The saga of ‘where-will-he-go’ finally ended when longtime Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard was finally shipped out of the Pacific Northwest. He’s headed to Milwaukee, where he will join perennial All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo to form a powerful inside-outside combination.
Lillard, 33, is a 12-year veteran who has spent his entire career with Portland. During that time, he’s been the team’s best player and undisputed leader, becoming a seven-time NBA All-Star. He was firmly entrenched as a part of the city until he requested a trade out of town several weeks ago.
That’s when the Bucks came calling, trading for the point guard in a three-team deal. This seems like a perfect fit for him, considering he’s a veteran who’s looking for his first championship ring. Meanwhile, Milwaukee is a team that recently won a title, has an established megastar as its franchise player, and isn’t that far away from climbing to the top of the mountain once again.
That’s why Damian Lillard looks like a perfect fit. He’s the missing piece of the puzzle – at least, in the mind of Bucks GM Jon Horst. And if you look closely? He could very well be right.
The Bucks certainly needed to do something after promising Giannis Antetokounmpo that they would add some talent around him. That was enough to get the big man to ink a long-term extension in the offseason. Considered one of the best players in the game, he’s the building block of the entire team. It starts with him, but he’s never really had a playmaker like Lillard in the fold.
For his part, the former Blazers guard can do a little bit of everything. He’s averaged over 25 points per game over the course of his career, but can also facilitate the ball to Giannis as well.
The biggest ‘X Factor’ here is that you have a superstar veteran who is (really) still right in the prime of his career, paired alongside a proven NBA force. And just as Antekokounmpo has never had a point guard like Damian Lillard, the same can be said for the Bucks’ versatile post player. Neither has suited up with someone as uniquely talented as the other before. So seeing how this dynamic turns out will be a fun watch for NBA fans in 2023-24.
The official unveiling of Damian Lillard’s new Bucks jersey. pic.twitter.com/jqKImYAsPr
— ESPN Milwaukee (@ESPNMilwaukee) September 28, 2023
You would have to think with this potent pairing the 2021 NBA Champions would be the early favorites to win the Eastern Conference in the upcoming season. And likely a strong contender to lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of next year’s Finals.
Their biggest challenges will lie out west, against the 2023 Champion Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, or Golden State Warriors. The Lakers are also always a factor, it seems, with Lebron coming back for another tilt. However, there’s still a lot of roster-shaking to do between now and then.
Likely the biggest answer will come when we finally see the pair on the floor with our own two eyes. Two great players don’t always make a great duo (see: Scottie Pippen and Charles Barkley) and there are plenty of great combinations around the League. But the mix of talent in Milwaukee could be a special kind of brew.
Lillard and Giannis, along with a deep roster, might still be a couple of small pieces away. But this team is built to run. And built to win.
Expect them to score points in bunches, and find themselves in the Finals at the very least… with an NBA Championship probably in their near future.
Ryan Boman is the author of the 2023 book, Pop Music & Peanut Butter: A Collection of Essays about Embracing Life with Laughter & Love. Follow him on social media @RyanKBoman