There has been growing speculation that the Portland Trail Blazers could talk to Damian Lillard about staying home during training camp — maybe even through the start of the season — while they look for a trade they like. It’s not that Lillard would be intentionally disruptive, but just his presence at training camp or opening night would lead to a media circus and distraction as the organization tries to turn the page to the Scoot Henderson era.
Except Portland may not be able to do that under the new rules aiming to limit the resting of star players.
Those rules include restrictions on “long-term shutdowns of star players.” While this rule is clearly targeting sitting players the final 10 or more games of the season — as Portland did with Lillard and Washington did with Bradley Beal last season — a check with the league office confirmed it applies all season long. Teams cannot just park star players they don’t want to play, even if both sides agree to it.
Which could thwart the Trail Blazers’ plans if they were to have Lillard away from the team at the start of the season. This would not impact his missing training camp (the new rules don’t apply to preseason games), but things change if the situation drags on beyond that.
These rules could impact the 76ers and James Harden too, if the two sides mutually agreed that he should stay away from the team while they work out a trade. However, that is not the direction things have headed in Philly, it appears Harden will be at 76es training camp. Everybody grab their bucket of popcorn for that one.
It feels like there could be other unintended consequences from the NBA’s well-meaning new regulations and efforts to get star players on the court more. (For example, as others have noted, the team with the most “stars” under the league’s new criteria is the Timberwolves, while the NBA champion Nuggets have one.)
Publicly, Portland has said it expects Lillard to attend camp and participate, and Lillard has indicated he would be there. Lillard has made his trade request, but he’s not badmouthing the club publicly and is not looking to be disruptive to force the front office’s hand. However, until he is traded his status will be the first question asked of the coach and players every day.
Trade talks between Portland and Miami — Lillard’s preferred destination and only serious suitor so far — are expected to resume and become more serious in the coming weeks before training camps open on Oct. 2. However, there is a large gap between what Portland wants back in a Lillard trade and what the market is offering for the 33-year-old All-NBA guard still owed $216 million over the next four years. Maybe a third team gets involved, but Portland will have to lower its asking price — this is not the Donovan Mitchell trade — and Miami will have to sweeten the pot.