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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Initial Impressions of the Three Team Trade Sending Damian Lillard From Portland to Milwaukee

Once again, the vaunted (and highly paid) NBA insiders were right: Damian Lillard is heading to Miami!

Oh, wait--I mean, Damian Lillard is heading to Toronto!

Never mind--in a deal not predicted by anyone, the Portland Trail Blazers have reportedly shipped Damian Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks in a three team trade that will send Jrue Holiday from Milwaukee to Portland. The Phoenix Suns joined the party by trading Deandre Ayton to Portland in exchange for Trail Blazers Jusuf Nurkic, Nassir Little, and Keon Johnson. The Suns also acquired Milwaukee's Grayson Allen, while Portland is receiving Toumani Camara (the 52nd overall selection in the 2023 NBA Draft) from Phoenix, and multiple draft picks from Milwaukee. I emphasize "reportedly" because the same wizards who had no clue that this deal would happen have been the first people to "break" the news before the transactions have been officially confirmed, and we all know the great value of non-emergency "breaking news."

Assuming that what has been reported is accurate--at least in terms of the most prominent players involved in the trade--what should we make of this deal?

Damian Lillard--who valued loyalty above everything until he no longer valued loyalty over everything--averaged a career-high 32.3 ppg last season. He is a dynamic scorer and an excellent passer--and he is also 33 years old, undersized (generously listed as 6-2, but probably shorter), a non-factor (at best) defensively, and injury-prone (he has played in 67 games or less in each of the past four seasons). Lillard is a member of the NBA's 75th Anniversary Team, which must have surprised and disappointed more deserving players such as Chris Bosh, Adrian Dantley, Alex English, Artis Gilmore, Dwight Howard, Bernard King, and Tracy McGrady.

By the way, it is ridiculous to assert that Portland "owed" it to Lillard to trade him wherever he wanted to go. In 2022, Lillard signed a two year $121.77 million contract extension to stay with Portland instead of becoming a free agent; if Lillard wanted to choose his destination on the way out, that was his opportunity--but Lillard understood that no other team would be willing (or able) to pay him as much as Portland did, so he took the cash and gave up the option of choosing where to go on the way out of Portland. During Lillard's Portland career, the Trail Blazers paid him more than $220 million; that is nearly a quarter of a billion dollars, so Portland paid Lillard generational wealth and owes him nothing else. It should also be noted that all of that money bought four playoff series wins spread out over 11 seasons and 12 playoff series. Two of those four playoff series wins happened during Portland's fluky run to the 2019 Western Conference Finals, where "Dame Dolla" and crew got swept by the Golden State Warriors sans Kevin Durant. After 2019, the Trail Blazers lost in the first round in 2020 and 2021 before missing the playoffs in 2022 and 2023. If Lillard's salary was based on being a superstar whose skills correlate with playoff success, then it could be argued he owes Portland!

Jrue Holiday is a 33 year old two-time All-Star who made the All-Defensive Team in each of his three seasons with Milwaukee (and has earned five All-Defensive Team selections overall). He was a key member of Milwaukee's 2021 NBA championship team. Last season, he exceeded his career averages (16.4 ppg, 6.5 apg, 4.1 rpg) in scoring (19.3 ppg), assists (7.4 apg), and rebounding (5.1 rpg). His shooting splits last season were .479/.384/.859, but his playoff shooting splits have consistently been worse than that throughout his career. 

Deandre Ayton has averaged a double double in each of his five NBA seasons, and his career averages of 16.7 ppg and 10.5 rpg are quite good for a player who has never been the first (or second) option. Nevertheless, something is missing in terms of attitude/motor--or, at least that is the Suns' story--so it is not surprising that the Suns parted ways with the talented big man.

A good rule of thumb is that the "winner" of an NBA trade is the team that received the best player. Conventional wisdom would say that Lillard is clearly the best player and thus Milwaukee clearly won the deal--but it must be remembered that Milwaukee's primary goal is to win as many championships as possible before Giannis Antetokounmpo retires (or leaves via free agency), so Milwaukee only "won" if Lillard is a better fit on a championship team than Holiday. This is not about "logo shots" or marketing or popularity. The Bucks won one championship in three seasons with Holiday; it will be interesting to see (1) if Lillard has three productive seasons left and (2) if Milwaukee wins three, two, one, or zero championships in the next three seasons. 

