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The Curious Case of Damian Lillard

Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated digs into what the Blazers should do with their star in the offseason.

Denver Nuggets v Portland Trail Blazers - Game Six Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Trade rumors abound regarding Portland Trail Blazers’ star point guard Damian Lillard after the team’s exit from the NBA Playoffs in the first round. Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated examines what the team could possibly do with the man they have built the team around in the offseason.

There’s an argument—a good one—to do nothing. Lillard averaged 29-points per game this season. He shot 39% from three. He is a six-time All-Star that looks like he has (at least) three or four more high level seasons in him. Players like that don’t come around very often. Players like that pop up in Portland less.

There’s an argument—a good one—that the Blazers should put Lillard on the trade block. Take a long look at the way Portland played this season. Is this really a team a tweak or two away from vaulting into championship contention? At a press conference on Monday Blazers GM Neil Olshey suggested the recent coaching change—Portland fired head coach Terry Stotts last weekend—could make a difference. The Blazers were terrible defensively this season. Olshey believes a new coach—as it did in New York and Atlanta—can change that.

Mannix doesn’t buy Neil Olshey’s argument that the team’s performance wasn’t a result of the roster’s construction.

According to Mannix, multiple teams check in every where as to whether Lillard will be up for a trade, and right now, Lillard’s value is tremendous, while the future is uncertain.

Lillard privately requesting a deal would make things easier for Portland. But even if he doesn’t, there’s merit to seeing what’s out there. Reports of teams ramping up the pursuit of Lillard are hardly newsworthy. “We check in every year,” says a rival team executive. “You would be an idiot not to.” Lillard’s trade value right now is sky high. But it may not always be. Lillard played through injuries this season. He’s been an NBA ironman for most of his career. If he begins to diminish, the return—Lillard will also make in excess of $50 million per season over the final two years of his contract—will too.

Mannix closes by noting that Lillard deserves for his loyalty to be rewarded — but at what cost?

Lillard deserves to win a championship in Portland. But Westbrook deserved one in Oklahoma City. Pierce and Garnett did enough to collect at least one more in Boston. Sometimes, though, individual greatness isn’t enough. Trading Lillard would be excruciatingly painful. The question is—would a few more years of early playoff exits be worse?

You can read the entire article here.