Phoenix Suns: Potential Impact of a Damian Lillard Trade

Phoenix Suns (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

While the Phoenix Suns maintain their sights on the Western Conference’s throne, boasting a 3-2 series lead over the Los Angeles Clippers in the Conference Finals, a different storm grabbing everyone else’s attention continues to brew just a few miles north of them. Laboring through a rocky offseason, the Portland Trail Blazers recently parted ways with former head coach Terry Stotts after a nine-year tenure.

The Blazers advanced to the postseason this year, but lost during the first round to the same shorthanded Denver Nuggets team which the Suns manhandled during the Conference Semifinals, winning all four games to complete a sweep. Although Stotts and his talented backcourt featuring Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum made a Conference Finals appearance three years ago, they somewhat plateaued after that, never making it as far again.

Portland’s front office obviously lost patience with Stotts, but reportedly remains committed to building around Lillard and McCollum despite instituting such a pivotal change within the organization. But when the Trail Blazers failed to attract Lillard’s first choice to replace Stotts, Jason Kidd—who just inked a deal with the Dallas Mavericks, the team then signed Chauncey Billups instead.

Although possessing a well-respected basketball mind, significant experience as a championship-winning player, and recent exposure to the coaching scene aboard this year’s Clippers staff, Billups also brings a controversial past to the table, revolving around a sexual assault accusation from 1997.

Speculation over Lillard’s knowledge regarding the subject, and whether or not Portland kept him involved with the hiring process continues to ensue. But between it all, the superstar point guard seems somewhat thrown off by the Trail Blazers organization, with Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports making it sound like Lillard might try and force his way into a trade sooner rather than later.

Naturally, this sent the league ablaze over the weekend. Lillard averaged 28.8 points and 6.6 assists per game last season. Also shooting the ball well from beyond the arc, and even as far out as half court at times, Lillard owns a career 37.5 3-point percentage, making him arguably the game’s most lethal offensive threat.

It still remains doubtful that a deal becomes struck this summer involving Lillard, but that has not stopped opposing fanbases from fantasizing about one. So we thought, why not indulge ourselves as well?

Oddsmakers recently put the Trail Blazers as heavy favorites to house Lillard again next year, but creeping behind them came the revitalized New York Knicks at +600, followed shortly by the Miami Heat at +1200, then the Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Clippers, and Los Angeles Lakers all at +2000.

Neglecting Portland, four of the top six team’s tied to Lillard hail from the Eastern Conference, which certainly bodes well for Phoenix. All-time, Lillard averages 25.2 points, 5.8 assists, and 3.8 rebounds per game vs the Suns, boosted by a 41-point eruption against them less than two months ago.

Lillard also owns a career 18-14 record against the Suns, with a 12-6 record over the last four years. But if he heads east and the Suns consequently end up playing Lillard only twice a season, rather than three or four times, it certainly poises to help them out in the long run given his skillset and past success.

However, if Lillard finds himself allied with either team from Los Angeles instead, then he threatens to hurt them to an extent even greater than before. With both the Clippers and the Lakers as Pacific Division rivals for the Suns, if he joins them, then he too pencils Phoenix in for an assured four matchups against him every year.

When looking at their rosters, both the Clippers and Lakers already loom as serious future threats to the Suns. Phoenix still needs to win one more game to move past the Clippers this year, and the Lakers took two games from them earlier this postseason. With both teams giving the Suns good fights even without their best players, as Anthony Davis was clearly limited vs Phoenix, and Kawhi Leonard remains yet to suit up vs the Suns at all, they have to feel good about their chances next year when healthy.

Barring anymore untimely health issues, both teams already appear primed to challenge the Suns, even with their rosters as they stand. But if either the Lakers or the Clippers added Lillard, that would crown them favorites to win the West, and confirm four games each year with the Suns likely slated to lose.

Essentially, it all comes down to avoiding Lillard, rather than going toe-to-toe with him. As an electrifying and highly-motivated player, likely not even at his peak yet, the Suns should want no part in dealing with him.

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Phoenix indeed remains relatively unattached to this developing story, but Lillard’s talents combined with the pros and cons between which team he might end up with certainly makes them high rollers at Western Conference’s table.