Why the Raptors should give Damian Lillard their all

Why the Raptors should give Damian Lillard their all

Damian Lillard’s trade request has led to a tense standoff between him, the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Miami Heat, the only team he wants to play for. The Clippers, Jazz, Nets, Sixers, Spurs, and Celtics, to name a few, have also been said to be interested. However, the Raptors are a team that has yet to get as much attention but makes as much sense as any other team.

Proposed Trade: Raptors Trade Scottie Barnes for Damian Lillard

There are different trade packages that could work, some of which are more involved and involve a third team, but here’s the one I like best right now:

Raptors get: Damian Lillard and Nassir Little were traded for Scottie Barnes, Gary Trent Jr., Chris Boucher, Thaddeus Young, Otto Porter Jr., Toronto’s unprotected first-round pick in 2028, and a pick swap in 2029.

First, let’s look at it from the point of view of Portland. This is the best realistic trade deal the rebuilding Blazers can get for a 6-foot-2, 33-year-old player who is guaranteed $58.5 million in 2026 and $63.2 million in 2027. It’s better than anything Miami Heat or Philadelphia 76ers can offer right now, and it’s better than the best package of assets that Utah, Boston, or Brooklyn could give up.

Barnes won Rookie of the Year last year and is a great mix of ability, potential, and strength next to Scoot Henderson and Shaedon Sharpe. He’s 6-foot-8 and can change into different roles. He can guard all five spots, pass the ball, destroy smaller opponents in the post, grab rebounds in traffic, and, most importantly, make a positive difference in the game even when he doesn’t have the ball. Barnes is not like Tyrese Maxey, a turbocharged combo guard who is too small, or Tyler Herro, who is an expensive shooter with only one skill. Both need to make more sense for the Blazers, which is why they are stuck in a stalemate.

Barnes’ stats stayed the same during his disappointing sophomore season when his 3-point percentage dropped to a dismal 28.1%. However, he is still a culture-changing athlete with touch, footwork, and natural skills who has a chance to make the All-NBA team. If you’re the Blazers’ general manager, Joe Cronin, and Scottie’s name come up in a talk with the Toronto Raptors‘ top people, the first thing you say is, “Yes, please.”

It’s not that Barnes can’t improve his game in Toronto, but Portland Trail Blazers can give him a better place to start and more room to grow. Also, it makes sense to get a bunch of deals that are about to end, Boucher’s contract that can be traded, a first-round pick that isn’t protected, and what could be a very valuable pick swap.

All of what has been said so far shows why this move is so controversial. You might wonder why the Raptors would trade a cheap young player with a lot of promise for a player who is ten years older and will make a lot of money over the next four years.

Some smart people don’t even see this as a question. Toronto doesn’t think twice before putting the phone down. But for people who see that the front office doesn’t want to tank, this trade is a chance for Masai Ujiri to define Toronto’s path in a way that is clear, easy, and hard to refuse. After losing Fred VanVleet for nothing, there aren’t many better ideas than “add Damian Lillard without losing my best player or all my tradeable draft picks.”

No longer do we need to move Pascal Siakam. The star forward for Toronto is about to start the last season of his deal. Now that Damian Lillard is on board, it’s a no-brainer to sign him to a long-term deal. When you’re all in, you don’t have to worry about O.G. Anunoby getting paid too much.

The timeline would move backward. The way would be made clear. Damian Lillard fills the void left by Kawhi Leonard’s exit in 2019 as a superduper star. On the Raptors, Damian Lillard would also join a team with players who make up for some of his most obvious flaws. Anunoby and Siakam are great as long, versatile wing defenders who can help him out on defense and change how Toronto wants to attack. It also makes sense for Jakob Poeltl to be a reliable pick-and-roll partner and a strong rim defender.

Dennis Schroder can play a more natural role as one of the most aggressive and effective backup point guards in the league. Jalen McDaniels, Precious Achiuwa, Christian Koloko, and Little should not be written off, and if Gradey Dick’s shot comes into play, that’s even better.

All of this would come at a high price, especially since Anunoby and Siakam would have more power when they went to make their next deals. But if Damian Lillard plays as well in the next few years as he did last year, which was the best season of his career, the Raptors could jump into contention and be able to fight with and even beat Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Boston, and Cleveland. (If this deal went through, Miami would be in a lot of trouble.) There could always be more win-now deals.

The Raptors might think they can keep doing what they’re doing and hope that Barnes makes a typical third-year jump and eventually becomes the leader of a team built around his all-around talent. It wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice to go with that plan, and some people in the NBA think that last year’s drop in parity across the league is the new average.

As the Heat’s run to the NBA Finals showed, the gap between the best and worst teams may no longer be too big to close in a seven-game series. The new CBA has made this idea even stronger. Look at how the Celtics wanted to avoid Grant Williams because that would have put them on the second bench. The same is true for Gabe Vincent and Max Strus in Miami. Jordan Poole is on The Warriors. Even John Collins and the Hawks, in this economy, juggernauts can’t keep going.

But if that’s what Ujiri thinks, isn’t that even more reason to get Damian Lillard? As a team that just lost its star point guard but went a solid 15-11 after getting Poeltl at the trade deadline, this blockbuster can put Toronto near the top of the East, above the struggling teams. Why not take a chance on someone who was last seen scoring 32.2 points on a scorching 64.5 percent true shooting percentage and finishing first overall in offensive estimated plus-minus?

Damian Lillard only wants to play for the Heat, and his agents are trying to scare away every other team that wants him by saying he’d be too unhappy to show up. There’s no way that will happen. Damian Lillard has a contract for four more years, and if he wants to win the championship, this hypothetical Raptors team could be just as good as Miami, based on what the Heat would have to give up to get him.

They just made it to the Finals, but if they lost, they would lose Strus, Vincent, Victor Oladipo, Tyler Herro, (possibly) Duncan Robinson, draft capital, and one or two young players with a lot of potential. In September, Butler will be 34 years old. Next season, Kyle Lowry will be 38 years old.

In the NBA, nothing is for sure. Barnes’s bad outside shot could keep him from being a great player. The body of Damian Lillard might fall apart sooner rather than later. But if Ujiri wants to be in the Finals again soon, he’ll have to come up with a bold plan. Some people made it seem like trading DeMar DeRozan for a season of Kawhi was riskier than it was, but it was still risky. Since then, the Raptors have only won one post-season game. Why shouldn’t we think a surprising move would get them back on track?

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