Anyone who’s writing an NBA script has watched a lot of M. Night Shyamalan movies.
The astonishing plot twists continued this Wednesday when Damian Lillard’s business went down – not in his favorite spot in Miami Heat but in Milwaukee Bucks, where he’ll form one of the strongest superstar duos with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Recent memory.
In a three-team deal, many players and assets were involved, indicating that business has a significant impact across the league. Let’s take a quick look at the details of the Wednesday trade reported.
As we try to piece together what just happened, here are some winners and losers from the blockbuster business that ultimately sees Lillard leaving Portland.
Winner: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Three years ago, during extensive talks, Antetokounmpo applied enough pressure at the Milwaukee front office that he chose more than three first-round picks for Holiday instead. A month later, Antetokounmpo signed a five-year supermax extension, and the Bucks won the championship the following season.
Now, Antetokounmpo finds himself entangled in trade talks again, indicating that he has successfully influenced the Bucks officials to maneuver for Lillard in exchange for Holiday. Antetokounmpo has consistently dropped subtle hints that he might consider leaving Milwaukee, recently saying, “If there’s a better situation for me to win than Larry O’Brien, then I’ll have to take that better situation.”
Adding to this fact, teammate Chris Hens suggests that months ago, Antetokounmpo mentioned Lillard as his top choice for a teammate.
The Bucks parted ways with a bang-up post-season last year, and Antetokounmpo clearly didn’t want to see them rest on their laurels. He has introduced one of the most dynamic playmakers in league history and elevated them to the top contenders for the upcoming season.
It’s safe to say that while the holiday exit is a significant change, Giannis is a content man in the mix.
Loser: Miami Heat
Welcome to the rollercoaster ride. After months of speculation about whether or not the Heat would land Lillard, they find themselves empty-handed on Wednesday. They’ve lost key players like Max Strus and Gabe Vincent in this deal and are facing stiffer competition in the league after finishing 25th last season.
They still have pieces to tinker with – including Holiday, who is now available – but anyone expecting an immediate impact won’t find it with Lillard off the table.
It’s a tough day for Miami Heat fans, but history tells us that Pat Riley and company will figure something out sooner or later.
Winner: Phoenix Suns
Phoenix has scored a walking double-double in Ayton, and although a lot has turned upside down, it was clear that the Suns organization had their day counted with him. Phoenix, with its trio of stars – Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal – circled around Ayton, was capable of including him in the trade for Lillard.
Experienced forward, Ayton will likely take on the role of an early center, while Elan is that lockdown shooter and secondary playmaker the Suns need. In the meantime, Little and Johnson are intriguing young players who can eventually earn rotation spots.
Ultimately, Phoenix swapped one player for four, at least two of whom will be crucial contributors, and in the process, they’ve put an end to Ayton’s headache.
Loser: Jrue Holiday
Holiday is likely to find himself with another contender soon as the rebuilding Blazers apparently have no intention of keeping him, but he’ll have to slam it down. Lillard’s trade report came just a few days ago, and Holiday told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he wanted to retire as a Buck.
Holiday said, “I don’t want to play for another team. I think that with the Bucks team and the organization, we have the best job going forward, so I want to stay in Milwaukee.”
See, holidays are good. He has $72 million owed to him over the next two seasons, is widely considered one of the best defensive guards in the NBA, and will likely find a place in a competitive team soon. However, announcing just hours after the trade that he wants to retire as a Buck is pretty brutal.
Winner: Portland Trail Blazers
Kudos to the Blazers for sticking to their principles. They clearly didn’t fancy the summer offer presented by Miami and resisted the pressure from Lillard and his agent. What Cronin and his staff did is find a deal that suits them, acquiring a 25-year-old former number one overall pick in Ayton, an unprotected first-round pick, and Holiday – who will likely be flipped for future assets.
Reports suggest that the Blazers had no interest in Tyler Herro, making the Miami offer considerably less appealing. If that’s the case, Portland did a good job by exploring different suitors with Milwaukee and Phoenix, and they performed well in this process.
Loser: Eastern Conference Contenders
It’s not a good day for teams that consider themselves contenders in the Eastern Conference. Lillard’s inclusion makes Milwaukee an absolute nightmare, and facing him and Giannis every night for salvation is like a bad dream. Boston made some changes by bringing in Kristaps Porzingis, but it seems like Milwaukee has won the arms race, at least for now.