Ira Winderman: The Summer of Lillard with enough chapters to fill a novel

MIAMI — The approach this summer had been to attempt to chronicle with the tangible, offer perspective, all while appreciating that there only is an endgame with Damian Lillard when there is an endgame.

But now summer has turned to fall, and while a Google search is as likely to find Lillard’s name as frequently attached to the Miami Heat as the Portland Trail Blazers, a Trail Blazer he remains.

And yet, through it all, there has been perspective gained.

So perhaps now, as the hours tick toward Oct. 2 media day for the Heat and Trail Blazers, and then the Oct. 3 start of those training camps, a look back and what has been chronicled in this space these past two months regarding Lillard’s trade request to the Heat.

On July 2, it was noted that Tyler Herro scrubbed his Twitter bio of mention of the Heat and removed the accompanying photo of the Heat’s practice court. It was one of the many unspoken moments that have resonated throughout the process.

On July 5, the Sun Sentinel chronicled just how creative the Heat have gotten over the years to make complex trade math work, including landing Jimmy Butler in 2019 free agency in the void of salary-cap space, to working a five-team 2005 trade to add needed support in advance of the team’s 2006 NBA championship.

On July 7, the Sun Sentinel not only listed all the trade chips that could be put into play, but also the reality, as seemingly has become the case, that not all would be put into play.

That was followed by attendance at the July 10 media session at the NBA Las Vegas Summer League, when Trail Blazers general manager Joe Cronin said of a potential Lillard deal, “If it takes months, it takes months.”

That was followed the following day by noting the deals done over the years by Cronin and his acknowledgment of the current talk of pursuing a multiteam deal. “Often,” he said, “it involves more than just one destination.”

Amid the ongoing summer league, came the debate of fair value, with former Lillard teammate Evan Turner and Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks chiming in, Marks offering the perspective of his own waiting game with Kevin Durant a year earlier, one when a summer trade instead turned in a February deadline deal.

And in that same time frame, because he is who he is, Heat nemesis from his Boston Celtics days Paul Pierce said the Heat, even with Lillard, “won’t make it out of the first round.”

And on it went, disrespect that had Herro unfairly caught in the middle, as if he wasn’t a valued trade component.

In the crossfire, were Heat players, with Haywood Highsmith and Udonis Haslem left to answer the still unanswered during a July 19 community-service appearance at the Rolling Loud music festival at Hard Rock Stadium. “You never know,” Highsmith said.

And then another interesting turn on July 23, when, while coaching a game in the halfcourt Big3, former Heat guard Gary Payton spoke of his closeness with Lillard’s father from their Oakland days and how just as Payton joined the Heat for their 2006 championship run, Lillard deserved the same opportunity. “Dame would be a great fit here,” Payton said. “He knows it, and I know it.”

A week later, during an appearance at the Heat’s youth camp, Josh Richardson offered up no less than “Damian Lillard” as the answer to a camper’s question about the best opponent he had played against. Richardson also addressed the Heat holding off on reissuing his previous Heat No. 0 (Lillard’s number). “Once training camp starts, then I’ll have a number,” said Richardson, who still doesn’t have one.

By August, it remained apparent that there were few teams willing to go against Lillard’s desire to relocate in Miami, as chronicled by a breakdown in the Sun Sentinel.

And on Aug. 5, it was Bam Adebayo’s turn to address the speculation, aware that Lillard had targeted the Heat as a means to a reunion with his 2021 Olympic gold teammate. “We’re two down-to-earth people that gelled well,” Adebayo said at his fifth annual Bam Youth Basketball Clinic.

And then another twist, when, on Aug. 15 the NBA announced a schedule that had only one nationally televised Trail Blazers game — the Heat’s Feb. 27 visit to Portland.

And on it went, including comment in late August by Giannis Antetokounmpo indicating the possibility of eventually moving on from the Bucks, creating a question of win-now assets being dealt for Lillard.

As the waiting continued, there was perspective of the Heat hardly ever being picked clean of draft picks in deals, having never parted with more than two for any player over the team’s first 35 seasons.

As for player empowerment in such dealings, Commissioner Adam Silver noted at the July 13 NBA Board of Governors meeting, “In terms of trade demands, of course, don’t like them.”

To some, the Summer of Lillard to this point has been a summer about nothing. But it actually has been as compelling as any storyline this offseason and arguably as compelling as any over the Heat’s 36 seasons.


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