I planned to pick Milwaukee to win the Eastern Conference before this trade, and I still plan to pick Milwaukee to win the Eastern Conference now--but I am skeptical of the notion that the Bucks are significantly better after swapping Holiday for Lillard. I like the Bucks because of Antetokounmpo's greatness, and his ability to bring out the best in his teammates, not because of Lillard's "logo shots" and situational loyalty.

As for Portland, the Trail Blazers were going nowhere fast with Lillard, and they are going nowhere fast now--but that does not mean this was a bad trade for them. Lillard put them over a barrel by not only demanding to be traded but by insisting that he would only play for Miami, a statement that limited his trade value and curtailed Portland's options. Portland General Manager Joe Cronin deserves credit for not caving in to Lillard and for creating a better deal than anyone thought he could.

The Suns will ride or die with Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal doing the heavy lifting. If each member of that trio is healthy and productive, the Suns will be formidable. Nurkic may fit in better than Ayton from a chemistry standpoint, but Ayton and Nurkic are comparable in terms of overall talent/impact (though their skill sets are not identical). However, Nurkic is injury-prone, so chemistry will not matter unless he is actually on the court.

The bottom line is that each team needed to make a move, for different reasons. The Trail Blazers had to get the most that they could for the disgruntled Lillard, the Bucks had to do something to appease Antetokounmpo (who has recently made comments suggesting that he might leave in free agency if the roster is not upgraded), and the Suns had to add some depth while also figuring out how to either bring Ayton into the fold or send him on his way.

Thus, from the standpoint of reasonable expectations and available options, each team probably did about as well as possible in this deal.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:17 AM



At Thursday, September 28, 2023 8:48:00 AM, Anonymous TR said...

I disagree that the Suns added depth - or at least, depth of quality. It's shocking to me that this is their return for DeAndre Ayton, whom I consider to be a very quality big man, and the best big man on their roster by far.

If the Suns were to replace him with a few quality depth pieces on smaller, shorter contracts, I could forgive that, especially considering the apparent chemistry issue that you mentioned, David. But the players the Suns received are just not that good and/or injury prone.

I don't think the Suns are going anywhere with Devin Booker, past-their-primes Durant and Beal, and a bunch of nobodies in the frontcourt. The Suns were big losers in this deal.

At Thursday, September 28, 2023 10:48:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


In a vacuum, I agree with your take on Ayton, but it has been obvious for a while that there was a disconnect between Ayton and the Suns organization.

Regarding "depth of quality," perhaps this is a relative term. The Suns did not acquire anyone who is going to be Sixth Man of the Year or make the All-Star team, but Nurkic is an adequate replacement for Ayton (assuming that Nurkic stays healthy, but it should be noted that Ayton is not exactly an ironman, either).

Allen has been a starter and double figure scorer for a very good Bucks team, so he certainly provides some depth for the Suns. Little is just 23 years old, and has shown at least some signs that he could develop into a solid rotation player.

Thus, the Suns gave up one very good starter (Ayton) to receive a very good starter (Nurkic) plus two solid rotation players (Allen, Little). It is difficult to argue that the Suns have less depth now than they did before this deal; they have three rotation players instead of one.

Obviously, if Ayton becomes an All-Star while Nurkic struggles with injuries and Allen and Little fail to contribute then this is a bad deal for the Suns--but if everyone performs as should be reasonably expected then the Suns got better even without considering the likely improved team chemistry resulting from removing whatever issue(s) existed between Ayton and the organization.

At Thursday, September 28, 2023 10:57:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You mean 2 playoff series wins in 2019, not 3, for Lillard/Portland. It wasn't really fluky though. Portland was one of the top teams in the league that year with 53 wins(5th best in the league), only 4 less than GS, and avoided GS until the WCF. They had 2 tough opponents before the WCF, but both certainly beatable and neither true contenders. Jokic/Denver weren't ready for prime time in 2019.

Milwaukee has a pattern of underachieving over the past 4-5 seasons. They did win one title, but they should have 2-3 titles minimum in this time span. But it's not just title counts, they flame out much earlier than they should normally, too. Holiday also has a pattern of underachieving in the playoffs, but so does Giannis for that matter. Lillard is definitely a big upgrade over Holiday, but will he stay healthy and will he fit in good enough are 2 big questions. Bottomline is that Giannis is the superstar and it's on him primarily to figure it out. He shouldn't be losing so early in the playoffs so often with the stacked teams he's had if he's as good as viewed overall.

