Over the course of the 2020-21 NBA season and offseason, there have been no bigger names in trade talks than Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal and Portland Trailblazers guard Damian Lillard. Both have been with their teams for almost a decade, and both have not seen true success. With both being a part of numerous trade rumors, the question to ask is which star will be traded first? Or will neither star be traded?
The third overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, Beal has played all nine seasons of his NBA career for the Washington Wizards. In five of those seasons, the team has finished .500, with the last three seasons ending with a losing record. From the beginning of his career until the end of the 2019-2020 NBA season, Beal was paired with a star point guard in John Wall. The pair made four playoff appearances together but never made it out of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Unfortunately, the duo played together at a time when the Eastern Conference was being dominated mainly by LeBron James. John Wall would get injured during the 2018-19 NBA season, playing only 32 games, and would miss the entire 2019-20 season. The 2019-20 season would see Beal as the definitive number one of the team. His scoring would increase from 25.6 PPG to 30.5 PPG as well as an increase in assists. The team finished with its second losing season in a row and the Wizards decided to make a blockbuster offseason deal, trading John Wall for Russell Westbrook.
The 2020-21 season would be a standout season for Beal, but another bad season for the Wizards. Beal would average 31.3 PPG, the second-highest scoring average while his assists per game would drop. Beal would miss 12 games over the course of the season, along with many other players. Health and safety protocols would ravage the Wizards, with half the team being out at the same time in January. While the Wizards were able to overcome those obstacles, they would finish four games short of .500 and make the play-in tournament, reaching the 8th seed. The team would lose in five games to the Philadelphia 76ers. Right before the 2021 NBA Draft, the Wizards traded Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers, receiving Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Montrezl Harrell in return. The team would also sign Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie. Only playing three games in the 2020-21 NBA season, Dinwiddie is coming off an ACL injury, with it being unknown how he will perform.
With several additions, it is likely that the team will improve, but they will still be in the lower tier of the NBA Eastern Conference. The Wizards would not be a title contender unless the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets were devastated by injuries in the 2021-22 season. Even if those two teams were to be devastated by injuries, they would still see better competition in teams like Philadelphia, Miami, Boston, and Atlanta. With teams like Chicago improving, the competition for the lower playoff seeds has increased. If Washington is able to make the playoffs, they would most likely see another early playoff elimination, potentially facing a Brooklyn or Milwaukee team in the first round.
One team that Beal was heavily rumored to be a trade target over the course of the season was the Dallas Mavericks. Dallas finished as the 5th seed and took the Los Angeles Clippers to seven games in the first round. Dallas could’ve used Beal’s scoring alongside superstar Luka Doncic, potentially helping them move past the Clippers. While the Mavericks do not have a lot of cap space (especially with Luka just signing a rookie max extension), trading center Kristaps Porzingis would be a must. While Porzingis has been a steady scorer in the regular season, averaging around 20 PPG, he only played 43 games and dropped off in the NBA playoffs. He averaged only 13 PPG in his seven games against the Clippers, as well as dropping off in terms of rebounds. Adding Beal to the Mavericks would make Dallas a contender. With the Clippers being without Kawhi Leonard and the Denver Nuggets being without Jamal Murray, the Mavs could easily move into the top tier of the conference. With there being an opening in the West, a Beal trade could see the Mavs in a position like the Phoenix Suns this past season. While Beal has been back and forth about leaving the Wizards over the course of his tenure, he would be wasting his prime years if he kept playing for them.
Drafted just three spots after Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard has had a presence in the league since his rookie year. In his nine-year career, Lillard has only missed the playoffs once, that season being his rookie season. Unfortunately, five of those eight playoff appearances have ended in a first-round exit. During the last nine seasons, Portland ran into teams like the Golden State Warriors dynasty, Houston Rockets, and Denver Nuggets. To sum up the majority of Portland’s seasons over the last nine years, one could simply say “same old, same old.” Year after year, Portland has brought back the same team (with minor changes here and there). Guard CJ McCollum has been with Portland since being drafted in 2013 and center Jusuf Nurkic has been with the team since being traded from Denver in 2017. Nurkic has had several injuries during his time in Portland and the same could be said for McCollum.
