The Portland Trail Blazers have been mired in doubt and criticism to begin the 2017-18 season. It all started with poor play, then grew into something much bigger when head coach Terry Stotts benched Jusuf Nurkic for all but 53 seconds in the fourth quarter of a close loss to the Brooklyn Nets. Nurkic played down the incident, but that didn’t stop Stotts’ critics. The Blazers moved on, beating up on the Denver Nuggets, but a disappointing loss to the Sacramento Kings has doubt continuing to cloud around the team and sewing itself into fans’ minds.
That Kings loss featured a hodgepodge bench lineup to end the first quarter, and to start the second—which didn’t produce—and the team never really recovered after it. Again, the criticism for Stotts came, but Damian Lillard isn’t having any of it:
That’s our point guard. pic.twitter.com/vpilffgLRG— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) November 18, 2017
Mike Richman of The Oregonian followed up with Lillard, who had this to say of the post:
"I'm sure it's not the first time that people have been on that topic and it probably won't be the last," he said. "But especially this season more than any other season we've been in position to win every game except probably the Toronto game. Every game has come to the point where the players gotta win or lose the game. We've had late game turnovers, we've had late game missed free throws, missed shots, we've had blown defensive coverages. That falls on the players. Given all those things we're 8-7. Everybody in the West is struggling; nobody is doing great. I just felt like it was unnecessary."
Lillard is seen as the leader of this team, and he’s certainly acting like it with this message. But it’s not Lillard who needs to step up. He’s done his part to keep the team relevant this season; the onus is on others to improve.