The Suns marginally added depth, and that's only if Nurkic stays healthy. Seems like an odd trade for Phoenix unless they think these other no-name guys they're bringing in can actually contribute. But, if they can and Nurkic stays reasonably healthy, then looks like a solid trade for them.

At Thursday, September 28, 2023 11:37:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You are correct that Lillard/Portland won two out of three playoff series in 2019, and I have edited the article accordingly.

We could debate the particulars of Portland's 2019 playoff run, but my larger point is that Lillard led Portland to one WCF appearance in 11 seasons; by definition, something that happens once every 11 years is fluky (happening more by chance than by skill or design), and my point is that Lillard is not a player who can consistently lead a team to the Conference Finals.

It is not fair to say that Milwaukee has a "pattern of underachieving." The Bucks' one title is more than Tatum, Brown, Embiid, Harden, and Butler have combined to win in their entire careers. Also, injuries to Middleton in 2022 and Antetokounmpo in 2023 hampered Milwaukee's playoff chances; without those injuries, the Bucks had a good chance to add at least one more title to their resume.

I am not convinced that at this stage of their careers Lillard is "definitely a big upgrade over Holiday." Lillard is a better scorer/shooter. They are comparable as playmakers, but Holiday is vastly superior as a defender, and Holiday is more durable. If Lillard is healthy during the playoffs and provides efficient scoring while the other four starters cover up for his poor defense then Lillard could be an upgrade; I could also foresee a situation in which Lillard is injured or inefficient, and his defensive shortcomings become a major issue. I understand why the Bucks did this--they added scoring and appeased Antetokounmpo--but there is risk here along with the potential upside.

The Suns and Ayton never connected, so the Suns got about as much for Ayton as they reasonably could expect to get while serving as the necessary third partner in the Lillard deal.

At Thursday, September 28, 2023 11:43:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nobody is debating whether Lillard has been good enough to lead a team to a title, at least for a 'normal year,' even if we've seen guys like Parker/Billups do so. When looking at the whole 11 years, maybe, but not for 2019 specifically. And every season is different. Portland won 53 games in 2019. Denver won 53 games in 2023 and won the title facing teams with 42, 43, 44, and 45 wins. Not that Portland would've beaten each of those teams necessarily, but they would've been the favorites with homecourt advantage in each of those series. Every season is different.

Just because a team wins a title or does such and such doesn't mean they aren't underachieving. In 2020, Milwaukee had the best record in the league and lost to a 44-win team 4-1 in the 2nd round, obviously underachieved that year. They should've won the title. They did well in 2021 winning, but would've likely lost in the 2nd round if the Nets didn't have major injuries. Tough 2nd round opp with Boston in 2022, but still only the 2nd round. In 2023, best record in the league and lose badly in 1st round. With the casts they've had, this is obviously major underachieving. They should at the very least be advancing further in the playoffs even if not winning the actual title.

What Holiday brings or doesn't bring come playoff time, has been of little value or isn't helping the team get over the hump when they flame out earlier than they should. Lillard even at this stage of his career is a big-time player. If the Bucks can put a solid defender in there with Lillard in the backcourt, then it shouldn't be that big of an issue. Almost every team will have someone who isn't a great defender in the lineup at most times.

At Thursday, September 28, 2023 2:26:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Parker did not "lead" San Antonio to a title, even if he received the 2007 Finals MVP award that Tim Duncan earned. Billups won the 2004 Finals MVP but he was surrounded by multiple All-Stars, and those Detroit Pistons are one of the few NBA champions that did not have a legit Top 50 (or even Top 75) player--in short, they were an outlier.

Lillard, like most players his size, is not as good or as impactful as the larger, more skilled players who lead teams to NBA titles. That is why it is fluky that he led Portland to the 2019 WCF, and that is why he did not come close to doing that before or since.

If the Bucks have underachieved then every other top team in the East in the past several years has underachieved even more, because none of those teams won a title other than Toronto with rental Kawhi.

I don't think that Holiday is the main reason that Milwaukee fell short of the title in 2022 or 2023, because I think that Milwaukee had a great chance of winning with a healthy Middleton (2022) or a healthy Antetokounmpo (2023). Injuries are part of the game for everyone, but when an injured team falls short I would not say that team underachieved. The 2020 "bubble" playoffs were an outlier for many reasons, and I give the Bucks credit for bouncing back from that disappointment to win the 2021 title. Antetokounmpo followed in the footsteps of many great players who triumphed over adversity as opposed to fleeing elsewhere to form a super team.

