When the Miami Heat lost to the Denver Nuggets in the 2023 NBA Finals, it became clear the team needed to bring help for Jimmy Butler. That’s why when Damian Lillard submitted a trade request out of Portland, Pat Riley knew where to set his sights on.
Dame also saw South Florida as a great opportunity to succeed, and did everything he could to get there. But in the end, the Blazers decided to send Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks, leaving the Heat without their coveted star. Of course, it was a gut-punch for Miami, after months of waiting to get the veteran guard. But for Lillard, the Bucks were still an attractive landing spot.
“We’ve always been in some form of contact with each other,” Lillard told Fox Sports. “And I said it, initially I was like, ‘I want to go to Miami.’ He was a big part of that. It didn’t happen. I’m here now. But our relationship will be the same. The same respect. It’s just something that didn’t happen. It was out of his control and mine.”
Needless to say, this move will change things for Butler and company. Instead of having a star addition to try and go the distance in 2024, they’ll have yet another powerful opponent in the East.
Miami enters the new season without another star
When the Heat made the Finals last year, it looked pretty clear they had pieces to contend. However, their loss to the Denver Nuggets in five games also proved they needed something else to get the job done. Lillard seemed to be that missing piece, but it won’t be the case.
Since trade negotiations with the Trade Blazers took so long, by the time the 33-year-old moved to Milwaukee, it was too late to chase another star. Besides, Miami didn’t look that interested in signing another player that wasn’t Lillard either.
Bradley Beal recently revealed he was keen on joining the Heat this offseason, but the team didn’t want to absorb his monster salary. James Harden emerged as an alternative on the market, since he requested a trade out of Philadelphia. But the Heat never seemed really intrigued about The Beard either.
Lillard seemed to meet all the things Miami was looking for, which was experience, talent, hard work, and desire to succeed. But its compensation didn’t seem to be attractive enough for Portland. Besides, the Blazers seemed to have no intention of trading with the Heat to still be in control of the situation.
Lillard faces an interesting opportunity in Milwaukee
Things may have not gone as expected for Lillard, but the Bucks turn out to be a great landing spot for his championship aspirations. In Milwaukee, Dame could form a powerful duo with Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Greek Freak had expressed his intention to continue winning rings in his career, suggesting he would leave the team if that’s what it took to succeed. The front office clearly took note of his message, getting the perfect partner to help Giannis get back to glory days.
Lillard, meanwhile, also sees this as his best opportunity to win a championship. “The depth is what makes me think this is my best chance to win. We’ve just got to be healthy. And we’ve got to be together.”
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The Milwaukee Bucks start the 2023-24 NBA season against the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday, Oct. 26. From then on, both Lillard and Antetokounmpo will be under the microscope as their chemistry is one of the most intriguing topics heading into the season.