise nearly acquired him in a blockbuster trade deadline move, but the reluctance to include Talen Horton-Tucker in any package prevented the transaction.
Lowry will hit the free-agent market this upcoming summer, making a sign-and-trade the only plausible route ahead. The Lakers could attempt to include free-agent-to-be Dennis Schroder if he agrees to the scenario. Meanwhile, the team can offload Kyle Kuzma, who will begin his three-year, $39 million extension he inked last December.
Kuzma will have a $13 million salary for the 2021-22 season that could help ease the financial burden from Lowry’s potentially lucrative contract. Ultimately, landing Lillard may be a pipe dream at this point. However, it’s hard to envision the Lakers not making significant offseason moves to construct another championship-contender team.
Contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.