Did Denver underachieve prior to 2023? Or did the Nuggets battle through injuries while also developing individually and collectively? The Nuggets' path to a title is similar to the Bucks' path: an unselfish but dominant superstar continued to develop his game, stayed in a "small" market, and won a title once his team was healthy enough and experienced enough.

At Thursday, September 28, 2023 4:52:00 PM, Blogger Jordan said...

If you squint hard enough, I can understand why the Suns traded Ayton for "depth". Toxic environments are impossible to work in. It's just a travesty that there was a need to trade a 25-year-old, double-double machine who at his best has proven to be an athletic, top-5 defensive center that shoots 75% from the line.

I don't see enough coverage of how horribly the Suns mishandled Ayton over the past two years. The big knocks against him coming out of Arizona were his motor, BBIQ, and lack of defense. He showed all of those warts in his first season, but also put up a clean 16 and 10 on 58%.

He had the diuretic suspension his second season, which derailed his development a bit, but the Suns asked him to work on his defense. And he did! He took a backseat offensively with the arrival of Chris Paul and became a defensive anchor in his third season. I would argue that more than Paul, Ayton's improvement propelled them to the Finals.

By the numbers, he was even better the next season, but had some injuries that saw him miss 24 games. Grumbling started this season as Paul (and his acolyte Booker) always wears on his teammates. But it wasn't on Ayton's shoulders that Booker and Paul wet the bed against the Mavs--though he got plenty of blame for the early exit.

The point is, he did everything the Suns asked of him during his first four seasons all while his coach openly spoke against him, the leader of the team openly berated him and the fanbase ridiculed and highlighted everything he isn't instead of celebrating the player he is, while seemingly overlooking Booker's no shows and CP3's stubbornness and inability to stay on the court.

After proving himself by improving all of his weaknesses, when it was time for Ayton's extension -- the Suns let him go find an offer before matching -- all to save a few million dollars.

As a full grown adult who has worked for 20+ years, I would have a difficult time putting my best effort forward day in and day out, regardless of how much I was paid, if I was forced to work in that toxic environment. Twenty-three year old me would not have handled it any better (if not worse) than Ayton did.

It reminds me of the Jordan Poole situation to some degree. You have a young player working hard to improve (despite having a rep as hard to deal with) and then the organization just completely abandons them to protect the veterans on the team.

This could have all been avoided if the Suns had simply maxed Ayton on day one and rewarded him for the work and sacrifice he did put in. He proved his value in the Finals run and proved it wasn't a fluke by putting up the same impact the following season.

The Suns have been my second favorite team dating back to Thunder Dan -- but I hope Ayton emerges as a perennial all-star and DPY candidate and makes the Suns regret this horrible trade. Suns fans couldn't wait to get rid of Ayton, but the grass isn't always greener. Nurk ain't much better of a "team-first" player and he's averaged 48 games a season for the past three years. And his contract is for 3 more seasons!

At Thursday, September 28, 2023 4:52:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Parker wasn't the best player on the 2007 Spurs, but he was in the Finals. But, I was talking about 2013 and 2014 Spurs. Nobody on those Spurs teams stood out exactly as the best player; Parker has a case at least, though not an elite player. Billups wasn't an elite player either. But, very few NBA champions don't have a bunch of stars. The 2004 Pistons weren't an exception, but more the norm.

Not disagreeing about Lillard. But, leading a team to a title vs leading a team to the WCF is quite different, 2 series wins different in fact. Big difference. It'd be reasonable to expect him to reach the CF's at least once, which he did. Lillard's casts when he was the #1 option in Portland never were great. Someone like Curry wouldn't have any titles with those casts either. Leading his 53-win team to playoff series wins over 49 and 54-win teams isn't exactly fluky though.

The Bucks were #1 seeds in 2020 and 2023 and won 1 playoff series total in those 2 years. The Bucks lost both games in 2023 that Giannis started and finished, and his stats were actually very good. And it wasn't like they were facing one of the top teams in the league either time either. Giannis doesn't need to flee, the Bucks gave him a super team. He has star players around him plus an excellent cast after that.

