The Oregonian's Jason Quick caught up with Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard to talk about how his leadership skills have evolved this offseason and how he's embraced a new role with his teammates:
...An NBA locker room is a delicate environment, layered in ego and unspoken hierarchy. During his first three seasons, Lillard harnessed much of his natural leadership tendencies for fear of overstepping his bounds. He once instigated a team airing of grievances after a loss in San Antonio, but for the most part, he left the fire-and-brimstone speeches to Matthews, and the tone-setting to Aldridge.
Now, he's free to lead as he sees fit, and he knows that means he'll encounter tough decisions. He knows he won't always be popular.
Lillard, along with a few teammates, organized offseason workouts in San Diego this past August that saw all but five players under contract present. When the team took an impromptu group trip to a San Diego Padres game while in town for the voluntary workouts, rookie Pat Connaughton took the opportunity to pick Lillard's brain for some advice from the 25-year-old:
"There were a bunch of little things he said that really stuck with me,'' Connaughton said. "'You don't want to be on time; you want to be early.' 'You don't want to be a hard worker; you want to be the hardest worker.'''
Lillard told Connaughton that being a professional isn't just about on-court performance, but also how you conduct yourself off the court. The way you dress, how you interact with coaches, how you treat teammates. Someone, Lillard said, is always watching.
But above all, Connaughton remembered one segment about the walk back from the baseball game. They talked about how the team made up of players getting their first real shot, how a lot of guys are potentially looking to make names for themselves.
"And he says, 'If we are going to have success it has to be as one. It can't be 9, 10 guys trying to have their individual success,''' Connaughton said. "We had to get guys to buy in that our personal success will come after the team success.''
During workouts, Lillard was willing to speak up from a position of leadership and set an example for the young roster that has only six players remaining from the 2014-15 lineup:
Last season, Lillard probably wouldn't have felt comfortable calling out a veteran. Or he might have waited to see whether Aldridge or Matthews would address the miscue. Maybe, it would have just passed, a group of veterans dismissing the laziness as just pickup basketball.
Now there was no hesitation. This is his team, and his tone to establish.
"This is going to take me being a tough person,'' Lillard said. "I have to be able to say, 'I'm going to protect what this team does.' I have to be willing to do stuff that is not popular.'''
Quick shares several other interesting quotes, anecdotes and insight about Lillard in his piece today. Head to OregonLive.com for the full story.
(h/t to Blazer's Edge news aggregator Dan Graves for originally linking to this story in the Fanshots.)