Damian Lillard’s Surgery Only Accelerates the Timeline for the Portland Trail Blazers’ Imminent Rebuild

Damian Lillard is set to have surgery to repair an abdominal injury that the Portland Trail Blazers star has been dealing with since the Tokyo Olympics.

Lillard is having a nightmare of a year. He’s missed a good chunk of 2021-22 with injuries, and when he has played, has had one of the worst statistical seasons of his career.

With the Blazers going nowhere and their franchise star sidelined, it’s time for a rebuild — one that’s already been on the minds of NBA decision-makers — to kick into full gear.

Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers are in the midst of a miserable season

Damian Lillard's injury means its officially time for the Portland Trail Blazers to start their rebuild.
Dennis Smith Jr. and Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers watch from the bench during the first half of a game against the Miami Heat. | Soobum Im/Getty Images

In most statistical categories, Dame is having the worst season since either his rookie season or his second year in the NBA.

Lillard has played in only 29 of the Blazers’ 40 games as of Jan. 13.

His scoring (24.9) and rebounding (4.1) averages are the fourth-lowest of his nine-year career. He hasn’t scored less than 24 points per game since 2014-15.

His shooting percentage (40.2), 3-point shooting percentage (32.4), and effective field-goal percentage (48.6) are all career worsts.

On the bright side, Portland is currently eligible to make the play-in tournament! The team is 16-24, good for 10th place in the Western Conference standings.

Unfortunately, the Blazers are closer to the 11th-place Sacramento Kings than the ninth-place Minnesota Timberwolves. And they’re still without Dame’s Robin, CJ McCollum, who remains out indefinitely after suffering a collapsed lung.

Now, without Lillard for at least six to eight weeks, according to ESPN, the Blazers’ hope for a playoff berth has all but disappeared.

Dame’s surgery should be the final straw that accelerates a much-needed rebuild

So there goes the season. What comes next?

What is a complete teardown for 500, Alex.

Lillard’s name was in trade rumors long before the season began. The team most often attached to him was the Philadelphia 76ers in one of the 15,000 potential Ben Simmons deals out there.

But Portland — rightly at the time — said no. In hindsight, maybe it would’ve been best to send Dame Dolla to greener pastures.

The Blazers’ deepest playoff run with their superstar point guard at the helm came in the 2018-19 season when they made the Western Conference Finals. They were subsequently swept by the Golden State Warriors.

The franchise has maxed out and gone as far as Lillard can take them. What’s even more evident is Portland has gone as far as the combination of Lillard and McCollum can take them.

It’s time to send at least CJ — and the expiring contracts of Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington — packing.

Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little are the two most promising young assets Portland has. They should stay. Other than that, everyone on the roster should be available.

The only question remaining, and the elephant in the room is what to do with Dame. Keeping him with the organization, with all he’s done for the Portland community and the butts he keeps in the seats, could be the right call.

On the other hand, even on the wrong side of 30 with a lengthening injury history, Lillard would fetch a fortune. At his healthy peak, he’s one of the best players in the NBA. A bidding war would ensue if the franchise made it known he was available.

The treasure trove the Blazers would get for Dame would accelerate this inevitable rebuild ten-fold.

Immediate roster changes are needed for both the Blazers and Damian Lillard

Even Lillard admitted he might have to throw in the towel on this year, which is hard to swallow for someone with his level of pride.

According to the same ESPN article:

“It wasn’t easy at all because I just love being out there. Like, I love being out there playing,” Lillard said of the decision to have surgery in a story posted to the Blazers’ official website.

“I’ve always been available to play but I think the older you get, the more experience that you have, not just in sports but in life, it becomes more important to play chess. My pride might say `Keep fighting it out, get the job done again. Try to get in the playoffs.’ And then the older me is saying ‘You can’t do none of that stuff if you’re not at your best.'”

Dame has cashed in on the season. But as it stands, things won’t be any better in 2022-23.

So it’s finally time for Portland to do what it’s been trying to avoid for years and use that dreaded “T” word.

It’s time to tank.

All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.

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