Celtics Offseason

Why Chris Mannix believes Celtics are still Damian Lillard suitors

Damian Lillard doesn't want to play in Boston, but there are other important factors at play.

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Chances are you've heard that Damian Lillard wants to play in Miami.

Ever since the All-Star guard requested a trade from the Portland Trail Blazers, the Heat have been reported as Lillard's preferred destination, and ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski even reported Thursday that Lillard's agent, Aaron Goodwin, has been telling other teams to not even bother about trying to trade for his client.

"Goodwin is telling organizations outside of Miami that trading for Lillard is trading for an unhappy player," Wojnarowski wrote.

Lillard also seems out on playing for the Boston Celtics; during an Instagram Live session last month, the 32-year-old admitted point-blank that "Boston is not one of the things I'm going to do."

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And yet... The Celtics reportedly are among the teams that have contacted the Blazers about a Lillard trade, and Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix still believes a Lillard-to-Boston deal can happen if the C's make Portland a desirable offer.

“It absolutely is Lillard’s preference to go to Miami. I’ve talked to people close to him; I know that is his No. 1 choice. I also don’t believe some of this 'Miami or bust' type of stuff," Mannix said Thursday on 98.5 The Sports Hub's "Toucher & Rich" radio show.

"I don’t buy that. Damian Lillard is not James Harden. He’s not Kyrie Irving. He’s always been a pro’s pro. And if Damian Lillard was traded tomorrow to Philadelphia with four years left on his contract, he’s not gonna say, ‘I don’t want to play next to Joel Embiid, I’m not going.’ If he got traded to Boston and had the chance to play next to Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, he’s not gonna say, ‘I’m not going.’ It’s just not gonna happen. It’s not in his DNA."

While the Blazers plan to honor Lillard's trade request, they also plan to get the best possible return for Lillard, a seven-time All-Star and the face of Portland's franchise who finished third in the NBA in scoring last season (32.2 points per game). If that's the case, it's not in their best interest to deal with the Heat, whose best offer consists of two first-round picks (in 2028 and 2030) in addition to multiple pick swaps and recent draft picks Nikola Jovic and Jaime Jaquez Jr. (Portland reportedly doesn't want to take on Tyler Herro's four-year, $120 million contract.)

The Celtics could blow Miami out of the water by offering Jaylen Brown, who remains trade-eligible until he signs his supermax contract extension with Boston. But Mannix also believes there's a pathway to the Celtics landing Lillard without giving up Brown.

"I think you can get Lillard without Jaylen Brown," Mannix said. "There’s a version of this story where Lillard could wind up in Boston and the Celtics wouldn’t have to give up Jaylen Brown. I mean, they’d have to give up basically everything else, whether it’s Robert Williams, Derrick White (and) every draft pick they’ve got over the next six years."

MassLive's Brian Robb recently proposed a hypothetical trade of Malcolm Brogdon, Robert Williams, Payton Pritchard, Luke Kornet to Portland -- in addition to salary filler, three future first-round picks and additional pick swaps/second round picks -- for Lillard. The Celtics also could offer Brogdon, Derrick White and three first-rounders and bet on Lillard running the show in Boston with Pritchard as his backup.

Both scenarios would leave the Celtics thin on depth, and Portland may hold firm in demanding that Brown be included in the deal. But if there's a way for Boston to compile a starting five that includes Lillard, Brown, Tatum and Porzingis, it's definitely worth pursuing.

"If they can find a way to get their hands on Damian Lillard and pair him with Jaylen and Jayson, that’s the frontrunner next year to me," Mannix added.

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