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ANALYSIS: Could Nets fit into a Damian Lillard deal? Maybe but not likely

While waiting for the Woj Bomb, some things to consider about a Nets role in any multi-team Damian Lillard deal.

Brooklyn Nets v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s getting late in free agency. Three weeks into the NBA’s annual players bazaar, about half the teams have openings meaning half are full. In the case of the Nets, they have 13 fully guaranteed standard deals plus a non-guaranteed standard deal in Darius Bazley signed last week. They also have two players signed to two-ways so there’s one opening there.

What are GMs like Sean Marks waiting for? Lots of things, like who Oklahoma City, which has too many players, will cut; which of the final batch of free agents, likely vets minimum contracts all, are worth signing; what trade possibilities remain out there: and maybe more than anything else, what happens with the two superstars, Damian Lillard and James Harden, both of whom have asked out, Lillard out of Portland, Harden out of Philadelphia.

GMs are know to husband resources, just in case, until big deals get done. They may not want Lillard or Harden, may not have the resources to get either, but if recent superstar deals are any measure, expect both 33-year-old guards to get moved in a multi-team trades. In return for facilitating a big deal, a third or fourth team can pick up freebies, maybe a second rounder or two, in return for lesser assets. The trade that brought Harden to Brooklyn was a four-team deal. Same with the deal that sent Kevin Durant to Phoenix. Even the deal that sent Spencer Dinwiddie to Washington involved five teams with players, picks, stashes and cash considerations all flying around.

The latest on the Dame deal, as discussed by Shams Charania on Tuesday, is that Portland has told Miami “make your best offer,” which sounds simple enough but it isn’t. Judging by virtually every report out there, the Blazers want multiple first round picks, as in three or four, like the Nets got for KD and the Jazz got for Rudy Gobert, plus young players. Maybe some seconds will get packaged as well. Miami has only two unprotected firsts available, one each in 2028 and 2030. And the South Beach is reportedly the only destination Lillard wants.

So where do those additional picks come from. Initially, there were reports that Brooklyn might be interested in helping out, but that supposition seems to be based mainly on how deep the Nets pool of trade assets is. They can deal up to eight firsts — all but one unprotected — tomorrow if they wanted. They have trade exceptions of every size imaginable and a slew of mid-sized contracts as well, several expiring, which are also sought-after in big deals like this. So, they were the likeliest of candidates to give up a pick or two, receive Tyler Herro, the 23-year-old wing with the big new contract — four years and $120 million, in return. The Blazers reportedly don’t want Herro, already flush in the backcourt with Anfernee Simons and Scoot Henderson.

As Kristian Winfield wrote Wednesday, it’s complicated.

No matter how many times you try in the NBA Trade Machine, there’s no straight-up deal that sends Lillard from Portland to Miami that results in an acceptable haul for the Trail Blazers.

It’s not because Tyler Herro isn’t a talented basketball player. The former Sixth Man of the Year is coming off a respectable second consecutive season averaging 20 or more points per game.

It gets more complicated if you try to work a deal with equal salary coming back in a Lillard deal. As Steve Lichtenstein, formerly of WFAN, wrote on his substack, also Wednesday, the only way that could work is if Ben Simmons goes out. Not likely.

How would that work exactly? Herro has a $27 million salary cap hit this season (not to mention $93 million due in the following three years). How are the Nets matching salaries, since I can’t imagine Portland (or anyone at this point) wanting [Ben] Simmons, at least until he puts something good on tape?

But all that seems just too simplistic and speculative. Consider these questions: does Herro with his proclivity to put up shots at a fierce rate — 17 a game — work in an offense where the Nets are building around two similar aged wings in Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson? And IF, IF healthy, Simmons can provide a number of things that Herro cannot including defense, rebounding and distributing the ball. He is also on a shorter contract. Jake Fischer of Yahoo! Sports reported that the Nets are “genuinely intrigued” by Simmons and that might be a reason for Brooklyn to have even less interest in Herro. Sean Marks & Co. are indeed intrigued by Simmons, but the other issues surrounding Herro, including his contract and fit, are bigger reasons for their lack of interest.

There are other teams that might be interested in taking on Herro in some gargantuan arrangement. The Spurs have been named as one possibility and they have picks and young players. Maybe the Pacers who have been very aggressive this summer?

Is it possible the Nets could get something out of a multi-team deal? Ethan J. Skolnick who has long covered the Heat, reported in early July that Caleb Martin, the Heat’s 6’6” forward who played so well in Miami’s run to the Finals, had garnered Nets interest. He averaged 12.7 points and 5.4 rebounds while shooting 53/42/82 and playing good defense in 23 post-season games. He will make $6.8 million this season on an expiring deal. Skolnick didn’t suggest that Martin could be a piece in a Lillard deal and a first rounder might be too much to pay for Martin. But again, multi-team deals often have different iterations before they finally get called into the commissioner’s office.

It should also be noted that GMs aren’t in constant contact, throwing stuff out there in lengthy phone calls. Both Harden deals and the deals for KD and Kyrie Irving all came together in 48 hours. Expect the same thing in the deals for Lillard and Harden (who it seems much, much less likely to include Brooklyn.) In the meantime, stay patient. The Nets apparently are.