Inside the Damian Lillard trade: How the Bucks, Blazers and Suns got to the finish line

Damian Lillard is going to the Milwaukee Bucks in a blockbuster trade. Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

Milwaukee Bucks general manager Jon Horst steered his wife and two children on the drive home from a family wedding in northern Wisconsin on Sunday, a three-hour ride amid the surround sound of a transcendent trade. Mia slept, the kids immersed themselves in tablets and a long call with Portland Trail Blazers GM Joe Cronin delivered Horst what he had been hoping to hear: A growing conviction that the Blazers' best deal for Damian Lillard belonged with the Bucks.

Horst dropped his family at home around 8 p.m. and drove directly to his office at the team's practice facility. He called a couple of his key front office deputies and asked them to meet him there. As the opening of training camp loomed, and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo's future teetered, Horst and his staff would work through the next 2½ days to close out one of the biggest trades in a Bucks history that includes the arrival and departure of Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

After Cronin hung up with Horst on Sunday night, he called the Blazers' governor, Jody Allen. For the first time since Lillard made a formal trade demand on July 1, Cronin had a sense of a breakthrough, he told her. There's a trade to do -- and it's with the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns.

Interviews with officials with direct knowledge of the negotiations described a clandestine, chaotic final few days on the NBA offseason's biggest trade.

Soon after ending his call with Allen, Cronin opened up his Moleskine journal and jotted notes with his blue marker. For months, in this fist-sized notebook jammed with the secrets of the summer, it had been a blue marker for Lillard trade talks. Four pages for every opposing team -- weeks and weeks of trade conversation notes, deal structures and ideas. Cronin resisted posting trade offers on elaborate whiteboards with magnets and nameplates in his practice-facility office or meeting rooms; too many prying eyes could steal a glance. Everything existed inside that Moleskine and his MacBook.