Denver hasn't been anywhere nearly as good as the Milwaukee in recent years. The only thing you could say about them underachieving slightly was 2019 2nd round vs Portland, but at least they made it 7 games. They were still young then and not ready. In recent history, I think their only top 2 seed was last year as the #1 seed, but only won 53 games, not exactly a great record historically and the West wasn't that strong. So while they can't choose their path, their path to the Finals and winning the Finals was extraordinarily easily. If 2020 Milwaukee who almost did a 180 once the playoffs started had that same path to the title as 2023 Denver, they would've likely won the title. These supposed unselfish superstars staying in a smaller market only works if their organizations actually put the teams around them, which Milwaukee/Denver have, to their credits. Not that Lillard is on the Jokic/Giannis level, but Portland never did with him. But, Giannis is still looking to the jump ship after this year.

At Thursday, September 28, 2023 9:02:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


It is not difficult to understand why Phoenix traded Ayton. Whether or not that was the right decision is not yet clear, but it is clear that the Suns have been dissatisfied with Ayton for quite some time, and the feeling was mutual.

That being said, I tend to agree with you that the Suns used Ayton as a scapegoat for things that were not his fault. As you surely know, I am not a big fan of Chris Paul's supposedly wonderful leadership, and the Suns' falling out with Ayton is yet another example of a Paul-led team fracturing.

At Thursday, September 28, 2023 9:31:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Parker was never the best player on the Spurs, and throughout NBA history it has been rare for a player under 6-3 to be the best player on a championship-caliber team.

The 2004 Pistons arguably had five All-Star caliber players in or near their prime. Tayshaun Prince never made the All-Star team but he was a four-time All-Defensive Team selection. Five other players on the 2004 Pistons made the All-Star team at least once within three years (before or after) that season. If you think that is "the norm" I would be fascinated to see a list of championship teams that meet that criteria. In any case, my larger point is that it is very rare for a player 6-3 and under to clearly be the best player on a championship-caliber team. Maybe Billups was the Pistons' best player, maybe not--but he was not clearly the team's best player, and he had a ton of help around him.

I think that we will just agree to disagree about Milwaukee. I think that you are the Anonymous who made similar contentions about Milwaukee in other threads, and there is not much else to be said. We just disagree.

Antetokounmpo and Jokic are not "supposedly unselfish." They are demonstrably unselfish, and as a result each led his team to a title--and even if Antetokounmpo leaves as a free agent, that is not remotely similar to what Lillard did, what Harden is attempting to do yet again, what Durant did on his way out of Brooklyn, what Irving did, etc., etc. I have no conceptual problem with LeBron leaving a team as a free agent, or Durant leaving OKC as a free agent, even if I personally disagreed with their choices. There is a big difference between leaving as a free agent, and grabbing all of the money on the table before issuing ultimatums. I don't respect the players who did the latter, and Lillard stands out (in a bad way) because he made such a big deal about how loyalty is his core value. It will be interesting to see if he can win a title as the second option.

At Friday, September 29, 2023 9:04:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

" There is a big difference between leaving as a free agent, and grabbing all of the money on the table before issuing ultimatums." --> exactly right, and KD is in a class by himself, in having BKLN pay him 40m to rehab his injury and then bagging that contract midway. I don't think that KD's image will ever recover from that.

Lillard's "loyalty" wasn't to be trusted anymore than Garnett's "I'll never play for Boston" weeks before he signed with Boston; just self-serving hot air.

At Friday, September 29, 2023 12:54:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that Durant is perhaps the worst of the team-hoppers, and that in retrospect Lillard's loyalty spiel should not have been trusted. Regarding Durant, I would separate his deplorable team-hopping from a skill-set evaluation of him as a player, and would note that regardless of what anyone thinks of his decisions he was the best player on back to back GS championship teams. I think that some people are so disgusted by Durant that they are not able to objectively evaluate his on court accomplishments and skills.

At Friday, September 29, 2023 1:15:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Parker at least has a case for 2014. That Spurs team just didn't have anyone even near elite. Just a bunch of solid pieces and great coaching. I'll leave it at that.

Ben Wallace was the only Pistons player to make the AS team in 2004 and an all-nba team and/or defensive all-nba team. Prince was never close to making any AS team. He averaged only 10,5,2,1,1 on .536 TS% and didn't make any postseason teams. Billups/Hamilton only made their 1st AS team not until 2006. Rasheed Wallace only averaged 14,7 on .495 TS% with Detroit. They meshed well, much like a lot of SA teams have done, and won in a weaker year. That's actually weak for a title team actually. When Billups/Hamilton finally made an AS team in 2006, they probably deserved it but barely. Rasheed unlikely didn't though.

