MILWAUKEE — There were times as July turned to August, and even when August turned to September, that the assumption was of Damian Lillard eventually in a Miami Heat uniform.
But as he prepared to face the Heat for the first time since being dealt in late September from the Portland Trail Blazers to the Milwaukee Bucks, the seven-time All-Star point guard wanted to make his allegiances clear and undeniable.
“I’ve never played on their team,” Lillard said in front of his locker at Fiserv Forum, as Giannis Antetokounmpo dressed to his left. “I mentioned it that that was the destination for me when I asked to be traded last year.
“But I was traded here and I’m excited to be here, I’m happy to be here. I fit in great here. For me personally, that was the end of it.”
The trade to the Bucks came on Sept. 27, after months of expectation that the Blazers might actually accede to the wishes of a franchise icon and allow Lillard to chase a championship dream in his preferred destination.
“I never thought about it again after that,” Lillard said of the deal that sent Jrue Holiday out of Milwaukee and stocked the Blazers with future draft picks.
Even now, with the Heat in Milwaukee on Monday night for the final stop of a three-game trip, Lillard said it is about the Bucks. And only the Bucks.
“So I’m not going into (Monday) like, ‘This is the team I was supposed to be playing for,’ ” Lillard said in his typical polite, reserved fashion. “None of that.”
“I know Jimmy, I know Bam. We’re cool,” Lillard said. “But I play for the Bucks and I’m not going into it like that’s my former team or we were tied in or nothing like that. It’s just another game.”
Lillard and Adebayo became particularly close during Team USA’s run to Olympic gold at the 2021 Tokyo Games. Adebayo said the two had texted during the trade process, and then after there was resolution.
“I think on the outside, people made more of it than what was actually taking place,” Lillard said of his offseason interaction with Adebayo. “It’s not like I was calling him every day or nothing like that. I said what I needed to say to the team that I was on at that time and I went on about my time. I did my training, I spent time with kids and that was it.
“I’m telling you the real (truth) when I say it’s not that deep. Bam was my boy before I asked for a trade; he still is. And that was the extent of it.”
Unlike most trade requests, this one had Blazers general manager Joe Cronin leaving not only Lillard twisting in the wind, but also many other players rumored to be part of a potential move, most notably Heat guard Tyler Herro.
During the process, as he declined to interact with the Heat, Cronin made clear that he had no interest in acquiring Herro. Among those from the Heat also linked to a potential trade for Lillard were Kyle Lowry and Duncan Robinson.
Asked about his desire to be moved from Portland’s rebuilding process leaving NBA contemporaries such as Herro on edge, Lillard said it is an accepted part of the business.
“I think that’s a part of the game that we signed up to play,” he said. “That’s part of the business. When we get picked and drafted into this league, it’s not something that we don’t know about.
“When parts move from one place, that means other people have to be a part of it. That’s the way it goes. It wasn’t something that I was concerned with or considering. All I can control is myself and that’s part of this business. That’s where I left it at.”