The rumors of Damian Lillard wanting to leave Portland started in early June, the day after the Blazers were eliminated by the Denver Nuggets. In a June 4th Instagram post, Lillard simply said “How long should I stay dedicated? How long till opportunity meets preparation.” Lillard has always been loyal to Portland and has said loyalty means more than chasing rings. While Lillard has made it clear to reporters numerous times that he has no intentions of wanting to be traded, Portland is not in the best situation. After almost a decade, Portland has done all they could, and it has not been enough. Coach Terry Stotts and the team parted ways following the elimination. It didn’t take long for Portland to ink a deal with new head coach Chauncy Billups, who has created controversy for Portland after signing. Lillard defended him until learning more about the situation and even received some negative feedback from fans after this. If Lillard was to stay with Portland, it is likely that the Blazers would be stuck at the bottom of the middle tier of the Western Conference.
Over the last two months, almost every team has been rumored to have been interested in Damian Lillard. The Los Angeles Lakers were rumored to be interested in Damian Lillard prior to the Russell Westbrook trade, the Golden State Warriors were interested in Lillard for a short amount of time, and even the New York Knicks have been rumored to being interested in Lillard. There is one team that stands above all the teams wanting to trade for Lillard: the Philadelphia 76ers. Following Philly’s shocking elimination in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, fans and members of the Sixers organization have turned on Ben Simmons, who fell apart in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. At this point, it is clear that Ben Simmons has played his last game as a member of the Sixers.
Simmons’ name has been linked to the Blazers because he and Lillard fill the needs of what their respective teams need. The Blazers need a better defensive presence while avoiding a total rebuild. The Sixers need another offensive presence alongside Joel Embiid. By adding Lillard, the Sixers would have two scoring forces in their starting lineup while also easing the scoring load that was on Embiid during the season. If the Sixers were to add Lillard and move on from Simmons, the team would stay in the top tier of the Eastern Conference, along with Milwaukee and Brooklyn. They would remain a contender in the East, but would most likely finish as the 3rd seed behind the Nets and Bucks. To make a trade like this happen, Philly would need to lighten up on what they are asking for to trade Simmons. Reports have noted that at one point, Philly was wanting an all-star level talent, as well as four first-round draft picks.
It is obvious that Philadelphia will not be getting that in return, especially after the basketball world saw Simmons’ playoff performance. Philly would most likely need to ask for a first-round draft pick or an additional bench player for the salaries to match. The most recent reports have noted that Philly is more focused on acquiring Lillard than trading Simmons. While it is possible that Philly could acquire Lillard by trading Tobias Harris, that would mean giving up a dependable scorer. Other recent reports have noted that the relationship between Simmons and the Sixers is non-existent, especially after Joel Embiid and head Coach Doc Rivers both appeared to take shots at Simmons during the media availability following their Game 7 loss. A Simmons for Lillard trade would allow for fresh starts for both players, something they both desperately need.
Both Bradley Beal and Damian Lillard need to be traded. They have both played for middle to lower-tier teams in their conferences, and neither team has the potential to move into the top tier. While both players have been loyal to their franchises, Washington and Portland have not done the best trying to surround their superstars with top talent. While many would hope that both players start the 2021-22 season on new teams, it’s likely that only one of the two superstars will be traded. Of the two, Damian Lillard is the more likely to be traded. Philadelphia can offer a superstar-type player in Ben Simmons and Portland can avoid a rebuild. While Dallas could offer Washington Porzingis, he has been injury-prone and might not offer much to Washington right now. Both potential trades would have an impact on their respective conferences, but Lillard is more likely to be moved while Beal remains a part of the Wizards.