Why has Heat not been more aggressive pursuing Lillard with Blazers? Explanation offered

For more than two months, the Portland Trail Blazers have shown no interest in engaging the Heat in trade talks for Damian Lillard, who has asked to be traded to the Heat.

That reality, reported by The Miami Herald on Wednesday, was reiterated on Friday by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who said Portland has intensified trade talks but added that “the one element that has not been a part of these talks is the Miami Heat.”

So why hasn’t the Heat called Portland to make a renewed effort to acquire the seven-time All Star?

Perspective on that was offered by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, and a source close to the situation confirmed Windhorst’s portrayal to The Miami Herald.

Windhorst said: “This is one thing I think that maybe has been miscast from the start: I don’t think the Heat are desperate at all to trade for Damian Lillard. I think they want to trade for him, but I don’t think it’s something that if they don’t get it done wrecks their season.

“They were in the Finals last year. They have young players that are getting better. They have assets they can trade for other deals. Dame Lillard isn’t potentially the only star player that could potentially be on the market. Maybe not today but certainly in the next 6 to 12 to 18 months.

“You have to look at this from the Heat’s perspective. In 2019, they wanted Kevin Durant. They didn’t get him. They got Jimmy Butler and they were in the Finals. They are a team that has gotten used to being able to maximize what they have. I know there’s a tremendous desire from the Heat’s fan base to acquire Dame Lillard because it looks like a player with his skill set is the missing piece toward getting a championship.

“But I don’t think the Heat has ever approached it like it’s the be all, end all. I don’t think the Heat and Blazers have been engaged in talks at almost any level in quite some time. There has been a misjudgment in the way it’s all viewed, that this is something that the Heat have absolutely got to get done. I don’t think they view it that way.”

Why the Heat doesn’t view Lillard as a player they simply must get is unclear, considering his scoring (32 per game last season) would augment a team that lacked enough offensive punch at times. His age (33) or contract ($216 million) could be deterrents in terms of how much Miami is willing to offer in a trade package.

The most appealing package of assets that the Heat could offer, excluding Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler, would be Tyler Herro (who reportedly doesn’t interest Portland), three first-round picks (if Oklahoma City agrees to remove protections on a third of those first round picks), Caleb Martin (whom the Heat would like to keep), Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Nikola Jovic.

The Heat is believed to be willing to trade some, but not all, of those assets for Lillard. Heat assets were discussed during brief conversations between the teams in early July.

If the Heat does not acquire Lillard, there would be no obvious alternative to upgrade the roster before the season. Miami added Josh Richardson, Thomas Bryant and Jaquez - but lost Gabe Vincent and Max Strus - from a team that was 44-38 and a No. 7 seed during the season but caught fire and advanced to the NBA Finals, where the Heat lost to the Denver Nuggets.

The Heat appears to be gambling that another team won’t give Portland more than what Miami is willing to give the Blazers. That’s quite possible, considering Lillard’s age and contract and considering the fact that his agent has told several teams that he would be unhappy if he’s traded to a team other than Miami.

Also, per ESPN, several teams are squirreling away assets for players who could become available next summer - potentially Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo if he requests a trade.

“There is no trade imminent,” Wojnarowski said of Lillard, which disputed a Phoenix radio announcer’s report that Lillard would be traded by Friday. “You have Portland trying to not only talk to teams who have an interest in Lillard, but lots of teams who would like to get in on a bigger deal.

“Can they pick up a couple draft picks to take on some money? Portland is exhausting all of those conversations this week. They are behaving like a team that wants to get a deal done, that is trying to get a deal done before training camp.”

TNT’s Chris Haynes told ESPN 1320 in Sacramento this week: “Portland is refusing to talk to Miami. Miami understands that they don’t have the assets. But they want to know ‘Hey Portland, we’ll involve a third or fourth team. But communicate with us and let us know what you are looking for.’ It hasn’t gotten to that stage.”

In noting the lack of contact between the Heat and Portland, Wojnarowski said: “We know in trade talks and conversations, that can change in one moment with one call. [The Trail Blazers] have to measure, ‘is it going to get much better during the season? Do we want to put our organization through that?’

“The feeling is, if they believe they could get more [assets back] closer to the trade deadline once the season starts, you wait. That’s the decision that’s coming pretty soon for Portland. They are trying to find a trade now.”

But as of Friday morning, that pursuit apparently didn’t include substantive talks with the only team that Lillard mentioned to Portland when his agent requested a trade.