Damian Lillard has been the prime mover of the Portland Trail Blazers since teammate LaMarcus Aldridge took his talents to San Antonio’s River Walk in the Summer of 2015. The First Team All-NBA point guard has topped 20 points per game, been named to All-Star teams, and pushed his squad through desperate playoffs races, making the post-season each time. Now Zach Lowe of ESPN explores deeply what leadership means to Portland’s Mr. Everything in a can’t-miss, magum opus dedicated to Lillard’s influence on the Blazers.
For starters, Lowe claims, Lillard’s word might have saved the job of Trail Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts after a disastrous sweep at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2018 NBA Playoffs:
Ownership came close to firing Terry Stotts, several sources say. Teams with head-coaching vacancies, including Phoenix, began engaging third parties about Stotts’ potential interest in their jobs, sources say.
But the Blazers didn’t break. Lillard fought for Stotts. “I was asked what I thought, and I just said I love him as a coach,” Lillard says. “We all love him.”
That sweep took a personal toll on Lillard. Lowe recounts a meeting with Weber State coach Phil Beckner after the Game 2 loss in the series, which consisted of Beckner and Lillard watching television commentators rip him and his team:
“He just sat and sighed -- deep breaths,” Beckner says. “It affected him.”
”I remember watching and thinking, ‘Man, this can’t be how it’s supposed to end,’” Lillard says. “It was draining to deal with those first two losses and even harder to sleep after watching [the media] drag us.”
But Lillard and his team recovered, in part because of their leader’s all-for-one ethos.
“I grew up that way,” Lillard says. “Let’s say we had to clean the house, and my job was to clean the kitchen. My brother is supposed to do the bathroom. My sister is supposed to clean the living room. If I do my job but that other stuff ain’t done, then we didn’t do it. That was my upbringing. We all go down together.”
Lowe also covers how Stotts broke the news to Lillard and CJ McCollum that last year’s offensive system needed to change, how it affected McCollum, the departure of forward Ed Davis, and the rise of sophomore sensation Zach Collins, all surrounded by countless other examples of how special Lillard is as the conductor in the locker room and on the floor. It’s like Christmas come early for Blazers fans.