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Abbott: Lillard is Open to the ‘Same Play’ That Harden Made with the Rockets

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TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott returned to the situation between the Trail Blazers and Damian Lillard.

2020 Tokyo Olympics: France v USA Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

According to a new story from TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott, Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard informed his Team USA teammates that he was considering a trade demand earlier this month. Abbott’s sources explained that Lillard touched on his deteriorating relationship with the Blazers at a team dinner following Team USA’s victory over Argentina.

Indeed, that Wednesday it was Damian Lillard who complained most memorably. Sources say he told his national team friends that he thought the situation in Portland was getting worse. The next day was his birthday; he would turn 31. He told the group that he had meetings with his team coming up the day after that, and he was thinking about demanding a trade. He put percentages on it—75/25—which confused people. What did that mean? It meant he would listen to the team’s plans, and if he didn’t like what he heard, he would demand a trade. He estimated he was 25 percent likely to demand a trade that Friday. Whatever the number, some in the room tell TrueHoop they took it as the beginning of the end for Lillard and the Blazers.

By Friday of that week, the news surrounding the potential for Lillard to issue a trade demand reached a fever pitch. Following Abbott’s initial report of Lillard’s looming request, the Blazers star refuted the report during his Team USA media availability.

Along with shooting down rumors, Lillard made it clear that he expects Portland to make significant improvements this offseason. If those expectations are not met, Lillard could fully embrace a trade request. If that request goes unanswered, a source told Abbott that Lillard is prepared to play hardball.

Sources say Damian Lillard is willing to forgo paychecks to get to a title team, if it comes to that. He doesn’t have LeBron’s reported billion in the bank, but his agent Aaron Goodwin has monetized Lillard’s combination of electric game-winners and a lack of controversy. Lillard is one of the NBA’s biggest off-court earners, with multimillion dollar deals with Adidas, BioFreeze, and others. Before his contract extension, Lillard has made almost $300 million. (That’s more than Paul Allen spent to purchase the Blazers.) Thanks to his endorsements, his net worth will continue to ascend whether he plays or not.

Abbott then turned his attention to James Harden’s forceful exit from the Rockets. According to the story from TrueHoop, Lillard is prepared to follow a similar blueprint.

It seemed crazy, but worked like a charm. The meta-message was: There was plenty of fun and money for Harden without the Rockets. Six weeks later, Harden pulled on a Nets jersey. When he got to Brooklyn, Harden said that early in his career, money had been very important to him and his family. But as he got older, he wanted to win a title, and he was a Net because the team gave him the roster, the coaching staff, and the organization to win it all. Harden wasn’t anywhere close to being a free agent, but ended up exactly where he wanted to go.

Lillard, sources say, is open to running the same play. This far-from-free agency maneuvering can seem audacious. Some around the NBA laugh at the idea that Lillard would risk losing so much money. But if Lillard is ready to sit at home, foregoing his NBA salary, until he’s satisfied, the Blazers must listen.

Lillard is under contract with the Blazers through the 2024-25 season. The final year of his deal includes a player option worth $54.2 million.

You can read the full story from Abbott at TrueHoop (subscription required).

UPDATE:

Lillard responded with simple, but important “face palm” emoji to Abbott’s story: