Portland is determined to improve around Damian Lillard and holds interest in Bam Adebayo

The world of NBA team building spins on the axis of star player movement. After the Washington Wizards ignited a rebuild by trading Bradley Beal to Phoenix on Sunday, plenty of rival teams, such as the Miami Heat, have shifted their attention onto Portland. Those eager front offices are eying Blazers All-NBA guard Damian Lillard, with hopes that any outcome of Thursday night’s NBA Draft — where the Blazers own the No. 3 pick — which doesn’t result in a trade for veteran upgrades around Portland’s cornerstone, may result in Lillard requesting a trade from the only franchise he’s ever known. They’re hoping if the Blazers take Scoot Henderson or Brandon Miller, it means as much as waving Lillard goodbye.

The reality, though, does not appear so binary. Lillard, by all accounts, prefers to remain with Portland, and the Trail Blazers have not shown any willingness to discuss the seven-time All-Star with inquiring teams, league sources told Yahoo Sports. The Blazers view this entire offseason as their canvas to fortify a contender around Lillard, not just this week’s NBA Draft, and free agency will bring additional opportunity to bolster this roster beyond plans to re-sign Jerami Grant. Portland has been exploring avenues to deal the No. 3 pick, but in a draft that scouts have deemed holds three top prospects, the Blazers are strongly valuing their selection in talks with opposing teams, sources said. Portland appears unlikely to part with the No. 3 choice unless the Blazers are netting back one of a select number of premium targets to pair with Lillard. According to one source with knowledge of the situation, Portland is preparing what the team believes to be a compelling package for Miami to part with All-Defensive centerpiece Bam Adebayo.

PORTLAND, OREGON - MARCH 17: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers passes the ball during the second quarter against the Boston Celtics at the Moda Center on March 17, 2023 in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
Damian Lillard wants to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

A switchable, backline anchor such as Adebayo would bring instant improvement to a Portland team that ranked 28th in defensive efficiency during the 2022-23 campaign. Adebayo’s presence and versatility has helped power Miami to two Finals appearances in the past four seasons. He and Lillard played together for Team USA in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and have developed a close friendship, but the Heat have primarily searched to supplement Adebayo in recent transaction cycles, sources said, and have not pondered a future without him starring in the frontcourt. Miami has targeted additional power forward help ever since the departure of P.J. Tucker last summer in free agency. Adebayo is a team favorite and a key hub of the Heat’s offense. Miami brass seems very unlikely to consider any Portland overture that doesn’t include standout rookie Shaedon Sharpe, in addition to a package of the No. 3 pick and Anfernee Simons that the Blazers, sources said, have made available in discussions with other teams.

If Adebayo ultimately marks someone on the Blazers’ wishlist and nothing more, at least Portland’s pursuit of the two-time All-Star reveals the type of talent it will take for this front office to part with the third selection. The Blazers have been linked by league personnel to both Raptors forwards Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby, but Portland doesn’t truly covet either Toronto player for the No. 3 selection, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Zach LaVine, the Bulls All-Star guard who flirted with Portland as he reached unrestricted free agency last June, also does not appear to be a legitimate target for the Blazers. For all the speculation about Minnesota sharpshooter Karl-Anthony Towns, there has been no apparent interest from either the Wolves or Blazers, sources said, on deal frameworks surrounding Towns for the third pick. Portland, sources said, is targeting forwards with size at the top echelon of the league’s player hierarchy — someone like Adebayo or Clippers All-Star Paul George.

Damian Lillard headshot
Damian Lillard
PG - MIL - #0
2022 - 2023 season

Could that player end up being Brandon Ingram or Zion Williamson? The Pelicans have yet to make formal offers to the Blazers for the No. 3 pick, sources told Yahoo Sports, despite New Orleans’ known interest in Henderson of G League Ignite. It remains to be seen if the Pelicans will actually be open to parting with Williamson, the No. 1 pick in 2019, and we may not learn New Orleans’ appetite for such a blockbuster until Portland is on the clock come Thursday evening — although all indications are that the Pelicans would require more than the third selection to part with either of New Orleans’ two All-Stars.

