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Arnovitz: Damian Lillard A Natural Captain, Leading Blazers To Success

The Blazers are on fire. Standing at 19-26 just over a month ago, they have rampaged to 30-27 on the chip-laden shoulders of Damian Lillard.

Godofredo Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

With one of the league's hottest players, Damian Lillard, leading Portland to a current NBA-high six-game winning streak, the Blazers are a hot topic on the basketball landscape. ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz offers his take on the young Blazers, crediting Lillard's leadership as the main catalyst behind the culture and chemistry that has led to unexpected success.

Leader is a title that's easy to designate, but hard to achieve. From the August training camp and team-building retreat he orchestrated in August for the newly constructed Trail Blazers to the positive leadership he extends to teammates and staff, Lillard has emerged as one of the league's natural captains in a market that many superstars with his stage presence might dismiss as "The Revenant" country.

Lillard's assassin-ambassador combo is one reason the Trail Blazers quickly got over Aldridge's departure. Veteran flight like the one the team experienced over the summer often leaves a cultural vacuum that takes years to fill. Not in Portland, where, counterintuitively, the youth movement actually improved the workplace vibe.


This is a happy team, yet also a professional outfit with a blend of Lillard's seriousness and puppy energy. In recent months, the training facility has become one-part workplace, one-part clubhouse, where guys hang out before and after practice.

Arnovitz also quotes Portland GM Neil Olshey, addressing the expectation of many that the Blazers would tank to ensure a 2015 lottery pick. Portland opted instead for development of undervalued talent.

"The plan was never to tank," general manager Neil Olshey said. "Damian and C.J. and three guys from ClubSport could win 20 games. There was never going to be any bottoming out; there was going to be development. Our job was to make sure anyone who was on the floor had a long-term impact on this organization. That's what we've done. We've brought in quality, undervalued players we believed would complement them, and they have begun to thrive in our system and our culture."

Part of Portland's recent success has come from an emphasis on defense, specifically defending the pick-and-roll. Arnovitz analyzes the defensive resurgence extensively in his piece, but concludes that the improvement comes as a nod, again, to the culture and work of Olshey in assembling the right group.

For a young team, its players are expert in problem-solving. Some of that is sensible coaching and some of it is a well-constructed roster of undervalued young talent and smart draft picks.

Read all of what Arnovitz has to say in his celebration of the Blazers, here.