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Blazers say they’re willing to wait months to resolve Lillard saga if necessary

Lillard’s trade request became publicly known on July 1, the first full day of free agency in the NBA

FILE - Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard brings the ball up against the New York Knicks during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, March 14, 2023. Damian Lillard  asked his team for a trade Saturday, July 1, a person with knowledge of the matter told The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer, File)
FILE - Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard brings the ball up against the New York Knicks during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Tuesday, March 14, 2023. Damian Lillard asked his team for a trade Saturday, July 1, a person with knowledge of the matter told The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer, File)Craig Mitchelldyer (AP)

Damian Lillard wants to be traded to the Miami Heat. The Portland Trail Blazers know this yet haven’t abandoned hope that the seven-time All-Star changes his mind. And whether he does or not, the Blazers insist that they’re in no hurry.

General manager Joe Cronin, at the news conference where the team unveiled its new five-year, $160 million contract with Jerami Grant, spoke at length about the impasse with Lillard. He offered no specifics on talks — not negotiating publicly — and revealed that he hasn’t spoken with Lillard since the franchise cornerstone asked to be traded.

“We’re going to be patient,” Cronin said Monday. “We’re going to do what’s best for our team. We’re going to see, you know, how this lands. And if it takes months, it takes months.”

Lillard’s trade request became publicly known on July 1, the first full day of free agency in the NBA. After the Blazers revealed that Lillard — who has spent all 11 of his pro seasons in Portland — asked out, agent Aaron Goodwin confirmed days later that the seven-time All-NBA selection wants to go to Miami.

“Dame’s position won’t change,” Goodwin told The Associated Press last week. “This entire situation was about building an opportunity for Portland to win or giving him another opportunity that he wants, which is Miami.”

The entire matter is complicated on so many levels — that the trade request became public, that Lillard wants to be traded only to Miami (he doesn’t have a no-trade clause, and Portland is under no obligation to honor that request), that he is beloved as an all-time great in Portland and that not having him on the roster simply means the team probably won’t have enough to truly compete in the loaded Western Conference.

“As a team, you always hope that you have more options,” Cronin said. “To have limited options like that, I wouldn’t call it frustrating, but it prevents you from perhaps getting the best return. So, it’s something that we’ll have to work through.”

And in his eyes, there’s still hope that Lillard changes his mind — although there’s been no indication that will happen.

“I haven’t lost hope, just because I understand this league is complicated and things change very quickly sometimes,” Cronin said.

The Blazers have a core of young talent – Anfernee Simons just turned 24, Shaedon Sharpe is going into his second season after being the No. 7 pick in 2022 and point guard Scoot Henderson is entering the league as the No. 3 pick in this draft. Cronin said he gets why Lillard would look at the Blazers, as currently constructed, and feel like there isn’t a clear path to contending for a title this coming season.

“I could see why Dame would look at it and say, ‘Well, this isn’t a win-now opportunity, or at least as much of a win-now opportunity in some other places,’” Cronin said. “So, from that regard, I understand his position and I respect it and it makes sense to me why he would like to go elsewhere.”

But Cronin also believes that great days are coming for Simons, Sharpe and Henderson.

“Those guys are going to impact winning very soon in this league,” Cronin said.

Lillard is coming off a season in which he averaged 32.2 points for the Trail Blazers. He is a member of the NBA’s 75th anniversary team, but he has never been close to a title in his 11 seasons in the league.

He met with Portland multiple times, asking for the roster to be upgraded to the point where he can compete for a championship. But those efforts did not go to Lillard’s liking. And now, the trade watch is on.

“It’s just hard. How do you replace Damian Lillard? Who is the person in the marketplaces that is available that is a better player than Dame?” Cronin said. “No team more than us knows what this market looks like. We’ve been trying for 18 months to find the Dame equivalent at another position or someone that’s 80% of Dame, even. So, that’s the challenge and that’s why we’ve got to keep working.”

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