Rejoice Trail Blazers fans, the preseason is finally over! In just over two days, the Portland Trail Blazers will tip-off its 50th season against the Denver Nuggets on national television. Before the season goes zero to one-hundred and new storylines emerge, The Athletic’s Jason Quick sat down with Damian Lillard for a 25-minute interview to discuss new teammates, leadership, and the upcoming season.
Lillard opened his conversation with Quick by talking about his new teammates from Nassir Little to Pau Gasol.
One thing he mentioned early on in the interview was just how close Whiteside was to signing with the Blazers a few offseasons ago. Lillard thought at the time a deal would get done, but acknowledged that the four-year $98 million contract Miami offered the explosive center was too good to pass up.
When asked about Hezonja, he provided some glowing praise about the newcomer who averaged 10.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in the preseason and already seems to be growing on Trail Blazers fans.
”In Orlando he didn’t get much of an opportunity. We also tried to get him last year, but he chose New York because who wouldn’t. It just didn’t work out so he ended up here. I think he has so much to show. His ability to pass the ball, he can defend, he’s a good on-ball defender when he wants to, he can shoot the ball when he wants to. There’s a lot of ways he can impact the game and help our team when he puts his mind to it.”
“I think when you are younger and you haven’t been a part of successful teams and you haven’t been a part of teams that are all the way together, you’re going to get used to certain environments. I think he’s come here and realized that it’s a little bit different.”
The Blazers’ star point guard went on to compare newly-acquired veteran Anthony Tolliver to his favorite teammate of all time, Ed Davis.
”He bridges the gap and he’s in touch with everything and everybody. It’s that veteran presence that we need at his position. He can guard guards, but he can also guard bigs. He brings something that we’re going to be able to use.”
Another topic brought up was the recent GM survey which rated Lillard—with 41% of the vote—as the best leader in the NBA. When questioned about the leadership trait that he values most, Lillard provided a very telling response.
“The trait I value the most is serving my teammates. Whether it’s me making sure C.J gets every opportunity to score or it’s me talking to Ant [Anfernee Simons] as often as possible to make sure he is as confident and as sure of himself on the floor as possible. Encouraging Zach [Collins]. To me, that’s the biggest one to me because I generally at my heart want my teammates to feel good about what they’re doing.”
“I want them to feel confident and I want them to feel that they’re a part of it. I don’t ever want them to think that it’s about me because I’m the highest-paid or I make the All-Star games. I don’t ever want it to be like that so I take a lot of pride in making sure they know that I’m here for them.”
And when asked about what he believes the team’s biggest moment of the past decade was, well, the answer may not be what you expect from a player who hit arguably two of the franchise’s most iconic shots.
You can find out what that moment was and listen to the rest of the interview on The Athletic’s newest Portland Trail Blazers podcast “From the Rose Garden” (subscription required).