Damian Lillard trade shakes up the Milwaukee Bucks and the NBA

The Damian Lillard trade has done more than make the Milwaukee Bucks the favorite to win the NBA championship. It’s changed the league’s landscape for at least the next few years. 

On Wednesday, the Portland Trail Blazers shocked the hoops world by sending Lillard, a seven-time all-NBA player, to the Milwaukee Bucks as part of a three-team trade. Pairing Lillard, 33, with superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo vaulted the Bucks to league favorites. Antetokounmpo also has seven all-NBA honors and, depending on what analysis you believe, is either the league’s best player or just behind Denver’s Nikola Jokić.

Damian Lillard is leaving the Portland Trail Blazers for the Milwaukee Bucks. Above, the seven-time all-NBA player warms up in 2020 before Portland’s Game Four against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference First Round of the NBA Playoffs. (Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The trade also changed the calculus for teams hoping that Antetokounmpo, 28, might leave the Bucks in free agency in 2025. (He might. Who knows?) Milwaukee traded for another star, hoping to win a championship while keeping Giannis in the fold. 

Jonathan Macri, publisher of the Knicks Film School newsletter, said, “There are all-in moves, and then there are all-in moves.” Macri, whose podcast FeedSpot ranks as the No. 1 Knicks pod, told theGrio in an email: “The Bucks’ acquiring Damian Lillard was as all-in as an NBA trade can get.”

The league “hasn’t seen an offensive combo this dangerous since Steph Curry and Kevin Durant shared the court for Golden State,” according to Macri. “The defense is a bit more of a question mark, but having two All-Defense level big men should help.”

Giannis and Kris Middleton, the 6’7″ small forward, each have above-average defensive ratings.

Rumors of a Lillard trade have been brewing since July 1, when the 11-year veteran asked for a trade because he wanted to play for a contender. Portland finished the 2022-23 season 33-49, with an uninspiring roster set to return this season.

Dame, as he’s called, made clear he wanted to go to Miami and pair with Heat star Jimmy Butler. 

Lillard’s public pronouncements caused such a ruckus that the NBA warned any player who indicated he wouldn’t fully perform the services as called for his contract would face discipline

“I mean, that is going to be filthy,” CPtheFanchise said about the Dame-Giannis pairing. CP is CEO of KnicksFanTV, is a host on NBA Radio on Sirius XM and has appeared on ESPN and other outlets. “The Milwaukee Bucks (ended) up with the prized player in this offseason.”

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (above) is getting a new star teammate in Damian Lillard. Here, Antetokounmpo holds the NBA Championship trophy (left) and MVP trophy in July 2021 after the Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns in Game Six of the NBA Finals. (Photo: Paul Sancya/AP)

Portland drafted Lillard with the sixth pick in 2012, and by advanced metrics, he’s turned out to be the best player in that draft, just ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis.

“In getting Dame Lillard, this was a home run for the Milwaukee Bucks,” CP said on his podcast, a transcript of which he sent to theGrio. “Number one, you keep your superstar player (Giannis) happy. Over the last couple of weeks, Giannis has been very vocal about his future with the Milwaukee Bucks and basically saying, ‘Hey, listen, we got to make moves. We’ve got to stay in a championship contender window.’ And with this trade, you have to think that Giannis was saying all these things knowing that this was pretty close to being a done deal.”

But there is risk, even for a player like Lillard, who has averaged 25.2 points per game over his career.

“Are they a sure thing to win a title?” Macri — who interviews some of the top names in basketball, including  Walt Frazier, Jeremy Lin and Jeff Van Gundy — wondered aloud.  “Without a true powerhouse to contend with, I wouldn’t bet against them making at least one Finals together.”

In the NBA, teams always keep one eye on the future.

“Giannis Antetokounmpo can bolt in free agency in 2025,” Macri said. “That’s the same summer Lillard turns 35. The history of small guards north of that age is dicey, and that’s putting it kindly.”

Rob Parker, the longtime print and broadcast journalist who co-hosts Fox Sports radio’s The Odd Couple, said while it’s an excellent trade for Milwaukee, the Denver Nuggets still have to be considered the favorite, despite what Vegas says. FanDuel picks the Bucks to win it all at +360 — which means a $100 bet pays out $460.

“It’s still Denver until further notice,” Parker, an inductee into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame in August, told theGrio in a text message exchange. “And let’s keep it real. Milwaukee will win or lose the title on Giannis’ back. If he doesn’t play well, Dame’s addition won’t matter.”

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