That positioning will of course be determined by the Hornets’ ultimate outcome at No. 2. Both Henderson and Alabama’s Miller returned to Charlotte on Monday, sources said, and worked out before Hornets leadership that included current team owner Michael Jordan, who’s agreed to sell the team to minority owner Gabe Plotkin and former Hawks partner Rick Schnall. Rival team personnel have long pinpointed Miller as the Hornets’ likely selection with the No. 2 pick, in order to pair the scoring wing next to All-Star point guard LaMelo Ball. While Henderson has impressed Hornets staffers with his size and explosiveness, Miller’s perceived optimal fit next to Ball seems to be too large of a factor for Charlotte to pass over. Miller has been considered the favorite of the Hornets’ front office, sources told Yahoo Sports, and Charlotte appears headed toward selecting Miller after San Antonio crowns Victor Wembanyama as the No. 1 pick Thursday.

The next legitimate trade opportunity appears to begin at No. 5. Houston has been mentioned for various trade possibilities with the fourth pick, but opposing front offices believe the Rockets, at this juncture, are more likely to stand pat and trend toward selecting Overtime Elite guard Amen Thompson.

The Pistons are deliberating a final group of prospects at the fifth position, where Detroit could still find someone available later in the lottery whom the Pistons would have happily chosen at No. 5. Utah has been in contact with the Pistons about trading up from Nos. 9 and 16, according to league sources, with rival teams of the belief the Jazz are searching to get above Washington’s eighth pick in order to select Arkansas guard Anthony Black. Utah has also contacted Indiana about trading into the seventh selection, sources said. But the Jazz may need to trade above Orlando — or find a trade with the Magic at No. 6 — to secure a chance at Black. Utah has made guard Collin Sexton available in trade talks around the league, sources said.

One of the more interesting names on the trade market is Memphis point guard Tyus Jones. The Duke product has emerged as one of, if not the top reserve floor generals in the league, providing the Grizzlies with starter-level production whenever Memphis All-Star Ja Morant has been unavailable during their shared Grizzlies tenure. Jones could prove to be a valuable piece for Memphis after Morant was handed a 25-game suspension for what the NBA labeled conduct detrimental to the league. The Grizzlies, however, are exploring trade opportunities to help Jones land a full-time starting position elsewhere, league sources told Yahoo Sports, while Memphis has prioritized upgrading the team’s wing depth. Small forward Dillon Brooks is expected to sign elsewhere in free agency, where Houston continues to be the destination most often mentioned for Brooks by league personnel.

Jones had discussions with San Antonio last summer, sources said, before he re-signed with Memphis on a two-year, $29 million deal. The Spurs no longer appear to be a viable destination for Jones after his younger brother, Tre, emerged as San Antonio’s starting point guard last season ahead of his unrestricted free agency later this month. If Fred VanVleet heads elsewhere on the open market, would Tyus Jones plus draft capital be enough for Toronto to part with Anunoby? The Raptors are still said to be holding a steep asking price for their prized forward.

Scanning the league, the Clippers might be the most logical trade partner for the Grizzlies. For all the connections being made between both Los Angeles clubs and Chris Paul, there have been no significant trade conversations between the Clippers and Wizards to exchange the 38-year-old veteran, sources said, although Los Angeles could very well match Paul’s salary with the expiring contracts of Marcus Morris and Robert Covington, and there appears to be mutual interest between the Clippers and Paul. Russell Westbrook’s return remains very much at play for the Clippers this offseason.

Westbrook has been amenable to playing a reserve role, and Los Angeles has three wings in Eric Gordon, Norman Powell and Morris who could match Tyus Jones for salary purposes. Morris would seem like the Clippers’ preference to part with in this scenario. The veteran forward has been viewed by rival front offices as a clear trade candidate ever since Morris fell out of Ty Lue’s rotation during the stretch run of the 2022-23 regular season.