Trail Blazers star point guard Damian Lillard has fully embraced his leadership role in Portland, and his bond with blossoming big man Jusuf Nurkic gives us a peek at his mentoring chops. After a recent road loss to the Sacramento Kings, Lillard and Nurkic opened up to NBC Sports Northwest’s Jason Quick about their partnership.
“Damian Lillard,’’ Nurkic said, “is the best thing that has happened to me in my life.’’
Lillard reciprocated Nurkic’s kind words by drawing on his past to put his relationship with the young big man in perspective.
“It’s going to sound crazy,’’ Lillard said, “but it’s almost what I wish I had with LaMarcus.’’
“Me and LaMarcus had a good relationship. We never had a single argument. We really got along,’’ Lillard said. “I’m just saying the stuff I want to go out of my way to do for (Nurkic), is the stuff I wish I got from LaMarcus.’’
Lillard played his first three seasons in the NBA alongside established All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge. Now that he is in Aldridge’s shoes, he explained to Quick what he wanted to provide for Nurkic.
“I wish it was like more of a brotherhood, more of a line of communication, with me as young player and him as an All-Star,’’ Lillard said.
Lillard put that line of communication to work on the flight home from Sacramento according to Nurkic. The two spoke about personal responsibility, and the traps of being labelled as a player with bad habits.
“The first thing I remember him saying is: ‘We don’t make excuses here, man,’’’ Nurkic said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I need that.’’’
“It’s a bad habit, and habits are hard to change,’’ Nurkic said. “Probably the hardest thing to change in life is habits. If you have a bad one, it can stick with you. After he told me that, I really focused on that.’’