The Damian Lillard saga continues.
The Portland Trail Blazers superstar has spent the last few weeks as the subject of various trade rumors. The latest rumor involves the Philadelphia 76ers and their disgruntled point guard Ben Simmons.
Rumors of Lillard leaving Portland have been an offseason staple in the NBA. And yet, Lillard and the Blazers have remained loyal to one another, through good and bad.
But as much as Lillard and the Trail Blazers have wanted their nine-year marriage to continue, it’s time for the two sides to part ways.
Damian Lillard has remained loyal to the Trail Blazers
In a league where superstars are constantly on the move, Lillard is one of the exceptions. Throughout his career, he has remained committed to the franchise that drafted him in 2012. That loyalty is one of the defining traits of Lillard and something that has been a part of his life forever.
In 2020, Dame went on JJ Redick’s podcast, The Old Man and the Three, and gave an example of how loyalty was instilled in him early on:
“When I committed to Weber State, it was time for me to go to school and I was just like, ‘I don’t know if I really want to go to Utah,'” Lillard told Redick. “So I told my dad I think I’d rather just go to Saint Mary’s and just stay at home. My dad was like, ‘You told them you’re going, [so] you’re going,’ and that was the end of the discussion.”
“I think it’s the route in my upbringing, man. Anything other than loyalty ain’t worth it.”Damian Lillard
That loyalty, of course, extended past Weber State and to the Trail Blazers. After five first-round exits and a lone Western Conference Finals appearance, Lillard has remained committed to Portland.
“I just feel like there’s always a reward at the end. When you do things the right way and you do the work, you’re going to get the results,” Lillard said to USA Today. “I really believe that. We’ve gotten the results. Even after failures, we come back and answer to it. We’re staying the course. That’s worth it to me.”
The Trail Blazers aren’t contenders, even with Lillard
Lillard has never waivered in his commitment, and neither have the Trail Blazers. Portland has made an effort to build its roster around Lillard, mainly with guard C.J. McCollum and center Jusef Nurkic.
But that core has proven it’s not enough to contend with the Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, or Denver Nuggets for Western Conference supremacy.
While it’s one thing for a team like the Lakers to go out and get a superstar, a smaller-market team like Portland isn’t afforded the same luxury. It’s the reason why the Blazers re-signing swingman Norman Powell to a five-year, $90 million contract was the largest free-agent contract in team history.
The other issue lies within the draft. Due to constant playoff appearances, Portland hasn’t picked in the lottery since taking McCollum in 2013. Since then, only 2018 first-round pick Anfernee Simmons has played more than 100 games in a Trail Blazers uniform.
Despite the lack of success in free agency and the draft, general manager Neil Olshey has appreciated Lillard (and McCollum) for trusting the process.
“They’d rather be a really important player on a very successful franchise than to go team up with other players just for the sake of making their lives easier,” Olshey told USA Today. “They know the challenges we face as a small market with player acquisition and retention. But they take the responsibility to help build an environment.”
A fresh start is best for Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers
Both parties want what’s best for each other. Lillard wants to do right by his team and help lead them to a championship. Meanwhile, the Blazers want to build around their star in an effort to reward his loyalty.
While the intentions are noble, it’s all about results. And the results — namely, rings — just haven’t been there.
After nine years, six All-Star appearances, and six All-NBA selections, no basketball fan would fault the 31-year-old Lillard for wanting to win a ring elsewhere. A trade to Philadelphia, New York, or any big market with ample resources can get Dame closer to a championship. It could even elevate him as one of the game’s all-time best point guards.
For Portland, the business side of trading Lillard makes sense. A 31-year-old owed over $176 million gets harder each year to build around, especially when you are already a small market team.
But trading Lillard would also land massive, and necessary, draft capital for building toward the future. Portland could use their multiple first-round picks to either land their next star through the draft or make a trade for a younger, more affordable franchise centerpiece.
There is no bad blood, nor is there tabloid-worthy drama. The breakup between Lillard and the Trail Blazers would be amicable, and his eventual return to Moda Center would be met with a rousing ovation from the Portland faithful.
It would also be the latest example of Lillard and the Blazers doing right by each other; something both parties have done for the last nine years.