Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard posted a potentially-provocative message on Instagram following his team’s 126-115 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night. The defeat sent the Blazers out of the playoffs, to their second-straight first-round defeat.
On his Instagram feed, Lillard posted a picture of himself walking through the Moda Center hallways with a quote from Rap Legend Nipsey Hussle:
“How long should I stay dedicated? How long til opportunity meet preparation?”
Now nine seasons into his career, the 31-year-old veteran has become one of the brightest stars in the NBA. That was underlined in Game 5 against the Nuggets, when Lillard scored a franchise-record 55 points trying to will his team to victory. The quest ultimately failed, as his teammates failed to rise to his level and the Blazers lost. That has been a recurring theme of the season, a year in which Lillard averaged 28.8 points per game with 7.5 assists, while his team earned a relatively-mediocre 6th seed in the playoffs with a 42-30 record. Lillard would score 35.6 points in the Nuggets series, but his team would not advance.
Last summer, the Blazers acquired several new players—Robert Covington, Derrick Jones, Jr., and Enes Kanter among them—in a bid to boost their status, solidifying themselves as contenders. They moved again mid-season, trading promising guard Gary Trent, Jr. to the Toronto Raptors for Norman Powell. Playing in the last year of his contract, Powell’s primary purpose was to make the Blazers better down the season stretch and the post-season. Neither he, nor the other new acquisitions, ended up making enough difference.
Rumors at the beginning of the season had Lillard pushing Portland’s front office to improve the roster, building around him and progressing towards a title.
None of this is conclusively linked with the sentiments Lillard expressed on Instagram, but the picture painted, though admittedly impressionist, isn’t exactly rosy.
The Blazers should be conducting exit interviews on Friday. Lillard will likely speak more about the season, and his feelings, then. Stay tuned.