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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Ira Winderman

Lillard trade swirl has created a vortex that could ingest NBA futures of Herro, Simmons, Harden

MIAMI — For all the singular focus at this stage of NBA free agency, the possibility of a Damian Lillard trade is not a one-man proposition.

In fact, amid the desires of the seven-time All-Star to relocate from the Portland Trail Blazers, with a preference of the Miami Heat as his landing spot, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the fates and fortunes of several other players could come into play before a resolution.

Among them, the Heat’s Tyler Herro, Kyle Lowry, Duncan Robinson and Caleb Martin, as well as perhaps the Trail Blazers’ Jusuf Nurkic, the Brooklyn Nets’ Ben Simmons and perhaps even the Philadelphia 76ers’ James Harden.

From the start, because of salary-cap and luxury-tax aspects, this never was going to be as simple as a player-for-player swap, particularly with Lillard, 32, due $45.7 million this coming season.

With that in mind, a look at the non-Lillard names also in play:

Tyler Herro — The biggest trade chip available from the Heat, with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo off-limits, Herro stands as an acquired taste.

The fourth-year guard averaged more than 20 points each of the past two seasons, moving from winner of the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2022 to a 67-game starter this past season, Herro starts his four-year, $130 million extension with a $27 million salary this coming season.

The problem in the Lillard equation is the Blazers already are talent flush with scoring guards, including Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe and 2023 No. 3 draft pick Scoot Henderson.

A landing sport for Herro appears to be the key to a Heat trade equation for Lillard.

Kyle Lowry — Due $29.7 million from the Heat next season in the final year of a three-year, $85 million contract, the 37-year-old point guard stands as expiring cap ballast to balance a trade under the salary cap.

Whether he stands as functional ballast remains in question after an injury-limited 2022-23 season.

Duncan Robinson — Robinson’s $18.2 million salary for next season would appear to set up as a reasonable Heat balancing mechanism for a trade, particularly after the 29-year-old 3-point specialist came through with a playoff revival.

The problem is Robinson has two additional years on his five-year, $90 million contract, at $19.4 million and then at least $9.9 million guaranteed in 2025-26. The long-term numbers set up as sticking points.

Caleb Martin — Having emerged in the postseason, Martin has next season at $6.8 million on his contract before he can move into free agency in the 2024 offseason.

Lillard reportedly has made it known he would like to play with Martin on the Heat. The Heat have been operating as if they plan on moving forward long term with Martin. The question is whether Martin ultimately will stand as a swing vote in a trade proposition.

Jaime Jaquez Jr., Nikola Jovic — The Heat’s 2023 and ’22 first-round picks, respectively, stand as attractive youthful elements to round out trades.

Jovic can be dealt immediately. Jaquez cannot be dealt for one month from when he signed his contract on July 1. But with training camps not opening until October, such a wait would be an inconvenience rather than any type of deal breaker.

Jusuf Nurkic — With a Lillard trade to signal a complete rebuild for the Blazers, Portland likely will attempt to offload oft-injured Nurkic, 38, in the process.

The bulky Bosnian big man is on the books for the next three seasons at $16.9 million, $18.1 million and $19.4 million. The Heat could offset onboarding such salary by offloading the commensurate salaries of Robinson.

Ben Simmons — The Brooklyn Nets have been linked to both direct interest in Lillard as well as possibility working as a third team in a Lillard trade.

A priority in the process for the Nets could be offloading the final two years on the contract of the seldom-playing Simmons, who has appeared in only 42 games over the past two seasons, due $37.9 million next season and $40.3 million on 2024-25.

It is highly unlikely that Simmons winds up with the Heat, but he could become part of Lillard trade calculus.

James Harden — In a parallel universe, there also is the matter of Philadelphia 76ers guard Harden having opted into the $35.6 million for 2023-24 on the final year of his contract.

Harden could wound up as a Plan B should a Lillard trade fall through, with the Heat having ample matching salary components.

Harden also could become factored into a Lillard trade amid his desire to move on to the Los Angeles Clippers, with the Lillard equation potentially including those two teams and others.

Kendick Nunn, Goran Dragic — If the Heat lose both Herro and Lowry in a Lillard trade, it would leave them short at point guard beyond two-way player Dru Smith. Among the options could be former Heat guards Nunn or Dragic, who both remain free agents on a market otherwise lacking much in the way of depth at point guard.

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