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Was Damian Lillard denied a return to Portland Trail Blazers by GM Joe Cronin?

As details continue to emerge about what went on behind the scenes in the blockbuster Damian Lillard trade, it’s clear that not all was well in Portland.

Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers celebrates as he points to his wrist after scoring a three-pot basket in the closing seconds of the game against Los Angeles Lakers at Crypto.com Arena on October 23, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.

It would be fair to say that the NBA and its fans are still processing what is undoubtedly the biggest trade saga of the year. With the Blazers star moving to Milwaukee, there has been a whole lot to unpack and not all of it appears to be pleasant.

There was no going back for Damian Lillard

It sounds strange, but according to Chris Haynes from the Bleacher Report, it’s true. What we can understand is that there were some not-so-nice interactions between the point guard and the organization prior to the finalization of his trade to the Milwaukee Bucks, particularly with Blazers general manager, Joe Cronin. As we know, Lillard always maintained that he wanted to go to the Miami Heat and even suggested that he wouldn’t turn up if he was traded anywhere else. Indeed, even his agent Aaron Goodwin echoed the sentiment on numerous occasions to the extent that both were admonished by the NBA itself, on the grounds that Lillard would be in violation of league rules if he refused to play. So, what happened?

Well, it’s now understood that Cronin essentially blanked the Heat, save for one single phone call during July’s Las Vegas Summer League. As you can imagine, that resulted in anger on the part of both Lillard and Goodwin, who believed the Blazers were intentionally avoiding discussions with Miami in an effort to derail Lillard’s plan. After nearly two months of little-to-no communication, Portland agreed to meet with Lillard and Goodwin to find a solution on September 5th. It was at that point that Lillard came to the conclusion that Cronin had no intention of trading him to Miami and so, the star point guard took another road. You can see an extract from Haynes’ report below:

“Lillard then said if a deal couldn’t be worked out with the Heat, he would prefer to rescind his trade request and return to the Trail Blazers. Cronin’s response to the seven-time All-Star was that there was no coming back. Lillard was shocked, sources said. He said it was discouraging to hear he couldn’t return, but added that he didn’t want to be somewhere he wasn’t wanted, and he ended the meeting.”

What does this mean for Damian Lillard & the Blazers going forward?

Nothing really, except for some added context when they inevitably meet on the court. On the other hand, it will likely pain some Blazers fans to learn the manner in which things went down with Lillard apparently wanting to return. Of course, that’s the way the cookie crumbled. As we know, Lillard and Goodwin presented Cronin and the Blazers with two other teams that he would be happy with - the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks - and Cronin was satisfied with the three-team transaction which involved the Bucks and the Phoenix Suns. End of story.

Ultimately, Lillard got out of Portland, and the franchise was seemingly compensated satisfactorily so as they say: All’s fair in love and war. On the other hand, it’s still surprising to see how nasty things got in the end and even more so when you consider that Lillard spent the first 11 years of his career in Portland. Yet, what breakup after a long-term relationship is cordial? For now, we can only watch as the dust settles, but rest assured when Lillard finally faces his old team, it will make for some interesting viewing.