The Portland Trail Blazers fell disappointingly short again to another early playoff exit. The discussion around the Trail Blazers quickly shifts to star guard Damian Lillard‘s future. With that said, the six-time All-Star appears to have his offseason plans already set.
Blazers fall to another early playoff exit
The Blazers entered the playoffs with high aspirations geared toward a deep run to an NBA title.
Portland saw that journey end abruptly after bowing out in the first round against the Denver Nuggets. It came with a valiant effort from Lillard, who poured in another impressive offensive showing.
The 30-year-old averaged 34.3 points and 10.2 assists on 46.3% shooting from the floor and 44.9% from 3-point range. Lillard posted a double-double in five of the six games while topping more than 25 points in each contest. He scored more than 30 points four times, including a 55-point effort in the Game 5 double-overtime loss.
His 35 three-pointers made are the most for any player in a single playoff series, while his 12 made 3-pointers in Game 5 set a single postseason game record. Despite Lillard’s strong effort, the Blazers suffered a fourth first-round playoff exit in the last five years.
It all puts the star guard in an intriguing spot to decide his fate in Portland.
Damian Lillard’s offseason plans will make the Blazers squirm
The Blazers heading into another early offseason quickly shifts the dialogue toward Lillard’s long-term future.
The star guard has repeatedly publicly voiced his commitment to the franchise despite the continued playoff shortcomings. As he begins his lucrative four-year, $176.2 million extension, Lillard holds unique control over the franchise where he played his first eight NBA seasons.
According to Jabari Young of NBC Sports, the 30-year-old will wait to see the Blazers’ offseason moves before deciding his future plans. Portland already chose to fire longtime head coach Terry Stotts, leaving the door open to making a hiring that falls well within the star guard’s preference.
During a recent Instagram Live stream, Lillard voiced that he wanted Jason Kidd as potentially the next head coach. However, the Hall of Famer pulled himself out of the running for the position after he reportedly grew uncomfortable with the All-Star’s public backing a few hours after Stotts’ firing.
The Blazers will have several intriguing coaching options to appease Lillard to fuel his confidence to remain committed. The franchise is also well aware that effort must be much more than the next head coach hiring.
Portland holds a crucial offseason ahead
The Blazers‘ descent into familiar offseason territory takes a much different tone this time around due to Lillard’s future.
The star guard has reached a point where he must selfishly decide what’s best for his NBA career moving forward. He’s given his all to the organization while fully embracing becoming the face of the franchise.
Portland hasn’t put a roster around him that can compete for more than a playoff berth. The front office will need to explore significant roster overhauls to push them over the top in the stacked Western Conference. Several key players hold contract decisions ahead, with Norman Powell ($10.4 million) and Derrick Jones Jr. ($9.4 million), each possessing player options for the 2021-22 season.
Meanwhile, Carmelo Anthony, Enes Kanter, Harry Giles, and Zach Collins will head into free agency. Big man Jusuf Nurkic is also going into the final year of his four-year, $48 million contract that only holds $4 million guaranteed. The Blazers must decide whether to make his salary fully guaranteed by Aug. 3.
Lillard’s pairing alongside CJ McCollum has brought stability, but the latter may be moved to acquire proven talent to lift the franchise forward. Beyond that, the end goal remains geared toward competing for an NBA championship, and that’s what it will take to keep the six-time All-Star.
Contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.