Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

[OPINION] NBA Preseason Update: Lillard Trade Reinforces Contenders

Natalie Schorr

The National Basketball Association (NBA) season starts Oct. 24, and fans are in for a different look. Specifically, the top teams from the league’s Eastern Conference, the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics, have increased their star power in a flurry of moves.

The first domino to fall was All-NBA point guard Damian Lillard’s departure from his team of 11 years, the Portland Trail Blazers. He was traded to the Bucks Sept. 27 for multiple players and draft picks in a three-team deal. It was a trade Lillard, whose loyalty to the city has become that of NBA lore, requested.

Lillard’s time in Portland led to seven All-NBA selections and a spot on the NBA’s prestigious 75th Anniversary Team, a list of the 75 best players in league history. But as far as team success goes, the Blazers made the conference finals just once, never quite putting together a championship team.

Even as Lillard had a career season, averaging over 32 points per game (PPG) last year, he didn’t have a co-star or veteran team to lean on. As a result, Portland’s mediocre offensive output and bottom-10 defense had them on the outside of the NBA playoffs for a second consecutive season. 

The team had put off the trade for years, but after having to shut down Lillard before April due to losses piling up and injuries, you got the sense that it was finally closing time for the Blazers.

The deal left Portland with a wealth of picks and some solid young players to build with, including former Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton. Ayton, a former first-overall pick, will be paired with Portland’s most recent first round pick, guard Scoot Henderson. As Henderson develops and the Blazers reckon with finding an identity outside of Lillard, Portland is in for a rough few seasons. 

The upside is that the franchise will have no problem selling jerseys during this period. Henderson’s ability to attack the rim is reminiscent of Lillard’s, and his highly-touted passing ability may make “Henderson to Ayton” a recurring theme in Pacific Northwest hoops. But without Lillard’s otherworldly shooting ability and killer mentality in late-game situations that earned him the moniker of “Dame Time,” it’ll take time for Blazers fans to move on.

Those are issues of the west though. More than anything, this was an aggressive move to put the Bucks back at the top of the Eastern Conference’s big board of contenders.

Lillard will be joining a franchise that has championship pedigree, having won the Finals in 2021. Most of all, he will be joining fellow 75th Anniversary team member and multi-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee. Lillard’s specialty as a long-distance shooter creates space for Antetokounmpo, a prolific slasher, to attack the rim. 

In the past, teams like the 2019 Toronto Raptors have folded their entire defense to wall off the painted area from the “Greek Freak.” This daring defensive strategy leaves shooters open, and Antetokounmpo’s supporting cast hasn’t been up to the task of shooting lights out from 3-point range in the past.

Lillard has made the sixth-most 3-pointers in league history.

Needless to say, teams will need to make a choice when defending Milwaukee. Still, the Bucks sit tied for second in preseason betting odds

The Celtics sit atop the league, and they’re doing it with the Bucks’ previous guard, Jrue Holiday. Holiday’s arrival in Boston via Portland from the Lillard trade patches a need for the Celtics. Although they’ve appeared in the conference finals in five of the last seven years, rarely have they had a reliable scoring point guard.

And no, Kyrie Irving does not count.

Holiday scores almost 75% of his two-pointers on unassisted shots and over 57% of his three-pointers without a pass to set him up—the seventh-lowest of any player in the NBA last season. Holiday, touted as a career lockdown defender, has the ability to get his own shots. For Celtics star wing players Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, that will relieve plenty of offensive pressure. 

Both the Bucks and Celtics were contenders in the east far before the Lillard trade transpired, but they’ll win in new and possibly more exciting ways now. The Lillard-Antetokounmpo duo will have defenses ripping up their gameplan on a nightly basis while Holiday’s ability to handle the ball, score and defend the opposition’s best will let Boston’s stars play as true wings. Needless to say, prices have been paid: The Bucks had to sacrifice a defensive piece in Holiday and the Celtics have forgone their depth, losing key starters and bench players like Marcus Smart, Robert Williams and Grant Williams this offseason. 

Either way, if star power buys you anything in this league, the Bucks and Celtics are the biggest spenders of the offseason. Now, determining whether those plans pan out is why they play the games.

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About the Contributors
Qasim Ali, Sports & Opinion Editor
Natalie Schorr, Social Media Manager

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