Miami’s high-stakes pursuit of Damian Lillard is at risk of backfiring

Damian Lillard, the Portland Trail Blazers drives past Caleb Martin #16 of the Miami Heat (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)
Damian Lillard, the Portland Trail Blazers drives past Caleb Martin #16 of the Miami Heat (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images) /

Now that superstar Damian Lillard has asked the Portland Trail Blazers to trade him, it seems that the Miami Heat are the frontrunners to acquire him. Being in a position to add a player of his caliber to a team that came within three games of a championship last season would be huge, but it also comes with a lot of risks.

For instance, the Heat have already lost two starters from last season’s NBA Finals team in free agency this summer: Max Strus and Gabe Vincent. Even then, they still have Tyler Herro, who was their third-best player prior to missing most of the playoffs, but they appear ready to trade him to acquire Lillard.

If they land Lillard, then a roster overhaul may very well be worth it since Miami would have as good a big three as any team. Factor in that they have already proven capable of beating the best teams in the East without Lillard, and he could be the missing piece to propel this incarnation of the Heat to a championship.

The Miami Heat’s pursuit of Damian Lillard is high-risk, high reward.

That’s the absolute best-case scenario, but the worst-case scenario could be pretty bad. Although Miami has a reputation for finding and developing rotation players, they would be unusually light in the depth department with Lillard. After all, a deal could involve them trading Kyle Lowry, Duncan Robinson, and possibly even Caleb Martin to the Blazers, with Herro being moved to another team. That would mean six rotation players from last season’s team not returning.

Even if they weren’t able to trade for him, there would still be a lot of question marks surrounding their roster. Prior to Lillard asking out of Portland, Miami was reportedly shopping Lowry, or considering waiving and stretching him, to clear out enough space underneath the luxury tax to be able to use their full mid-level exception.

That would have allowed them to use up to $12.2 million to sign a player such as Christian Wood or Bol Bol. Instead, they are in a holding pattern, waiting to see if Lillard can apply enough internal pressure on the Blazers to force them to deal him to the Heat. Depending on how long that takes, it could mean that the Heat will miss out on Wood and Bol, possibly in addition to Lillard.

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Lillard turning up the Heat on the Blazers seems unlikely to work since he has four years remaining on his contract, and by asking out, he gave Portland the ability to trade him to whatever team is willing to offer them the most. If the Heat can’t scrounge together more assets, they won’t just come up empty-handed; they could be worse than they otherwise would have been had they not pursued Lillard.