Done with Milwaukee then. I'll just add that I find it hard to believe anyone would think that a #1 seeded team only winning 1 playoff series over 2 years and also losing 4-1 both times isn't underachieving. 6 playoff series wins over 4 years with stacked teams.

Lillard at least stayed 11 years in Portland. And it's quite clear Portland isn't interested in building a contender around him lately. Milwaukee has given Giannis a lot and then some. Big difference. I understand what Lillard said about loyalty and his actions afterwards are odd given that, but he gave a lot to Portland. The NBA isn't a loyalty business either. Personally, I could care less if he or anyone else is loyal. It's a business, just what it is. And if Giannis jumps ship, he's still jumping ship. He has nobody to blame but himself for his team's failures. But there's always lots of reasons why any team doesn't win a title, no different with Milwaukee.

At Friday, September 29, 2023 2:51:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I understand why you believe that Parker has a case for being the Spurs' best player in 2014, but my position is that the Spurs win no titles and have no Finals appearances without Duncan. He is the only irreplaceable piece (unless the Spurs traded him for another Pantheon-level player). Perhaps Kawhi was irreplaceable for their last championship team, but the other guys could have been replaced with multiple other comparable players. I am not saying that Ginobili and Parker were not very good/great, but they were not on Duncan's level.

We don't know how "close" Prince was to making the All-Star team, but he was an elite defender and solid all-around player during his prime. The 2004 Pistons had five other players in addition to Prince who were past, current or future All-Stars. The larger point is that Billups was not an elite player carrying a solid cast; he was one All-Star among many on that team.

Even with all the qualifications and reservations you applied to Detroit's 2004 championship team, can you cite another championship team that had five players who earned at least one All-Star selection within three years (in either direction) of that championship season?

Regarding underachievement, did the 1978 Blazers underachieve? They had the NBA's best record but lost their first series after winning the 1977 title. Of course, Bill Walton broke his foot late in the 1978 season. If Milwaukee had been full strength then your argument would have merit, but the Bucks were not at full strength in the 2022 or 2023 playoffs.

It would be difficult to build a contender around Lillard when he is paid max dollars but is only good enough to be--at best--the second option on a championship team. Lillard already knew how the team had been built and was likely to be built moving forward when he signed the extension. I would not criticize him for leaving as a free agent, but he grabbed all the money, called himself loyal, and then demanded to be sent to Miami. If Antetokounmpo leaves as a free agent, that is fine. Up to this point, he has not demanded an early exit or stated that he is only willing to play for one other team.

At Friday, September 29, 2023 3:26:00 PM, Anonymous Keith said...

Hello David,

We only saw Damian Lillard as a second option on a playoff team twice but the results were not too dissimilar to the pattern seen as a first option. His numbers and efficiency generally go down over the course of the playoffs or sometimes even during the first round. Giannis is a better first option than LaMarcus Aldridge but I agree with you that I don't think the Bucks are any better after than they were before the trade. Jrue Holiday tended to struggle with his shot in the playoffs but Lillard may very well produce similarly without any of Holiday's excellent defense as a fallback. They may have taken a step back if anything.

At Friday, September 29, 2023 4:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


That is a good point, though of course those two playoff runs were early in Lillard's career, and Aldridge was not as good as Antetokounmpo.

Until Lillard proves that he can stay healthy and be at least somewhat efficient during an extended playoff run, there is no reason to believe that the Bucks are substantially better now than they were before. Of course, the deal was not made only (or even primarily) to actually improve the team: the Bucks were concerned that (1) Holiday might leave as a free agent and (2) if Holiday stayed he might not be worth what it would cost to keep him under contract until his late 30s. The Bucks also probably felt that they had to make a splashy move to dissuade Antetokounmpo from leaving. Because of those three factors, the Bucks may feel like losing in the playoffs with Lillard is preferable to losing in the playoffs with Holiday; obviously, winning another title is the goal, but if that does not happen the Bucks may think that having Lillard in the fold for multiple years is an incentive for Antetokounmpo to stay.

So, in light of all of these factors I would not say that the Bucks have taken a step back, but I disagree with the overheated rhetoric suggesting that they are now some kind of super team.


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