John Tomase

Lillard in Miami would make beating Heat that much sweeter for Celtics

Lillard's future in Portland has been the subject of much debate early in the NBA offseason.

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Mention Boston in the presence of Damian Lillard or someone close to him, and the reactions range from a disgusted shake of the head to smirking "not a chance" guffaws.

While no one has explained why Lillard would rather play elsewhere – it could be a dislike of the team on the floor, or it could be an aversion to the city said team calls home – the why doesn't really matter. Lillard wants no part of the Celtics, so there's no reason for them to want any part of him.

At least it saves us the frustration of arguing over the wisdom of trading All-Star forward Jaylen Brown, which should decrease Brown's offseason stress levels, given his annual inclusion in virtually every Celtics trade rumor of the last five years.

It also means Lillard may very well end up on an Eastern Conference rival like the Miami Heat. Lillard has already declared Bam Adebayo his dawg, and the Heat seem determined to pair Jimmy Butler with another star in search of the title that has eluded them twice in the last four Finals.

If I'm the Celtics, here's my response: bring it.

For all of his individual brilliance and domination of Dame Time, Lillard has surprisingly little team success to show for his 11-year career. Despite routinely pushing 50-plus wins, the Blazers have only reached one Western Conference Finals on Lillard's watch.

They've been swept three times (including once by the Pelicans), lost five other series in five games, and been punted out of the first round five times. If the best measure themselves against the best, let the record show that Lillard is 1-12 lifetime vs. Steph Curry and the Warriors in the playoffs. You'd think one of the greatest players of this generation would be able to steal at least one game a year against them by himself, like Jayson Tatum did vs. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving's Nets with a 50-point explosion in 2019.

If Lillard played in Boston, we'd have long ago written him off as an empty superstar. Instead, we act like he's a winner despite the obvious evidence of his meager postseason resume. At age 32, he's already in danger of taking an unwanted baton from Chris Paul as the perennial all-NBAer who never sniffs a championship.

Maybe that's why he complained on J.J. Redick's podcast in March about the NBA's ring culture and how players are obsessively judged by their hardware.

"I understand that we play to win championships and we all want to win a championship," he told Redick, "but we can't keep acting like nothing matters. Like the journey doesn't matter."

I'm trying to imagine the reaction if Tatum, a player who has already appeared in one Finals and three other conference finals, voiced a similar sentiment. We'd shred him for lacking any semblance of killer instinct. Hell, we do that now, even though he has the Celtics in the championship hunt annually.

Lillard can only dream of the success that Tatum has achieved while playing under far stricter scrutiny. Perhaps that informed Tatum's decision to crash Lillard's Instagram Live last week and chide him for dissing his city. "Damn, we get it, you don't like Boston," Tatum wrote with a couple of laughing emojis.

Lillard just shook his head and sipped his orange juice without further explanation. "Now you got my boy JT on here offended," is all he offered.

Here's how I think the Lillard Era would unfold in Miami: The 33-year-old Lillard teams with the 34-year-old Butler and they show their age – Butler after a draining postseason run, and Lillard after missing a third of the 2022-23 season with calf problems (and two-thirds of the previous season because of abdominal surgery). The Heat struggle to gel, it becomes clear that 2022-23 was a crazy one-off built around unsustainable 3-point shooting, and Lillard must once again watch someone else raise a championship trophy.

Maybe that someone will be Tatum, and Lillard can ask himself if it was worth it to close the door that could've led to his first ring.

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