During an offseason in which the seemingly fractured, or at least bruised, relationship between Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers has been well documented, one theoretical trade situation continues to be discussed. That would be a trade involving Lillard and the Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons.
A little gasoline was just thrown on that fire — the 76ers have hired Phil Beckner to their coaching staff. Beckner is Lillard’s trainer and has been working with him since his college days at Weber State University.
Rip City is dabbing the sweat from its collective brow.
Simmons for Lillard would break Portland’s heart
This could all be happenstance. Perhaps the Philadelphia organization saw the work Beckner has done with Lillard and thought he would be a beneficial person to have on staff. But bringing him on as a “consultant to the coaching staff,” which sounds like a role Dwight Schrute would have, while rumors circulate about a Simmons-for-Lillard swap definitely raises some eyebrows.
Losing Lillard would officially close the book on a championship window, one in which Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey ultimately failed, year after year, to put together a roster that even remotely had a chance at the organization’s first championship since 1977.
Lillard is the heartbeat of the franchise and an icon to all of Portlandia.
After the signing of Norman Powell as free agency began, trading for Simmons could at least be justifiable from a basketball sense if the relationship between Lillard and the Blazers was irreconcilable. Simmons is young and is a defensive stalwart — he led the NBA in steals in 2019-20 and was named to the All-Defensive First Team each of the last two seasons.
If Olshey throws in the towel on the possibility of building up a contending roster, you could do worse than to anchor your rebuild around a 25-year-old 6’11” All-Star who’s an elite defender.
He then should promptly be fired.
Lillard has every right to be frustrated
It’s hard to blame him at all. Lillard has already been through one full rebuild, seeing LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, and Nicolas Batum all shipped out of Portland after the 2014 season. As part of a team that is one of the worst defensive squads in the league, he is continuously asked to bail out a roster that has no business contending.
“[We need to] be more urgent about what our next step is and how we move forward,” Lillard said, according to the Washington Post. “We have a lot of pride about making the playoffs all these years. We’re not a bad team. We’re a winning team.”
“But we’ve reached that point where it’s not enough. Do we actually want to win it all? Is that what we’re shooting for? We’ve got to do things to show that. We’ve got to put action behind that desire to win at that level,” he continued.
It’s called “Lillard Time” for a reason. When Portland is trailing late in the fourth quarter, Lillard takes over and goes berserk more often than not.
Why? Because he has to.
Imagine, if you will, being one of the best talents in the NBA and having a front office that fails to support you and give you the complementary pieces needed to make a championship run.
Welcome to daily life for Lillard.
Lillard has denied trade request rumors
The only true solace on which Portland fans can hang their hat is that Lillard himself has adamantly denied that he has requested, or plans to request, a trade. Previously, reports stated that
“A lot of things are being said,” Lillard said. “It hasn’t come from me. I haven’t made any firm decision on what my future will be, so it’s really no need for anybody else to speak for me.”
The only people who know what is going on inside that relationship are Lillard and maybe Olshey, although it’s hard to be sure he knows what’s going on with anything.
Losing Lillard would be a heartbreaking blow to a city that has embraced him and cherished him as an all-time great. For Portland’s sake, here’s hoping the Blazers can figure out a way to keep him in Rip City.
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