Portland Trail Blazers General Manager Joe Cronin finally found a deal to his liking, and with the self-imposed deadline of training camp looming, consummated the Damian Lillard trade on Sept. 27. He sent the franchise’s most beloved player to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for a package that included Jrue Holiday and then flipped Holiday to the Boston Celtics for more assets just days later.
Cronin’s thought process seemed clear from the beginning: Lillard was on his way out the door no matter what, and probably not to the Miami Heat. Either the Heat didn’t have the kind of assets he wanted or it wasn’t willing to offer all of them for Lillard.
Regardless, it was a summer of tension and strong opinions, publicly from fans and media members, but also, as it turns out, privately between Portland executives and Lillard. Now that the dust has settled, Cronin finally opened up to Ben Golliver of The Washington Post about how his relationship with Dame took a turn for the worse during the stress of the past few months.
Portland Trail Blazers GM Joe Cronin opens up about Damian Lillard relationship
In his story, Golliver reports that Blazers owner Jody Allen said, at some point after Lillard’s trade request, “We really need to move on. We’ve got great young talent. We’re not like other rebuilding teams who don’t have a strong core of young players. It’s time to turn the page.”
Taking directions straight from his boss, we know now, that Cronin began to scour his way through the trade market, looking for the best possible deal he could make for his franchise, and hopefully for Lillard, too.
And to hear Cronin tell it in his own words, the process that ensued definitely put on a strain on the pair’s relationship, eventually resulting in Cronin’s name being omitted even from Dame’s farewell letter to the franchise:
"[Lillard] and I went through it this summer. It wasn’t always amicable and perfect. To be omitted from that [letter], I didn’t take as anything more than it being a hard summer that we had both gone through. I wasn’t one to be thanked at that moment. … Our directions didn’t line up. Things didn’t work out. We had pure intentions in our desire to build a winner around him. We were just unable to pull it off. I don’t think that was a lie. We just couldn’t get it done.Portland Trail Blazers GM on his relationship with Damian Lillard"
Plenty of Blazers fans will continue to describe Cronin as a liar or a fraud. Maybe as both. But in the end, the return package he got – that the Portland franchise got – for Lillard needs to be commended. It wasn’t Tyler Herro, expiring contracts and three first-round picks and pick swaps from the Miami Heat.
It became Deandre Ayton, Robert Williams III, Malcolm Brogdon, Toumani Camara, three guaranteed first-round picks and the opportunity to swap firsts with Milwaukee in 2028 and 2030. Even if Lillard is still playing and Giannis Antetokounmpo is still alongside him with the Bucks, Dame will be 38 years old in 2028 and Giannis will be 33. There’s value in those swaps.
It’s time for everyone to turn the page – the Portland Trail Blazers organization, its front office, coaching staff, players and fans. It’s time to look toward a bright future with Scoot Henderson, Shaedon Sharpe, Anfernee Simons, Ayton and Williams.
And for whatever flack he took, and will likely continue to take, for his role in Lillard leaving Portland, Cronin played a significant part in building that promising future.