Damian Lillard Trade: Bucks title favorites after acquiring star guard in three-team deal with Blazers and Suns

By Zachary Cohen  ( Senior Editor) 

September 30, 2023 02:19 PM

Milwaukee Bucks land Damian Lillard in three-team deal with Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns

After months of hearing about Damian Lillard’s desire to be traded to the Miami Heat, the Portland Trail Blazers finally pulled the trigger on a deal involving the seven-time All-Star. But the Blazers didn’t send their former franchise player to his preferred destination. Instead, Portland struck a three-team deal with the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns, with Jrue Holiday, Deandre Ayton, Toumani Camara, a 2029 unprotected first-round pick and first-round pick swaps in 2028 and 2030 going to the Blazers. Lillard now finds himself playing with Giannis Antetokounmpo with the Bucks. And the Suns landed some much-needed depth, acquiring Jusuf Nurkic, Grayson Allen, Nassir Little and Keon Johnson.

Milwaukee clearly felt that things had grown stale with Holiday at the point guard position, and the team needed to do something big in order to keep Antetokounmpo happy. There had been rumblings that he might be one of the next superstars to demand a trade. In Lillard and Antetokounmpo, the Bucks now have one of the best duos in the entire league. And that pair is flanked by some good complementary pieces, like Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez.

DraftKings Sportsbook clearly loves the move for the Bucks, as they were +850 to win the NBA Finals before the deal. Milwaukee is now +400 to win the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy, making this team the betting favorite to win it all this year. The defending champion Denver Nuggets sit at second on the odds board, as they’re listed at +475 to pull off the repeat. DraftKings Sportsbook also has Milwaukee as a -380 favorite to win the Central Division and a +165 shot to win the Eastern Conference. Before the trade, those odds were -230 and +330 respectively.

Lillard is coming off a season in which he averaged 32.2 points, 7.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game, and he did so on 46.3% shooting from the field and 37.1% shooting from deep (on 11.3 attempts per game). He is still one of the most explosive scorers in the game, even at the age of 33. And he was third in the league in Estimated Plus Minus last year. That’s a great sign considering it’s one of the more accurate catch-all metrics you’ll find.

The Suns didn’t experience any sort of seismic shift in the odds — they’re at +650 to win the title — but they did make out well in this deal. Depth was a major issue for Phoenix after last year’s move to acquire Kevin Durant. But the Suns did a good job of adding quality free agents after swapping Chris Paul for Bradley Beal earlier in the summer. And this deal netted them three rotation players to put around the trio of Durant, Beal and Devin Booker. Considering Ayton had been unhappy in Phoenix — and his teammates reportedly weren't thrilled with his effort — it’s hard not to love what the Suns were able to do.

Nurkic isn’t quite as mobile as Ayton defensively, but he plays hard every single night. He’ll give Phoenix a little extra toughness inside, and he’s also an underrated playmaker at the center position. Meanwhile, Allen is an absolute sniper from deep, as he has been right around 40.0% from three in each of the last three seasons. It isn’t hard to see how he and Little, an emerging three-and-D wing, might fit next to some of Phoenix’s ball-dominant offensive players.

As for Portland, it was simply time to move on from Lillard. And the team ultimately decided that Miami wasn’t offering enough. The Blazers will likely try to move Holiday, one of the best two-way guards in basketball, for additional draft picks. And if they can’t, Holiday will be a very good mentor for Scoot Henderson, the third-overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. There aren’t many betting implications for the Blazers as a team, as they weren’t going to be contenders even before this deal. But Henderson is arguably the best bet to make in the Rookie of the Year market now. He’s listed at +250 to win the award now that Lillard isn’t there to block him in any capacity. Portland will roll the ball out to the former G League Ignite star, and he’ll be given the keys to the offense as the new face of the franchise.

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