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Damian Lillard on Becoming Portland’s Leader: “I Showed Them with My Actions”

On the Breakaway podcast with SI’s Rob Mahoney, Lillard reflects on his relationship with LaMarcus Aldridge and how that impacted his leadership later on.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

After the departure of LaMarcus Aldridge in the summer of 2015, Damian Lillard saw the hopes of the Trail Blazers and their fans turn to him. As Aldridge prepared for a new part of his career with the San Antonio Spurs, Lillard became the heart of Portland’s present and future.

The handoff from Aldridge to Lillard represented a new era for the Blazers, in personnel, locker room culture and how the team’s leader, you know, led. On the Breakaway podcast with Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated, Lillard opened up about what was different in the Aldridge era and how things changed once he stepped up as the team’s leader.

On arriving as the team’s top pick:

I wanted them to know, look, I work hard. I got on the court and I worked hard. When people asked me questions, I gave them information about me ... When I told them this is who I am, then I showed them with my actions, like, over time. But it was that simple.

On coming into a team with a clear star in Aldridge:

I was always trying to figure out, how can I get LA going? How can I be the best complementary piece to LA as possible? That was like my biggest thing. I’m not here to make this team about me, or to take nobody’s shine or nothing like that. I just wanted to be the best complement to LaMarcus.

On the relationship (or lack thereof) as student and teacher between Lillard and Aldridge:

I was really looking forward to him taking me under his wing as like his little brother … it just never happened.

On Aldridge’s departure:

I tell people all the time, I really loved playing with LaMarcus. I thought we played really well together. You know and if it was up to me, I didn’t want him to leave. I told him that—that’s how I really felt. I wanted him to stay there because I felt we could’ve won a championship together.

On leading once Aldridge left and instilling change in the locker room:

When [Jusuf Nurkic] came, I could tell he looked at me [like a mentor]. I was like I’m not going to let this slip because I know the impact I can have on him. And I want him to know, look, I’m there for you—let’s go to dinner, come to my house. I’m all over it because that’s what I wanted from [Aldridge].

On Portland’s locker room now:

Everybody is really good people. We just break guys right in. It’s funny because every time we get a new player and they come around, we don’t do this big introduction like welcome to the team and all that stuff; we treat them as if they’ve always been there.

You can hear more from Lillard on Aldridge and his leadership style, along with some insight from CJ McCollum, here:

And you can read a full transcript of Mahoney’s conversation with Lillard here.