Could Nets make play for Damian Lillard in offseason?

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Sean Marks speaks with reporters at Barclays following the NBA trade deadline.
amNewYork/Christian Arnold

The surprise appearance by Damian Lillard at the Nets’ Game 3 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers last Thursday may not have just been the seven-time NBA All-Star wanting to catch some playoff basketball in person. His presence inside Barclays Center certainly caught the attention of people and raised the question of whether he could be on the move and if Brooklyn could be in his future. 

Nets general manager Sean Marks certainly didn’t rule out any sort of moves during the offseason when he met with the media for the final time of the 2022-23 campaign on Sunday morning. The rumor mills started to churn as well, with multiple NBA executives telling Hoophype’s Michael Scotto that the Nets could be a suitor for the Portland Trail Blazers’ all-time leading scorer if the two sides decide to part ways. 

Bringing in a player of Lillard’s caliber would be a big step in moving the franchise forward after a roller coaster ride of a year that ultimately saw the departure of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving at the NBA Trade Deadline. Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith have made up the nucleus of a new core, but the Nets were 3-and-D wing-heavy following the deadline deals. 

The Nets have found a solid player to build off of in Bridges. Johnson raised his game in the playoffs and if the restricted free agent remains in Kings County, that’s two very good players on he Nets roster for next season. 

Marks preached a sense of “patience and poise” heading into the offseason adding that the strategy didn’t mean there wouldn’t be changes in the offseason. “I mean it’s pro sports,” he quipped.

“When the right opportunity presents itself, I think we’re in the right market,” Marks later said. “We’ve got some of the right pieces already. What does it look like in a year? What does it look like in three years? I couldn’t tell you that, but I can tell you that we’ll be prepared for whatever may come down our way.”

Lillard being moved during the offseason seems to be gaining steam as the Portland star has said in the past that he isn’t interested in being part of another rebuild. He had told Stephen A. Smith a few weeks back that he was planning on having a conversation with the Trail Blazers organization about the steps they need to take going forward. 

The Nets would seem to check the boxes of a team that at least in the playoff conversation and Lillard has a well-documented affection for Bridges and Johnson.

He told Yahoo Sports in 2021 that “Cam Johnson is nice and Mikal Bridges is my favorite small forward in the league.”

Bridges said with a sheepish “I know people” when a reporter asked as he was leaving his final media session if he knew Lillard would be at Game 3. Lillard would go a long way to help Bridges on the court after having a breakout second half of the season once he arrived in Brooklyn. 

The question though is whether Brooklyn has the assets to make a deal work with Portland. The Nets have 11 first-round picks in their back pocket between now and 2029, but one NBA executive told Hoopshype the picks they have coming to them “aren’t great.” 

“It would probably take Ben Simmons’ contract to make the numbers work, but you’d have to attach picks to him on top of the picks you need for Lillard,” the league executive said. 

The Nets could also deal one of their excess wings like Royce O’Neale or Finney-Smith. Spencer Dinwiddie could be a trade piece as well in a deal involving Portland. Coincidentally, Dinwiddie had the most thoughtful response when asked about the Nets offseason. 

Dinwiddie compared the Nets to the Milwaukee Bucks without Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“There’s not many organizations that have ever blown up a superstar-studded group that was in championship contention in one year and have the possibility of championship contention again the very next season depending on their offseason decisions,” Dinwiddie said. 

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