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ESPN: Damian Lillard's Leadership Makes Him a Winner

With Lillard on display as the foundation of a competitive, upstart team, will his leadership lure free agents to Portland?

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday afternoon, Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN penned a long form article describing and documenting the leadership style of the Trail Blazers' players, the growth of the team culture, and Damian Lillard the recruiter.

In his piece, Arnovitz sets the table by detailing what could be described as the tongue in cheek team motto for the year, "Water the Bamboo."

Bamboo is tolerant to drought, but balancing water with restraint is tricky business, especially if you're a young NBA player. This was the message delivered to the Trail Blazers' roster last October after the team heard from Greg Bell, the author of "Water The Bamboo: Unleashing the Potential of Teams and Individuals."

The bamboo becomes a running gag among the Trail Blazers, and it's the source of quite the shtick between All-NBA point guard Damian Lillard and reserve Luis Montero.

"I would always tell him, 'Did you water your bamboo?,' like, every day," Lillard says. "So he started singing, like, 'Waaaaater the Bamboooooo.'"

From there Arnovitz lays the foundation for the humble super star Damian Lillard, to play part mentor, part stylist, while also documenting the tightness of the team.

Just after the All-Star break, Lillard gets a call early in the morning on a "blackout day" -- designated as such by coach Terry Stotts in lieu of "voluntary," so players understand they can stay away from the practice facility in suburban Portland without being perceived as unmotivated. It's Montero, who doesn't drive, hasn't dabbled with Uber and whose normal ride is away.

Lillard drives to Montero's apartment, and they head to the facility. While Montero works out on the floor for a couple of hours, Lillard lifts in the weight room. Lillard has been concerned about Montero's wardrobe, so after they finish up, they hop over to Saks Fifth Avenue. "He hadn't been suited up," Lillard says.

He then takes time to document the reading of the Trail Blazers' star, painting the picture of the ever evolving franchise centerpiece.

...the day before his 40-point outburst in Game 3 of the Trail Blazers' conference semifinals series against Golden State, Lillard can be found with a copy of "Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us," gifted to him by John Ross, the team's personnel video coordinator.

"When they think about leadership, most people think you just follow one person," Lillard says of the book's central theme. "But you build a tribe. You give people something to believe in. You give them hope.

Arnovitz weaves in the familiar theme, reminding the reader that 80 percent of the starting line up from last season is gone; that Las Vegas picked the Trail Blazers to win 26.5 games, the Blazers were never planning on rebuilding because Lillard just wouldn't let them, and of course it wouldn't be complete without the cherry on top; Portland isn't or hasn't been a free agent hot spot for a multitude of reasons.

Outside of geography and weather, Arnovitz lays out some of the positives and negatives that Portland has to deal with in pursuit of the league's premier free agents.

It's the nation's 24th-largest media market, with fewer than half the television households of Atlanta or Houston. It's geographically remote, and though the summers are exhilarating, the weather can be gloomy for much of the year. The population is relatively homogenous. While it doesn't bother Lillard or C.J. McCollum, who have made year-round homes in the area, it's not a feature that helps the Trail Blazers.

A controversial point, at least for Blazers fans is that Lillard may not fully embrace the new mold superstar. One that is both the face of the franchise as well as the lead recruiter in all player movement.

"As far as recruitment, I never see myself getting overly involved with it," Lillard says. "In free agency, people will ultimately make their own decisions. But I have thought about the fact that what our culture is here, what people see here, that will attract people."This is the $100 million question, and for all the power of Lillard's presence in Portland, the attributes that make him such a rock also make him an uneasy recruiter.

"I'm not saying I won't say anything to people, but I'm not going to go completely out of my way," Lillard says. "I'll talk to a guy and be like: 'This is what we do here. This is how you can help.' I would express about what I think they could do, how they could help, what we could be with them, things like that -- why I think it would be good for them, why I think it would be good for our team. I could see myself doing that."

Arnovitz fills in the holes here and there regarding Lillard's leadership style, how his teammates view him and his status in the league, his outlook on adding a potential player or two in free agency.  It's a bit longer than the usual read, but worth the time to get a deeper look inside team. To read the piece in its entirety, click here.